Since writing Codependency for Dummies, countless people contact me about their unhappiness and difficulties in dealing with a difficult loved one, frequently a narcissistic partner or parent who is uncooperative, selfish, cold, and often abusive. Partners of narcissists feel torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving, but they can’t seem to do either. They feel ignored, not cared about, and not important. As the narcissist’s criticism, demands, and emotional unavailability increase, their confidence and self-esteem decrease. Despite their pleas and efforts, the narcissist appears to lack consideration for their feelings and needs. Over time, they become deeply hurt and frustrated. When the narcissist is a parent, by the time their children reach adulthood, the emotional abandonment, control, and criticism that they experienced growing up have negatively affected their self-esteem and capacity for achieving success or sustaining loving, intimate relationships.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
The term narcissism is commonly used to describe personality traits among the general population, usually someone who is selfish or seeks attention. Actually, a degree of healthy narcissism makes a well-balanced, strong personality. On the other hand, a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is much different and requires specific criteria that must be met for a diagnosis. It only affects a small percentage of people – more men than women. Someone with NPD is grandiose (sometimes only in fantasy), lacks empathy, and needs admiration from others, as indicated by five of these summarized characteristics:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents
- Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
- Requires excessive admiration
- Believes he or she is special and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or of high-status people (or institutions)
- Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
- Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her
- Has “an attitude” of arrogance or acts that way
The disorder also varies from mild to extreme. But of all the narcissists, beware of malignant narcissists, who are the most pernicious, hostile, and destructive. They take traits 6 & 7 to an extreme and are vindictive and malicious. Avoid them before they destroy you.
Children of Narcissists
Narcissistic parents usually run the household and can do severe damage to the self-esteem and motivation of their children. Often they attempt to live vicariously through them. These parents expect excellence and/or obedience and can be competitive, envious, critical, domineering, or needy. Although their personalities differ, the common factor is that their feelings and needs, particularly emotional needs, come first. As a result, their children learn to adapt, become codependent. They bear the responsibility for meeting the parent’s emotional needs, rather than vice versa.
Whereas their parents feel entitled, they feel unentitled and self-sacrifice and deny their own feelings and needs (unless they, too, are narcissistic). They don’t learn to trust and value themselves and grow up alienated from their true selves. They may be driven to prove themselves in order to win their parents’ approval, but find little motivation to pursue their wants and goals when not externally imposed (e.g., by a partner, employer, teacher).