The Narcissist and Children

The Narcissist and ChildrenIt is hard to cope with a narcissist when you are a mature, well-functioning adult. Pity the children of narcissists as they have an especially difficult burden to bear; they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents. They may be cast into the role of Golden Child or Scapegoat, but either way the child of a narcissist never receives that to which all children should be entitled: a parent’s unconditional love.

Narcissistic mothers and fathers tend to be very intrusive in some ways yet entirely neglectful in others. A narcissistic parent may come off as loving and caring because he or she will have an exclusive and possessively close relationship with the children in order to control and manipulate them. The child is considered and treated as an extension of the narcissist. The children are punished if they do not respond appropriately to the parents’ needs. This punishment may include physical abuse, angry outbursts (narcissistic rages), blame, attempts to instill guilt, emotional neglect, and harsh criticism. Whatever form it takes, the purpose of the punishment is to ensure compliance with the parents’ narcissistic needs.

Narcissistic Parent-Child Cycle

The narcissist views children simply as sources of Narcissistic Supply (and are idealized and over-valued) or not sources of Supply (and are valueless, devalued). He does not seek to be loved by his children as he gets all the love that he needs from himself. They are his audience and he wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, inspire them, attract their attention or manipulate them.

When a narcissistic parent begets his own children, he or she is likely to go through three phases:

At first, he (she) perceives his offspring as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply, such as the attention of his spouse or mother (now a grandmother). The offspring intrudes on his territory and invades his personal space (Narcissistic Space). The narcissist does his best to belittle them, hurt (even physically) or humiliate them. If these reactions prove ineffective or counterproductive, he may retreat into a period of emotional absence and detachment.

The child is considered the enemy as they are in competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply. Where the expression of aggression or hostility is illegitimate or impossible – the narcissist will stay away emotionally, if not physically. Rather than attack his offspring, he will disconnect, detach emotionally, become cold and uninterested, or redirect anger at his mate.

However, other narcissists see the opportunity in this event. They seek to manipulate their mate by “taking over” and monopolizing the newborn child. They indirectly benefit from the attention directed at the infants. The progeny becomes a vicarious source of Narcissistic Supply and is utilized as a proxy for the narcissist.

For example, by closely identifying with his child, a narcissistic father secures the admiration of the mother (“What a great father he is”). He also assumes the credit for baby’s achievements. This is a process of “annexation and assimilation of the other”, a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in many of his relationships.

In the second phase, the narcissist’s attitude changes as the children grow older; he is able to see their potential to be reliable and satisfactory sources of Narcissistic Supply. His previous enemies have now become promising Supply potentials. He encourages them to idolize him, to adore 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 – from emotional incest up to sexual incest – is heightened.  Molesting or having intercourse with them is as close as the narcissist gets to having sex with himself as he considers them strictly as extensions of himself.

However, as they grow older and mature, they often refuse to continue to be his pawn or puppet. They may hold grudges against him for what he has done to them in the past, and they can now realistically judge his true stature, talents and achievements. In this third phase, the child is perceived as no longer meeting his primary role as a source of Supply. The parent’s emotional reaction is harsh and the true nature of their pathological relationship is exposed. The narcissist reacts to this “breach in the unwritten contract” with aggression, contempt, rage, emotional and psychological abuse, and not infrequently physical abuse. He tries to destroy the “disobedient” child and regain the former, subservient child.

This brings the narcissistic parent full circle back to the first phase. Again, he perceives his sons or daughters as threats, enemies. He devalues them and loses all interest; he becomes emotionally remote, absent and cold, and rejects any effort to communicate with him. He (or she) may sometimes give a reason for this behavior such as life pressures or the preciousness and scarceness of his time.

The narcissist parent rebels either passively-aggressively (refusing to act or by intentionally sabotaging the relationships) or actively (being overly critical, aggressive, verbally and psychologically abusive etc.).

Children of Narcissists and Custody

According to Sam Vaknin, author and expert on narcissism, a parent who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) should be denied custody and be granted only restricted rights of visitation under supervision.

Narcissists view and treat children the same way they do adults. They regard both as sources of Narcissistic Supply, simply instruments for their gratification. They idealize children at first but then devalue them in preference to alternative, more subservient sources. Such treatment is traumatic and can have long-lasting emotional and psychological effects.

Furthermore, the narcissist’s inability to acknowledge or abide by the boundaries set by others puts the child at heightened risk for abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. His or her possessiveness and array of negative emotions (aggression, rage, envy, etc.) hinder their ability to act as an adequate parent. Their inclination toward reckless behavior, substance abuse, and sexual deviance endangers the child’s welfare.


Narcissists view children simply in terms of unlimited sources of Narcissistic Supply. Young children will unconditionally admire the narcissistic parent and yield to every wish and every command. A narcissistic parent will regard all other aspects of child-rearing as repulsive: the noises, the smells, the invasion of narcissistic space, the nuisances, the long term commitment and, above all, the diversion of attention and admiration away from the narcissist. Furthermore, the narcissist will envy his own successful child as he would any other competitor for admiration and attention. As the child matures, the narcissistic parent will devalue his or her children causing significant harm emotionally and sometimes physically. The narcissistic parent-child relationship is pathological and follows the same pattern as all of the narcissist’s relationships—first they idealize the person/child and then they cruelly devalue and abandon them (emotionally, if not physically).



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About Alexander Burgemeester

14 Responses to “The Narcissist and Children”

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  1. Andrea says:

    You paint vivid images of the narcissist as well as the devastating effects inflicted on those who interact with narcissists. Thank you for your hard work and helpful information.

  2. Jay says:

    Beste Alexander, wat zou ik graaaag es met jou praten.. Ik maak me grote zorgen om een kind die bij narcistische ouder leeft…
    Kan ik jou persoonlijk bereiken ??

    vriendelijke groet, J.L.

  3. aj says:

    My mother-my x-my roomate-and mayber 2 best friend from the past-I now see why I chose them-they date back to the original-my mother-in many ways you have described her to the T-In coming home for the holidays-I NOW SEE…….WHY! and the lights came on and alllllll the angels sang WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH-LAAAAAAAAAA! and everybody said-Ah-men and PTL!

  4. Natalia says:

    Thank you for your blog. You’ve just described my childhood, except that my mother has continued this abuse into my adulthood. She has stalked me, chased me out of jobs, forced herself into my home and has come between me and every man I have ever loved. She has called me every name in the book, physically attacked me on several occassions and continues to threaten me with violence for not obeying her. She won’t stop isolating me from family, including my father and anyone close to me, until she gets her hands on all of my stuff and I’m dead. She’s even talked me into slitting my wrists to make up for being a disobedient and ungrateful daughter. I’ve had two restraining orders on her. Nothing stops her, except her not knowing where I live and work. It’s amazing how many people continue to support our mother/daughter relationship, or healing our relationship, simply because she is my mom. Or, make light of it, because she is my mom and is not well. The mental abuse, physical abuse, even sexual abuse that I’ve suffered from her, don’t compare to the isolation she’s caused in my life. She’s a master manipulator and it’s as if she wants to be the only person there left standing for me, so she can draw me back in and finish me off. It’s as if she won’t rest till I’m six feet under and up in heaven with my sister, who she managed to get to self destruct. To her, we are reminders of a failed marriage to a powerful man, who gave her access to a powerful life. When that ultimately failed, she lost all interest in being a mother to two little girls who obviously needed parents. She found new ways to get revenge on him, through torturing and destroying his daughters. One’s dead. One more to go…

    • Someone in the same boat says:

      I hope you’re okay…. You should stay strong for you! You can change things! Good luck – feel empowered to live and prove you are not a product of your so called mothers actions!

    • Joanna says:

      I am so sorry that this happened to you. A book called “Mean Mothers” may help you. It addresses the issue of how people expect a close Mother/Daughter relationship and how an abusive mother does not fit that narrative.

    • Angenieta says:

      I am 63 now, the youngest of 4, my Eldest brother followed my mothers footsteps in abuse, my youngest brother found finally love in his 60ties & my sister has found a live with her daughter & 3 grandchildren. I left when I was 16 and have been for many years through several types of counseling. I have 3 healthy happy boys ranging from 44 to 21. What I want to say there is hope. NEVER EVER GIVE UP!!, I owe a lot to a Psychodrama teacher who in a weekend session with a group of 30 separated me from the believe that my mother would ever change. by simply putting one person(representing my mother) on a chair and telling all the others to form a wall around that person. He directed me to break through the wall with all my might and whatever I had in me. I couldn’t and had to come to the conclusion that it was never going to happen, that she had chosen her road & I was choosing mine. Up till today it has given me strenght & I have been able to forgive her and to get on with my life. She has a place in my life but she has no power over me in any form. I wish you lots of strength & hope that you find the right type of counselling for U. There is so much more these days. Narcissistic mother’s have got an incredible invasive power, but we can get rid of it. Just don’t give up. Ange

  5. Joanna Mikkelsen says:

    This was/ is my father. He was a dad when I was a child. Then one day everything changed. He withdrew and became cold, nasty and critical. He was also violent, demeaning and a bully. My heart rages when I thnk of myself as a vulnerable child wanting my father’s attention. Only to have him turn coldly away. He used to call me weak and chicken. He was the weakling. He was the most cowardly person I have ever met. He chose to hide and run away from an eleven year old girl. He did not have the guts to stand up to my abusive mother. He was a pussy.

  6. Adam Clifford says:

    Just realising something about my siblings and how they are behaving to my elderly father.Thought at first they were after his money,but they didn’t try to realise maximum value for an asset.They just wanted rid of it.Leaving aside money as a motivation,it has dawned on me that they are punishing my father.They have removed him,he has dementia, from his much loved home,to the totally unfamiliar enviroment of his son’s house,where, mostly wheelchair bound,they have complete control over him.
    There are at least two components.There is [control]punishment and control where control might be a form of punishment.The siblings are acting in unison and very coherently.
    The other thing is that they are making out that they care for him.There is no need for violent emotion or action.They have deprived him of the thing he loves and loved the most.Does it get better than that?And they can pretend that they love him/care for him because they know 24/7 he doesn’t have what he loves,that they are keeping him from what he loves most in the world,which has the deepest well of his most cherished memories.

  7. Sam king says:

    Thank you so much for your helpful article it has helped me enormously.

    I grew up separated from my father and is interactions with me were few and confusing. At the age of 43 I decided to contact him and ask him for a meeting so that we could catch up and expressed the desire to meet his wife and 2 daughters (aged 18 and 22). And also for him to meet his grandsons (aged 5 and 7). I explained in my letter to him that life was good for me and I had a wonderful family, friends, career and home. I was thinking that as a father he would be pleased to hear this.

    When I spoke to him on the phone as he didn’t call me as he agreed to he was really angry and explained he was so busy that he was never going to call that weekend and didn’t remember making that commitment.

    He eventually wrote to me last week and explained he thought it was best we didn’t meet. The reason being he was extremely close to his wife and daughters but as he was so busy never managed to spend as much time with him as he would like. His letter was emotionally cold, lacking in empathy and has shocked the friends I have shown it to.

    He has reacted in exactly the way you describe in the 3rd phase.

    I am thinking of writing back so that I can get closure. I am not sure if it is worth it and should just consider it a lucky escape.

    I cannot understand how he can just reject me and treat me a though I don’t exist. His letter actually says he has 2 lovely daughters, when he in fact has 3.

    I have worked extremely hard and could be a daughter to be proud of. I have a degree, PhD and a god job. Last year I was made a fellow of the royal society of chemistry. My friends describe me as funny, kind and honest.

    Any advice on how to go forward and heal the hurt would be gratefully received.

  8. Nola says:

    This is my husband. He feels that our children take all of my attention away from him. He resents them for this.(he has told me this). He spends his time at home either sleeping or making himself unavailable – hiding downstairs away from us. He is cold toward them, never has time for them. Boasts himself as a great provider (which he is), so why should it be wrong of him to never interact with his kids? His attitude toward the situation.

  9. Deborist says:

    After you are raised by a narcissist, your life is in ruins, and the law of attraction kicks in, and that personality is all you attract until you work it out, and that takes a lifetime, your’e lucky if you can make the sucker float, other than that have a nice day!

    • Rob says:

      I once moved away for 5 years to go to school, it was like stepping outside the box and seeing just how screwed up my relationship with my father was. Though I wasn’t able to connect the dots to narcissism at that time, it really changed my perspective on life and gave me the strength to start on the long road to recovery and personal strength. Nothing heals like time and space away from a narcissist…

  10. Rob says:

    Now in my mid 40’s, came to the realization earlier this year, by accident, that this was my father. Have done piles of reading, research and more recently counselling on the subject. I always knew something was wrong with this man, I always hoped that one day we would have a normal balanced relationship, oh how I tried to make it work out, but our relationship is nothing but a string of us reacting to his constant threats, attacks and fits of rage. His constant belittling, criticising, finger pointing and demoralizing attacks. As this was my normal I thought it was normal until my wife pointed out to me that it was in fact from from normal. My breaking point was the first time, earlier this year, he started on my 9 year old son. We made the mistake of allowing them to babysit our kids, my son wouldn’t respond to his orders, he screamed at my son, then he waited until the next morning before attacking us, we were totally unsuspecting, caught off guard and blind-sided. Clinging on to the memory of him attacking my son is what has kept me focussed to seek treatment, cut the one-sided life-long attachment I’ve had to him, keep my family protected and move on to a better place in life.

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