Do you know anyone who has an exaggerated feeling of self-importance? They might also have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their behaviors and beliefs. They could also have a strong need for admiration but lack feelings of empathy for others. If this sounds familiar then you know a narcissist. Having narcissistic traits is very different and much more common than having a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But being involved with either type can be very painful, unsatisfying and downright dehumanizing.
While many people have become somewhat familiar with the psychotherapeutic term, those who are most impacted by narcissism are the children who grew up around it. Although not every child is affected in the same way, research continues to uncover the effects of growing up in a home with a self-obsessed parent.
According to mayoclinic.org “behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” Most narcissists are not who they appear to be. They are actually quite sensitive and can feel overwhelmed by sadness. Their way of hiding these feelings is often through boasting, bragging and exaggeration.
Growing up around a narcissist can create fear and confusion for a child. It also can disrupt their sense of self, which is vital to become a happy and healthy adult. It trains a child to become disconnected from their own needs because their survival is dependent satisfying the needs of the narcissist.
Looking back at your childhood, would you say your feelings, ideas and wants were ignored? Were you constantly doing things your parents wanted to do, even if they weren’t necessarily “child-friendly”? I once had a client who told me that in grade school, while on a father-daughter trip to Quebec, her dad left her alone in the hotel all night to go out to a jazz club. His focus was so skewed towards his own enjoyment that he neglected to consider her needs. This situation was just one of the many many ways he put himself before her.
While it may seem counterintuitive, many people who grow up with a narcissistic parent may express certain character traits of the disorder. Although they may tell themselves they never want to be like mom or dad, that is exactly who they end up becoming. Others find themselves in a close relationship with someone who is a narcissist, often in an unconscious attempt to heal the relationship with their parent. Which will most likely not heal the original wound unless the unconscious information becomes conscious and is processed with the help of a skilled professional.
One of the most upsetting aspects of any dysfunction is that it can be passed on in a family system through many generations. The thought patterns and behaviors create a snowball effect that, unless healed, continues from one generation to the next. The Red Book for Adult Children of Alcoholics says “These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism or other dysfunction made us “co-victims”, those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink.” The same goes for children of narcissists. The good news is there is help.
If you have inherited narcissistic traits, married a narcissist or find yourself in close relationships with people who systematically disregard your needs for their own please know that you are not alone. There are many different therapy options that can help you overcome and work through these issues. If you aren’t sure where to start, PsychologyToday.com has an extensive list of therapists you can search by specilaty and geographic area, so that you can find someone that is just right for you. Also the internet is filled with excellent articles on how to overcome a narcissistic parent etc.
Taking the first step isn’t always easy and healing can be hard, but it is worth it. Having more insight into the dysfunction of your parents and how it may still be impacting you, will help you make changes and different choices in your relationships and perhaps in reference to your own behaviour. You deserve to have the opportunity to create harmonious heart connections, with yourself and others. I hope you will take whatever steps you deem necessary and as always, take care of you.
In the comments below please share how narcissism has played a role in your life and how you plan on managing it.
Love Love Love
*image courtesy of a.pasquier