What is the cornerstone of maternal or paternal narcissism? Do you worry you might be a narcissistic parent? Most of us with children hold the value that we would never consciously do anything to harm our children. When we do, even if unwitting, we carry guilt and heavy remorse. Adult children raised by narcissistic parents are particularly fearful that they will pass the legacy of distorted love onto their children and grandchildren. As many are entering recovery from narcissistic families and childhood wounds, the questions remain deep and serious. Let’s take a closer look and discuss what to do.
The antithesis of narcissism is empathy. If you have unconditional love for your children and can be an empathic parent, you are not a narcissist. Empathy is the ability to get into someone else’s shoes and validate what they are feeling. The art of empathy is being there on this same level to hear and nurture feelings but is different from sympathy. Sympathy often feels to others like we are putting ourselves above them and feeling sorry for them. This does not bring comfort to most. But, if I express sadness, frustration or any myriad of emotions, and you are able to be with me, hear me, acknowledge the feelings and not judge… you are exhibiting an empathic response. If you jump to solutions or tell me what to do, are judgmental or critical, tell me what you do to solve your problems, or feel sorry for me, this is not practicing empathy!
When raising children, creating an empathic environment is crucial for their development of self. Children need to know their feelings matter. It makes them feel real, noticed, seen, heard and visible. When feelings are attended to, the child then learns to trust their own feelings and can continue to grow up feeling empowered by their inner thoughts and emotions. This is in contrast to living in an adult world of crippling self-doubt because they were not heard in their early development.
Empathy does not mean you have to agree. Feelings are feelings are feelings. We can be critical of someone’s thoughts as thoughts can be distorted, but what we feel, we feel. Emotions need to be processed. So let’s say your child does not want to go to school today for some reason that you think is ridiculous. Your value system is about good education, you know you have to encourage the child to go to school, and you are tempted to jump into solutions, or demands. What to do? Empathy with others is not about agreeing, but it is about getting into their emotional realm so you can understand them. When you do this, each moment is a teaching and nurturing moment for a parent. When you probe further, let’s say this same child says they do not want to go to school because they are being “put down” or even bullied. If you jump to demands and solutions, you may miss important emotional information that you need to guide your child. This may sound obvious, but it happens a lot. When we are busy, rushing to meet deadlines, or simply have our own issues to deal with, sometimes it feels like there’s no time to listen. But in reality, these moments are the nuggets of good parenting and worth the slow down. One minute in time can make a difference in someone’s life. It has happened to me and likely has happened to you. These moments are never forgotten, but in reverse, when not heard, that recollection can also stay on memory lane.
Narcissists are not accountable. They blame others, project their feelings, and are not able to tune in. As a parent, being accountable and honest is crucial. This is also a key to not raising a narcissistic child or a child who can’t believe in themselves because they were never validated. When adult children in recovery confront their narcissistic parents, they usually meet with defensive reactions, shame, humiliation, and judgment. How helpful is this? People make mistakes because we are all obviously and painfully human. When your child confronts you about your behavior, don’t be defensive. Be honest and listen.
Sometimes men and women bring their parents to therapy hoping we can change the narcissism. They strive for granting of their ultimate wish of having a loving and caring parent. The first thing the therapist looks for is the ability for empathy in the parent. Usually narcissistic parents come to therapy to inform the therapist how bad their child is. If the therapist begins work on emotional connect and encourages empathy, the narcissistic parent typically walks out the door! Or that same parent is quick to tell the therapist they don’t agree with their therapeutic method and will therefore find someone else.
You may be raising children right now, or be a parent of adult children. Remember that empathy is the key. The greatest gift you can give your children is to listen to what they have to say about their childhood and be there to heal and recover with them. To do this, requires a level of maturity so you are not acting defensive or hurt. Keep the door open for emotional connections and great things can happen. This includes compassion and comfort for pain, but also celebration for joy and success. If you find you cannot do that, consider getting therapeutic help. Learning how to tune in emotionally is an art and it can be taught.
Remember that clothes to wear, food to eat, a roof over the head… is not parenting. That can be found in an orphanage. Real parenting is about finding out who your kid really is. The only way to do that is to guide, teach, nurture and listen to what is going on inside that person, and then to be there for them. It is not about “ my kid the soccer player”, “my kid the ballet dancer”, or “my kid the honor student.” Most adult children of narcissistic parents report that their parents have no idea who they really are. While each child and adult has an outer life with accomplishments and “doing”, each one has an inner life about “being.” If you are tuning into the inner side of your child, you are not a narcissistic parent. Think about how it feels for you when you have someone really listening and caring about what is going on in your emotional world. In our narcissistic and technologically oriented culture, people are hungry for emotional intimacy… especially our precious children.
“ To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.” Stephen Covey
Additional Resources for Recovery:
Resource Website: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com
Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Audio Book: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/workshop-overview-healing-the-daughters-of-narcissistic-mothers
Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride
“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/narcissistic-mother