Narcissistic parenting, may be more common than we think. There are as many parenting styles as there are people, but there are some broad categories into which these styles can be divided such as narcissistic, authoritative and authoritarian. In this article we will discuss some of the effects a narcissistic parenting style can have on children.
What is a narcissistic parenting style?
Narcissistic parenting is characterised by the parent being very possessive over their children, and this parenting style is sometimes also referred to as helicopter parenting. Narcissistic parents often feel threatened by, or even envious of, their child’s growing independence. Consciously or unconsciously, these parents believe that the child is there to fulfil the parents’ wishes and needs. You might think of a certain pushy kind of soccer-parent or pageant parent. This parental behavior can have far-reaching effects on the child.
Children of narcissistic parents often think they are the problem. Because the parent only had attention for their child’s mistakes and their own problems, the children start blaming themselves. This can also function as a self-preserving mechanism to hold out hope. “If I fix myself, the situation will get better. If I do well, my parents/carers are nicer to me.” Children that have been raised with a narcissistic style are often less good at dealing with their emotions. They can get very emotional over minor occurrences.
You might have heard of Attachment theory, which is a theory that attempts to describe the dynamics of interpersonal relationships between humans. A large part of attachment style is determined by the relationship children develop with their caretakers. There are three main styles of attachment, secure, anxious (insecure), and disorganized. Narcissistic parenting often results in insecure attachment, of which there are two subtype. The Insecure-avoidant style is characterized by an avoiding nature. (“I’ll never risk letting myself get hurt again!”). The other subtype is insecure-anxious attachment. This is characterized by an attitude that ‘chases’ after the secure connection. (“Why don’t they like me! Why won’t anyone pay attention to me?”).
Extreme Emotional Independence
Some children might react to narcissistic parenting by abandoning emotional attachment altogether. They grow into solitary, distrusting adults. Adding to that, they might have difficulty forming close personal connections.
Some children might even go the complete opposite way. They turn into extremely nurturing individuals. It’s possibly caused by an unconscious desire to experience the care and warmth they didn’t receive themselves.
Children that have experienced an extreme form of narcissistic parenting can often struggle with these results for life. Sometimes even in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Furthermore, they might have invasive thoughts of the emotional abuse or experience severe emotional numbness, or other symptoms of PTSD. This effect is particularly prevalent among groups that also experienced physical abuse.
This is an extreme case of ‘if you cannot beat them, join them’. Some children raised by narcissistic parents react to this in a way of “I’ll make sure I’ll become so good at everything. Nobody can ever make me feel unimportant again!” People who do this go to extremes in focusing on themselves and their own achievements. In that way they become narcissistic themselves.
Watson, P. J., Tracy Little, and Michael D. Biderman. “Narcissism and parenting styles.” Psychoanalytic Psychology 9.2 (1992): 231.
Kernberg, Paulina F. “Narcissistic personality disorder in childhood.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America (1989).
Horton, Robert S., Geoff Bleau, and Brian Drwecki. “Parenting narcissus: What are the links between parenting and narcissism?.” Journal of personality 74.2 (2006): 345-376.