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What Is A Difficult Child?

Let’s talk about parental narcissism instead!

I recently had the opportunity to appear on the Dr. Phil Show and he graciously endorsed my book; Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. The show was difficult, tragic, and told stories of extremes while discussing the topic of maternal narcissism. Although I spoke briefly on the show, I want to expand here because there’s more to parental narcissism than meets the eye of the media.

Whenever I hear people talk about “ a difficult child,” I immediately wonder what is going on in that family. Kids react to their world and feelings with behavior without understanding the big picture. This is why we need parents to explain, teach, guide and help them understand. Well, of course, you say. Everyone knows that. But, I believe there is a piece of parenting that some don’t understand and that is the power of empathy.

The cornerstone of narcissistic parenting is lack of empathy and the inability to give unconditional love. Narcissists do not tune into the emotional world of their child and therefore are not in touch with the day-to-day feelings of their kids. Narcissists worry more about what the child does rather than who the child is. They see their kid’s behavior as a reflection of them.

Narcissists also are not in touch with their own feelings and therefore project those feelings onto the child. This leaves the child in a state of wonderment and confusion. “What did I do?” “ Is it my fault that my parent is unhappy?” “Why can’t my parent love me?”

While broken bones, belt spankings and other physical abusive acts may be easier to detect; we must discuss and give credence to the damage caused by emotional and psychological abuse of children as well as neglect. Having worked with hundreds of adult children of narcissistic parents, the most haunting effect described from childhood is a constant feeling of being “not good enough” and “unlovable.” Where does this come from? It comes from trying to please the parent or make the parent love them but to no avail. It’s about running to the well and finding it void and empty over and over. Narcissistic parents cannot give what they don’t have. It’s like they have a shiny red bike and it looks really cool on the outside but they have no clue how to ride it. It confuses the poor kid watching and hoping in anticipation.

I want to declare and shout that parenting is not about food, clothes, and a roof over your head. You can get that at an orphanage. Parenting is tuning into the emotional welfare of your children and caring about what they are thinking and feeling. It is noticing who they really are and encouraging them to be their special authentic selves. It is the life long job of guiding, nurturing, and treasuring them every step of the way. I call it “permanent parenthood!” Adult children of narcissistic parents consistently say to me, “ I just wanted to be seen and heard!”

I’m not so sure we have “difficult children.” Every “difficult looking” child I’ve seen, has had a horrendous story to tell about their life. We’ve all seen and heard recent and horrendous stories of violent children and their tragic acts in the headlines. If we want to make a difference, it is important to continue to educate about parental narcissism. If kids are exposed to domestic violence, play violent video games, watch violent movies, and even see news stations condoning crazy parent behavior like shooting a kid’s laptop to make a point…and at the same time these kids do not have parents tuning into their emotional worlds…what is the outcome?

The anti-thesis to narcissism is empathy. Parent with empathy, tune into the emotional welfare of children and make a difference. As our wise president confirms, “ Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen.” Barack Obama

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio 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:



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