Narcissistic parents cause enormous harm to their children. When grown, these victims of narcissistic abuse face seemingly insurmountable problems, including the formation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
This article shall examine narcissistic abuse, narcissistic personality disorder, and their effect on the children of narcissism.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of many diagnosable conditions for those who are narcissists mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, edition five (DSM-5). The DSM-5 classifies NPD as a personality disorder and is an accurate diagnosis. Up to 6.2% of the general population have narcissistic personality disorder (Miller, Widiger, & Campbell, 2010).
People who have NPD have damaged self-esteem that is easily harmed by even small criticisms. They are continually looking to shore up their weak areas of self-opinion. To accomplish this need for self-preservation, they abuse and use other people, including, unfortunately, their own children.
The following are characteristics are usually found in someone who has narcissistic personality disorder:
- A sense of uniqueness
- Boastful behavior
- Exaggeration of their talents
- Grandiose fantasies
- A sense of superiority
- Self-centered behavior
- Self-referential behavior
- A deep need for attention and admiration
(Ronningstam & Gunderson, 1990)
People living with narcissistic personality disorder are both male and female. These men and women are entirely responsible for their actions regardless of the existence of a diagnosis.
A malignant narcissist is capable of destroying families, including their own. Malignant narcissism is a mix of narcissistic disorder and antisocial disorder, a rude and harmful combination.
The behavior of a malignant narcissist is dangerous because they use personal information to harm others who love and depend upon them. They know their victim’s likes, dislikes, and weaknesses to manipulate them into fulfilling their needs. There is little to no empathy or acknowledgment on the part of the malignant narcissist that what they are doing is wrong in any way (Glad, 2002).
Malignant narcissists cause others in their lives to “walk on egg-shells” to minimize the frequency of the narcissist’s impulsive, unstable, or aggressive behaviors. Malignant narcissists will lash out and humiliate their children.
Malignant narcissists will often employ several tricks, including gaslighting their families into doing what they want. Gaslighting is a form of abuse where the narcissist undermines their child’s reality by denying facts and their child’s feelings. Targets of someone who gaslights will feel manipulated and turn against their own emotions and who they are as a person (Stern, 2018).
Malignant narcissists commit abuse using verbal and non-verbal cues to force their children to feel inferior, cheap, and used.
Narcissistic abuse is defined as abuse, where the parent or parents use emotional abandonment, withholding affection, manipulation, and uncaring against their children to promote themselves. Narcissistic abuse might include silent treatment or include a parent raging, attacking, and lying. It may also involve blaming to shame and build guilt into their offspring to force them to fulfill their own needs (Arabi, 2017).
Victims of narcissistic abuse syndrome have many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including but not limited to, the following:
- Flashbacks and nightmares. Reliving the trauma from narcissistic abuse.
- Being on-alert 24/7 waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Easily startled. Loud or unexpected noises make one jump.
- Feeling detached from one’s emotions or body.
- Avoidance behavior. Avoiding situations like large crowds or anything that reminds one of the abuse.
- Avoiding intimate relationships. Not being able to trust others or believing others to be dangerous hampers any form of intimacy.
- Lack of emotional regulation. Having uncontrollable emotions such as chronic sadness or anger.
- An inaccurate perception of the narcissist. Being preoccupied with the relationship between the victim and the narcissist or continuously thinking of revenge.
- An overwhelming sense of guilt or shame. Feeling utterly different from other people and not worthy of life.
Although other symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder are caused by narcissistic abuse, the above list is enough to tell the horrific story of those who fall victim to narcissistic abuse.
Overt Versus Covert Narcissistic Abuse
Overt narcissists are easily identifiable because they are loud, incentive, and arrogant. They are oblivious and disregarding the needs of others and are always looking for a compliment from others. Overt narcissists are easily noticed as their behavior is grandiose, and they fill a room with their presence.
On the other hand, covert is much harder to identify as this type of narcissist appears shy and anxious about what others think of them. However, covert narcissists are dangerous because of how they hide their real identity as one who will abuse their children because they crave admiration and importance.
Both types of narcissists form unhealthy relationships, but covert narcissists can commit crimes against their children, including Narcissism and Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy.
Narcissism by Proxy
Narcissism by proxy occurs when a narcissist uses those around them to express their own feelings of inadequacy and fear. They do this by inciting their emotions in their children by using manipulative behaviors and cause mental harm to those around them (Zaslav, 2018).
Another way of stating the above is to say that narcissists, especially malignant, covert narcissists, use the faults and weaknesses of those around them to control and manipulate them. They do this to hide or relieve their own feelings of weakness.
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
Perhaps one of the most insidious and most dangerous of all the behavior a narcissist can exhibit is Munchausen by proxy syndrome. This crime includes the narcissist causing or making up illnesses and injuries in their children. They do this to appear as the victim and hero in other people’s eyes (Vaknin, 2015).
The narcissistic parent appears to be kind, gentle, loving, and above all, self-sacrificing at the expense of their children’s mental health. They seem dedicated to the welfare of their children while lying about their tortured offspring who are desperate to be seen and rescued.
No one knows how many professionals have been duped by this type of malignant narcissist. Still, the number of children who have died as a result must be enormous.
Narcissistic Parents and the Formation of CPTSD
It is not hard to see why children of narcissistic parents often form complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). These kids are subjected to repeated and horrific abuse at the hands of people they should be able to count on for their care.
CPTSD forms as a response to chronic traumatization that lasts for months or years. The traumatization includes physical, sexual, and for our needs in this article, emotional abuse. Unfortunately, narcissistic parents might be part of human trafficking or another ring of abuse and use their children for their financial gain.
Malignant narcissistic parents attempt to destroy the lives of their children, causing them to exhibit all the signs of someone who has CPTSD.
Ending Our Time Together
Narcissism is a treatable disorder but seldom do narcissists admit they have a problem with their behavior, let alone seek help. It is easily seen how narcissistic abuse by parents damages their children and, unless the child finds support as an adult, can ruin their lives.
In the next article, we shall explore the neuroscience behind not only the effects of narcissistic abuse on the brains of children but also what is going on in the brains of the narcissist.
“When you’re different, sometimes you don’t see the millions of people who accept you for what you are. All you notice is the person who doesn’t.” ~ Jodi Picoult,
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” ~ E.E. Cummings
If you or a loved one are living in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, come to us for help. The CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services including:
- Daily Calls
- The Healing Book Club
- Mindfulness, Prayer, and Meditation Circle
- Support Groups
- Our Blog
- The Trauma-Informed Newsletter
- Daily Encouragement Texts
All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up, we will be glad to help you.
Arabi, S., (2017). What it’s like to be a complex trauma survivor of narcissistic abuse. Psychcentral.com. Retrieved from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/recovering-narcissist/2017/10/what-its-like-to-be-a-complex-trauma-survivor-of-narcissistic-abuse/
Glad, B. (2002). Why tyrants go too far: Malignant narcissism and absolute power. Political Psychology, 23(1), 1-2.
Miller, J. D., Widiger, T. A., & Campbell, W. K. (2010). Narcissistic personality disorder and the DSM-V. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119(4), 640.
Ronningstam, E., & Gunderson, J. G., (1990). Identifying criteria for narcissistic personality disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry.
Stern, R. (2018). The Gaslight Effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life. Harmony.
Vaknin, S., (2015). The narcissist’s seriously ill child and Munchausen by proxy syndrome. LinkedIn. Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/narcissists-seriously-ill-child-munchausen-proxy-syndrome-sam-vaknin/
Zaslav, M., (2018). Committing Narcissism by Proxy. Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shame-guilt-and-their-defenses/201812/committing-narcissism-proxy