Narcissistic parents act in 1 of 3 ways with their children. They can be overpowering, organizing every aspect of their child's life and using the child to fulfill their own needs. They can almost totally ignore the child, having little or nothing to do with them. Or a combination of the 2.
The first type is what people typically think of when the phrase 'narcissistic parents' is used. These are the people who live their lives through the lives of their children. Or they try and control every aspect of the child so the child is successful and reflects well on themselves as parents. The child's wants and needs are ignored in order to satisfy the wants and needs of the parents.
(I am going to assume that as you are reading this, you already know the symptoms of narcissism, they have no empathy or feelings for others, are incredibly self centered, treat other people as objects and are happy to destroy the lives of those around them in order to take what they want for themselves.)
Sometimes the child is kept naive and vulnerable so that they believe they will be unable to survive without the narcissistic parent. This is called infantilization and the child relies on the support of the parent, no matter how awful their life may be with them. The parent, of course, loves all the attention the child gives them.
The opposite is parentification, where the parent leads the child to believe that they have to take care of their parents at all costs, be it financial, physical or emotional care. The child may have to be the parents therapist, or take one parents side against the other, lots of housework, paying the bills and so on.
The idea here is that the narcissistic parents destroy the boundaries between the children and themselves, treating the child as an extension of themselves, if you will, in order to keep the child completely dependent.
It means that the personality of the child is never allowed to develop, is or very poorly developed. The child only knows who they are in relation to the narcissistic parents. These parents want the child to do what the parent wants, how they want it and when they want it. The child is not allowed to choose, their desires and necessities are very much secondary to those of the parents. They become clones of their parents in a way.
The children are also completely dependent on the parents. Narcissistic parents use fear and guilt to control and manipulate. The children may be afraid of losing their parents love if they don't do as they are told. They may be afraid of verbal or physical abuse. They may fear what would happen if outsiders found out what actually happens at home.
And they will be made to feel guilty for not living up to their parents expectations, which will typically be set so high as to be unobtainable.
Add to this that narcissistic parents are experts at being inconsistently inconsistent with their compliments and criticism, and you have the recipe for dependency. These parents give compliments and criticism when it is least expected, for example, when a child achieves a goal and is expecting compliments, the parent criticizes some aspect instead. Compliments may be given for no good reason.
Thus the child never knows what to expect and has to be hypervigilant not to upset the parents. It also leads the child to look to the parent to know if they are doing well or not, or to know what they should do or not, and so on.
Many people will be upset by the idea that they were subjected to mind control. It conjures up ideas about brainwashing, cults and prisoners-of-war. And folks don't think it will ever happen to them, they would be able to spot it a mile away!
But this is very important. The techniques of manipulation and control used by narcissistic parents are the very same techniques used by narcissistic and psychopathic cult leaders.
Experts in cults realized this some time ago and even use the term 'cultic relationship' to describe the relationship between a cult leader and his victims as well as a one-on-one relationship with a manipulator, because the methods used and the effects are the same. In fact, a one-on-one relationship with a narcissist can be more devastating than being in a cult because all the attention is focussed on one person.
The good news is that it is possible to undo mind control. It is possible to undo the dependency on narcissistic parents and choose a life that you want for yourself.
The way to do this is to learn about mind control, the techniques and methods used on you and what effects you personally suffered. Understanding these things means they no longer have power over you and it releases you from the fear and guilt that were used against you. Professional help is invaluable here.
This is a big one! It is important to learn at a deep level that the problem lies with the narcissistic parents. You were unfortunate to be born to such people but it's not your fault. And everything that they blamed you for (which will be everything because a narcissist is never at fault!) was a ploy to control and dominate you. Nothing more and nothing less.
This idea typically takes people a while to understand and again, professional help to give you a different perspective on what has happened to you is recommended.
Narcissistic personality disorder is for life. Narcissists don't change easily, even with prolonged treatment. I am not saying that parents who were selfish, and realize they made mistakes and want to make amends, cannot do so. But true narcissists are not going to change, no matter how much they promise!
Part of the recovery process involves going through the emotional upset that is necessary in order to come to terms with this notion.
Narcissistic parents take away your childhood. Remember they don't care about other people. They care about themselves. They take what they want even if you lose out. Sometimes they take especially because you will lose out!
This is a major step in recovering because you also have to decide who you are too.
As mentioned above some narcissistic parents don't want to have anything to do with their children. Often these are at the extreme end of the spectrum of pathological narcissism.
They have chaotic lifestyles, with multiple relationships, moving homes, moving jobs, taking drugs and these factors means there is little or no contact with their children. In some respects these children are lucky because they are not subject to the manipulation and mind control of their narcissistic parents.
Other times the parents do live with the children but act as if the children are a nuisance and they would rather the children didn't exist. This is every bit as abusive as the parents who want to control everything, the children being subject to the same mind control techniques, fear, guilt, shame, lack of emotional support, craving love etc.
When some children realize how they were treated by their parents (and it can be difficult because they have nothing to compare it to) they choose not to have contact with their narcissistic parents. They decide they have had enough abuse, neglect and suffering and say 'no more'.
For those who do not understand narcissism, this seems extreme. No contact with your parents?!? But these people are to be applauded, first for having regained sufficient independence to be able to make such a decision, but also for taking control of their own lives again.
That's not to say that it is right for everyone. Some people have limited contact with their narcissistic parents and that works for them. The phrase 'every situation is different' comes to mind.
However, for those in recovery, it is probably useful to have time away from the parents. Otherwise the parents have a chance to continue their mind control, which can slow or even reverse progress.
Some writers say that children of narcissistic parents become codependent and form codependent relationships later or that they become narcissistic themselves. This suggests that the child is somehow responsible for what happened or their responses to it. It hardly seems fair to place blame on the children!
It also suggests that they are not considering mind control as it is understood today. Remember that these parents use mind control to create clones of themselves and this would explain a lot of the narcissistic behaviors of these children. See the section on dependency above.
In general, simply getting away from narcissistic parents is not enough to allow people to be free. The ideas and beliefs installed by the parents persist unless they are dealt with. The pseudopersonality that the parents have installed will persist also, unless it is undone.
And then there is the problem of developing an identity. Unlike cult members who join a cult and have their real personality suppressed by the pseudopersonality (obviously doesn't apply to those born in a cult), adult children of narcissistic parents have not had a developed personality and need to make decisions about who they want to be.
Making decisions is also something that children coming out of such a relationship also have to practice and even learn, because most of their decisions have been made by the parents.
Narcissists victims are used to telling all to the narcissist. The narcissist then uses this information against the person. Even when someone leaves the relationship, they still have a tendency to reveal a lot about themselves. Be careful what you divulge about yourself because it can cause problems with those who do not understand narcissism, and it can be a tell-tale sign for other narcissists on the prowl!
When someone has been manipulated, and has not undone the manipulation, they are easy targets for other narcissists and psychopaths. These creatures are always looking for easy victims, and who better than someone who is very vulnerable, used to following orders and not able to think well, who is looking for kindly words from a friend...
Read more facts and myths about abusive mothers, how to know if you have a narcissistic mother, setting boundaries with controlling parents, recovering from narcissistic abuse and more ideas on this type of complex trauma.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?