Never Enough: Children of Parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder
My mother. To the world she was a dream and to me, a nightmare. In me she saw only herself, my body mirroring back her own reflection, her will moving my limbs, her mind infiltrating my own until I did not know my own desires, only measuring whether or not I was fulfilling hers. She was the perfect woman, educated, successful, beautiful, blonde and pale with long, thin limbs attached to a perfect center. When I was perfect, she loved me. But, unlike her own, my perfection was always short-lived. There was always something new at which I could fail. Her disappointment in me reached right through my soft stomach and took up permanent residence in the hidden corners of my heart. It got worse as I grew older; my teenage body and flush of youth seemed to exist only to highlight her own surprising inability to elude the effects of time and gravity. When boys started coming around she told me to cover up while she dressed to the nines, making them blush and me fade into the background, knowing better than to draw attention to myself in her presence. And still, even as she ignored me, raged against my flaws (and there were so many), and told me stop thinking only about myself and show her a little support at my father’s funeral, I was so hungry for her approval, lapping up the smallest scraps of affection.
A Childhood Shaped by Narcissism
Growing up with a parent suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be a deeply disorienting and disturbing experience in which the normal parent-child bond of mutual affection and gradual establishment of independence are disrupted. Rather than respecting you as a separate person and helping you discover your authentic sense of self, you are viewed as a narcissistic extension of your parent, who is fundamentally unable to provide the empathetic nurturing necessary for healthy development. You quickly learn that pleasing your parent is vital to maintaining peace, and it is common to find yourself walking on eggshells, never knowing when you may stray from the narrow path of perfection. Any aspect of yourself may be open to criticism at any time; it is common for parents with NPD to have specific and unrealistic expectations in terms of behavior, grades, and appearance–and a failure to adhere to these high standards can damage the deeply-held belief in superiority that your parent has established for him or herself. Your accomplishments are no longer your own; nor are your failures. Each move you make is a reflection of your narcissistic parent. either becoming an asset that confirms their inflated sense of self or a destabilization of their place in the world.
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The Effects of Narcissism on Children
Just as parenting can have a profound effect on the development of NPD, NPD severely impacts parenting. Children of parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often develop a damaged view of themselves and an impaired ability to form and maintain healthy attachments with other people, as a result of the malformed parental bond. You may enter into destructive relationships, replicating the pattern of abuse you experienced at the hands of your parents. In an attempt to gain the love and affection you were denied in your formative years, you may enter into inappropriate romantic relationships or become a people-pleaser, subverting your own needs and desires for the approval and happiness of others. Without the tools to form a realistic understanding of yourself, you may even take on the same narcissistic traits modeled by your parent.
Moving Beyond Narcissism
Recognizing your parent’s illness is the first step to understanding and healing. Although the behaviors of people with NPD can be extraordinarily hurtful, alienating, and troubling to those around them, it is important to remember that NPD is a serious mental health disorder, not willful malicious behavior. While difficult, it may be prudent to talk to your parent about his or her behavior and encourage them to seek help. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is treatable and through specialized therapies it is possible for people with NPD to gain self-awareness, develop empathy, and learn the skills they need to form positive social relationships. Even more vital, however, is acknowledging the effect your parent has had on your own emotional and behavioral patterns and finding the support you need to resolve the traumatic experience of growing up with a narcissistic parent. By seeking out compassionate clinicians who fully appreciate the impact of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you can begin to unravel the damage and discover your authentic self while building a solid foundation for lasting psychological wellness.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive mental health treatment for people who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as well as those who struggle with the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent. Contact us for more information about how we can help you or your loved one start on the journey to recovery.