“Narcissist” – This word has been broadcasted over social media greatly over this past year. There have been an influx of quizzes and articles along the lines of, “Are you dating a narcissist?”, “Symptoms of a narcissist” and such. However, we rarely speak about the effects that narcissism has in a non-romantic manner, specifically, how it affects children who are growing up with a narcissistic parent.

What is a narcissist? A narcissist is typically someone who has an inflated sense of their own self-importance, a deep need for excessive admiration and attention, paired with a lack of empathy for others. They want to have control over others and situations. They may come off strong and confident, though they often have fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest of criticism.

L.R Knost said, “Teaching our children to control themselves is far more effective than trying to control our children. Model, don’t manipulate. Lead, don’t intimidate. Support, don’t shame. Encourage, don’t threaten. Guide, don’t punish. Listen, don’t lecture.” When it comes to parenting, no one is perfect. However, one should always try to parent in a manner which encourages growth and happiness, rather than to make their child feel small. Unfortunately, making people feel small, is a common attribute of the typical narcissist along with the other negative traits listed above.

When a narcissist has a child, it is as though the child will recognise, in their early stages, that he or she exists to provide as a reflection of, or serve, their parent – when it should be the other way around. The child will experience conditional love, meaning that unless they be or do what is expected of them, love won’t be demonstrated. The child must mold their personality to fit what the parent wants, and push aside their own personality in order to please.

Narcissists are complicated for most adults to understand, so with especially young children, one can just imagine how confused they are. Young children will not be able to identify the narcissists tricks or stunts and will end up feeling intense shame. They will feel as though they keep failing their parent and in turn, turn on themselves, thinking that something is wrong with them.

The child will suffer from great anxiety and low self-esteem, they will grow up feeling as though they are not good enough despite consistently bending backwards trying to please others. Their feelings of safety and well-being, confidence and courage will be damaged and unless recognized and treated, carried through their lives. Often, they will spend their lives seeking validation and never feeling it, struggling with over-sensitivity, insecurity and will be unable to see their own self-worth, or see themselves of being loveable.

According to Dr. Karyl McBride (PH.D, P.C) children of narcissistic parents will never feel valuable or good enough, be afraid to speak up or challenge others, be acutely attuned to what everyone around them is feeling (since they grew up needing to do this with their parent) which makes them vulnerable to others’ emotions. They will feel chronically unsure of themselves and deeply insecure. When forming relationships, they are challenging or deeply unsatisfying (perhaps even toxic) as those raised by narcissists are unfortunately drawn to them. Adult children of narcissists will gravitate towards a toxic relationship and will try to cater to and keep their partner happy, even if it means pushing aside their own needs, wants and feelings.

Unfortunately, most adult children of narcissists never get the help they need to heal because they have no idea that what they experienced as a child was emotional abuse and unhealthy – and so the cycle may continue. We can end this cycle by being aware of narcissistic behaviors so that we may spot them in others – and ourselves too.

If you feel you have experienced any of the above, please, speak to a therapist or trusted loved one about your experiences so that you may work through the trauma and symptoms that remain from them. You can start new and make sure that the cycle ends with you.

Are you looking for a family lawyer in Durban? Durban Law Offices have an entire team of family lawyers available to assist you. Protecting children’s and family rights is a passion for Durban Law Offices and our lawyers function to protect. Please contact us on 031 836 0307 or email us at karen@durbanlawoffices.co.za should you need any advice or assistance.