Children of Narcissists
I found this on a site (source link at bottom of post) and find much to be true. Some points I disagree with (such as I have met many children of narcissists who are VERY co-dependent.) I also want to note that many of the ideas below are true…but for some, healing and boundaries take a long time to achieve.
As with all things narcissistic, I suspect it has to do with the degree of narcissism in a parent; whether there was only one parent who was a narc or if there were two narcissist parents and I also think the degree of malignancy would probably come into play.
This site is about identifying and healing so take what you need and leave the rest behind!
Many say that narcissists’ children are likely to marry narcissists. While I see where this idea comes from and have seen it happen myself, I have not observed any “co-dependence.” That’s a fancy word for being a glutton for punishment.
The truth is more complicated than that. Also, let us not forget that we are talking about normal people. Yes, they typically are meek, too patient, and have low self-esteem. But that does not make them sick in the head. They are also typically strong. Unlike the personality-disordered, they are not machines. They each respond to the influence of parental narcissism in his or her own way.
In fact, I bet research would find that the normal children of narcissists are more likely to never marry. This might depend on whether the narcissistic parent was father, mother, or both and on whether the child is a man or a woman.
I can hear those gears in your head grinding. Does this mean that they are likely to be homosexual? Considering all the Freudian permutations that could be at work, that doesn’t seem far out to me. But I don’t know of any homosexual children of narcissists. I know of one frigid narcissistic daughter of a narcissist, and I will bet the farm on another. But, I have seen nothing in the normal children of narcissists that hinted at anything but typical heterosexuality. Unless you subscribe to the bigoted myths that all married people are heterosexual, that all single people are frigid or homosexual, and that homosexuality is some mental disease.
There are, however, some other things it is pretty safe to say about the normal children of narcissists.
One is that they are likely to tolerate narcissists. When you grow up with things, you have no way of knowing that they are abnormal. You think that some people “are just like that.” You’re trained to tolerate it, because to do anything but is a sin. You’re even brainwashed into thinking it’s your fault. You have no way of knowing that everybody’s home is not like yours, that you are growing up in a home headed by somebody who belongs in psyche ward.
If you are a Baby-Boomer, you didn’t even get a clue from TV. You grew up watching Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver. Father’s role reinforced your narcissistic father’s superiority and infallibility by virtue of his age, size, and sex. But since TV fathers came from a different planet than yours, the threshold for suspension of your disbelief was much higher than for other people. Too high. So these shows, which challenged everybody’s ability to suspend disbelief, weren’t even remotely realistic to you. Never once did they make you wonder why, unlike the TV father, your father took no interest in you, never put his arm around you, never played with you, never had anything to do with you at all. That’s because you never viewed TV as a portrayal of real family life. Therefore, even TV gave you no clue that other families were different, that your daddy sucked and that you had every right to what you craved. TV today is a little better at portraying normal family life, but not much.
Yet tolerance of narcissists is not knuckling under to them. Let’s clear up the sloppy thinking that equates the two.
Nobody knows better than the normal children of narcissists that, to survive as a person, you must never let anyone own you. They protect their right to private ownership of themselves, because they know the consequences of letting others make their personal and private choices for them. Such as what to think, how to feel, what to say. They know that letting anybody treat your head as his property, to furnish as he pleases, is moral prostitution that destroys your integrity. They also know that, like any partier who takes over somebody else’s house, he is probably going to trash it.
And so, though narcissists ballistically violate every right to privacy they see, thinking their own privacy extends to the outer limits of deep space, the normal children of narcissists are keenly aware of the borders of personal privacy and have fortified them. For example, one narcissist I know of ordered an employee to take the rest of the day off. This was a dirty trick that had successfully gotten other employees to falsely incriminate themselves by obeying the order. But when he tried to thus make up the mind of a narcissist’s daughter, he hit a brick wall. She replied, “You can send me home if you want, and if you do I’ll go. But you can’t order me to take the day off. And I choose not to take the rest of the day off.”
Note the willing obedience up to a sharply drawn line she would not let him cross. How do the children of narcissists get so clear about their boundaries and so solid in defense of them?
By surviving a childhood like the story of The Three Little Piggies and the Big Bad Wolf. Each little piggy’s house is his person, the private property of his body and mind. Our deepest instincts compel us to not let the Big Bad Wolf just barge in as if he owns the place. Why? Because doing that to another’s body is sexual rape, and doing that to another’s mind is moral rape, and even little children feel violated by either act. But, unlike the other little piggies, the narcissist’s child has learned that when you say no, the Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and tries to blow your little house down. So, this little piggy built his of brick.
Note that this is true strength, backbone, integrity, moral purity. It is not the phony strength people of swollen self-esteem think they have. To the contrary, you find it in the modest. Note also that this is responsibility for oneself claimed, not avoided. In other words, the normal children of narcissists are often more grown up than many other people are.
Another thing it is safe to say about the children of narcissists is that, from birth, they have had their self-esteem relentlessly assailed. Abused feelings are tender, sensitive feelings. As easily injured as burned skin. That is just a fact of life, not a moral fault.
So, the children of narcissists are quite sensitive to criticism. It causes them real pain, because it inflames old wounds. To avoid this pain, they are conscientious and try hard to be liked. Since they aim to please, so long as you respect their boundaries, you can easily get them to do anything they do not think is wrong or foolish. Yet they have been trained to feel that something’s wrong with them if some intolerant person just can’t stand them being the way they are, looking the way they look, feeling the way they feel, or thinking what they think. All this manifests itself as low self-esteem and marks them as sensitive.
Vicious attacks on sensitive feelings and low self-esteem draw far more blood than they would otherwise. So, the normal children of narcissists might as well go around wearing a target with the word VULNERABLE emblazoned on it. On seeing it, every bully in town thinks, “There is somebody I can really hurt” = “somebody I can be really powerful on.”
Thus, narcissistic abuse in the home dooms them to life as a target for every bully they encounter. This is one reason why the children of narcissists do marry narcissists – not because they seek narcissistic mates, but because narcissists spot and target them as vulnerable prey. The wolf puts on sheep’s clothing and sweeps her off her feet, idealizing her and showering her with affection. Till the honeymoon is over. Then Dr. Jekyll’s mask comes off. She was no more likely to fall for this con artist than anybody else. Probably less likely, in fact. But narcissists target the kind of people the normal children of narcissists are.
Often a narcissistic parent targets one child, the most sensitive/vulnerable, to take the brunt of his vaunting abuse. Watching this puts the others through worse hell than his abuse of themselves does. It makes them hate bullying with such passion that they become protective. Hence, they often become altruists. They are unlikely to join everybody else in kissing up to a bully by sicking on whomever he is terrorizing them by making an example of. If the targeted child in their home takes it out on the rest of the world by becoming a narcissist himself, his brothers and sisters feel so sorry for him that they make excuses for him and take his abuse far too long.
Another thing it is safe to say about the children of narcissists is that they have a different view of marriage than other people. For example, the narcissistic son of a narcissistic mother may show no interest in marriage till she is about to die. Then he seeks a replacement for her. The narcissistic daughter of a narcissist may choose to remain single because she “wants no one to own her.”
Of course, other factors that vary over time influence marital choices. For instance, half a century ago, being an “old maid” was almost unbearably shameful and made one a social outcast, excluded from social events and the community of friendships that married couples can take part in. It also meant that one would never make a decent living, achieve social stature, or own a home. Though equal rights and the high divorce rate has made society less hostile to the unmarried over time, to this day many employers don’t want bachelors.
The normal children of narcissists are nonetheless more careful about marrying than other people are. They have seen nothing in marriage that anyone would want. They dream about “true love,” and like most of us, find nothing that fits its description in the movies. They do very much want to avoid the suspicious and critical view society takes of the unmarried, and they want very much to fit in. They also want children. But, the daughters of a narcissistic father, for example, have seen nothing mirrored in their father’s eyes for a man to love. So, they doubt professions of love and fear that a lover just wants a wife. They live in fear of a life like their mother’s. This ambivalence and caution, through sheer lack of luck, sometimes lead to never finding somebody they trust enough to marry.
Sad? Yes, but not nearly as sad as women who need a man, who view themselves as worth only what they are worth to some man, and who surrender their self-respect to get one. The absence of cupidity is not a vice.
Yet another thing it is safe to say about the normal children of narcissists is that they have probably picked up bad habits in interacting with others. Outwardly, some of these bad habits appear narcissistic. Yet it is easy to tell the difference between a narcissist and a normal person. How? By simply asking him to stop it. The normal child of a narcissist will stop it. (A normal person who is not the child of a narcissist may not be so good about stopping it.) But a narcissist will do it all the more.
This section shows why you should not jump to conclusions about people. There are many more normal children of narcissists than narcissists. So, run that little test of asking him to stop it before you make any judgments.
These behaviors persist through young adulthood. They gradually disappear after the child leaves home, as he gets used to normal people and how things work in the real world.
For example, the child of a narcissist may impolitely enter a room talking to interrupt the extant conversation. He hasn’t been taught that this is bad manners. To the contrary, his (dominant) narcissistic parent did that twenty times a day. Also, he has found it so hard to get attention that he feels he must hijack it.
The difference between him and a narcissist, however, is easily demonstrated. If you ask him to stop it, he takes the message deeply to heart. In fact, you will find yourself trying to make him feel less bad about it. His behavior will change. A narcissist’s never does. To contrary, if you ask a narcissist to stop doing something, he does it all the more.
Again for example, the only humor he was exposed in his unhappy home was the unfunniness of sarcasm. Life with a narcissist left even his normal parent with nothing to laugh about, except – you guessed it – sarcasm. But again, if you ask him to stop it, he takes the message deeply to heart. Again you find yourself trying to make him feel less bad about it. Again his behavior changes. Whereas a narcissist’s never does.
When the child of a narcissist leaves home, it takes a while for his own, natural sense of humor to germinate and grow in a new environment that is not hostile to it. The good news is that, by the time they reach their thirties, the normal children of narcissists often display a sense of humor more witty and charming than that of most other people. Perhaps because they themselves appreciate it so much.
Again for example, the child of a narcissist may not accept praise or compliments gracefully. He is unused to them! Like anything extraordinary in our world, this extraordinary event throws him off balance. He has never learned to simply say, “Thank you.”
Like a narcissist, he may protest that he doesn’t deserve it. But his reason for doing so is the opposite of a narcissist’s. It’s not because he feels it would humiliate him to say “Thank you.” It’s because this praise or compliment conflicts with a long history of judgments against him as being inadequate. He may suspect flattery. This goes with what I said above about the daughters of male narcissists doubting professions of love.
Here again, the difference between him and a narcissist is easily demonstrated. If the other party takes the bull by the horns in the direct approach and responds with, “Why don’t you just say ‘Thank you?’” or “I am not flattering you. I really mean it” the child of a narcissist ponders his behavior and changes it. A narcissist never does.
The normal parent can do much to ease her child’s adaptation to the real world by watching for such behaviors and teaching him to cope with these situations in interactions with normal people. It is as easy as saying, “When somebody compliments you, just say ‘Thank you.’”