4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

Manya Wakefield
Jan 6, 2020 · 4 min read
“The default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.”

A pathological narcissist has mastered the art of inflicting psychological devastation without ever raising a hand. Their skillful manipulation of people’s perceptions and emotions leaves a trail of bloodless crimes in their wake.

This kind of person regards the pain and suffering they cause as a testament to their omnipotence. In reality, it is a manifestation of their sadistic nature.

The default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.

A narcissist weaves a web of lies to entrap their victims. They win their romantic partners through deception and maintain their relationships through coercive and controlling behavior.

Thus, children of narcissists are born into a gaslit reality and given to the care of a psychological predator.

Here are four subtle ways narcissistic parents abuse their children.

“The narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their spouse and children.”

1. The false self becomes a false idol

As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.

Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.

Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.

If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.

2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction

Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.

In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.

The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.

Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.
Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.
“Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.”

3. Love is conditional

Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.

For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.

Love is intermittent reinforcement with spouses and children alike.

The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.

Narcissists reject children who are not like them.
Narcissists reject children who are not like them.
“The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit.”

4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them

Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.

In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.

The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.

Conclusion

To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.

There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.

Resources

Kernberg, Otto F. Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publ., 2004.

Kohut, Heinz. The Analysis of the Self A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Ronningstam, Elsa (2005). Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 22–27.

Ronningstam, Elsa (19 January 2016). “Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Recent Research and Clinical Implications.”

Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism: the Bad — and Surprising Good — about Feeling Special. New York, NY: HarperWave, 2015.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Trauma informed solutions for suvivors of narcissistic…

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store