My choice of this topic was inspired by many situations that arise from my own living environment, including myself as well, and are related to unhealthy separation process between the parents and their children as well as the separation anxiety that can occur in both sides of the process. Inspired by these stories, I wanted to explore more and to find some reasons why the separation process may be corrupted, interrupted or simply stuck.
So let’s start from the beginning. What is narcissism? Narcissistic personality disorder is one of the several types of personality disorders. It is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. However narcissism does not occur in a single form but it should rather be seen as a scale where the individual can express a certain degree of a particular behavior associated with narcissism. Typically narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and may be especially envious of, and threatened by, their child’s growing independence. The result may be what has been termed a pattern of narcissistic attachment, with the child considered to exist solely to fulfill the parent’s wishes and needs.
Commonly parents attempt to force their children to treat themselves as though they are their parents’ puppets, or else be subject to punishments such as emotional abuse. Relative to developmental psychology, narcissistic parenting will adversely affect children in the areas of reasoning, emotional, ethical, and societal behaviors and attitudes as they mature. Within the realm of narcissistic parenting, personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of manipulating the child to satisfy the parents’ expectations.
Now let’s check the children perspective. Obviously, growing with a narcissistic parent would mean that the kid often has troubles with self-confidence and self-image. These two aspects are mostly affected in a manner of the children naturally asking for love and gratification. The narcissistic parent, however, would give their attention and love only when the children are satisfying their needs. So they grow up in an environment where they constantly have to satisfy their parent’s needs in order to feel good about themselves and most of all to be supported by their parents.
How to “break up” with a narcissistic parent? Growing up, you may have been quick to try to please your parents so much so that your own needs and desires feel secondary to this day. As an adult, you may realize you’ve given your parents all the ego boosting and validation you can and need to put yourself first for once. Once the priority is established, the individual must learn how to detach and set clear boundaries. Under setting clear boundaries falls one very important element and that’s the element of avoiding confrontation. The individual must learn that it’s not their fault for their family relationship and that the parent will not just let go of them. It is a long and difficult process but once it’s started, it can be very rewarding for the child’s personality and mental health.
Tiana Ivanovska is a graduated Psychologist and Masters student on Strategic Management of HR. She is also a Gestalt therapist under supervision. She loves retro music, video games, nature and simplicity. She is participating in a summer internship programme at Willingness.com.mt.