If there are two or more children, the parent will praise one and devalue the others. The “good one” can quickly become the “bad one” and suddenly a different sibling is elevated. Nobody in the family feels secure and everyone spends their time trying to pacify the explosive Narcissistic parent.
The other parent is often treated exactly like the children and belittled as well. When he or she disagrees with the Narcissistic parent, they too are devalued.
Children who grow up in these households feel angry, humiliated, and inadequate. They are likely to react to their childhood situations in a few different ways.
The Defeated Child:
Some of these children simply give up and accept defeat. In their teenage years, after decades of being told that they are worthless, they may spiral down into a self-hating shame-based depression. Then to escape their inner shame, they may try to lose themselves in impulsive, addictive behaviors. Some become alcoholics and drug addicts, others spend their days on the internet. They never achieve their potential because they have been convinced that they have none.
The Rebellious Child:
These children overtly reject their parents’ message that they are “losers.” Instead, they spend their life trying to prove to themselves, the world, and the devaluing parent that they are special and their parents were wrong. They pursue achievement in every way that they can. Proving they are special becomes a lifelong mission, while underneath there is always a harsh inner voice criticizing their every mistake—no matter how minor.
The Angry Child:
These children grow up furious at the devaluing parent. Anyone who reminds them of their parents in any way becomes the target of their anger. They sometimes become Toxic or Malignant Narcissists themselves. It is not enough for them to achieve, they must destroy as well.
Example: “Pretty Woman”
In this movie, Richard Gere portrays a wealthy businessman who buys and breaks up companies. He enjoys destroying the life’s work of the former owners of these companies because all of them are symbolic substitutes for his hated father. The movie turns into a Cinderella story after he hires a prostitute (Julia Roberts) with whom he eventually falls in love. Even his choice of a love object is typically Narcissistic. I have met many wealthy Narcissistic men who can only show love to women that they “save” who are safely below them in status.
Scenario 3: The Golden Child
These parents are usually closet Narcissists who are uncomfortable in the spotlight. Instead, they brag about their extremely talented child. Often the child is very talented and deserves praise, but these parents sometimes take it to ridiculous lengths. This type of excessive idealization of a child as flawless and special can lead to the child having a Narcissistic adaptation in later life.
The Effects of Conditional vs. Unconditional Love
Everyone wants to be seen realistically and loved unconditionally. If children believe that their parents only value them because they are special, this can contribute to underlying insecurity. No one wins all the time. No one is better than everyone else in every way.
Children who are idealized by a parent can begin to believe that they are only lovable when they are perfect and worthy of idealization.
The Perception of Flaws and Shame
When parents idealize their children, the children may become ashamed when they see any flaws in themselves. This can lead them to keep striving for perfection and proof that they are flawless and worth idealizing.