Parents who suffer from a destructive narcissist pattern (DNP) of behaviour frequently ‘parentify’their children whereby a kind of role reversal occurs and the child is expected to act as the parent’s parent (although this may well occur on an unconscious level rather than it coming about due to a parent’s conscious decision making).
Such parents are likely to:
– use their children to feed their constant need for positive attention
– use their children to feed their insatiable need for admiration
– need to be made to feel they are particularly special/important/superior to others
– lack empathy
– regard children as an extension of themselves rather than individuals with their own needs/interests/desires
– have shallow emotions (except for fear and anxiety)
– behave in a grandiose manner
– exploit others (including own children)
– be emotionally abusive towards own children
– expect emotional support from their children, even when child obviously far too young to provide it
– expect the child to bolster and endorse his/her sense of special entitlement
Such parents lack the capacity to nurture the child and put his/her needs above their own – it tends to be more a case of what they can ‘get out of’ their children rather than what they can give them.
Also, these parents lack empathy when it comes to their children’s feelings, whilst always expecting the child to fully sympathize and empathize with their own.
Furthermore, such parents lack patience when their children are demanding and incapable of holding their children in unconditional positive regard.
Additionally, DNP parents will find it very hard to relate to/tune into the child’s own rich emotional life.
Such parents, too, tend to set their children extremely high and exacting standards of behaviour which are impossible to meet and then become very angry when the children inevitably ‘fall short’.
EFFECTS OF SUCH DNP BEHAVIOUR ON THE CHILD :
Being treated in such a way over a long period of time will frequently have a profound long-term effect upon the child. Indeed, without therapy, such effects can last for an entire lifetime.
As a result of this treatment, in adulthood the now grown child may :
-constantly expect others to manipulate him/her and, therefore, have a cynical and distrustful attitude towards them
– have a high level of anxiety about the possibility of being trapped by,and enmeshed in, the emotional needs of others
– paradoxically feeling responsible for the needs of others and ashamed and guilty that they are unable to fulfil them
In order to prevent him/herself being manipulated by others and being caught up in their needs the adult child who was brought up by the DNP parent is also likely to develop certain DEFENSE MECHANISMS. These defense mechanisms are likely to include :
– APPARENT INSENSITIVITY
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
1) DEFIANCE – this occurs when the individual does not want to do whatever it is that others are trying to get him/her to do. It occurs because painful memories of being manipulated as a child are triggered (either on a conscious or unconscious level) and the individual desperately needs to avoid being treated in such a way again.
2) REBELLION – whereas ‘defiance’ relates to the attitude that the individual adopts, ‘rebellion’ relates to the ation they take.
Rebellion can be a healthy way to establish independence from parents but it can also be destructive if it becomes a kind of indiscriminate, reflexive, knee-jerk reaction to everything (including things that it would be in the person’s own interest to comply with).
3) WITHDRAWAL – an individual brought up by an DNP parent may constantly feel compelled to withdraw from :
– intimacy with others
– disapproval from others
– the needs of others to be ‘nurtured’
– the emotional intensity of others
– the emergence of own strong emotions
– criticism from others
Withdrawal can be emotional or physical.
It is used as a defense mechanism in order to protect the individual who was brought up by the DNP parent from those behaviours which trigger memories of how s/he was treated as a child which would cause intolerable levels of anxiety.
Unfortunately, because such defense mechanisms are automatic, they are very likely to occur even when the other individual poses no objective psychological threat and has no intention of exploiting them.
In this way, opportunities to form satisfying relationships are frequently missed.
4) SEEMING INSENSITIVITY – the individual who was brought up by the DNP parent may well, underneath, be a very sensitive person but s/he covers this up to protect him/herself due to his/her fear of being emotionally overwhelmed and manipulated by others. This can mean his/her inability to fulfil the emotional needs of others actually leaves him/her with a constant sense of guilt.
Furthermore, his/her defense mechanisms may lead him/her to be viewed by others as hard to understand and get to know, as well as cold, distant and aloof.
Sadly and paradoxically, however, the individual, deep down, may well yearn for love and affection, validation, admiration and have a strong desire to be free of his/her profound and pervasive fear of emotional intimacy.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)