There are many articles around on the internet about all types of narcissism and the dangers of being in a relationship with someone who has these tendencies. The advice is clear : get away from the situation as quickly as possible. Anyone who is more on the codependent side of the continuum will testify that this is harder to put into practice than it sounds. However, what if the narcissist is your parent and has cloned you to be a living “perfect” version of him or her,? A child chosen to heal the parent’s own broken past. It happens more than we might imagine. For ease, I have highlighted this case with father and daughter. However, this concept is not limited to just that.
I have been offering online therapy for over 10 years. During that time, I have built up a speciality in many areas of psychology (especially Codependency) and helped many clients move forward. Contact me for a free consultation. I engage fully with my clients to ensure the best possible chance of recovery. I firmly believe that awareness is important but action is the decisive element of recovery. I accompany my clients along that road not only by offering sessions focusing on their issues but as a resource between sessions too.
A parent who has developed a sense of narcissism through his own dysfunctional childhood often believes that by bringing a “perfect ” child into the world and being seen as a “perfect” parent, he can heal the wounds of his own childhood. This scenario is often played out through a “chosen” child, the prince or princess who gets all his unhealthy attention. Through this child, he is proving to all of the people who doubted his self-worth (including himself) that he is a worthwhile individual with real value. However, the emotional manipulation that goes hand-in hand with being the chosen one creates havoc for the child leading to extreme codependency or the next generation of narcissists.
Since a narcissist parent will use emotional manipulation that is based on his own shame, anxiety and self-loathing, he will rely on his chosen child to make him feel competent and worthwhile and the child is burdened with the ongoing responsibility of making her parent feel good about himself. The child rarely develops a healthy identity of her own and is seen as just an extension of their parent’s raging ego issues. The child is given the never -ending task of primarily “pleasing” the parent to the detriment of personal ambition and relationships. As this child grows up and in an attempt to deal emotionally with the demands placed on her by the parent , she adapts to the narcissist parent by becoming an accommodating child. This will bring in turn praise and conditional love as long as the child continues to feed the monster. Codependency is formed when a child incorporates this behavior as a habit on its search for unconditional love. Those who resist are given harder treatment and are more likely to be narcissists in later life due to being cast out as a “problem child”.
In practice, the above scenario often moves into the child’s adulthood unchanged. Her prime task set as a child continues, causing havoc with relationships, self-esteem and the child’s own parenting style. This is a child who has been taught to first think about her narcissist parent’s needs before her own. Her parent, who is often to the outside world, a loving father, successful businessman and a pillar of the community, is in reality an ego driven individual who has a grandiose sense of superiority over everyone around him . The demands placed on those chosen to be in his inner circle are impossible to fulfill and tailored only towards his needs. The chosen child may at one stage decide to resist and make decisions based on her needs, something that could be very new to a person who has been controlled all her life in her choice of career and partner. This causes the classic narcissist injury, revoking old feelings of rejection and abandonment for the narcissist parent who responds with classic emotional manipulative tactics..emotional withdrawal, disapproval and focus on the less chosen children in the family. This punishment is done with the knowledge that the codependent child will always return, seeking forgiveness and apologizing for what they have “done”. The child is trapped in the psyche of the narcissist parent who sees her achievements as an extension of his abilities as a “parent”. The parent is motivated to care constantly for her because it makes him feel good about himself.
While the child is extremely codependent towards the narcissist parent, it is often a different story with other people she becomes involved with. Here she resists any form of treatment that she perceives as controlling and manipulative and often plays a narcissist role herself and becomes an emotional manipulator. Given that she has learned to be pleasing and accommodating and is seemingly stable, she will attract partners easily. However, any relationship that is likely to clash with her incessant need to please the narcissist parent will be discarded, even if in some cases she might have wanted to stay in the relationship. Worse case scenario for her is the disapproval of her partner by the narcissist parent. This places her in conflict between his and her needs and true to form, her needs are subdued.
For the chosen child, life is never easy until they can learn to put healthy boundaries around their own and other people’s behavior. They first have to understand what is really happening to them. They often refuse to see their narcissist parent for what they are. They are held by the child on a pedestal beyond reproach, their counsel sacred and the child often sees the narcissist parent as the only one who can truly understand them and provide them with the security they need. In effect, they are just only another pawn in the narcissist parent’s need to feel good about himself. It is child abuse of the highest order.
This Post Has 5 Comments
Firstly great post Dr. J.
You mentioned, “Those who resist are given harder treatment and are more likely to be narcissists in later life due to being cast out as a “problem child” Please elucidate if you would. This is paradoxical and not what I would have expected. I would have expected that eventually the child of a narcissist would glimpse and/or experience what a healthy parent should look like vis a vis staying over a friend’s house in high school let’s say and have the epiphany that mom or dad is malevolent and secretly begin to plan their escape
Secondly, I believe all kids from personality disordered parents, particularly cluster B’s instinctively know something isn’t copacetic about their parent. They may not know the terminology of: parentification, enmeshment, pathological lying, gaslighting, silent treatments. wild mood swings, or rage attacks; but they know it’s not normal what their experiencing again, once they have a best friend
When is the average age the child of a narcissist not just sees the parent as abusive? But begins to individuate from said parent?
What does the data say for how many become narcs themselves? and were they the golden children, the scape goats? or the invisible child?
Thanks in advance, BG
Hi, BG, I was about to comment about that exact same phrase!
My experience was that my younger sister (the Golden Child) was the rebellious one out of us two – I was ‘The Good Girl’ – but my Mum just didn’t like me. I think she saw herself in my sister.
We were the ‘second set’ of children (same parents) – my brother was old enough to be my father. And again, my brother was the quiet one whereas my older sister was more dramatic (when she was around). He was the one who bore the brunt of the physical abuse though, and he got into drugs early on. The family story was that he ‘fell in with a bad crowd’, but I’m pretty sure the amount of physical and other abuse he got from my mum had its effect. He quickly moved far away (including prison). I maintained contact with him more than anyone else in the family, as from an early age he seemed like the one who ‘got me’. He would babysit and he was the one person who liked me more than my little sister – honestly, everyone loved her! I love my brother and hero-worshipped him (he is dead now, died age 55, a heroin addict and alcoholic). I suspect he was a sociopath though. He understood people so well. And he used that against them when he wanted.
Re your last question, my brother was The Scapegoat. My older sister was The Invisible Child’. My older sister and I have been very codependent. My little sister is a mystery – she has always asked me to tell her what is right and wrong, because she really doesn’t know, and that sometimes persists to this day. So she has conscience enough to know she has less conscience than average, and to want to do something about that.
We all had/have eating disorders and mental health problems – depression, anxiety, panic attacks etc. All us girls had relationships with abusive men, and my brother was abusive (not physically) to his partners.
I had no clue my mother wasn’t normal. Despite vowing at an early age to never treat my children like she treated us. I only saw what she was (narc?) in my 40s, when recovering from a relationship with a psychopath.
I believe she and my brother were of the same ilk – both hugely traumatised physically and emotionally in childhood. Given different childhoods, I doubt either would have become toxic people. They are both dead, but I can see the good in both of them still.
I’m sure Dr Jenner will have more to say on this, but it’s so interesting we both picked up on that one phrase!
glitterfluff, I am so sorry you suffered so much at the hands of your mother and then later from a relationship with a sociopath.
My brother began life as Conduct Disordered young teen and then as an adult, if he would ever made it into a shrinks office, no doubt would have been diagnosed with Sociopathy.
Like you, I also ended up in the clutches of a relationship with a Narcissistic-Sociopath who was a sexual sadist. I feel for you, I truly do. It isn’t surprising that there is so many eating disorders and toxic relationships among your siblings. Your very brain chemistry may have been altered through early trauma, as was mine. There is a great article you might find interesting on the Neurobiology of trauma by Martin Teicher: http://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/2000/Wounds_That_Time_Won%E2%80%99t_Heal__The_Neurobiology_of_Child_Abuse/
Know you are not alone with all this. I am excited to hear more of Dr. J’s reply.
Hugs to you gp! ❤️
i believe this has been what has happened to my daughter. Her father (my ex) was t9ld he had major issues when we were in counseling prior to our divorce. Being I came from a similar back ground I didn’t know how to describe what has been going on as I knew my whol3 life something was wrong with my parents, and although I’m not a perfect mother by any means I’ve tried not to be like my parents. I have separated myself from them to protect my son and my 19 year marriage, as they have destroyed so much, but my ex has really done the majority of the problems with my daughter. She is codependent on him and I don’t know if she will ever know the truth. I didn’t go into details when she was young because I didn’t think it was appropriate. She’s 21 now, and I believe I missed the window to protect her, now it’s just time and the patience of waiting and healing myself from the emotional abuse of my family.
All I have to do is to change she to he and her to him and this becomes a real story of someone very close to me.