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Common Behaviors of Narcissistic Parents

by Maryann Gathoni

Parents are the primary caretakers of a child. They play a critical role in ensuring they get the right footing. Some of us grew up in families where our parents planted seeds of respect, love, and independence. But in others, parents planted seeds of guilt, fear, or obligation.

Does the second family resonate with you? This post is for you.

Yes, you, my friend, could have narcissistic or toxic parents. But how can you be certain that your parents are toxic? In this post, I'll cover some of the behaviors of narcissistic parents.

Who is a Narcissistic or toxic Parent?

First and foremost, no parent is perfect. Most of our parents have made major mistakes that have caused us emotional pain.

Some parents consistently project patterns of negative behavior on their children. These parents are toxic and narcissistic.

Toxic parents are often abusive, emotionally unavailable, and neglectful of their children's needs. These behaviors continue to dominate even when their children are adults.

Most toxic parents will never accept that their parenting style is hurtful and damaging to their children. They cling to behaviours as normal parenting styles.

But why?

Because it is the only way they know to parent. That's what they learned as the optimal way of parenting from their parents and grandparents. According to them, they turned out alright; thus, it is the best parenting style.

Characteristics of Toxic Parents

They are dismissive and disconnected from their child.

A toxic parent(s) are emotionally, financially, or physically unavailable. The parent can be home every day but always involved in their activities. From their point of view, providing basic needs is enough parenting.

They miss creating a secure emotional connection with their child(ren). The inability to connect emotionally with your child sends the message that the child's emotional needs don't matter.

As an adult child of a dismissive parent, you may also exhibit emotional disconnection. You may become too involved with work, friends, or spouse that you lack time for your children. A dismissive parent focuses much more on quantity than quality.

They are the judge and jury of the child's needs, behaviour, dreams, and wants

This is contemptuous behaviour. The parent is always belittling, condemning, criticizing and emotionally blackmailing their child(ren). Contempt illustrates disgust and is poisonous to any relationship.

It is okay for your parent to complain about your behaviour. But criticizing can destroy a child or adult child's personality or character. Toxic parents label their children a 'liar' when they accidentally provide misinformation or 'lazy' when they delay doing a task.

These behaviours are typical in teenagers; humiliating or name-calling can lead to character assassination.

It is okay to be angry at your children, but only if the anger is genuine, appropriate, and out of concern and caring. However, the anger may become toxic if it turns to criticism and demeaning comments that illustrate a sense of disgust with a child(ren).

Toxic parents compete with their children

Dunham (2012) identifies these kind of parents as superstar parents. Superstar parent reminds their children that they will never be better than them. They're invested in things their children are interested in and focus on outshining them.

They minimize your accomplishments and goals. They comment, "It is great that you scored all As and Bs, but when I was in your grade, I scored all As, and I walked to and from school." These comments or criticism undermine your security as a child and even as an adult child of a toxic parent.

They parentify their child(ren)

As a child of a toxic parent, you may have assumed the roles of your parent and been conditioned to believe that every other child does these roles universally.

You find yourself embarking on ensuring that your parent's emotional and physical needs are met, even when it's generally understood that it is a parent's responsibility to meet the child's needs and take care of them.

Has your parent said any of the following?

Why can't you do something that impresses me?"
"Your sister/brother saw that I was upset, and came to me. But you continued playing. You're selfish."

If your parent vocalized these comments, then you could be parentified.

A child forced to become their parent or parent their parent has no one to look up to, emulate or learn from.

According to Susan Forward's book, a lack of parental role models during the critical stages of a child's emotional development leads to a loss of sense of identity.

They have an inflated perception of self

The toxic parent perceives themselves as superman/women and has unreasonable expectations for their performance, wealth, and success.
This parent doesn't believe they can be inadequate in any aspect. As far as they are concerned, they are more worthy, competent, and deserving than anyone.

The parent will be hurt by any sign that you don't consider them superior or important as they perceive themselves. Even when you slightly disagree with their opinion, they become seriously offended, which plants seeds of fear and confusion in a child.

This parent behaves like a god and wants you to believe they are perfect, so when they treat you badly, it is because you're bad. These traits prevent you from facing the painful truth that your godlike parents betrayed you and snatched your independence when you were most vulnerable.

They have a sense of entitlement.

Toxic parents have an entitlement attitude, which drives everyone insane. They believe they are more deserving and important than others, and thus they should receive all the attention and special consideration.

They further believe that they shouldn't abide by rules and regulations, defer to others, wait around, or be considerate of others.
You may have experienced or observed behaviours such as;

• Your parent gives orders and expects immediate obedience

• Expects lavish gifts

• Insist things be done their way

You're just not good enough for a toxic parent
No matter what you do, how much you achieve, or how much other people respect and honor you, you will always be the bare minimum to your toxic parent.

They have unspoken expectations

They will blame you for not reading their minds and living up to their unspoken expectations.

They are hovering controllers.

Control is not really a bad thing. Let's look at it in different ways.

If a mum restricts a toddler from wandering into the stress, we don't perceive it as control but as prudence.

The mother exercises control that aligns with reality and is motivated by the need to protect and guide the child.

The control may become inappropriate when the mother restrains a teenager who can safely cross the road.

A controlling parent denies their children the opportunities to explore, master skills, and risk failure. These children become helpless, inadequate, anxious, and fearful in their adult lives.

Based on human development, we begin to outgrow the need for parental control and guidance when transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Adequate and non-toxic parents give young adults the power to make decisions and develop diverse perspectives.

On the other hand, toxic parents continue to manipulate, invade and dominate their children's lives. The fear of not being needed makes the controlling parent instil a sense of powerlessness in their adult children.

The controlling parent comes up with phrases such as, "I am doing this because I love you," "this is for your own good," I don't want to lose you."

Toxic control may manifest in the following ways;

• Intimidation

The parent gives you ultimatums. Your opinion doesn't matter, and your desires and needs are irrelevant. They will use phrases such as, "if you don't pursue medicine, I will disown you."

• Manipulation

Manipulation is a powerful form of control. Manipulative people get what they want without asking.

We sometimes manipulate others because we aren't confident enough to ask for what we want. As such, we use indirect methods to ask. Hence, manipulation is a normal way of human communication. However, it becomes harmful and when used consistently as a control tool. One of the most devilish manipulations is when a parent creates a situation for their adult children to need them. This form of manipulation is packaged as well-meaning assistance. For example, your mother always brings food to your apartment, citing that you're not eating well.

If you are a child of a toxic parent, I can only imagine the pain and suffering you could be experiencing. Toxic relationships have a strong effect on one's emotional well-being.
But trying to change your parent is an uphill task.

During my training as a psychotherapist, and based on my own experiences, I have learned that we have little control over people. Although we can persuade or influence them to change, we cannot do much.

It may be painful to accept that you can't change your parent or anyone else. Only they can initiate the change. Reminding yourself of this fact often will save you a lot of pain.

You can always seek support and guidance from a professional therapist to address the wounds inflicted by toxic and narcissistic parents.

Related Information on The All About Psychology Website

How Many Types of Narcissist Are There?

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