Some parents dream of and pursue parenthood for secretly selfish, self-absorbed reasons; it’s just a fact of life. Some parental figures strut into the world of permanent parenthood with a grossly grandiose sense of self—wondering what’s in it for them, wanting to leave a lavish legacy, or waiting to be nurtured by their adult children in old age. Some parents, however, don’t wait until the golden years or the grave to accomplish such goals; some start early, as soon as the child enters the world and calls the cradle their new home. Some parents have their eyes glued to the prize and are painfully persistent when it comes to achieving the goal, meaning that the mission never ceases—even once the child enters adulthood and parenthood themselves.
Some parents even crave and salivate while they imagine having carbon copies of themselves exist in society. However, this vision or wish is neither cute nor innocent; oftentimes, it’s the mark of brewing, crazed control—the mark of a parent’s desire to live vicariously through their children and build the ego brick by brick on top of them. Sometimes, it’s in an indicator of what could be insidious, parental narcissism—parental narcissism that has been packed and shipped with free samples of engulfing, nagging narcissistic traits. Engulfing parents who have narcissistic traits tend to be very self-absorbed and preoccupied with their children’s image and accomplishments; they, especially, fixate on how each of these aspects impacts their public image as a parent. Overall, these parents value their children for what they do versus their feelings and who they are at the core as human beings (McBride, 2013).
A smothering, narcissistic parent can be anyone from your local dance mom to the softball coach who pressures their children follow in their footsteps. Engulfing, narcissistic parents can be extreme and believe that they are entitled to every aspect of their children; they often feel responsible for your success and leap for joy when you win yet swiftly disown you when you’re down on your luck or ‘embarrassing’ them. Some of these figures are perceived as passionate, invested, wonderful parents; however, having too much of what seems to be a good thing can become problematic. Engulfing, narcissistic parents also view their children as direct extensions and reflections of themselves (McBride, 2013), which nearly pulverizes their child’s identity and overall confidence.
If you’d like to practice reviving a full version of yourself, here’s one way to cope as you deal with engulfing, parental narcissism during adulthood:
Draw the line. You can use pencil or permanent marker to set healthy limits and draw the line with your engulfing parent(s) by setting boundaries. Engulfing, narcissistic parents love to disrespect your boundaries throughout childhood and adulthood by delegating, dictating, and reigning supreme over everything about you—from your career choices to how you style your hair. Despite this, you have the right to stand firm by setting either gentle and flexible boundaries or firm and rigid (yet respectful) boundaries. Suppose your engulfing, narcissistic mother visits your new home one day and criticizes your décor—pressuring you to alter nearly everything. Here’s how you could respond by setting boundaries:
- Gentle and flexible: “Thank you for your feedback, mom. It sounds like you’re really passionate about home décor! I’ll keep your feedback in mind and make some adjustments in the future should I decide to do so.”
- Firm and rigid: “I’ve put a lot of work into this new home. I’m very happy with how I’ve decorated it and won’t be changing anything.”
When you’re setting boundaries, it’s always helpful to learn how to be mindful of tone, facial expression, and body language in order to model the way that you hoped to be treated by your narcissistic parent. Also, if you get pushback (and you likely will), don’t hesitate to become a broken record and literally repeat yourself verbatim frequently. Know that the goal isn’t to change your parent; the goal is to help you deal and avoid giving in or feeding into their criticism.
If you’re an adult child of a narcissistic parent looking for support with setting boundaries, reclaiming your identity, or even grieving the childhood that you never had, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist today.
McBride, K. (2013). Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Atria Paperback.