We all know some amazing people who are the best step-parents they could be, right? But what happens when you're dealing with a toxic step parent?
I'm starting off by answering a question from two YouTube viewers named Nikki B and 57goku who ask:
"Can you do a video on narcissists and step children?"
So let's get started, shall we?
First of all, we're not talking about a new step-parent who just needs to get used to his or her new family - a healthy person won't have the issues we're about to discuss.
We're talking about a narcissistic stepmother who intentionally plots her way into the heart and mind of a man who has kids - or the narcissistic stepfather who gets jealous when his wife pays attention to her own kids instead of him, for example.
These kinds of narcs are especially toxic because they get into the marriage for all the wrrong reasons - often money or status - and who will let no ex-husband or ex-wife (let alone KIDS) get in the way of getting what they want.
For women, they often cement their role the way many female narcissists do - sex. First, they're friendly and warm with both their men and their stepkids, listening to their every problem and concern and becoming irreplaceable in their lives.
When the marriage is still fresh and new and the family is still on their best behavior, the narc step parent might seem to really be devoted to the kids. S/he nice, s/he's polite and she generrally pretends s/he's interested in their lives.
As the kids start to become more comfortable, though, so does the "evil" stepmom or dad, and then things start to get rough.
Once they get their hooks thoroughly in place, narcissistic step-moms and step-dads will pull the old switcheroo and show their true narcissistic face - and no matter how good-looking they are, that is ONE UGLY FACE.
And often, when it comes to the "real" parent, s/he can't see a problem with his new spouse - they can do no wrong in their eyes. Sometimes a natural parent even gets in on the deal by becoming - a narcissistic step-parent's flying monkey - willingly or not.
How Kids Experience Narcissistic Step-Parents
Everybody takes their family for granted, sometimes, because that's how human nature goes. But when you're being raised by a narcissist, it's a whole other ball of wax - and narcissistic step-parents can sometimes be even more traumatic for a kid because they may replace a "regular" parent (one who isn't a narcissist).
As far as kids see it, there are several signs of a narcissistic step-parent - though they won't know the label, they'll have experiences such as the following.
- Step-parent is self-centered and vain. They have an overly-inflated sense of self-importance.
- Step-parent uses the kids. They will take advantage of the children and others in their lives without a second thought - s/he expects everyone, including your kids, to cater to him or her and doesn't mind exploiting them when it suits him or her.
- Step-parent loves the spotlight. You already know that narcissists want and need to be the center of attention. When a kid shines, a narc step-parent will feel slighted and feel like the kid is throwing shade their way - and this can lead to him or her throwing a bunch of narcissistic rage or narcissistic injury on your child's head.
- Step-parent has awesome moments. You might not have expected me to note this, but there are some pretty cool things about narcissists when they're in their element. That's why every now and then, you might find one hanging out with the kids and bonding like nobody's business. He or she might also tell fantastic stories. That's because a lot of narcissists have an imagination like no one's business - their ambition and self-interest borders on unrealistic, making them perfect playmates under the right circumstances. But the flip side of that is that these times become rare or even non-existent when a narc step-parent becomes comfortable enough in the family to "let it all hang out."
- Step-parent ignores child and is not sympathetic to him/her at all. Since narcs don't experience empathy, it's common for them to disregard how others feel - and this will confuse your kid. At the same time, narc step-parents will be incredibly sensitive in their OWN feelings and will expect everyone, even the smallest children, to share his/her concern. Which brings me to my next point...
- Step-parent throws a fit and over-punishes your child for "disrespecting" or otherwise annoying him or her. Sometimes, your kid will be standing there in utter shock while a narcissistic step-parent rages against him for some perceived sense of being disrespected or annoyed by them. Or maybe the narc felt criticized. This will inevitably lead to the step-parent throwing off an inordinate amount of anger, right at your child - and if you don't jump in and back him or her up - you can guarantee that you'll be in trouble. But if you do, your kid feels betrayed by the one person who's supposed to protect him or her. And god forbid you try to stand up for your baby - that'll cost you BIGTIME. But you might do it anyway, because you'd rather let the pain rain down on you, right?
- Step-parent is super scary when he/she is angry. A narc's anger can hurt more than any physical abuse - it can cut to the bone. And for a child, it can cause permanent and signficant psychological damage.
- Step-parent isn't present much. Since a narc needs so much "narcissistic supply" from people booth inside and outside the family, the kids will often feel like other parents hang with their families more than theirs. And the kicker? A narc step-parent is also more likely to make the natural parent spend less time with their kids because, as always, they want all of the attention on themselves - and they resent anyone or anything that stands in their way.
- Step-parent only interacts with kids on their terms. A narc step-parent won't be bothered with learning about what your kids enjoy - they'll only do things with them if THEY enjoy those things. If the kid enjoys them, great. If not, no problem for the narc. And if the kid has the nerve to complain - out comes the old narcissistic rage or narcissistic injury.
- Step-parent only cares how your kid appears to his/her friends and/or colleagues. He/she will only be important to the narc step-parent when the narc can brag about him/her. And your kid will be well-aware of it, sadly.
- Step-parent never gives kid what they really need. Even if the narc step-parent provides for your kid on a material level, your kid will feel deprived on a whole other level - the emotional one. If the kid needs attention and affection (which every child does), the narc may give it but only sporadically - and only when it benefits the narc.
How Do You Help Your Kid Deal With the Aftermath of a Narcissist Step-Parent?
You need to help your child come to terms with how they've been hurt by this step parent and how they can move forward.
You have to understand that your kid may have suffered on a level you can't fully understand.
How do the kids deal on their own?
Sometimes, they'll band together other kids and team up "against" the narc and emotionally support one another - or older kids will begin to protect the younger ones, taking all the pain on themselves to prevent it from raining down on them.
Other times, they'll spend less time at home and they'll eventually leave home earlier than they might've.
What are the effects on the kids?
Narcissistic step parents can have profound effects on your kids. For example, each time their natural parent sides against them with a step-parent, the kid feels like they're left standing alone and they'll have feelings of betrayal and abandonment.
A lot of adults who had narcissistic step parents report that they felt like their parent was "taken away" by the step-parent or that they lost their childhoods and the deep care and love of a "real" parent.
Some go into psychotherapy and mourn the loss of their parent and to deal with those feelings of abandonment and betrayal.
How does this affect the narc step parent?
Sadly, the narcissistic step-parent will feel little guilt for alienating and sometimes even completely destroying the relationship between parent and child - because, as they see it, they've "won" the attention game. And when the kids are adults, the narcisssitic step parent will celebrate.
Worse, some will repeat this pattern with multiple families.
What will this do to your child?
As your child grows older, they may even be at risk of becoming a narcissist themselves. While that applies more to men than women, women are more likely to BECOME VICTIMS themselves. In either case, you don't want that for your kid, right?
How can you protect your kids from a narcissistic step-parent?
Start by helping yourself. Let me explain what I mean.
First, recognize that emotional abuse will leave scars you can't see - but the long-term effects are REAL, and the pain goes on long after the relationship ends.
Recognize your own feelings - you might have lot of guilt, or intense grief, disbelief or even just plain-old pain. You might feel really ashamed of allowing your kids to get tangled up with your narc spouse (or ex-spouse). And you know that when you were being abused by the narcissist, you were probably not as good of a parent as you wanted to be.
Maybe you were just emotionally unavailable, or maybe you just know that your kids heard and saw way too much in the way of arguments and abuse - and in seeing the state you wound up in when all was said and done.
And recognize that your kids might have seen you as helpless or crazy - or maybe just totally powerless.
The only way you can help your kids get better is by getting better yourself - by taking back YOUR OWN POWER.
If you pull the old "self-sacrificing parent" deal and end up not taking care of yourself, you're providing a not-so-awesome example of how to lay down and take it. I'm sorry for the harshness, but please know that it's tough love.
You have to heal your kids by healing yourself. Period.
Finally, be an ear for your kids - listen to their concerns, their fears and their successes - and validate them appropriately. Don't overcompensate; you won't be doing them any favors - but DO be genuine with them and ensure that you actually validate them on an emotional and psychological level whenever possible. Make sure they know that YOU KNOW that they are REAL people who have REAL value - you feel me?
Okay, that's all I've got for today, and now it's your turn.
Have you dealt with a narcissistic step-parent, either as a child or as a spouse? How'd you handle it, and what advice would you offer someone who is dealing with it right now? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. You never know who's life you might change by doing so.
Want personal coaching? Email my office manager, Haley, at email@example.com. She'll get you set up with an appointment.