Narcissistic Parents: A Lack of Genuine Affection
Narcissism as a personality disorder
According to the field of psychology, narcissism is a personality disorder that involves the following behavioral traits:
- Lack of empathy.
- Illusions of grandeur or superiority.
- A tendency towards behaviors or thoughts that reveal vanity, superficiality or greed.
- An excessive or pathological need for attention, admiration or validation.
- Attempts to exercise dominion and submit others to relationships of emotional dependence.
Narcissism is part of our personality
Specialists affirm that narcissism is also an innate component of the human psyche. All human beings have some degree of narcissistic behavior in their personality. It’s inherent to our rationand emotional makeup. What’s more, it’s fundamental to the development of self-esteem in children and adolescents.
But when these behaviors become intense and predominant, then they begin to result in diverse behavioral problems. In some cases, narcissistic patients are diagnosed with severe personality disorders.
The absence of affection in the upbringing of children with narcissistic parents
Narcissistic people tend to maintain certain traits from their childhood and adolescence even as adults. Therefore, they demonstrate a constant and excessive need for attention and validation, as do children.
As you can assume, a narcissistic adult is someone whose self-esteem is anything but healthy. They are individuals who need to feel superior to others because they have a deep need for self-affirmation. This usually means a disregard for the feelings and needs of others. Furthermore, the problem with narcissistic adults is that they tend to project these same traits onto their children.
At first, the lack of empathy will make these parents incapable of understanding and calming their children’s needs and conflicts. Their own desires, although they may be superficial, always come first. This is not out of malice, but comes from a real inability to recognize someone’s otherness. Furthermore, narcissistic individuals are unable to recognize that they can learn from others.
“A narcissistic adult is someone whose self-esteem is anything but healthy… The problem with narcissistic adults is that they tend to project these same traits onto their children”
Self-criticism in narcissistic parents
Raising a child requires a great deal of dedication and self-criticism. Every parent makes mistakes at some point or another in their children’s upbringing. If parents can learn from their mistakes, then they can improve their child’s well-being, as well as their family’s.
For a narcissist, however, self-criticism is a complex issue. This is because it means recognizing failure and letting go of external approval. This incapacity for objective self-evaluation makes narcissistic parents blind to even the most obvious of mistakes. What’s more, it makes them blind to the feelings of others – including their own children.
Another serious consequence of narcissistic parenting is that these parents often develop disinterest in their children. This stems from the fact that their children can’t provide them with the validation they need to satisfy their egos. The resulting indifference is almost always a defense mechanism for not being able to rethink their attitudes and attempt change.
All of this produces an enormous disconnect between parent and child. The child’s infancy and youth are void of necessary affection.
Narcissistic parents and an excessive control over their children
Narcissistic adults can also become overly protective and extremely controlling in regards to their children. They replicate their behavioral patterns onto their children, setting disproportionate expectations and excessive demands. It’s as if they were asking their children to be as superior as they themselves feel.
Unfortunately, it’s very common for controlling narcissistic parents to submit their children to psychological and physical abuse. They tend to resort to constant criticism, attacks and punishments to “correct” undesired behaviors.
Consequently, they provide a very insecure upbringing. Their children suffer from profound fear of ridicule and very low self-esteem. As adults, they may display signs of severe trauma, difficulties with social interaction, and personality disorders.
Narcissistic parents: Is there a solution?
Adults with narcissistic personality disorder need to seek adequate treatment. This is especially true when they negatively affect the lives of those around them – their children, partners, grandparents, friends, etc.
Narcissism is not a chronic or untreatable condition. However, seeking treatment requires effort, dedication and a dose of humility.
Narcissistic parents need to work together with a specialized psychologist in order to advance in their emotional development. They should also consult with a specialist in child psychology to evaluate the emotional stage of their children.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Brown, N. W. (2008). Children of the self-absorbed: A grown-up’s guide to getting over narcissistic parents. New Harbinger Publications.
- Janin, B. (2005). Los padres, el niño y el analista: encuentros y desencuentros. http://dspace.uces.edu.ar:8180/xmlui/handle/123456789/204
- Kernberg, P. F. (1989). Narcissistic personality disorder in childhood. Psychiatric Clinics, 12(3), 671-694. https://www.psych.theclinics.com/article/S0193-953X(18)30421-0/abstract
- Shengold, L. (1991). A variety of narcissistic pathology stemming from parental weakness. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 60(1), 86-94. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/21674086.1991.11927303