Stunted Development of the Real Self
In this process, children may lose touch with their real selves and real likes and dislikes. Instead of exploring who they really are and where their true interests and talents lie, they can get off track entirely and spend their time only doing things that they are already good at and they think will get their parents’ approval.
The Result: Too much parental idealization may lead to an unbalanced view of the self. When this happens, the child then perceives any flaws as unacceptable and strives to be seen as perfect. It is a short hop, skip, and a jump from this to full-blown Narcissism
Occasionally, these children resist their role as “The Golden Child,” do not become Narcissistic, and are embarrassed by the excessive praise that they receive. They feel burdened by the role that they are asked to play in the family. One mother told me: “My son is the flagship of the family who will lead us all to greatness.” Her son told me: “I just want to get off this endless treadmill and live my own life without having to meet my parents’ crazy expectations.”
Scenario 4: The Exhibitionist’s Admirer
Some children grow up in a Narcissistic household where there is an Exhibitionist Narcissist parent who rewards them with praise and attention as long as they admire and stay subservient to the parent. These children are taught Narcissistic values but are discouraged from exhibiting themselves for admiration. Instead, their role in the family is to uncritically worship the greatness of their Narcissistic parent without ever trying to equal or surpass that parent’s achievements.
This is an excellent way to create Covert or Closet Narcissists. The children learn that they will be given Narcissistic supplies—attention and praise—for not openly competing with the Narcissistic parent and that these supplies will be withheld and they will be devalued if they openly try to get acknowledged as special. All their value in the family comes from acting as a support to the ego of the Exhibitionist parent.
In adulthood, these children feel too exposed and vulnerable to be comfortable in the spotlight, so their Narcissism and self-esteem issues are less obvious to anyone who does not know them well. Some adapt to this role very well and lead productive lives in a job that involves supporting a high achieving Exhibitionist Narcissist whom they admire.
Example: Cindi and the “Great Man”
Cindi was the personal assistant of the CEO of her company. She admired him and lived to serve him. She felt special through association with him. She treasured any small bits of praise that she had received over the years from him and kept all the holiday and birthday cards he had given her. Cindi never married because she was so focused on her job and had Narcissistic values herself. Whenever she met men who wanted to date her, they always seemed lacking compared to her boss. As she explained to one of her girlfriends, “After working so closely with my boss, other men just seem too inferior to bother with.”
Punchline: Once you know what to look for, it is easy to see how certain childhood home environments support Narcissistic adaptations by the children. In some homes, becoming a Narcissist is often the only sane solution.