Article: The Impact on Children of Narcissistic Parents

By: Susan Stiffelman

Narcissism has become a topic of interest and conversation of late, prompting people to wonder whether long-standing relationship problems might have something to do with be better understood by learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD.

In my therapy practice, more and more parents are asking whether it’s possible that the tension and drama that plays out in their households or post-divorce might have something to do with more than just having to deal with a difficult co-parent.

I always remind people to use labels with great caution. Someone can have a challenging personality or operate with less empathy than we might like without being a narcissist.

But a true narcissist is exceptionally difficult to co-parent with. Lacking a capacity for empathy, people with NPD cannot tune in to the needs or feelings of others. Their need for attention, approval, and the sense of being special or entitled can provoke horrendous outbursts toward those who refuse to acquiesce to their demands or recognize their importance.

In her book, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, Elaine Payson writes:

If you’re a child who is subject to a narcissistic parent’s humiliating shaming or criticisms, you may suffer from a sense of unworthiness and unlovability.

These children experience their parent’s love as highly conditional. It’s as though the narcissistic parent says, If you get excel in school or get the lead in the school play, I’ll shower you with approval, but if you fail, you’ll face my embarrassment or rage.

The long term implications on growing up in with this kind of parent are profound. Children of narcissists may believe that they are unworthy of real love, gravitating toward partners who are withholding, demanding, or demeaning.

It is vital that we learn to avoid taking the narcissist’s behavior personally. By discovering more about what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is and how to effectively manage communication and negotiations, we can steer clear of the constant anger and debilitating drama.

Those who are interested in more information on this topic may want to join me for a special in-depth online series on Co-Parenting With a Narcissistthat I will be teaching with Dr. Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving With the Self-Absorbed. Please visit this page for details.

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