Stopping the Velcro Dance of the Narcissistic Parent
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
A narcissist is defined as a person who is absorbed in him or herself and believes the Universe resolves around him or her. They come in all degrees of pathology in assuming that people are things to be used. The narcissistic defenses usually start with a psychic wounding where the person becomes frozen in childhood. He or she becomes stuck at that earlier time in life when he or she was traumatized. This is an unconscious arrest where trust was broken and betrayal came in. He goes through life erecting a false persona around himself using others to try to get what he did not get as a child-love and safety to become one’s self.
- Were you one of those sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family who learned to meet your parent’s needs for gratification?
- Were you attached at the hip of a narcissistic parent or put on a tether string?
- Did you tip toe around trying to keep the peace because conflict made you uncomfortable? ”
- Did you learn to accommodate to your parent’s wishes so you didn’t get in trouble?
- Were you unaware of the dysfunction going on in your family because to you it was just normal behavior?
- Did you numb out and deny your parent’s unfair behavior simply to survive in the family?
- Did you try to get love by giving in to the whims and wishes of your parents or friends and now continue this pattern with selfish partners?
- Were your natural feelings and emotional pain ignored, denied and eventually repressed in attempts to gain your parent’s love?
- Did you have to pretend and go along with your parent’s intense need to look good and sustain an image of perfection to impress others?
- Are you angry at the loss of your childhood and the continued expectations that you must be there to meet their needs?
- Do you still suffer from the dysfunctional patterns that you learned from your family? Are you angry about the unhealthy ways you have learned to be in relationships?
- Did you escape to healthy families when you were little and try to understand why and how they could be nice to each other? Did you know that something was wrong in your family but didn’t have enough life experience to figure out what? (This is a sign of your being an old soul!)
Well then, you’ve probably grown up with a narcissistic parent who was insecure and not able to grant you the natural steps of becoming an independent, autonomous person. You weren’t allowed to have the aggressive impulses children normally express and so learned to suppress anger thereby never learning to work it out.
Psychologist Alan Rappoport said, “Co-narcissistic people, as a result of their attempts to get along with their narcissistic parents, work hard to please others, defer to other’s opinions, worry about how others think and feel about them, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know their own views and experience, and take the blame for interpersonal problems. They fear being considered selfish if they act assertively.”
Does this description from Alan Rappoport describe you?
“Children of narcissists tend to feel overly responsible for other people. They tend to assume that others’ needs are similar to those of their parents, and feel compelled to meet those needs by responding in the required manner. They tend to be unaware of their own feelings, needs, and experience, and fade into the background in relationships. Co-narcissistic people are typically insecure because they have not been valued for themselves, and have been valued by their parents only to the extent that they meet their parents’ needs. They develop their self concepts based on their parents’ treatment of them and therefore often have highly inaccurate ideas about who they are. For example, they may fear that they are inherently insensitive, selfish, defective, fearful, unloving, overly demanding, hard to satisfy, inhibited, and/or worthless.”
Then understand that the problem is not you. It’s how you were trained. How your little mind was programmed. Your attachment could be unhealthy. Your problem now is remaining attached to those who aren’t good for you.
Narcissistic attachment happens when the child is taught to believe that he or she exists for the parent’s benefit and self-enhancement. The parent is proprietary and possessive of the child’s existence and sees the child only as a source of narcissistic supply which is the constant need for attention, praise, material goods and the child’s devoted attention. (See my article on Needy Narcissism.)
Some selfish parents are intrusive in a child’s life with high expectations for academics or a special skill or talent so that they can look good. They insist on the high status, hard work jobs so that they can feel better about themselves. Their self-esteem rises if they are able to say, “My Son/Daughter the Doctor.” At a Christmas party, an elderly man talked nonstop for five minutes about his grandson’s achievements beaming while unaware that monopolizing another person’s time to brag was being self-centered.
Or conversely, the parent has no interest in the child’s needs or successes. Good grades are ignored and money for education is not available. There is little or no emotional investment in the well being of the child. This is the parenting style of neglect. Some become resentful and jealous if the child does well or is more attractive than they are.
Parents who are narcissistic may punish the child’s growing independence or autonomy as it can detract from their getting their needs met. When the child tries to act in independent ways or questions the parent, there is retaliation with parental anger, punishment or withdrawal. The child fears abandonment when the parent is critical, gives the cold shoulder or bashes him or her to others.
Separating from Unrealistic Expectations
How do you break the old contract of your being there and doing everything for your egotistical parent? Set limits on your involvement with them and live your life according to your standards.
Okay, it is that old bugaboo guilt that keeps you hooked in. That and buying into the agenda of obligation. You owe me has been drilled in you from day one-you exist for my gratification. You will have to address that over and over. After all you have been disciplined with guilt messages.
Some adult children do disappear from their parent’s life. They move away and cease contract-an emotional divorce of sorts. This is easiest-the quick, clean break. Anger may drive you away. You will still have to deal with the guilt. It’s easier if you have a support person (partner, therapist or group) that gives you feedback on how you are doing. Sometimes a total disconnect of excusing yourself from their life for a while may be necessary for someone who has taken advantage of you for them to get the message that you are serious about boundaries. The old contract of your giving and their taking must be rewritten. Do what you need to do to get their attention and let them know that you mean business! Boundary yourself off!
Donaldson-Pressman, S & Pressman, RM. The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment.
Golomb, Elan. Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self.