An adult can choose to live with or without a narcissist, and it is up to that adult to decide whether or not to weather the storm(s). What about the children, the sons and daughters, living with a narcissistic parent? They have no choice in remaining with the narcissist and are ready victims for his abuse as they have neither the knowledge nor the power to defend themselves. The parent/child relationship is so important with its long term effects and, unfortunately, can be easily manipulated. Narcissistic parents can, willingly or unwillingly, inflict long term wounds on their children through their behaviors. It is the people who are closest to the narcissist who bear the brunt of the disorder and children are especially vulnerable.
Narcissists are deplorable parents as they cannot put their child’s needs first at any age. They tend to be somewhat better parents when their children are still young and easier to control. The children are a captive audience, easily impressed and also easily manipulated. If the child tries to gain independence as he or she matures, the narcissistic parent(s) will turn against the child and become more emotionally abusive.
Golden Child and Scapegoat
Beginning in infancy, the children are trained to meet the needs of the narcissistic parent. If the narcissist has more than one child, one of the children is selected to be the “golden child”. This is the child that the narcissist most identifies with. The other children can never achieve to the point of warranting pride or love from the narcissistic parent. Another child usually plays the role of the “scapegoat” and gets the worst of the abuse and vilification. Although in reality, even the golden child is not loved by the narcissistic parent (they are incapable of love) but they will make it appear that the golden child is loved. The golden child will be praised just as the scapegoat and/or others are insulted or mocked. Eventually, the golden child matures and either realizes their parent is not capable of providing love and acceptance or they will continue in their denial and never accept that they have been abused. If the child remains in denial he or she is likely to propagate similar abuse onto their own children.
For the child that realizes his parent is a narcissist (or at least incapable of love), there are three choices:
- Choice One is to continue to cater to the narcissist and allow the instilled feelings of guilt to push them in directions they do not wish to go.
- Choice Two is to limit the abuse by setting boundaries with the parent. If the child chooses to continue the relationship (with boundaries), the child will be tested to their limits by the parent. Rage and negativity will be taken to an entirely new level.
- Choice Three is to leave the relationship. Completely cut ties with the narcissistic parent. Cutting ties with the narcissistic parent allows them to gain their own life.
The scapegoat has only one choice if he wants to end the abusive relationship and that is to get out of the toxic relationship. He or she must cut ties with the narcissistic parent.
Source of Narcissistic Supply
Sam Vaknin, narcissist and author of Malignant Self Love, wrote “the narcissistic parent regards his or her child as a multifaceted Source of Narcissistic Supply… as an extension of the narcissist…. The child is supposed to realize the unfulfilled grandiose dreams and fantasies of the narcissistic parent.” Narcissistic parents run the gamut from being very intrusive in some ways to entirely neglectful in other ways. The narcissist’s children are “disciplined” if they do not respond adequately and immediately to the parents’ needs. “Discipline” is used to enforce compliance and may include physical abuse, verbal abuse (angry outbursts, criticism, etc), blaming, attempts to instill guilt, or emotional neglect.
Children have an important function for the narcissist – they are sources of Narcissistic Supply. The natural dependence of the young child serves to alleviate the narcissist’s strong fear of abandonment, thus, the narcissist tries to perpetuate this dependence through methods of strict control. They are often over-controlling and try to micromanage their children’s lives.
A child can be the ultimate source of Narcissistic Supply (secondary). He or she is always around, admires the narcissist, remembers the narcissist’s moments of “glory”, and because he wants to be loved he will continue to give and give despite never receiving.
However, when the child doesn’t perform his main function (which is to provide his narcissistic parent with consistent Narcissistic Supply) – the parental reaction is harsh and revealing.
It is at that point that we see the true nature of this dysfunctional relationship. The narcissist may react to a ‘breach in the unwritten contract’ with aggression, contempt, rage, psychological abuse as well as physical abuse. He tries to destroy the authentic child and replace it with the former subservient version.
Narcissist begets narcissist?
Narcissistic parents are unable to meet their children’s emotional needs as they develop, resulting in either narcissistic or codependent children. Although not always true, a narcissistic parent tends to produce a narcissistic child. However, this outcome can be alleviated by a “loving, empathic, predictable, just, and positive upbringing which encourages a sense of autonomy and responsibility”.
Some children in a narcissistic household detect how the selfish parent gets his needs met by the other family members. Those children observe how manipulation and using guilt gets the parent what they want. They emulate the narcissistic parent and develop a false self, use aggression and intimidation, and bully the other siblings and other parent in order to get their way. Those children become narcissists themselves.
The more sensitive, easily guilt-ridden children learn to meet the narcissistic parent’s needs and try to win their love by obliging every whim and wish of that parent. The child learns to repress or deny all their feelings in their vain attempts to gain the parent’s love. Their aggressive impulses, feelings of anger, or other negative feelings are not integrated in to their development. Those children also develop a false self as a defense mechanism and become co-dependent in their later relationships.