There are as many parenting styles as there are people, but there are some broad characters into which these styles can be divided such as narcissistic, authoritative and authoritarian. In this article we will discuss some of the effects a narcissistic parenting style can have on children.
What is a narcissistic parenting style?
Narcissistic parents tend to be very possessive over their children, and this parenting style is sometimes also referred to as helicopter parenting. Narcissistic parents often feel threatened by, or even envious of, their child’s growing independence. Consciously or unconsciously, these parents believe that the child is there to fulfill the parents’ wishes and needs. You might think of a certain pushy kind of soccer-mom or pageant parent. This parental behaviour can have far-reaching effects on the child.
Children of narcissistic parents often think they are the problem. Because the parent only had attention for their child’s mistakes and their own problems, the children start blaming themselves. This can also function as a self-preserving mechanism to hold out hope. “If I fix myself, the situation will get better. If I do well, my parents/carers will be nicer to me.” Children that have been raised with a narcissistic style are often less good at dealing with their emotions, and can get very emotional over minor occurrences.
- Insecure Attachment
You might have heard of Attachment theory, which is a theory that attempts to describe the dynamics of interpersonal relationships between humans. A large part of Attachment style is determined by the relationship children have developed with their caretakers. There are three main styles of attachment, secure, anxious (insecure), and disorganized. Narcissistic parenting often results in insecure attachment, of which there are two subtypes. Insecure-avoidant style is characterised by an avoidant nature (“I’ll never risk letting myself get hurt again!”). The other subtype is insecure-anxious attachment, which is characterized by an attitude that more or less chases after the secure connection (“Why don’t they like me! Why won’t anyone pay attention to me?”).
- Extreme Emotional Independence
Some children might react to narcissistic parenting by abandoning emotional attachment altogether. They grow into solitary, distrusting adults, and have difficulty forming close personal connections.
- Extreme nurturing
Some children might even go the complete opposite way, turning into extremely nurturing individuals. This could possibly be caused by an unconscious desire to vicariously experience the care and warmth they didn’t receive themselves.
Children that have experienced an extreme form of narcissistic parenting can often struggle with these results for life in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They might have invasive thoughts of the emotional abuse, experience severe emotional numbness, or other symptoms of PTSD. This effect is particularly prevalent among groups that also experienced physical abuse.
- Becoming Narcissistic
This is an extreme case of ‘if you cannot beat them, join them’. Some children raised by narcissistic parents react to this in a way of “I’ll make sure I’ll become so good at everything, that nobody can ever make me feel unimportant again!” People who do this go to extremes in focussing on themselves and their own achievements, that they become narcissistic themselves.
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Watson, P. J., Tracy Little, and Michael D. Biderman. “Narcissism and parenting styles.” Psychoanalytic Psychology 9.2 (1992): 231.
Kernberg, Paulina F. “Narcissistic personality disorder in childhood.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America (1989).
Horton, Robert S., Geoff Bleau, and Brian Drwecki. “Parenting narcissus: What are the links between parenting and narcissism?.” Journal of personality 74.2 (2006): 345-376.
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