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The Most Harmful Kind of Parent, Part 2


 photoNarcissism seems to be on the rise in America and therefore so is narcissistic parenting.  One of the biggest problems is that narcissistic parents do not have any inkling that they are doing something wrong.  They are convinced that they are great parents and they convince their children that they are great parents.   They are great actors because they completely believe in their act.

In a case that I became acquainted with (not one of my own cases), the youngest child of a narcissistic mother was designated the “disturbed child.”  The mother suffered from anxiety attacks during her pregnancy with “Mary,” and hence Mary picked up the stress chemicals from her mother’s body and was born cranky.

The mother had not wanted another child, and from the beginning she viewed Mary as a curse that she had to endure.  She continually warned her other children that Mary was different and “not right.”  The mother, being the “casting director” of the family, had everyone, including the father, treat Mary like a second-class citizen.  When Mary was about twelve, she threatened to kill her mother.  The mother, throwing her hands into the air in dismay, sought the help of doctors.

“I just don’t understand her.  I feel her pain.  What can I do?  I just don’t know why she wants to kill me?”  The doctors all sympathized with the mother, as she seemed so forlorn and concerned.  Ironically, the more forlorn and concerned the mother became, the more Mary wanted to kill her.  Eventually, at the doctor’s suggestion, Mary was put in a mental hospital.

The reason Mary wanted to kill her mother, and the reason she wanted to kill her even more when she acted sympathetic and concerned, was because at no time did the mother ever acknowledge that she had a role in her daughter’s anger at her, and Mary was aware of the Big Lie.  When she was at home alone with Mary, the mother would often scream at her, “Why are you doing this to me?  You have the Devil in you!”  Sometimes she would punish her by locking her in a cellar.  Mary was mocked by the whole family as if she were a pathetic person who was trying in some bizarre way to get attention, and therefore she was getting what she deserved.

The mother never gave Mary a chance from the time she was born.  Nor did she feel guilty about anything she did; a narcissistic parent is convinced his or her opinions and actions are almost divinely inspired.  When she talked to doctors, the mother was completely different than she was at home behind closed doors; she acted so concerned and so sympathetic and so distraught by her daughter’s situation that nobody doubted her.  And she never doubted herself.

In the mother’s eyes, her daughter simply suffered from schizophrenia or some other disease and it was the mother’s unfortunate plight to deal with that.  In fact, the mother had shined a negative spotlight on Mary from the time she was born.  All Mary’s actions, thoughts, and spoken words were interpreted as negative evidences of her sickness.

If the daughter said she was angry at the mother, the mother would look at her with great sympathy and reply, “I’m sorry you feel that way.  It’s your sickness that causes you to feel that way.  I love you.”  Thus Mary’s complaints were quickly dismissed by everybody in the family.  Who would listen to a crazy person?

Since the mother was the dominate person in this household, the father was also under her sway and saw things through her eyes.  He served as the mother’s sycophant.  He also treated Mary as if she were disturbed, as did her three siblings, and the more they ganged up on her, the more she acted disturbed.  Sometimes she turned to her father, hoping that he, as the other adult in the family, would listen to her and see what was happening.  But he was like someone hypnotized; he would pretend to comfort her, but down deep he was convinced that she was crazy.

She was deeply disappointed by her father and It was enraging to her to be constantly persecuted by her family (in the guise of concern); and so she had nowhere to turn.  After a while, she preferred living in a mental institution than living with her family.  At least the staff members in the hospital listened to her and gave her some comfort about her family, as did other inmates in the hospital who had endured similar circumstances.

A parent’s job is to provide a supportive and nurturing environment for their children, to love them unconditionally (at least in the beginning), value them and respect them.  However, sometimes a narcissistic parent’s disturbance causes him or her to seek out a particular child and make that child the scapegoat for their narcissistic rage.  And they think up good reasons for doing so.

Adolph Hitler, the German Nazi leader, was one of the most narcissistic people who ever lived.  In his childhood, his father beat him and yelled at him and treated him as if he were the worst human being in the world.  As an adult he developed an inordinate narcissistic pride and saw himself as the great man who would resurrect German greatness, the savior that his father never thought he would be.  He also sought out scapegoats on whom to dump the rage that had been drummed into him by his father.  His scapegoats were the Jews, and he thought up good reasons for persecuting Jews, portraying them as devious, demonic people who were taking over German banks and other financial institutions.

Fortunately Mary found a therapist who did not treat her the way her family did.  She treated her with the respect she always knew, deep down, she deserved.  Through therapy she managed to regain some of the self-esteem she had lost in her childhood.  Narcissistic parenting is harmful for the very reason that narcissistic parents are so good at disguising their harm.  Only the victim of their harm has any inkling about the harm, but he or she is usually so confused and angry that all her complaints seem irrational.


Photo by Kelly Short6

The Most Harmful Kind of Parent, Part 2

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2015). The Most Harmful Kind of Parent, Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 21, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychoanalysis-now/2015/05/the-most-harmful-kind-of-parent-part-2/


Last updated: 20 May 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 May 2015
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