Parents who have come to realize that their spouse has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) are most likely aware that they are being verbally and emotionally, and sometimes physically abused. They have asked if their children are safe with a narcissist in the home (spouse or partner), in other words, does the narcissist just take his rages out on the adult victim or will he abuse the children as well?
A parent should be alarmed about the narcissistic rages and it effects, whether it is the psychological effects of witnessing the rages being perpetrated against the other parent or whether the children are victims themselves. Emotional, verbal and physical abuse all are painful and have long-lasting effects. During certain phases of the NPD- child relationship, the child may indeed be the victim of verbal and potentially physical abuse. They are always at risk for emotional abuse (withholding love, silent treatment, undermining events that are important to the child, not meeting the child’s needs for sympathy or empathy, etc.).
Unfortunately, there is more to be alarmed about than just the narcissistic rages. Narcissists are truly only concerned with themselves and cannot show genuine empathy. They have a very limited capacity for giving unconditional love to their children. The psychological effects of not being able to genuinely love their children or empathize with their children are significant causes for concern.
What are some of the psychological effects?
Narcissistic parenting creates serious emotional damage to children. People, whether children or adults, believe what they are told about themselves if they are told enough times; the NPD parent will repeatedly criticize and belittle their children or treat them as if they were invisible. Children raised by narcissistic parents grow up in a state of denial, thinking they are always to blame and all problems are their fault, and that they are simply not good enough. They believe that if they were good enough, they would have been loved by that parent. While this is a ‘cognitive distortion’ about self, the many messages collected throughout childhood have a lasting effect on adult children of narcissistic parents. “Will I ever be good enough?” “Am I lovable?” “Am I only valued for what I do and how I look?” “Can I trust my own feelings?”
Another effect of having a narcissistic parent: narcissism tends to breed narcissism. The good news is that only a minority of the children of narcissistic parents become narcissists themselves. This may be due to a genetic predisposition or to different life circumstances (for example, not being the firstborn). Despite the small number, it is interesting to note that most narcissists have one or more narcissistic parents.
What are the Stages of the NPD-Child Relationship?
For a narcissist, people are either sources of Narcissistic Supply (and then, idealized and over-valued) or do not fulfill this function (and, therefore, are valueless). The narcissist gets all the love that he needs from his own self. From the outside world he needs approval, admiration, adoration, and attention. He does not require, nor does he seek, his spouse’s love or to be loved by his children. They are simply an audience for him- he wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, inspire them, attract their attention or manipulate them.
When a narcissist has his own children, he is likely to go through three phases:
Stage One: When a child is first born, he views his children as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply (such as for the attention of his spouse). They are intruders in his life and the narcissist will belittle them, hurt (even physically) and humiliate them and then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter-productive, he retreats in to his own fantasy world. A period of emotional absence and detachment ensues.
The narcissist will react this way to the birth of his children or to the introduction of any new attention-getter to the family unit (even to a new pet!).
The narcissist perceives his child to be in competition for limited Narcissistic Supply and it is assigned to the role of the enemy. Where the expression of his aggression is impossible– the narcissist will remove himself. Rather than attack his child, he sometimes will immediately detach himself emotionally and become cold and uninterested; sometimes he re-directs his anger at his spouse (the more “legitimate” target).
However, other narcissists see the opportunity in the event. They seek to manipulate their partner by “taking over” the child. These narcissists monopolize their newborn children. This way they indirectly benefit from the attention directed at the infants. The offspring become vicarious sources of Narcissistic Supply and proxies for the narcissist.
An example: a narcissistic father who closely identifies with his child secures the grateful admiration of the mother (“What an outstanding father he is”). He also assumes all the credit for baby’s achievements. This is a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in many of his relationships.
Stage Two: As his children grow older, the narcissist begins to view them as consistent and acceptable sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude becomes completely transformed. He encourages them to idolize him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, and to learn to blindly trust and obey him.
It is at this stage that the risk of child abuse is heightened- from emotional incest to outright physical incest. The narcissist is “auto-erotic”, e.g. he is the preferred object of his own sexual attraction. His children share his genetic material. Molesting or having intercourse with them is as close as the narcissist gets to having sex with himself.
Stage Three: As his children mature, they begin to balk at playing the pawns in his chess game. They hold grudges against him for what he has done to them in the past when they were too young to resist and for the way he used them. They can now gauge his true importance, talents or achievements which, typically, are far below the claims that he makes.
This brings the narcissist full circle back to the first stage. Once more he perceives his children as threats. He becomes disillusioned and begins to devalue them, criticizing, judging, blaming, humiliating and belittling them. He loses all interest in them and the family unit, becoming emotionally remote, absent and cold, and rejecting any effort to communicate with him. He often will cite work or life pressures, and the preciousness and scarceness of his time.
He feels burdened, cornered, and suffocated and blames the family members. He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who have now become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. The narcissist does not understand why he has to support them, or to suffer their company, and he believes himself to have been deliberately and ruthlessly trapped.
The narcissist rebels either with passive-aggressive behavior (refusing to act, or by intentionally sabotaging the relationships) or actively (being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally and psychologically). Eventually, the narcissist gets what he wants and the family that he has created disintegrates.