SF Counseling Center

10 Surprising Consequences of Having a Narcissistic Parent

Since there is so much in the media currently about narcissism, it seems also important to look at a few consequences of having a narcissistic parent.  Here are ten surprising consequences:

1. You learn to read people for survival.

It’s not necessarily that you are amazingly good at reading people, but you learn to read people so you can avoid the intense and predictably unpredictable emotional storms. You learn to guess and second guess all the ways you might upset that parent so you can avoid the seemingly life-threatening rages.

2. You either exist or don’t exist depending on your narcissistic parent’s need.

Sometimes this is a moment-to-moment issue, sometimes it is more long-term. For some narcissists, your existence is a reflection on them.  In this case, you had better reflect extraordinarily well on your parent.  For some narcissists, your accomplishments are a threat to their position.  After all, there is only room for one at the top of the pedestal. For some, and this can be more confusing, you are supposed to reflect extraordinarily well on the parent – for example in front of colleagues or ‘company’, but at other times you very well better not represent any kind of challenge to their ‘specialness.’  Overachievers and underachievers are two sides of the same coin when it comes to narcissistic parents.

3. You may not even realize it, but you don’t think for yourself.

Sometimes you are aware of the need to please people, to be liked (so you are not attacked).  Other times, and this is often outside of your awareness, you simply cite opinions that belong to the narcissist.  Anna Freud termed this defense, “Identification with the Aggressor.”  Instead of challenging the narcissist, it is safer to align yourself with him or her.  For the child of a narcissist, thinking independently is perhaps one of the most dangerous things you can do.  You could become vulnerable to all kinds of wrath if your thought or opinion in any way does not align with your parent’s.

4. You are constantly on guard for danger and conflict.

The world seems much less predictable than it does to others.  You never know when problems can arise, but your are pretty sure it could be at any moment.  Again, this comes from growing up in an unstable environment.  It is the parents’ job to create stability for their children.  Due to the internal instability of the narcissist, stability is measured in milliseconds – not hours or days.  If you get through this second, you are doing well.

5. You may have an anxiety problem.

Worse yet, you might not even realize it.  How is that possible?  Anxiety can become such an ongoing background state you don’t even realize you are suffering from anxiety.  Yet, you may have trouble sleeping, may need to keep busy, you may grind your teeth, you may have nervous habits, you may have stomach problems or frequent headaches.  These are all common ways in which someone can have anxiety, without even being aware of it.

As part of this issue of not realizing you have a lot of anxiety – try this mental exercise.  Have you ever gone on vacation and came back and felt overwhelmed?  You did not realize how much you do on a regular basis until you are no longer doing it – this can be true about work or with accommodating to a narcissist.  You come back and it seems overwhelming.  The same can happen with anxiety.  It may not even be on your radar, then – for example- you are away from the narcissistic parent for a bit and you relax.  Only later can you reflect on the intense anxiety you suffer.

6. Our culture loves narcissists.

Many children of narcissists have very charming and successful parents.  If the parent is socially skilled, others may not even realize how much of the oxygen in the room the narcissist is taking up.  Friends and colleagues might tell you how wonderful it is to have such a special parent.

7. The problem of our culture loving narcissists is that it leaves you very alone.

It is common for the child of a narcissist to feel that no one sees what he or she is enduring (and often that is true).  As in #6, you get the sense that no one understands or would believe that something was wrong.

8. The aloneness is confusing

This is true because it seems both there are others around, and that there is a wonderful charming person around, but somehow you cannot get to that person.  Only others can.

9. You become a people-pleaser.

This comes from years of on-the-job-training from keeping the narcissist appeased.  You become very good at making sure others are happy – mainly so things don’t fall apart suddenly.

10. You resent others.

This is a confusing cycle.  You please people, but then you resent them.  In part this comes from having to put aside any desires or interests you may have in order to please the other.  In part this may be part of a defense called displacement.  It is safer to have these feelings towards others than it is toward your narcissistic parent, with whom the stakes are much higher.


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