Parentification – The Role of the Parentified Child in Narcissistic Families

Parentification is a term used in psychology that refers to the role of a child in a family where the roles of parents and children are reversed.

In this type of family, the child often takes on responsibilities and tasks that should be carried out by parents.

This can happen in different ways, and have different effects on the child.

depressed teenager

In this blog post, we will explore the definition of parentification. Then we will address the different types of parentification and discuss how it happens within families with narcissistic parents.

After that we will consider the impact on both the parentified child and the parentified teenager. Finally, we will offer some suggestions for healing from parentification.

Parentification: The Role of the Child in Narcissistic Families

When most people think of the term “parentification,” they immediately associate it with parenting skills and duties.

However, in this case it is the children doing the parenting and not the adults in the narcissistic family.

Parentification can happen in different ways.

Typically it involves one or more of the following: emotional caretaking, financial caretaking, physical caretaking, and/or performing household chores.

It can also involve taking on additional roles such as confidant or therapist to other family members.

unhappy teen

Children doing the work of adults

The child may be emotionally caretaking if they are constantly responsible for the emotions of their parents and/or siblings.

They may be financial caretakers if they are responsible for providing money for the family or for specific family members.

The child may be physically caretaking if they are responsible for ensuring that everyone in the family is taken care of physically, which might involve making sure everyone is fed and has clean clothes.

Lastly, the child may be a responsible for a disproportionate amount of household chores. This could include things like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping.

It is important to note that not all children who are caretakers in families with narcissism will experience every type of parentification.

Some children may only have one role, while others may have several.

And some roles may be more prominent than others depending on the family dynamics and individual circumstances.


How Parentification Occurs Within Narcissistic Families

How does parentification happen in families with narcissistic parents?

Usually, the child becomes a “parentified” child as a way to meet the emotional needs of one or both parents.

In some cases, the child may take on this role because one or both of their parents are emotionally unavailable or neglectful.

The child may also take on this role as a way to get attention or love from their parents.

There are typically two ways that parentification can occur: overt and covert.


Overt vs Covert Parentification

Overt parentification happens when the child is told or explicitly given the responsibility to take on a parental role.

This could be something like the child being asked to care for a sibling.

Or it could involve providing emotional support to other family members.

Covert parentification occurs when the child assumes a parental role without being expressly asked or told to do so.

This often happens when the child perceives that there is no one else in the family who can or will take care of things.

This makes decide to step up to fill that role out of necessity.

It is important to note that while overt and covert parentification both involve children taking on parental responsibilities, they are not the same thing.

Overt parentification happens when parents give their children specific tasks or roles to fulfil.

Covert parentification happens when the child takes on a parental role without being asked or told to do so.

young girl crying

The Impact on the Child

So what are the consequences of becoming a caretaker in a narcissistic family when you are still a child?

There are many, and they can be both short-term and long-term.

Short term impact

In the short-term, children who are forced to take on parental responsibilities often experience extreme stress.

They are often overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do, or by the emotional demands that are placed on them.

They may also feel resentment towards their parents for making them bear such a burden.

This can lead to problems in relationships with peers and family members. It is also likely to lead to problems in school or at work.

unhappy teen

Long term impact

In the long-term, parentified children often have difficulty forming healthy attachments to other adults.

They may struggle with trust issues, and find it difficult to form close relationships.

This can lead to problems in all areas of their lives, including their personal relationships, professional life, and overall happiness and wellbeing.

The most common symptoms of parentification in children are feeling responsible for others’ feelings and well-being, excessive guilt, anxiety, and depression.

Parentified children often have low self-esteem and problems forming healthy relationships later in life.

The child may feel that they are not good enough and do not deserve care.

They feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in the family, even when problems arise that have nothing to do with them.

This could lead to them struggling with addictions and other mental health issues later in life.

The Impact on the Teenager

Parentified teenagers may experience some of the same symptoms as children, but they may also feel angry and resentful towards their parents.

They may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and violence.

The long-term impact of parentification can be devastating.

It can interfere with the teenager’s ability to develop a healthy sense of self.

This will lead to problems with intimacy, trust, and codependency later in life .

The teen may also struggle with issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders.

depressed young man

Ask for help

If you are a parentified child or teenager, it is important to seek help from a therapist who understands this type of trauma.

There are many steps you can take to begin healing from the effects of parentification.

Some suggestions include journaling, talking with a trusted friend or family member, and attending support groups for survivors of child neglect or abuse.

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