It may be a mystery to some: the fact that people who have one or two narcissistic parents later attract one narcissistic partner after another. Why would you continue this destructive pattern? Does it make you deeply unhappy? But if you look a little deeper, it’s not that mysterious at all.
The relationship we have with our parents as children is the foundation for all our other relationships in life. This is especially true for intimate relationships. After all, our parents are the first people we make a real, important connection with. In this relationship we get our first real ‘training’ in dealing with people – and especially people we love. And in the case of narcissistic parents, we are trained in our most innocent phase by master manipulators – for their own sake.
Effect of the Narcissistic Parent on Relationships
Earlier I wrote an article about the second, lesser-known type of narcissist: the hidden or ‘sensitive’ narcissist . Both overt and covert narcissists have a destructive effect on their children’s development, especially how they later form relationships with others and what kind of partners they attract. There are a few differences, but also major similarities.
It’s all about the narcissist
Whether it’s the “pathetic” covert narcissist who threatens suicide after attempted suicide, lays on the couch drowsy and draws all the attention to himself, or the overt narcissist who must have the highest word and the best and most beautiful should be, the effect is the same: it’s not about the child. Everything revolves around the narcissistic parent and their needs.
When you depend on such a parent as a child, you are trained to ignore, support, be public, applaud, to maintain the relationship and survive. After all, as a child you are completely dependent on this person: for love, attention, shelter, food, safety. Your parent is your world. You don’t know other than this world. But in the narcissist’s world, there’s really no place for you to shine – you serve as a helper, audience, nurse, punch bag, or showpiece.
We learn in this way that we only get ‘love’ (actually: the appearance of love) and attention when we give ourselves away and are how the other wants us to be. Because of this, we develop the tendency later, as adults, to fall in love with partners who carry the same dynamics and demand the same sacrifice from us – we are so used to giving them and seeing the other as they want to be seen, that we have gone think it’s love.
But giving yourself away is not love. As Jack Cornfield writes in “The Little Buddha Book,” “As long as your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” (“If your compassion does not include yourself it is incomplete.”
In this way, children of narcissists learn that having their own identity is a luxury they cannot afford. Any display of self-expression and self-confidence is ignored or precipitated with negativity. In this way they learn from an early age to adapt to the other, to keep themselves small and to see the other as the person that matters – ”As long as I am what the other wants me to be, then I finally get the attention, recognition , appreciation and love (or in the relationship with a violent narcissist: security) that I desire.” But that wish is never fulfilled in the relationship with a narcissist.
Hidden narcissists in particular are masters at making their children feel guilty when they are happy, choose for themselves, put themselves in the world and go for what they want. After all, the covert narcissist cannot do all that. To see that their child can do it naturally hurts and reminds them all the more of their own emptiness. Then the narcissist uses all the weapons that cause the child to shrink again and decrease her frequency: from making the child feel guilty (“If you take care of yourself, you will abandon mom”) to frighten and even mistreat – anything to regain the upper hand. Because children by nature always blame themselves,
The greatest trick of the narcissist, the master illusionist, is to make the child believe that he or she is inferior and unimportant—when it is precisely the narcissist who suffers from a huge emptiness, lack of true self-esteem and true self-love . I’ve had clients of many adult children of narcissists who had the most wonderful talents and qualities – but couldn’t bring them into the world because their parent(s) had led them to believe they were worth nothing.
Therefore, the most important thing you can do as a child of one or two narcissists, before re-entering an intimate relationship, is to heal your own foundations, face and transform old patterns, and recognize and appreciate your own wonderful qualities. When you can experience yourself again as the beautiful Divine child of the Universe that you are, with all your unique qualities, you will start to attract partners who do the same, from their own wholeness – and then you can form real relationships based on true love .