In his book, The Shadow of the Object, psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas famously wrote, “Character is the trace of relationship.”
He meant that to a large extent, our personalities are the fruits of the relationships we form in our lives.
But what happens to our development when we live under the guidance of narcissistic parents? Below we have listed the most common effects.
1. Guilt and indecision
Grown-up children of narcissists fear that they will cause someone else pain by acting in their own interests. Their parents conditioned them to believe that they mattered most, and it is hence difficult for the children to put their own needs first because they fear that by doing so they would look selfish. This can stagger their mental development for many years to come.
2. Neverending self-blame
Narcissist parents are too preoccupied with themselves to hear the pain of their children. And because emotionally sensitive children who are desperate for love cannot just walk away and find a new family, they often nurture hope at the expense of their self-esteem. They tell themselves things like “The problem is me.” or “If I were better, my mom would not treat me this way.” Sadly, we often blame ourselves for what’s missing in our lives in order to preserve a shred of hope.
3. A deep caring for others
As a result of not receiving enough emotional care as children, oftentimes, adult children of narcissists have a great ability to empathize and show immense love for others, as well as form deep and lasting relationships. And that, thankfully, is a positive thing!
A narcissist parent can burst into anger or tears at any moment (most times unexpectedly), which forces their children to hide in their shell in order to avoid triggering one of these outbursts. It can feel like walking on eggshells; doing all they can to avoid their parents’ meltdown. In turn, this results in the child avoiding confrontation at any cost when they become adults.
5. Extreme narcissism
Naturally, the more aggressive a child is, the more likely they are to respond to their narcissistic parent’s behavior by incorporating it into their own character. The child may develop a grandiose view of themselves in order to make sure that no one can make them feel unimportant and small again. So, if a person is born with a stubborn, explosive temperament, and is parented by an abusive or neglectful narcissist, they are more likely to end up becoming narcissists themselves.
Gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation in which one person makes another doubt their own ability to make sensible decisions by questioning their memory, perception, or judgment.
Being raised by a narcissist can leave the child feeling as if they have little to offer to the world as an adult, even if, in reality, they’ve become a great person. Their talents and abilities may have been downplayed by the parent while growing up. The parent may have done so because they were threatened that the child might become better than them in whatever aspect.
Even when the grown-up victim of narcissistic parenting achieves some sort of success in life, they may feel unworthy or undeserving of it.
The more abusive the narcissist parent is, the higher the likelihood of a traumatized child. In turn, this can cause the child to develop a certain fear of life which can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Excessive abuse can throw a person into a state of high alertness, which constantly makes them anticipate and fear the next dangerous situation. This can usually lead to emotional numbing, unwanted memories of abuse, high levels of anxiety, and even a fear of the future. When life is seen as a threat-filled experience, there is little room to think of a positive future.
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