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Children Of Narcissistic Parents: The Challenge of ‘Reparenting’ Yourself

Children Of Narcissistic Parents

Children of narcissistic parents always get the rough end of the deal; instead of having a safe and protected childhood, all they know are abuse, heartbreak, and manipulation. Parents are supposed to love their children, but children of NPD parents only get pain and trauma.

“If you were born into a narcissistic family, you may have grown up with a roof over your head, but sadly you weren’t raised. You must complete the job yourself. It’s called reparenting” ~ Glynis Sherwood

Related: 10 Things Toxic Parents Say And What They Actually Mean

Narcissistic Abuse, Developmental Deficits & Vulnerabilities

Over the years, as I’ve counseled survivors who’ve been scapegoated by their narcissistic families, many pictures of abuse, neglect, and deprivation emerge. There are the more ‘obvious’ or blatant harms to self-worth, peace of mind, and relationship challenges that many people seem to be aware of.

Sadly, too many people have developed Complex Trauma, arising from long-standing relationship abuse beginning in childhood. Complex Trauma is characterized by PTSD symptoms, such as dissociation, intrusive or numbing symptoms, fight/flight/freeze threat responses, as well as injuries to self-worth, identity, and close relationships.

Complex Trauma can also be characterized by triggering into threat responses such as Fawning/People Pleasing, and what I have identified as Collapse, characterized by giving up in the face of what seems to be insurmountable obstacles, such as unrelenting family bullying aka Scapegoating. ‘

Collapse’ and ‘Freeze/Numbing’ responses can work together to keep the scapegoat paralyzed. 1

These psychological injuries are often very difficult to deal with on their own. Then there are the more hidden faces of abuse that are also insidiously undermining to survivors. These more ‘subtle’ problems tend to be the by-product of ‘sins of omission’.

In other words, damage caused through parental neglect, and a lack of positive mirroring, role modeling, support, or guidance from narcissistic caregivers, can profoundly interfere with abuse survivors’ development into fully functioning, confident, and independent adults.

children of narcissistic parents
Damage caused by NPD parents

What NPD Parents Don’t Do For Their Children Causes Harm – Insecure Attachment and Developmental Deficits

Narcissistic parents don’t really raise their children. Instead, they groom their kids to be mini Public Relations departments and free Psychotherapists for their insecure, self-absorbed, and ultimately, fragile egos.

The amount of positive attention a child receives under these circumstances is conditional on how well they 1/ caretake the parent’s fragile emotional state, and 2/ make their parent look good to others – including family members, and the outside world.

This role reversal leads to the ‘Parentification’ of the child, whose legitimate developmental needs to be guided and supported into adulthood – ie ‘raised’ – are undermined by the needy, demanding narcissistic parent.

The developing child’s individuality is viewed as a threat and actively thwarted by parents who want their children to be flattering extensions of themselves. This leads to extremely destructive family dynamics where the parent is ‘one up’, and oscillates between walled off (dismissive-avoidant) and boundaryless (dependent abusive) behavior towards their child.

Conversely, the child is ‘one down’ and either walled off (frozen avoidant) or boundaryless (dependent fawning or right fighting). 2 The result is the development of an insecure attachment style in the child, either Avoidant or Dependent (formerly known as ‘Anxious’) attachment at best, and Disorganized (dissociative) attachment with alternating Dependent or Avoidant features.

Related: Self-Identifying as an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parents

The Scapegoat – Golden Child Dynamic

The parentified child dynamic is reflected in the Golden Child / Scapegoat polarities prevalent in NPD family systems.

The Golden Child is rewarded with parental approval as long as they do an effective job of surrendering/merging their self-identity with the parents’ ego demands, which require continuous propping up; and ‘performing’ in the outside world in a way that is viewed as complementary to the parent.

The Scapegoat, on the other hand, calls the parent’s bluff in a sense, by failing to merge with unreasonable parental expectations, such as the reversal of parent-child roles. This is likely due to the Scapegoat having stronger boundaries than the Golden Child and, often, opposing or withdrawing from toxic family dynamics that threaten to engulf the scapegoat’s identity completely.

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Glynis Sherwood MEd

Glynis Sherwood MEd, is an individual and couples therapist, author, coach, and educator known for her global Video counseling and coaching services, in-depth self-help articles, podcasts, books, and therapist training resources that help people overcome 'the pain that won't go away'. As a pioneering specialist in family scapegoating relationship trauma, Glynis assists adults and their partners to overcome the hurt of narcissistic family abuse and neglect, low self-worth, chronic grief and anxiety, complex trauma, and relationship challenges. Glynis Sherwood is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada.View Author posts