What is Narcissistic Parenting and How Does That Relate to Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma is often a catchall term that is thrown around in therapy circles to describe the debilitating effects of events that adversely impacted the functioning and healthy development of children into fully-functioning adults. Although trauma that occurs in childhood is as varied as the children who experience it, a lot of childhood trauma can be examined through the lenses of the parent-child relationship. In particular, the effects of the narcissistic parent on the child, which is a really pervasive from of child abuse, and it has devastating effects.

So today, we’ll be looking at narcissism, specifically as it shows up a lot in the work that i do. The interesting thing is that when people come to me as adults, they don’t always realize that they had a narcissistic parent, which is really interesting. Of course, there’s a lot more information available now around the phenomenon of narcissistic parenting and how it negatively affects children. However, the word has become overused, and generally it is used to describe someone who displays selfish behavior, but the word goes way beyond that.

The real definition of narcissism is someone who has zero empathy for someone else, cannot relate to someone’s feelings at all. There are lots of traits of narcissism, and there is a spectrum. It’s about the self, needing praise, needing to be the center of attention, so of course all of us need that. The real definition, and the problematic one that we’re talking about is the absence of empathy.  Someone else’s reality, what someone else might be going through, they just don’t care.

We all know people that are in narcissistic relationships, and they struggle. And it’s very difficult for us to have relationships, as they are just chaos and confusion. So, we naturally decide to not have that person in our lives.

Now just imagine that you are a child being raised by a narcissist. #1 Children don’t have the emotional ability to work out what is going on. So not only are they in all of this chaos and confusion, instead of the love and support that they need, they don’t have any choice at all, they are absolutely trapped. They are stuck with this. Which is why it is a potent and toxic form of abuse that can be completely debilitating, incredibly far-reaching. What they lead to in a child, they lead to CPSTD, which is the effect of sustained, crippling abuse over time. They are in contact with the narcissism, they continue with their self-doubt, because they set the child up for failure, to have no self confidence, and the believe that they are bad, guilty, and that everything that has gone wrong is their fault. And this carries into the adult life until someone points out this behavior. And even then, it is so ingrained, it’s so deep, that it is very hard to let go of. It can create extreme anxiety, because the child is in an environment where they are never right.

The narcissistic parent also sees the child as an object, or possession, and therefore treated as an extension of the parents ego needs, not given the love and attention they need as children to thrive. They can set themselves up to be very high achievers, the parent will “demand” that they achieve in order to receive love. However, once they achieve and hit a certain goal, the narcissistic parent will feel threatened and become jealous, and will attack them for what they have done. So, you can see the constant battle that is set up for the child; did I do enough, or did I do too much? And it is never possible for them to do it just right, so they never get the approval they are fighting for, causes extreme anxiety.

Children of narcissistic parents often become extreme people pleasers, with no sense of self (because it’s not allowed), going into the giving professions, and giving of themselves with no concern for their own needs (as they were never taught to acknowledge them). Which is why it is important to engage in adequate trauma recovery, and even with the in-depth work I do, it can take a few sessions to get into it.

So, what do children need? They need safety, security, and they need to be heard, valued, loved, and guided, and moreover, the freedom to develop this sense of self. And because of the presence of the narcissistic parent, none of those needs are being met. They also need a stable, safe, home where they can feel secure and have a sanctuary from the world. And for children from narcissistic parents, home is a terrifying place. They never know what’s going to be happen, all they know is that whatever they do it will not be accepted. So, this set’s them up for an extreme version of: “I’m not good enough” “I’m not worthy enough” because it goes through everything.

 

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