Is It or Isn’t It Narcissistic Parenting?

An article from the website Psychalive caught my eye this week, and I thought I would share some of the information I found about narcissistic parenting.

I invite us all to think about this concept

photo of diane wagenhalsReferring to an article from the American Psychological Association entitled “Stress by Generations,” the authors theorize the fact millennial parents report being under much more stress than in previous generations might be the result of high levels of narcissism.

They share that narcissistic parents derive a sense of self by the successes and accomplishments of their children. Some of the parents who are practicing helicopter parenting are actually living through their children’s lives, feeding their own egos through the achievements of their children.

The authors shared an example from an episode of the television show “Modern Family:” when housewife, Claire, took her teenage daughter, Alex, to an academic decathlon. “Used to seeing her daughter victorious, Claire made snide comments to fellow parents and made sure to let the judges know whose mom she was. When Alex made a small mistake, and was eliminated in round one, Claire made a scene and plotted ways to protest the loss. All the while, she tried to downplay and deny her deep investment in her daughter’s success. When Alex finally got it out of her, Claire confessed, ‘I like it too much when you win. I really love lording it over the other moms.’” 

They also share the following…

Another problem with narcissistic parents is that, while they may seem to support their children’s accomplishments, they often feel competitive with their children. They would like their child’s successes to reflect on them and attract attention to them, but at the same time, they do not want to be overshadowed by their kids.

“In this way, narcissistic parents don’t support a healthy sense of self-esteem in their children. Instead, they draw attention to themselves, using their children in a way that is disregarding and hurtful. The only use these parents have for their child is to reflect favorably upon them. Narcissistic parents often truly suffer from low self-esteem and are living through their children to compensate.”

The authors see that some of these parents are confusing love with emotional hunger. They state that “these are the parents who think they are giving their love by showering them with constant attention and yet are failing to see how much they are pulling on or draining the child.”

What do the authors’ describe as the effects on children of growing up with narcissistic parents?

They may carry fears of falling short and the sense that they will never be good enough. Their insecurities may lead them to become narcissistic themselves, seeking out attention and approval just to prove they are okay.”

This certainly was food for thought, and I think the authors made some very valid points.

At the same time, I wonder if sometimes it is normal and even healthy for parents to love seeing the reflection of their beliefs, values, hopes and dreams in what their children do, and to be delighted with their accomplishments and for the children in turn to know how much they have pleased their parents.

Perhaps it’s a matter of the degree to which this happens as well as how dependent parents are on their children for their own self-esteem. That is an unhealthy stance, versus being involved and supportive of children without some of these narcissistic pressures the authors describe.

Is the source of the stress described always the result of narcissistic parenting? Or is it sometimes the more legitimate stress that comes with concerns of providing a safe and loving environment where children can thrive in a world that isn’t always all safe or supportive of children?

Invitation to Reflect

  1. To what extent do you identify with the description of narcissistic parenting? Do you feel that sometimes you are looking for your children or that their successes are your successes? These authors suggest that can be a red flag for you and for your children.
  2. On the other hand, to what extent do you feel excited and delighted when your children are successful without it necessarily being all about you? Can you see where there might be a happy medium and feeling pride in and celebrating your children’s successes without taking on the attributes of narcissistic parenting?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network

Image courtesy of Fox News: