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What Happens To The Children Of Extreme Narcissists?

02/23/2017 04:50 EST | Updated 02/23/2017 04:50 EST

I recently wrote a post about who marries an extreme narcissist. Now, I'm going to talk about what happens to the children of extreme narcissists. In my practice as a psychiatrist, I've encountered many such children and they've all been adversely affected by having one or both parents with this personality type.

The child who grows up with one or both parents who are extreme narcissists is inevitably going to be lacking in love, validation, mirroring and approval. They will have a deep sense of insecurity and be lacking in confidence. This is because the narcissist is incapable of really seeing or loving their child.

parent ignoring child

A loving parent wants to know everything about their child. This parent is fascinated with every little nuance of the child's personality and behaviour, and the parent celebrates their child's uniqueness. This causes the child to love and value him or herself for the special individual that they are.

A loving parent values their child, just for who they are. This parent loves their child unconditionally and nurtures them so that they can grow into the best version of themselves.

The narcissistic parent, by contrast, sees their child as an extension of their own ego and as their "property." The child is a reflection of the parent and belongs to the parent. Either the child is seen by this parent as conferring some advantage in life, or the child is seen as a burden and a nuisance; often both.

The child of extreme narcissists is never seen for who he or she is, and is never appreciated just for him or herself. The extremely narcissistic parent can only enjoy and exploit their child for what the child does for them or how the child makes them look to others.

The "love" the extreme narcissist gives to their child is a pseudo-love that's shallow and conditional and doesn't come close to meeting the child's real needs. As a result, the child grows up with an empty space inside them that was supposed to have been filled with parental love and validation.

The paradox is that the children who grow up to be narcissists don't see that they have a problem.

As they're growing up, the child of the extreme narcissist can go in one of two directions. They can channel their low self-esteem and needs for love and approval into people-pleasing, trying to get others to accept and validate them. Or, they can compensate for their deep feelings of inadequacy by inflating their fragile ego and becoming grandiose. They can become as narcissistic as their parent was.

The children who grow up to be people-pleasers seem, on the surface, to struggle a lot more in their lives, as they look to others to make them feel good about themselves. They are insecure and they go to great lengths to obtain approval from those around them. They focus on making other people happy, rather than on taking care of themselves.

The children who grow up to be narcissists might achieve some measure of success, in that their inflated self-worth can lead them to attain certain goals, but they can never be truly happy. The emptiness within them will never be filled by following in their narcissistic parent's footsteps. They will never have real love in their lives and all their accomplishments will ultimately feel meaningless.

The paradox is that the children who grow up to be narcissists don't see that they have a problem. Their inflated ego denies the deep wound within them. They're unable to recognize the empty hole where self-love should be, so they can't conceive of real ways to fill this void. They're doomed to remain narcissists, pursuing external gratification and seeing others merely as a source of this gratification or an obstacle to it.

father looking in mirror

The children who grow up to be people-pleasers, on the other hand, have the capacity for insight into their own behaviour. They're able to look at their choices and take responsibility for their behaviours. These people-pleasers can use counseling or therapy to build their self-esteem and fill that emptiness within them. They can learn to love themselves and receive love from others, without having to earn it through pleasing.

The child of the extreme narcissist who grows up to be a narcissist themselves is doomed, in the same way as their parent is, to a life of empty, exploitative relationships and the compulsive pursuit of external solutions - money, fame, power, influence - for their real inner needs for closeness, happiness and meaning.

The child of a narcissist who grows up to be a narcissist themselves might look like they're doing better, but they'll never live a good life. The child of the narcissist who grows up to be a people-pleaser is the much luckier one, as they have a real chance to change and to live a full and satisfying life with real love and real meaning.

My new book, Be Kind, Not Nice: How to Stop People-Pleasing, Build Your Confidence and Discover Your Authentic Self is now available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Sign up here for my monthly wellness newsletter. March is all about creating success at work. Listen here to my latest podcast with Emily Esfahani Smith on living a meaningful life.

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