Narcissistic parents have the same characteristics as narcissists. They admire and overestimate themselves to compensate for inner (unconscious) feelings of inadequacy. They tend to be selfish and self-involved and approve of those who admire them (provide them with narcissistic supplies) and condemn those who do not. They can’t have authentic, loving relationships because they aren’t empathic and tend to be egocentric as well (viewing things only from their point of view). All of these things adversely affect their parenting.
As parents they tend to form family myths. Generally the myths are about how glorious their family is. An offshoot to this idealization of the family is an idealization of themselves as parents. Children are indoctrinated from an early age with respect to how divine their parent or parents are. These children learn, sometimes the hard way, that they are never to question the parents, to overlook all inconsistencies, and to unconditionally admire the parents and the family no matter what.
A narcissistic mother may regard herself as a superior person who has had the misfortune of marrying a loser. The husband may be a successful lawyer or doctor, but to the wife he is a loser because he just doesn’t get it. What he doesn’t get is her (that is, he doesn’t confirm her superiority). She begins to indoctrinate her children from the time they are born, portraying herself as a long-suffering wife, a noble spirit who deserves more, who works herself to the bone, yet receives no credit for it from her husband, the lout.
Her children must dutifully mirror what she wants to have mirrored. If a child should fail to say she is the most noble in the land, she will unleash her wrath on that child. Hence her children learn soon enough that they can never question her superiority nor their loyalty to her and to the family. She is the superior mother and the family is a superior family that is more sensitive, more insightful, more everything than other families.
Tennessee Williams portrayed a narcissistic mother in his play, The Glass Menagerie. In the play, Amanda, a single mother whose husband ran away years ago, regales her two children with stories of her idyllic youth and the many suitors who once chased her. Unconsciously competitive with her daughter, she pretends to help her by trying to find suitors for her, but at the same time shames her about her painful shyness, which makes her all the more shy. The play graphically shows how a mother’s narcissism and need to be superior renders her oblivious of the harm she is doing to her children.
A narcissistic father may regard himself as the best teacher around. Because he sees himself that way and is quite dedicated to his craft, others may see him that way as well. His students will feel lucky to have him because he comes off as very charismatic. He creates a myth in his classes that he is the greatest of the great and should be admired by everyone. Any student who doesn’t admire him is shamed into submission.
As a father he is horrible. He is more interested in his students than he is in his son. At school he is on a grand stage where his narcissistic supplies (admiration) can be obtained almost at will. His son wants to be loved by this admired figure, but his father is too busy getting his supplies at school to notice his son. Unconsciously, the father projects onto his son the inadequate feelings he compensates for with his narcissism. The father is great and his son is an embarrassment to him. He must constantly reprimand the son for doing things badly, frequently finishing the job for him. In rejecting his son, he is denying his own feeling of low worth.
Children of narcissistic parents can be shamed and rejected, as in the above case, and subsequently grow up to be adults with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. They can also end up being quite dependent on the parent (which is what the parent unconsciously wants) and never be able to individuate–that is, establish an independent and true self. The degree of inadequacy and dependence depends on the severity of the narcissism of the parent. They may have trouble establishing friendships or love relationships and always be comparing themselves unfavorably with others (as they learned to do with their parents).
Other children become the narcissistic extension of their parent. The parent channels his or her narcissistic overvaluation onto the child, overvaluing the child. Such is the case of a stage mother or a baseball father. The child’s role is to attain the position of superiority and status that the parent was unable to achieve. Such children grow up to be narcissistic personalities and sometimes do achieve a degree of success. However, that success is at the expense of an authentic and truly fulfilling existence.
The case of Tiger Woods comes to mind. Tiger Woods grew up under the tutelage of his father Earl Woods. Earl trained his son from an early age to become the world’s greatest golfer. Nothing else would do. The father took the son out on the golf course from the time he could hold a club and drove him hard. He even attached a list of the 18 major golf tournaments that Jack Nicklaus had won (which is the all-time record) to his son’s bedpost and preached to him almost daily how he was going to break this record.
Woods did well as long as his father was alive. But after Earl died, Woods began to decline. He won 14 majors, his last coming in 2008. After that he went through a highly publicized scandal in which his marriage fell apart due to multiple extra-marital affairs that came to light. He never seemed to recover his form after that, went through a number of injuries, and did not have his old confidence. I believe his decline had to do with his dependence on his father and his lack of true belief in himself independent of his father–which led to his need for approval from multiple women. People are still waiting for him to regain his position at the top of golf. I don’t think that will happen.
Narcissistic parenting may seem great when viewed from the outside. People often look at narcissistic parents and narcissistic families and admire them, because such people and parents are focused on appearances and make sure they are giving off positive vibes. But underneath the shiny surface, the cracks are spreading.