It is thought that early emotional deprivation can lead some adults to regard their children as parental figures (Jurkovic, 2014). When divorce occurs, this can leave a vacuum that encourages a child to step in and do what they can to help the family (Freud, 1989).
Parents with narcissistic personality (NPD) may lack insight into how their behavior affects their child (Kriesberg, n.d.). They may also justify or deny their behavior and refuse to see that their child may be suffering.
Narcissistic parents and parents who engage in emotional incest often need praise from their child. Questions such as, “Am I a good mother?” or, “How much do you love me?” can place the child in a precarious position, as the child is not allowed to complain or express their own needs. Instead, the parent is the primary one who needs care. This unspoken understanding that the child’s needs are not as important as the needs of the parent can have lasting effects and can cause difficulties in adult relationships.
A parent with addiction may also develop an inappropriate reliance on their child. The child can assume the role of caretaker both when the parent is intoxicated and when the parent is sick and recovering from using substances or alcohol. Children of addicted parents often understand the parent is not capable of caring for them. As a result, they become the “strong one” in the family. The child may hide or deny their own needs even to themselves, as they know the parent is unavailable to provide care.