Vail Relationships: Narcissistic parents can damage kids
June 14, 2010
Did you have a parent who constantly criticized you? Did this parent expect you to admire them and give them constant attention? Or perhaps your parent insisted that everything be done their way, and your contributions were ignored or devalued. If these descriptions of one or both of your parents ring true, it is very likely that you have been shaped by a parent with destructive narcissism.
An adult with healthy narcissism has a good sense of self, has empathy for others, is able to delay gratification, assumes responsibility for him/herself and for others, has a capacity to develop and maintain meaningful and satisfying relationships and has clear and firm boundaries, says Nina Brown in her book Children of the Self-Absorbed ((New Harbinger Publications).
An adult with destructive narcissism, on the other hand, cannot reliably respond to a child’s needs, or nurture, or respond empathetically, or put a child’s needs above his/her own – or tune into the emotional life of a child. Instead, the child is expected to meet the adult’s needs.
The child constantly receives messages about what they are supposed to be or do for the parent. When the child becomes an adult, the expectations are so internalized that they now respond to other people in the same way they responded to their parents, says Brown.
As an adult, you will either cater to others (and then resent them) or you will ignore others – and they will be unhappy with you.
Here’s a description of various components of how parents with destructive narcissism act, courtesy of Brown:
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Needs attention: Becomes uncomfortable when the spotlight is turned to someone else. Will brag, throw a tantrum, sulk, act loud and boisterous, complain, act seductive and engage in one-upmanship.
Needs admiration: Fishes for compliments or approval, flaunts possessions, is vain, gloats over wins, tries to impress others and does everything – so others think they are “superman” or “superwoman.”
Feels what they have to say is more important than what others have to say, so they frequently interrupt others; does not wait their turn; becomes angry when ignored or overlooked; tries to find a way around rules or laws; expects to be taken care of first and to receive more service than others.
Has a lack of empathy. Is more interested in their concerns than in yours; ignores your feelings and fails to listen to you; diminishes the importance of your concerns, issues or feelings and calls you “touchy” “oversensitive” or that “you brought it on yourself” if you say you feel devalued or upset.
Wants to control what you do and say. Expects you to drop what you’re doing and attend to them; uses your possessions without first asking permission; gets angry when you don’t act as they tell you to; gives you their name (“junior”); forces you to accept unwanted touching or kisses, and makes you feel inept when you don’t rely on them to tell you what to do.
Considers others as inferior. Is easily offended by any hint that you think they are wrong or mistaken; is wounded when you disagree with their opinions or suggestions; is arrogant and acts as if they are control of everything.
Has shallow emotions, except for anger and fear.
Acts entitled. Expects to receive more attention, special consideration and deference. Assumes that their wants and needs take priority over yours, and that things be done in their way.
Exploits others by making misleading statements, being manipulative, lying, not reciprocating a gift or favor or by using emotional blackmail.
Is emotionally abusive. Makes demeaning comments about your appearance or abilities, is critical, devalues you and your accomplishments, suggests that whatever you do or say is never quite right, attacks without provocation and keeps you on the defensive.
I will write about the effects a narcissistic parent has on you in next week’s column.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at (303) 758-8777, or e-mail him from his website http://www.heartrelationships.com.