Without further ado, here are three ways that narcissistic parents wreak havoc and incessantly impact their adult children:
Immune to Emotional Maturity and Empathy
Narcissistic parents are immune to your emotions yet want to dictate and tell you how you should feel; they diligently dodge and bypass any roads that lead to your emotional needs, and, overall, they can be extremely emotionally unavailable, neglectful, and abandoning—especially if they are the emotionally needy types of narcissistic parents who expect you to nurture them and tend to the effects of their childhood wounds (Gibson, 2015; McBride, 2013). Narcissistic parents also lack empathy or the ability to be attuned to their children’s emotions, sense distress, show interest in what they’re feeling, and actually fulfill their emotional needs by offering a listening ear or safe, physical affection (Gibson, 2015); they’re the types of parents who tell you to ‘suck it up, get over it, or stop crying’. If they do attempt to offer some sort of support, it’s usually superficial, lacking in depth (Gibson, 2015)—and looks like them saying ‘you’ll be fine’, for example, which completely misses the mark.
Remorse and Self-reflection Malfunction
Although you deserve it (and it’s long overdue), please don’t hold your breath waiting to hear that precious s-word from your narcissistic parents. Again, they severely lack the emotional depth, maturity, and capacity to mull over their problematic ways, consider how they’ve harmed you, accept full responsibility, wholeheartedly apologize, actually outline the ways in which they will try to change, and take action; whether or not they do any of the previously mentioned depends on the number of narcissistic traits that they possess and where they fall on the narcissism spectrum. Gibson (2015) states that self-absorbed parents tend to think that they are entitled to a free pass, believing that they never have to own up to their faults; some even have the audacity to suggest that you’re somehow problematic when you continue to feel hurt by them, which is justified, and don’t easily ‘get over it’ (Gibson, 2015).
Some parents are so self-involved that, once their adult child professes distress about how they’ve been emotionally neglected or tortured by them, they feign innocence; they throw stones and hide their hands by defending their ways (or blaming you for them) and focusing on their feelings of despair after you’ve confronted them. Some assert that they’ve ‘always loved and been there for you’, attempting to portray themselves as flawless parents (Gibson, 2015). However, beware. Narcissistic parents who actually apologize often do it to appease—and later repeat the cycle all over again. Overall, they continue to be completely ignoring, oblivious to your emotional needs; they are either incapable or refuse to see, hear, and feel your suffering—and consider how they’ve ceaselessly contributed to it.
Role Overrule and Weaponization
The typical narcissistic parent is entitled and has a very grandiose sense of self; this means that they think very highly of themselves and believe that they are superior to others (such as their adult children), especially when it comes to their ranked status and role as a parent. Many emotionally insensitive and neglecting parents view themselves as ultra-superior—thanks to society’s deeply embedded beliefs about parenthood, especially motherhood, as a sanctioned and highly protected institution (McBride, 2013). Society passionately preaches that your parents will ‘always love and be there for you’, for example; such messages definitely don’t help those treatable narcissistic parents climb off of their high horses or help society view them objectively for who they are—human beings who are riddled with flaws and an extra sprinkle of toxicity (Gibson, 2015).
Entitled, narcissistic parents frequently weaponize their roles as parents; they sincerely believe that they have a right to treat you as they see fit and can get away with anything—such as disrespecting your privacy and boundaries. These types of parents also misuse their role by forcing their adult children to be obedient or pursue the life roles that they want for them—versus allowing their adult children to live independent lives; this is full-on role coercion, and we see this when narcissistic parents withhold their superficial support or other resources when their adult child decides to live their dreams, for example (Gibson, 2015). Overall, narcissistic parenting stunts individuation (McBride, 2013)—a process that allows adult children to form an identity that is separate from that of their parent’s and experience their true self.
Whether reading this was a review or first-time discovery of who your parents really are, you may need to grieve who your parents are or were, what you were deprived of during your childhood, the impact that narcissistic parenting has had on your functioning during adulthood (e.g. romantic relationships), and more. Consider reaching out to a licensed therapist today for therapeutic support.
Gibson, L. (2015). Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. New Harbinger Publications.
McBride, K. (2013). Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Atria Paperback.
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