Those who have survived abusive childhoods at some time or another have run into someone (or many people) making banal excuses to explain away their experience. “Parents aren’t perfect.” “They were doing their best.” “Just wait until you’re a mom or dad.” While it’s true that no one is perfect and most people don’t intend to hurt their children, these excuses wound children of narcissistic parents at their core. These sorts of trite phrases are often used by narcissistic parents to manipulate and dupe others into believing their child is the unreasonable one. It is not possible to ever reason or win an argument with a narcissist. In order for the child of narcissistic parents to have any identity at all, they must get far away. While it is considered “normal” for most families have some form of dysfunction, narcissistic homes are especially toxic. The following are some common differences between “normal” parents and narcissistic parents.
When the child of a normal parent forms an aptitude or skill that is different from the interests of the parent, a normal parent will find a way to encourage it. For example, a parent who loves football has a child who loves ballet. That child will be encouraged to dance, even if the parent has to miss a game on TV every now and then. In a narcissistic family, A narcissistic parent will force the child into playing football, and accuse their child of being disobedient when they lack aptitude or interest. Multiply this scenario by every potential interest a narcissist could have and a child could have, and the tally quickly adds up to a miserable existence for the child.
When the child of a normal parent confronts them about a problem or a complaint, a normal parent will listen, take ownership of their mistakes, and do what they can to correct it. In normal relationships, honest, tactful confrontation will lead to better understanding of one another, and a closer relationship. If a child of a narcissistic parent tries to confront a problem or complaint of any size, a narcissistic parent will accuse their child of being ungrateful and double down on whatever behavior the child complained about. For example, a child asks a normal parent to knock before entering their room. Ok, sure. The parent does it. If the child of a narcissistic parent asks this, the narcissistic parent will accuse the child of doing something nefarious behind closed doors, blame the child for not being more grateful they have a room of their own, and then will burst in on them without knocking even more often.
A normal parent seeks to understand their child. Even if the child is upset, they don’t take it personally. They try to see their point of view even if they don’t agree with it. A narcissistic parent to will attack, accuse, and blame their child, then complain that their child is the one attacking, accusing, and blaming them.
A normal parent will respect their child’s right to their own point of view. A narcissistic parent will do anything and everything they can to control the narrative. The only “reality” that is allowed to exist in a narcissistic household is the one belonging to the narcissist. With that often comes delusions of persecution, delusions of grandeur, or both. In the narc’s world, everything that is “good” is what serves the narcissist’s ego, and everything “bad” is what doesn’t. A narcissist’s warped opinions about the world, and especially about their child, are forced onto others as the one and only truth. A child who challenges this rule will be shamed and shunned.
A normal parent has their own identity, and respects the separate, unique identity of their child. A narcissistic parent’s identity is to be held up above all else. Their child does not have an identity. The child of a narcissist is obligated to live their life in sole service to the parent’s identity. Any other action will be considered disloyal and cause for punishment. A narcissistic parent sees their children as extensions of themselves, not as separate and unique.
The quest for identity becomes the single beacon of hope for a survivor of narcissistic parents. They can either choose their own personhood, or they can be slaves to delusions and expectations that satisfy their parents’ egos. It is impossible for them to have both.