Like everything else in their lives, pathological narcissists need to be parents so they can feel good/better about themselves. Despite their public proclamations, everything is always about themselves, and never the child. Having a child allows them to fictionally repackage their life in which their buried core shame is replaced with candy-coated feel-good illusions.
Such narcissistic repackaging manifest as a “good-parent narrative” that is built upon distorted and often false facts, and a story that recasts them into a victim-turned-hero. These narratives allow them to experience superficial and repeated transient occurrences of the affirmation and validation that has been absent from their life, especially during their childhood. Such a contrived situation puts extra distance between them and their shameful feelings of being fundamentally inadequate or broken.
For the good-parent fantasy to ease the narcissist’s core shame, the pleasing “trophy child” or “golden child,” the future adult codependent, is required to abandon the factual version of their life while squeezing into the badly fitting and very uncomfortable costume of the contrived version.
In other metaphorical words, the narcissistic parent forcefully places their “virtual reality goggles” onto the child, all the while coercing and manipulating them into abandoning their own real/accurate perceptions and adopting the grandiose, unrealistic, and patently false version of reality. The programming of the child with the parent’s own selfish narrative is not only a form of gaslighting but also another pathological brick-in-a-wall that blocks the child from ever experiencing self-love — the antithesis of codependency.
1. GOD . . . GIVER OF LIFE
The narcissist adopts a God-like persona, reinforced by their holier-than-thou and sanctified “creator of the child’s life” storyline. Their head is in the clouds as they float in their grandiosity and entitlement about the miracle of life they produced. This reinforces their constant need for the child and others to exalt them as a God-like figure.
2. THE OPPOSITE PARENT
The Opposite Parent adopts the unrealistic and illogical view that they will love, respect, and care for their child in a way their parents never did. They reduce the quite complicated task of rearing a child into the simple belief that they will be a “good” parent if they raise their own children in the exact opposite way their parents raised them. In other words, by inverting their own childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and/or deprivation, the Opposite Parent believes they know exactly what a good parent should look like and how they should behave.
Hence, these narcissists unreasonably believe the inversion of their own childhood attachment trauma will supply them with the necessary information and guidelines for healthy parenting. Predictably, the transmutation of their attachment trauma into a parenting handbook results in frustration, anger, and deeper feelings of shame. The desire to be what their parents never were becomes an unsustainable system of theories they are unable to bring to fruition.
3. VINDICATION—EVERYONE WAS WRONG ABOUT ME
This is common for adults known by most people, especially their parents and siblings, as the family’s bad seed or problem child. They are thwarted by the consequences of their anger, hatred, aggression, selfishness, and impulsiveness. Although they feel justified in the harm they’ve caused others, they privately feel regret and shame for the loss of acceptance and relationships that followed their bad behavior.
As “good parents,” they aim to prove to the people who wrote them off as bad or unlovable, that they were wrong. Such narcissists mistakenly believe the people to whom they are trying to make a point will experience remorse, guilt, and shame for their inaccurate harsh judgments. Their hopes that such “vindication” will reduce their pervasive toxic core shame are simply not psychologically possible. Hence, their efforts paradoxically instill deeper judgments about not being worthwhile or appreciated than before they became a parent.
4. LOOK AT ME NOW—I WAS ALWAYS GOOD
This philosophy is adopted by narcissists who are or were shy and introverted children and adapted to their severe attachment trauma by disappearing into the background. This narrative also applies to adults who were once emotionally neglected and deprived children. Although being invisible made them feel safe, they were crushed by the fact that no one ever noticed or showed appreciation for how good or talented they really were.
This good-parent version allows them to finally put themselves front and center in the lives of the people whose attention, appreciation, and love they always wanted, but never received. Putting the spotlight on themselves, they can showcase their “good parenting” abilities and finally get the accolades and acknowledgments they always deserved.
5. THIS WILL HEAL MY TRAUMA
By being what they believe is a “perfect parent” who raises a “perfect child,” the attachment trauma they are aware of will miraculously be healed. Not only is this expectation unrealistic and nearly impossible, but the child ends up being resented or held responsible when it, predictably, doesn’t happen. Once the child temporarily relieves their parent’s core shame and deep longing for recognition and affirmation, they are placed on the highest of pedestals as the miracle child. Because shiny trophies eventually tarnish, the child’s healing properties will ultimately diminish over time.
6. LET ME SHOW YOU MY PERFECTION
This parent’s narcissism is so severe they aren’t conscious of their core shame. Like most people with NPD, they keep the focus on themselves, while downplaying the contributions of others. This situation is used by the “professional parent,” who does almost everything while making sure everyone knows it. They are a natural at marketing and publicizing their perfect parenting. The child is the lead actor in their meticulously written, feel-good script. The lonely and neglected child behind the scenes is never seen.
7. SOMEONE FINALLY NEEDS ME!
Pathological narcissists who are conscious of their very low self-esteem and loneliness daydream about the happiness a child will bring them. Unconsciously, they become reliant on the child’s dependency on them. Every sacrifice or good deed reminds them of their self-worth. Like drug addicts, they crave the opportunity to coddle and care for the child as it fills them with feelings of existential worth, hope, and contentment.
Being recognized as the perfect parent is the primary motivation for their kindness, affection, and nurturing. When the child attempts to individuate from the parent, the house of cards comes tumbling down—that is when the narcissists’ core shame re-emerges. This is also the type of narrative that is responsible for the extremely toxic nature of an overly enmeshed parent-child relationship.
8. MY CHILD WILL MAKE ME IMMORTAL!
The severely narcissistic and potentially sociopathic parent is more emotionally invested in their bloodline and the child’s role in carrying it forward than in the child themselves. The child is the golden ticket who will legitimize their life, assuring them of their imagined legacy. The fact the child will outlive them provides hope that the world will never forget them and their fictional contributions. Unfortunately for the child of a pathologically narcissistic parent, a future fraught with constant approval-seeking and narcissistic injury-dodging will be a tough road to travel. With courage, determination, and the help of a psychotherapist with a trauma background, the outlook can become brighter and more imbued with self-love abundance – The Codependency Cure™.
Ross Rosenberg M.Ed., CADC, is Self-Love Recovery Institute’s CEO and primary contributor. His internationally recognized expertise includes pathological narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and attachment trauma. Ross’s “Codependency Cure™ Treatment Program provides innovative and results-oriented treatment.
Ross’s expert educational and inspirational seminars have earned him international acclaim, including his 23 million YouTube video views and 240K subscribers. In addition to being featured on national TV and radio, his “Human Magnet Syndrome” books sold over 150K copies and are in 12 languages. Ross provides expert testimony/witness services.
More about Ross and his educational and inspirational work can be found at www.SelfLoveRecovery.com.
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