by Jennifer Zmurchyk – Prairie Sky Wellness
Narcissism – the personality disorder where the ‘patient’ (the narcissist) rarely seeks treatment, but the survivors around them almost always need treatment for the serious psychological damage caused to them by the ‘patient’. As a survivor of childhood narcissistic abuse I can attest to the fact that it caused major psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage that still affects me today as an adult.
Statistics for narcissism are somewhat skewed due to the fact that narcissists rarely seek treatment as they lack the awareness that there is anything ‘wrong’ with them, however according to research narcissism is on the rise amongst our current generation of young people and is reaching levels never before seen in previous generations.
What is a narcissist?
According to the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a Narcissist:
” is defined as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by the presence of at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:
– A grandiose sense of self-importance
– A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
– A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
– A need for excessive admiration
– A sense of entitlement
– Interpersonally exploitive behavior
– A lack of empathy
– Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
– A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes”DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
There are many other traits of a narcissist beyond the set of criteria set out in the DSM 5 especially when it comes to narcissistic parents, and it is important to know that narcissism exists on a spectrum. Many people have narcissistic traits, however they do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is common for narcissistic parents to live their lives vicariously through their children and parade them around like trophies on display for everyone to see. This is not because the narcissist actually loves and adores their own child, but rather it is because the parent is receiving their narcissistic supply of praise and admiration through the child from other people. If the child deviates from this image of perfection they are usually severely punished by the narcissist. On the other end of the spectrum, narcissistic parents are often threatened by their children’s success or any sign that the child is an individual separate from the narcissist. This threatens the narcissists need for a sense of superiority and control so they respond by constantly criticizing and belittling the child. Either scenario has the same effect on the child who never feels good enough and they are quickly trained to do everything the narcissist expects of them which are often very unrealistic expectations and leads the child to develop ‘people pleasing’ behavior and they never feel ‘good enough’.
Another common thing that narcissistic parents do is place their children in polar opposite categories with there being a drastic inequality of love and attention for them. One child will become the ‘golden child’ while the other will become the ‘scapegoat’. This was the experience in my own family dynamic where the golden child (my brother) was placed on a pedestal and constantly praised, adored, and given special treatment while the child who had the designated role of the scapegoat (me) was constantly teased, made fun of, criticized, and blamed for every perceived negative issue in the family. The scapegoat is usually the child who is willing to stand up to the narcissist and hold them accountable for their actions, which is threatening to the narcissist and their sense of superiority, whereas the golden child is often the one who is less willing to ‘rock the boat’ and accepts the behavior of the abusive parent rather than challenging it. One would think that the golden child has it easier than the scapegoat, however both scenarios are equally damaging and both lead to psychological problems. In our adult years my brother and I have remained extremely close and he has expressed to me how guilty he felt as a child to see the inequality of our parents treatment towards us
Other traits of a narcissistic parent include:
- Triangulation, which involves turning people against each other – often family members through manipulation tactics.
- Codependency and expecting to be taken care of. This shows up often in the aging narcissist, and the narcissist expects the victim to take care of their every need with no regard to the other person and their needs
- Not allowing the child to individuate and leave the nest
- Jealousy of the child’s spouse in adulthood, and in some cases the narcissist will treat their own child like a spouse.
- Becoming friends with their teenaged or adult children’s friends
- Inappropriate sexual behavior towards or attraction to their own children
- Giving family members the ‘silent treatment’
- Extreme irritability and no consistency when it comes to behavior
- Inability to unconditionally love the child; all love is given with conditions
- Unable to have a conversation that does not revolve around the narcissist – if a conversation moves away from the narcissist being the main subject they will often become bored and despondent
- Hyper aware of their image outside the home and family where a ‘squeaky clean’ and wholesome image is cultivated, but behind closed doors they become an abusive tyrant
What creates a narcissist, and what are some of the results of parental narcissistic abuse?
Narcissism is not ok. It is a serious personality disorder that results in a lot of damage to the family members and friends of the narcissist, however it is important to remember that the narcissist is a very damaged person and the disorder manifests as a protective mechanism in someone who is deeply psychologically wounded. Personality disorders and addictions often come from traumatic emotional and physical abuse suffered as a child and narcissism is no exception. Behind the mask of grandiosity, superiority, entitlement, and self preservation at all costs, is a person who has very low self esteem and feels unloved and unwanted. The narcissism is a protective mechanism to shield and hide the deep pain and trauma that they experienced in life, often at the hands of their own narcissistic parents.
“Mental illness, addiction, and most chronic illness is linked to childhood loss and trauma”Dr Gabor Mate, Addictions and Mental Health Expert
The results of children raised by one or more narcissists are devastating and can have a lasting impact for their entire life. Often adult children of narcissists are hypersensitive, feel unloveable, unwanted, deeply insecure, and are unable to have healthy adult relationships. Another issue is that adult children of narcissists often partner with, or marry a narcissist themselves. Why would someone marry a narcissist? This is not done consciously – no one wants to be subject to a lifetime of abuse, it is done because the narcissistic spouse ‘feels’ familiar to the victim. Abusive treatment at the hands of another is ‘normal’ for the survivor of a narcissistic parent or caregiver. The blueprint for our lives is laid out in childhood; if we were subject to abuse and in an environment of constant toxicity and fear, our young brains developed with these pathways. Often adult children of narcissists do not know what healthy love even feels like as the narcissistic parent always puts conditions on love and never gives it out freely, which results in the child feeling confused, unloveable, and unwanted.
How to put a stop to narcissism
Narcissism like many forms of abuse or addictions is one of those things that can become a family cycle that is passed down from generation to generation. A person who is raised in an unconditionally loving home where they feel secure, safe, and protected that is free from abuse, trauma, and neglect does not become a narcissist. One simply does not decide to become a narcissist and the next day they are an abusive animal. It is a personality disorder that stems from years of trauma, abuse, and emotional neglect often suffered at the hands of parents or caregivers. So how do we end this ‘generational curse’? By consciously and mindfully parenting our own children to end the cycle. Many of us were subject to narcissistic abuse as children, and though we may be traumatized and wounded we have the ability to end these toxic patterns in our own children and future generations. So what can we do to help end this growing epidemic?
- Get help. When we are survivors of narcissistic abuse or abuse in any form, we need to seek out counselling and find support. And amazing tool I found in my own recovery were two YouTube channels: Lisa A Romano Breakthrough Life Coach Inc, and Ross Rosenberg Clinical Care Consultant. Both of these channels have a wealth of credible knowledge in regards to narcissism and codependency and offer real tools and advice for healing and recovery.
- Parent ourselves in the ways we weren’t parented. Practice self love and self care
- Parent our children in the ways we weren’t parented. Ensure that we are giving them unconditional love and are creating a safe and stable environment for them where they feel protected and free to be who they are without judgement
- Be mindful of repeating the cycle with our own children. It is very difficult for us to break out of these generational patterns of abuse, and often we find ourselves repeating the abusive things our family members did to us growing up. If ever we catch ourselves wanting to criticize, judge, yell at, berate, or belittle our own children it is a good exercise to put ourselves in their shoes and remember what it was like to receive treatment like that as a child
- Spoil them with love, not material things. Though it may seem like giving your child all of the latest gadgets and toys will make them happy, at the core any child prefers attention from, and spending time with a parent over any material possession
- Stop being a ‘helicopter’ parent. It is natural for most of us to want what is best for our children and to never see them get hurt, however this can be taken to the extreme where we do everything for the child and keep them in a protective bubble. This is detrimental to the child’s development as this hampers their ability to become an individual and develop the self confidence gained by making decisions for themselves and doing things on their own
- Inform ourselves. Knowledge is power. When we are aware that there is a toxic cycle of abuse in our family history involving narcissism, abuse of any kind, or addictions, learning about and applying information gained can help to stop the pattern
Narcissism is ugly. It is painful to the victims and detrimental to society as a whole. As with anything of this nature, the best way to end it is with determination and the foresight towards fixing the problem for future generations.
Psychology Today: Why is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans? https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/freedom-learn/201401/why-is-narcissism-increasing-among-young-americans
Psychology Today: 10 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent
Forbes Magazine: How Being Raised By a Narcissist Damages Your Life and Self Esteem https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/07/09/how-being-raised-by-a-narcissist-damages-your-life-and-self-esteem/#72fd7dd52c67
Mayo Clinic: Narcissistic Personality Disorder: