Can a narcissist love their children? It’s a painful question, isn’t it? It’s especially painful if you’re the child of a narcissist or if you have children with a narcissist.
After all, are they truly capable of providing the nurturing, compassion, and unconditional positive regard a child needs to thrive?
Despite their concerning personality, can they still be a decent parent? Do Narcissists love their children as most parents do? Let’s dig in.
Understanding the Effects of Narcissistic Parents on Their Children
A narcissistic parent can impact every area of a child’s development. The problems often start before the child is even born. The parent already likely has unrealistic expectations for how their child will behave in the world.
Even in infancy, the narcissist often acts angry, surprised, or confused by the child’s needs.
As the child develops, narcissistic parents struggle to validate or even understand their emotions. Many times, they simply expect the child to follow in their footsteps.
Once they realize the child is forming their own identity (separate from their own), they often engage in toxic behaviors to manipulate this development.
1. Becoming Hypercritical Of Your Performance
I expect all A’s. Why are you bringing home a B?
How come you didn’t make varsity?
Why aren’t you trying hard enough?
From a young age, narcissistic parents may judge and obsess over their child’s performance. No matter how hard you try, effort alone doesn’t win love.
A child often only feels loved when they’re succeeding, which can result in a lifetime pattern of self-doubt and perfectionism.
2. Shaming Your Preferences
Why would you want to wear something like that?
That food tastes gross. Why would you eat that?
It’s weird that you like that show.
Narcissists can’t understand why people have different preferences than them. After all, they truly believe that their opinion is best, and they tend to make that known through both subtle and obvious put-downs.
3. Prohibiting You From Trying Certain Activities
Because narcissists expect their children to act and think like them, they may have strict rules for what you can and can’t do. These rules may apply to everything from extracurricular activities to having relationships with certain friends.
4. Giving Inappropriate Ultimatums
I’m grounding you for life!
If you decide to do that, I’ll never forgive you.
Narcissists often rely on intimidation to scare people into giving them what they want. A young child will take these harmful statements literally.
Over time, they may learn that they can’t trust the parent (if the parent never follows through with their ultimatums). Or, they may become secretive and deceitful because they don’t want their parent to know what they’re doing.
5. Dumping Their Emotional Baggage Onto You
Many narcissistic parents use their children as friends, doctors, or therapists. They may even praise the child for being such a “great listener” to reinforce this behavior.
That said, even if they are mature, children are not emotionally equipped to handle adult problems. They should be focused on their own needs and development- not taking care of their parent’s feelings.
6. Attempting To Control Every Action
Narcissists love having people dependent on them. It makes them feel special and important and irreplaceable, all of which feed their insatiable egos.
This is why a growing child can be so threatening to a narcissist. They feel afraid that you can have independent thoughts and actions. This isn’t because they care about you making a mistake- they care that their ego will take a beating!
To try to prolong or even stunt your growth, narcissists may try to manage your money, apply to jobs on your behalf, control your relationships, and even violate your privacy.
7. Seeking Constant Approval
You love me, right?
You wouldn’t want to have so-and-so’s parent, would you?
Do you think I’m a bad person?
Even though they present as extremely cocky, Narcissistic Personality Disorder embodies a shield for deep feelings of inferiority. Narcissists are painfully insecure, although this feeling may only be apparent to close family members.
How Do Children Internalize Narcissism?
Many children feel confused by the narcissist’s behavior. On the one hand, it’s their parent. They want to please them and earn their love. They will often idolize this parent, especially if the parent presents as charismatic, loving, and charming to other people.
On the other hand, earning their love feels like a never-ending chore. Even if they seemingly do everything right, it still may not be good enough. This pattern can undoubtedly feel frustrating and distressing.
As a result, many children of Narcissistic parents blame themselves for their parents’ behavior and assume it’s their fault. Some do their best to please their parent, even if it means sacrificing their own sense of self. These children may become the golden children, the ones who are coveted and treasured.
Others rebel altogether. They feel helpless to the narcissist’s control, and they also feel angry that they can’t secure their love. Therefore, they seemingly stop trying altogether. Narcissists, of course, reinforce this message by perpetuating blame and criticism.
In some cases, children of narcissistic parents will become extremely competitive with their siblings or the other parent. Desperate for the narcissist’s approval, they will work hard to be the favorite child. And if they are deemed the favorite, they may become cruel or domineering to their brothers or sisters.
Can a Narcissist Be a Good Parent?
There isn’t a universal definition for a good parent. But most people agree that good parents tend to be loving, affectionate, and kind to their families.
When their child makes a mistake, they may instill consequences, but they don’t try to shame the child for being a bad person.
Subsequently, good parents also tend to be reflective, curious, and humble. They recognize they aren’t perfect in their roles, but they strive to provide a good life for their children. They know they cannot control the child’s actions, but they work hard to set boundaries and goalposts for ensuring their success.
Good parents want what’s best for their children. Even if they don’t always agree with their child’s decisions, they respect them for who they are.
In most cases, narcissists aren’t remotely aware of how they impact their children. They tend to overestimate their competence. In fact, they often believe they are parenting experts! From their perspective, if everyone else raised their children like them, the world would be an infinitely better place!
Unfortunately, narcissists cannot own personal responsibility when they make mistakes. This happens because they do not actually register their mistakes as genuine mistakes.
Instead, it is always something or someone else’s fault- the blame gets automatically projected onto the other parent, the child, the teacher, the day of the week, the next-door neighbor’s dog, etc.
Furthermore, narcissists don’t inherently respect their children. They often feel disappointed, angry, or embarrassed by them. If the child’s behavior continuously deviates from their expectations, they might cut them off altogether.
How Does A Narcissist Treat Their Children?
Narcissists often perceive children as mere accessories rather than as whole people with unique personalities.
Therefore, a child can be whatever the narcissist needs them to be in that moment- a best friend, a punching bag, a success story. Additionally, these needs often change, and they can change without any notice.
Many children find themselves in constant power struggles with the narcissistic parent. The parent perceives the child as an inferior extension of themselves. Any shift that challenges that mentality feels jeopardizing. The narcissist doesn’t want to lose their sense of power or control over the relationship.
Additionally, most narcissists struggle with anger management. They may physically, sexually, or emotionally abuse their children. If the child discloses this abuse, the narcissist often takes great lengths to conceal, manipulate, or otherwise lie about it.
It’s no surprise that many children of Narcissists grow up feeling terrified of the narcissist. They may struggle with low self-esteem, passivity, indecisiveness, impulse control, and poor emotional regulation in their adult lives. They might also find themselves in unhealthy relationships that mirror the one they shared with their parent.
Do Narcissists Love Their Family?
If you ask the narcissist this question, they might react defensively. Of course I love my family! My family means everything to me.
Indeed, narcissists love the idea of family. They love knowing that they have a reliable support system. They also love knowing that they have people who will enable and even embrace their selfish behavior.
But narcissists don’t perceive love as an abstract experience of connection, empathy, and warmth. They don’t recognize love as a mutual take-and-give. Instead, love is purely transactional. It’s about what other people offer them, rather than the other way around.
For instance, a spouse gives them reassurance or security or reliability. Children give them feelings of power and importance. The image of a perfect family provides them with satisfaction and feelings of superiority.
As long as someone fulfills a particular need, the narcissist will assume they can feel love for that person. This dynamic can be tricky for outsiders to understand because narcissists can, in fact, appear empathic, affectionate, and compassionate towards loved ones.
However, these responses are conditional. Once someone no longer satisfies an expectation, the narcissist often becomes angry and dysregulated. Beecause they see the world in extremes, they categorize people as either good or bad. And if you’ve done something they deem “bad,” they can become explosive.
What Are the Differences Between Narcissistic Fathers and Narcissistic Mothers?
When it comes to a true narcissist, one’s sex doesn’t make a dramatic difference. With that in mind, there are some differences to consider between mothers and fathers
Narcissitic fathers are more likely to be physically abusive and domineering to their children. They are often tyrannical, and they may become extremely hostile and demanding when things don’t go their way. They also tend to use scare tactics or intimidation to get what they want.
Narcissistic fathers often dote on their young daughters. But as the little girl grows, he may become more controlling of her image and behaviors. He might perceive her as weak or incompetent and will try to control everything she does.
Narcissistic fathers can be unnecessarily hard on their sons. They may have extremely high expectations about their performance, especially in school or sports. However, if the son becomes successful, the father may view him as competition that needs to beat.
Narcissitic mothers often want to be perceived as good mothers, and they will do what they can to uphold that perfect image. But their love falls flat. They are more absorbed with themselves than anyone else. Because of this, they lack the empathy, attunement, and love needed to be a present mother.
Narcissistic mothers often hold high expectations for their sons. In extreme cases, they almost treat their son like a romantic partner, as if the child should be able to deal with their emotional baggage. They may frequently make comments like, you’re the only man I need. While these comments may sound like compliments, they represent the mother’s inability to form healthy attachments with other adults.
Narcissistic mothers often have combative relationships with their daughters. It can seem like a never-ending competition for success, beauty, and love. If the daughter outshines the mother, the mother often tries to cut her down. If the mother deems her as inferior, she may become hostile, aggressive, or extremely critical.
Final Thoughts , Do Narcissists Love Their Children?
If you’re the child of a narcissist, it’s normal to feel angry, sad, or confused.
You may also be grieving for the childhood and parent you never had. These are typical reactions, and it’s vital to validate yourself for how you feel.
Healing from narcissistic abuse can be challenging and painful. It’s hard to see your parents for who they truly are. It’s even harder to realize they may not be capable of loving you fully.
But as an adult, you can decide how you want to move forward with the narcissist. You have the right to pursue a relationship with firm boundaries. And if a no-contact approach seems like the best option, you also have the right to choose that.
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