The disorder of narcissistic parenting creates significant emotional damage to children. If not understood, children raised by narcissistic parents grow up in a state of denial, thinking it is their fault and they are simply not good enough. If good enough, they would have been loved by that parent. While this is a cognitive distortion about self, the myriad of internal messages gleaned from childhood have a haunting effect on adult children of narcissistic parents. "Will I ever be good enough?" "Am I lovable?" "Am I only valued for what I do and how I look?" "Can I trust my own feelings?" Sound familiar?
The word "narcissism" is becoming more of a household term, but is usually used in disparaging others. It is not funny, sometimes not understood, and often used to describe a haughty or arrogant person. The reality is, true narcissism is a serious disorder that harms children. I don't find the humor. Narcissists are truly all about themselves and cannot show genuine empathy. They have a limited capacity for giving unconditional love to their children. The alarming effects are cause for concern.
Identifying parental narcissism is not about encouraging another category of victims. Carrying anger, blame, resentment or rage for that parent is not the point. It is about love, education, and understanding so that healing can happen. Children and parents need some common points of connection to be able to recover and move forward with a deeper template. Being able to identify childhood internal messages is significant to thousands. Often a narcissistic parent is not a full-blown narcissist, but has many narcissistic traits. The impact of understanding can assist in repairing past damage. It is true that full-blown narcissists are unlikely to change, but the adult child can do his or her own internal work for recovery.
That said, the six faces of maternal narcissism are identified as: the flamboyant-extrovert, the accomplishment-oriented, the psychosomatic, the addicted, the secretly mean, and the emotionally needy. A parent can be a mixture of these types and often that is the case. Although brief, the following will explain each type.
The Flamboyant-Extrovert: This is the mother about whom movies are made. She's a public entertainer, loved by the masses, but secretly feared by her intimate house partners and children. She's the showbiz or stage mom and is all about performing. She's noticeable, flashy, fun and "out there." Some love her but you despise the masquerade she performs for the world. You know that you don't really matter to her and her show, except in how you make her look to the rest of the world.
The Accomplishment-Oriented: To the accomplishment-oriented mother, what you achieve in your life is paramount. Success depends on what you do, not who you are. This mom is about grades, best colleges, and pertinent degrees. But ... if you don't accomplish what she thinks you should, she is deeply embarrassed and may even respond with fury and rage.
The Psychosomatic: The psychosomatic mother uses illness and aches and pains to manipulate others, to get her way, and to focus attention on herself. She cares little for those around her. The way to get attention from this kind of mother is to take care of her. This kind of mother uses illness to escape from her own feelings or from having to deal with difficulties in life. You cannot be sicker than she. She will up the ante.
The Addicted: A parent with a substance abuse issue will always seem narcissistic because the addiction will speak louder than anything else. Sometimes when the addict sobers up, the narcissism seems less—but not always. The bottle or drug of choice will always come before the child.
The Secretly Mean: The secretly mean mother does not want others to know that she is abusive to her children. She will have a public self and a private self, which are quite different. These mothers can be kind and loving in public but are abusive and cruel at home. The unpredictable, opposite messages to the child are crazy-making.
The Emotionally Needy: While all narcissistic mothers are emotionally needy, this mother shows the characteristic more openly than others. This is the mother you have to emotionally take care of, which is a losing proposition to the child. The child's feelings are neglected and the child is unlikely to receive the same nurturance that he or she is expected to provide for the parent.
If your parent had some of the above traits, it is important to note that they were not born that way. They likely had their own insurmountable barriers to receiving love and empathy when they were children. This does not take away your pain. We cannot ever condone child abuse. But, this knowledge does help accomplish a deeper understanding.
If your mirror is empty and your childhood lacked in proper nurturing, remember as an adult that recovery is the answer. It is mostly internal work that must be done. The healing five-step recovery model is outlined in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Once we understand, we can move forward and build an internal mother who is always there when you need her—unlike the narcissistic mother, who is always there when she needs you.
Do you recognize some of these faces in your upbringing? Find additional resources for recovery here.