Dr. Gary Bell
The biggest problem with narcissistic parents is that, in trying to build their children up, they fail to recognize and support their child’s independent sense of self. Instead, the child feels a heavy amount of pressure from their parents. They may carry fears of falling short and the sense that they will never be good enough. Their insecurities may lead them to become narcissistic themselves, seeking attention and approval just to prove they are okay.
Parents who give up their own lives enter the child’s world instead of inviting the child into theirs. Because children learn by example, not having a parent who is fulfilled themselves, leaves the child with a sense of having to take care of that parent. They must make them happy and offer support.
This is a huge burden to put on a child, and it hurts them eventually. They may recreate this dynamic in their relationships, looking for someone who inflates their ego or who tears them down in ways that support deep-seated attitudes they have toward themselves.
They may also seek out people, who, like their parents, use them to feel better about themselves. These dynamics can be harmful to an adult, but they are devastating to impose on a child. When we refuse to see our children as separate individuals, we project all the negative and critical attitudes we have toward ourselves onto them. We may try to overcompensate for our parents’ mistakes, or we may re-enact destructive patterns from our own childhoods.
In either case, we are missing the mark with our children. We are not attuned to their unique needs and insensitive to their true wants. By differentiating from our own past, we are better able to see our kids as separate from ourselves. Only then can we offer them real love as opposed to a fantasy of connection. Only then, can we appreciate our children for who they are and support them in reaching their full potential.
Narcissistic parents want their child’s performance to reflect on them. The reasons for this are complex. Parents may be trying to compensate for what they believe are their own shortcomings. They may rely on their child’s success to bolster themselves up. In doing so, they are failing to see their child as a unique and autonomous individual. They refuse to recognize that their child is separate from them, with their thoughts, feelings, and desires.
A narcissistic parent tends to focus on or even feed on their child’s accomplishments. They often do this, because something is lacking within them, using their child to fill an emptiness they feel within themselves.
Parents with full lives, in which they have many interests, close relationships, and passions, often offer more to their children than those who give up everything to be with their kids. Although they do this in the name of love, they don’t realize that their conception of love is skewed.
People often confuse love with emotional hunger. Parents who think they are giving their children love by showering them with constant attention are failing to see how much they are pulling on or draining the child. When a person feels a “need” or “longing” for their child, it can be a red flag that they are taking more than they are giving in the relationship.
If a parent feels their child is “filling up” a part of them, for example, that they are their sole source of joy, it can be a further warning that they are experiencing emotional hunger toward their child. Love is an offering of encouragement, support, and affection. Emotional hunger provides just the opposite. Tune in and learn how to cope and set boundaries for narcissistic parents!
“Elderly Couple”, Courtesy of Katarzyna Grabowska, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Gingerbread House Construction”, Courtesy of Phillip Goldsberry, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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