- It can be hard to escape the harmful influence of a narcissistic parent, even as an adult.
- Desperate to keep their child's attention, a narcissistic parent may engage in dangerous behaviors, such as stalking or threatening them.
- Narcissistic parents often send others out as their emissaries to guilt adult children back into an unhealthy dynamic.
Growing up, we may learn how to play along with a narcissistic parent’s mind games, but once we leave home and try to set up our own independent and separate existence, the games may get uglier.
The goal of a narcissist’s behavior is to keep their target victims engaged and in line. Like an addict seeking a fix from a dealer, narcissists seek their “supply” from the people they groom to meet their need for ego feeding and submission. The harder you try to separate yourself from a narcissistic parent, the harder they will work to keep you engaged, at any price to your well-being. If you were raised to show your parents unwavering respect, trying to figure your way out of a trauma bond with a narcissistic parent generates its own form of trauma as you are driven to separate from the person who should offer you refuge rather than maltreatment.
When children grow up and are able to leave home, regardless of the role they played, their narcissistic parent may do all that they can to keep the adult child ensnared in the family drama. Some of the more dangerous behaviors that narcissistic parents inflict upon their adult children include the following:
Yes, narcissistic parents may physically stalk you and your family or engage in cyberstalking through your social media sites or, if you still live at home, through your cell phone or computer communication platforms. Stalking their object or supply is similar to the way that an addict seeks their “fix.” When you are out from under a narcissist’s gaze, the narcissist will do everything they can to bring them closer to where you are—and this is how stalking originates. Having you in their sights, such as watching your home, or following you on the street, or following your social media account if you’ve not already blocked them, is how they maintain a sense of “closeness” and control.
Ending a parent’s stalking behavior is challenging. You may have to resort to a “no contact” mindset and avoid engagement of any form with the parent. However, that is what often generates covert stalking—when you tell a narcissist “no,” it incenses them and makes them even more eager to access the supply that you provide. If your parent cannot leave you alone, you may need to take legal action and obtain a protection order, if warranted. Trying to reason with a narcissist is usually a pointless exercise, so you must put your own well-being at the top of your priority list and take any legal steps necessary to build a barrier that will work.
Sending out their flying monkeys
Narcissists have an uncanny understanding of others and can always be counted on to find some ally somewhere whom they can convince of the lies that the narcissist believes about themselves. Whether it’s a relative, a new mark, or someone who considers the narcissist a friend, the narcissist may be able to convince them that the parent-child relationship dysfunction is due to a tragic misunderstanding on the part of the now-adult child. The Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz used her flying monkeys to go after the innocent Dorothy and her pup. Your narcissistic parent may use their flying monkeys to go after you.
The sibling who didn’t see the narcissistic attachment your parent had to you might try and convince you to cut your parent some slack—“Mom/Dad didn’t mean what they said the way you thought that they meant it. Quit hurting them.” A distant relative might implore you, “Your parents aren’t as young as they used to be; let go of the past and show up for the holiday dinner. Quit being so hard on them.” Or even a friend of your own that your parent has gotten to might side with your parent, “Come on, I know that’s how they treated you when you were a kid, but your mom is a great lady/dad is a cool old dude; stop giving them so much grief.”
When the flying monkey gets on your shoulder and starts the “monkey chatter,” use the same techniques to silence the flying monkey that you’d use to still your “monkey mind” in meditation—rather than getting caught up in an argument about whose story is the “true” story, take a deep breath, ground yourself, and respond, “Yes, I know that you’re just sharing what you heard from my mom/dad.” Don’t get caught up in arguing—the “innocent flying monkey” won’t believe how awful your parent actually was, and the “conspiratorial flying monkey” will not only disbelieve your truths, but they will have bought into your parent’s lies about you and see you as the villain, not your parent. By maintaining your cool, responding politely and calmly, and refusing to be drawn into drawn-out, pointless, lose/lose discussions about “(mis)truths,” you are making sure the flying monkey has no “juicy gossip” to take back to feed the narcissistic parent.
As hard as it is to be matter-of-fact and refuse to engage in defending your perspective, it is essential to maintaining your overall well-being. Have empathy for the duped monkey who is just one more mark to your parent, and keep moving forward in your life.
Threats and intimidation
The “shine” rubs off the narcissist in virtually all relationships at some point in time. When this happens, and the narcissist loses their power over someone who is important to their sense of self, they may resort to an ugly and underhanded method of getting their way and keeping people in their reach. This is a common occurrence when a narcissist’s adult children finally break free and begin to create a life beyond their families-of-origin. When it comes to the threat of losing contact with or access to their adult children, narcissists may resort to threats of disinheritance, cut-offs from other family members, and, in some cases, legal actions to maintain access to grandchildren.
When you’re an adult, but a narcissistic parent continues to treat you the way they treated you as a child, it can have the effect of making you feel as if you were still that child. Don’t allow yourself to be forced back into the unhealthy relational patterns of childhood, and remind your parent—and yourself—that you’re now an adult and that their efforts to “guilt you” or “threaten you” aren’t going to work now. Remind them that you are an adult who has the right to live the life that you decide is right for you and make decisions that you feel are right for you and maintain the relationships that you feel are right for you.
Your role is not to please your parents but to create a life that pleases you. If you are still dependent on your parents, however, for any type of support or resource (living in their home, taking money from them, working for them, receiving childcare for your kids, etc.), the rules may need to be different. So long as you are accepting any type of resource from them, you are giving them leverage over you that can continue the unhealthy relationship as long as the gifts or services are proffered and accepted. Seldom do any narcissists give any gifts that do not have strings attached.
If you truly want to disrupt the narcissist’s grip on you or the family you've created, you will need to achieve autonomy and independence in all that you do—personally, professionally, financially, and relationally.
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