Narcissists as Good Parents – Impossible? Maybe not, say psychologists.

Narcissists as Good Parents – Impossible? Maybe not, say psychologists.

Recently, someone asked me what I considered to be a sort of confusing question, but one that I think a lot of us have asked ourselves at one point or another. 

“Can a narcissist be a good parent who doesn’t cause any damage to their children?”

Is this even possible? I have to be honest with you. I have met a LOT of narcissists and even more victims of narcissists doing what I do.

However, I cannot say that I’ve ever met a malignant narcissist who didn’t directly or indirectly cause significant psychological harm to their children.

Often, the harm was also physical and emotional. Sometimes, it was direct and intentional. It was also just a lack of interest or presence or pure neglect.

Considering all of that, how could it be possible for a malignant narcissist or someone with narcissistic personality disorder to be a good parent to raise emotionally healthy, self-actualized, and well-rounded children who become adults without many trauma issues?

Can narcissists be good parents? 

While you might initially think it’s utterly impossible for a narcissist to be a good parent, there are a few particular circumstances under which it could theoretically happen.

Here, narcissistic abuse recovery experts Dr. Robin Bryman, Dr. Zamecia McCorvey, Dr. Judy Rosenberg, and yours honestly, Angie Atkinson, share our thoughts on what it would take for a narcissist to be a good parent.

My Theory: With a Little Friendly Competition, Maybe

Maybe we all have a little trauma in the cards. But I have not seen or heard about a narcissist who didn’t leave severe psychological scars on their children.

Minor traumas may be overblown, for sure. But just as often. the more significant, intense traumas – the kind that gives you that deep, dull ache in your heart when you recall them – are brushed under the rug like they’re nothing. 

From that perspective, it can be easy to miss the subtle, pervasive behaviors of a narcissistic abuser. But does the lack of blatant abuse mean that some malignant narcissists can raise healthy children who become healthy adults with firm boundaries and a strong sense of self

In general, my opinion has always been that it was, at best, highly unlikely that a narcissistic parent could do enough good in a child’s life to combat the bad.

And that, despite our best efforts, even some well-meaning parents cause some unintentional traumas along the way – or at least miss the opportunity to prevent them. 

Most narcissistic parents have a shining moment here and there – or at least a few not-terrible memories are made along the way. There may even be certain parts of parenting in which they shine naturally.

For example, a client recently shared with me that her narcissistic ex had one good point in this area: he was the “fun” parent, and while this also meant he dragged the kids into activities they would end up hating (due to his gung ho, never slow down attitude), it was something that can be healthy and positive in a child’s life. 

But, inevitably, such a parent will fail in other areas: genuine connection, structure, discipline, and proper attention, for example. So as sweet as the fun parent is, this is tempered with extreme emotions that can alienate the children and make them feel afraid, resentful, and unseen.

And that’s on the very mild end of the spectrum – it gets far worse.

So in the end, the best I believe it could get with a narcissist is not terrible, or tolerable. Their intermittent style of loving and validating alternating with ignoring, abusing, neglecting, and controlling their children simply doesn’t give their children a “normal” launch into life.

This is especially when that parent is controlling the other parent. You know, the one who should be the child’s advocate when the narcissist goes overboard.

The one who is most easily and often alienated by the narcissist? Yep.  

After I thought about it for a while, I concluded that there might be one way a narcissist could be the perfect parent.

They would need to be competing in a Who’s the Best, Healthiest, Least Damaging, Most Selflessly Loving Parent contest. That contest would have to have some rock-solid guidelines and would need to offer regularly scheduled praise and adoration that came at the perfect time

Plus, it would need to have plenty of accountability and unscheduled home visits with secret kid interviews and assessments, to ensure a way to measure and track their progress. And, it would need to go for the whole life of the child or parent, whoever happens to live the longest.

Finally, it might help to give the narcissist something that helps keep their ego in check, depending on what their doctors (or budtenders) have to offer. But we also have to remember that narcissistic personality disorder is not a mental health disease; it is a personality disorder.

Technically, narcissistic personality disorder with malignant traits.

You cannot treat NPD with medicine, but some doctors choose to treat narcissists for co-morbid issues or even side effects of the drugs or treatments. In those cases, treating symptoms could in theory, be possible, but I still do not believe we could ever undo or even permanently stall their behaviors with medicine. 

What Psychologists Say It Would Take to Make a Narcissist a Good Parent

The more I thought about it, I decided it would be a good idea to get the opinions of our team’s medical and educational psychologists, just to be safe and offer a full-spectrum answer. Here’s what they had to say when I asked them if there’s any chance that narcissists can be good parents. 

Dr. Robin Bryman: Under Specific Circumstances, Maybe

“I believe a narcissist can absolutely be a good parent if the moon and stars are aligned,” Dr. Robin Bryman said, smiling. 

“What I mean is that if the narcissist is intelligent, doesn’t have an addiction that impacts their lives, and they set their lives up in a way that their kids succeed, it is possible,” she added, noting that as long as the parent feels successful in their life, it’s not completely impossible.

“They’d need to have a beautiful, handsome, and/or successful spouse or partner, and they would have to be at the top of what they consider a successful life.”

“In this type of situation, the addiction, especially if it’s about control and power, can inadvertently allow a narcissist to effectively parent,” she said.

And since a narcissist often views their children as extensions of themselves, they will want that extension to be as well-adjusted as possible. 

Dr. Zamecia McCorvey: Maybe, for Devoted Golden Child

When I asked Dr. Zamecia McCorvey if she believed a narcissist could be a decent parent, she was immediately taken aback. 

“I automatically thought Hell No!,”  Dr. McCorvey Said, “Considering my life experience being raised by parents who I believe were narcissistic.”

She said that being raised this way has seriously impacted aspects of her life, both growing up and even now, well into adulthood.

“However, as I think past my experience and rely on my understanding of narcissism, I’d say it really depends,” she said.

“They can be a great parent, depending on what role their child plays within the family dynamic,” she continued. “If the child is the golden child and does not deviate from the narcissistic parent’s control are reign, they will experience a better parent than a child who is not easily controlled by the narcissistic parent, or is the scapegoat.”

Dr. Judy Rosenberg: Maybe Good, Definitely Not Great

Maybe, says Dr. Judy Rosenberg, but there’s a catch. We know that there are plenty of malignant, toxic narcissistic parents who completely neglect their kids’ needs, ignore them, control them, physically or sexually abuse them, or otherwise make them miserable. 

But there are also many narcissists who appear to be great parents. They take care of their kids’ physical needs and ensure they’ve got the latest and greatest in fashion, gadgets, and everything else. They have beautiful, expensive homes that are perfectly decorated and always spotless.

But even those who do take care of the physical needs may barely even know their children, and the rest are sort of like live-in bullies until the kids move out – and even then, often continue to abuse and control their adult children.

“A narcissist can be a good parent if they are ethical and moral and fulfill their obligations to their children,” Dr. Judy said. “But they will never be a great parent because they just don’t have the wherewithal to show empathy.”

That trademark lack of empathy would effectively leave the child feeling unseen, at the very least. If we were talking about a malignant narcissist, the effects on the child would be more profound.

But, Dr. Judy said, “If they choose an empathic partner it can buffer the effects.”

So, if a narcissist chose a good partner with decent empathy skills, any potential damage to the child’s psyche could be mitigated.

While Dr. Judy’s thoughts are clearly sound, I’d add that, since we know that narcissists are notorious for emotionally and psychologically abusing anyone who gets close enough to see behind their false self (the mask they show the world), we can safely assume that this abuse would also, directly or indirectly, affect the child. 

Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today

The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Overcoming Shame

The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Overcoming Shame

Have you recovered from a toxic relationship with a narcissist, or are you in the process of narcissistic abuse recovery now? If the answer is yes, then you have a pretty good understanding of what it’s like to live in a world where you’re conditioned to feel shame, right? 

How Do You Overcome Shame in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery?

If you have just come out of a relationship with a narcissist, you may find yourself feeling ashamed of many things – up to and including feeling shame about who you are as a person. This can cause significant bumps in your narcissistic abuse recovery and in your life, to put it mildly.

 

So how do you overcome shame during or after a toxic relationship with an abusive narcissist? It can feel impossible, and it might even seem hopeless – but there are ways you can work through and overcome this.

What is Shame?

Shame is a defense mechanism that protects us from the painful realities of our past. When it comes to having been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, shame feels like a deep, dark feeling that can be hard to shake if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist.

Some things you might experience as a result of dealing with shame in a toxic relationship with a narcissist include the following.

  • Narcissists will create situations that make you feel as though you did something wrong or inappropriate – even when you didn’t.
  • Shame can be an extremely difficult emotion to overcome because it makes you feel helpless.
  • Shame keeps you doubting yourself.
  • Shame fuels the lie that “you could have done more.”
  • Shame convinces you that you have no right to be proud of your accomplishments or to celebrate your successes.

What is the difference between shame and guilt?

  • Shame is an emotion that we feel when we feel unlovable. It is a feeling of worthlessness and it goes hand in hand with guilt.
  • Guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong. Shame is the feeling of being something wrong.
  • While guilt is feeling bad about our actions, shame is feeling bad about who we are, intrinsically.

Video: An In-Depth Discussion on Overcoming Shame

In this video, Lise Colucci and I take an in-depth look at what shame is, why you feel it after being involved with a narcissist, where it starts, and how you can overcome it.

Why do we feel so much shame in narcissistic abuse?

We experience shame whenever someone makes us feel like we don’t belong, or when they make us feel like we are not good enough. It’s a common emotion to feel after leaving a relationship with a narcissist because they are always trying to make us feel that way.

When we have been in a relationship with a narcissist who has been gaslighting us, projecting their own faults and flaws onto us, and making us believe that we were crazy, stupid, or otherwise inferior in some way all along, it can be difficult to avoid feelings of shame if this person was also someone who you loved very much.

It’s important to remember that the only reason you stayed in this relationship for as long as you did was that you truly believed that there was something wrong with you and that it was your fault; otherwise, you would have left sooner!

What is the connection between trauma and shame?

Nearly everyone who goes through a toxic relationship that involves narcissistic abuse will find themselves left with serious trauma issues. And when we experience something traumatic, it is common to feel a sense of shame. We may feel ashamed of ourselves and our circumstances. We may even feel ashamed that we allowed the abuse to occur and continue for so long. We may feel like a fool for not seeing the warning signs or for not having the courage to leave sooner.

This shame can be one of the hardest parts of recovery from narcissistic abuse. It is a shame that often manifests as anger, anxiety, depression, and guilt. These feelings are very isolating because they make us feel like we are alone in our experiences and that there is no way out of our pain.

What are the signs you’re being shamed by a narcissist?

 

You Have Intrusive Toxic Thoughts

Once you allow shame into your life, it becomes very easy to accept other toxic thoughts as truths as well such as:

  • “No one really cares about me.”
  • “People won’t listen to me.”
  • “I don’t deserve better than this.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”

You Accept Responsibility for Everything – Including the Shame

You might feel like the shame is yours, but it’s not. The narcissist is shaming you. He or she is projecting their own feelings of shame onto you. By making you feel ashamed of yourself and your actions, the narcissist can control you. 

You Feel ‘Dead Inside’

Narcissists have a way of making people wish for the worst. If you’ve dealt with a narcissist who has shamed you and you’ve ever thought or said you were ‘dead inside’ – that’s a big sign that you’re dealing with shame. Please remember that you deserve better. 

Dissociation (or feeling disconnected, like you’re not really here, like you’re in a fog, watching your life on a movie screen, or anything similar) is another common experience shared by survivors who deal with shame.

The Narcissist’s Behaviors 

The good news is that you don’t have to live in this hell forever. The first step to overcoming shame is recognizing the signs of being shamed by a narcissist:

  • The narcissist is very controlling and you live in fear of their reactions.
  • They blame you for their bad behavior
  • They don’t take responsibility for anything
  • They tell you that if only you did what they want, things would be better
  • They call you names and put down your appearance or abilities
  • They criticize everything you do, say, think, or feel.

How do you overcome shame?

Survivors of narcissistic abuse often struggle to move past feelings of shame because they believe they should be able to do so more quickly.

When we’re in a narcissistic relationship we are bombarded with shame at every turn—shame for things we haven’t done or shouldn’t feel guilty about, shame for things we wouldn’t normally be ashamed of (such as loving someone), and shame for things we would have felt prideful about prior to entering into the relationship (such as analyzing or understanding the narcissist).

Step One: Understand Why You Feel Shame

The shame you feel can be overcome by understanding why you feel it. Realize that the shame is not yours but rather the narcissist’s and that he or she projected the feelings onto you. Don’t take it on, and watch as the shame disappears.

Remember: You are not your shame.

Once you can see that this is what’s going on, even if they try to deny it, there are steps you can take to overcome the shame:

First, remember that in overcoming shame following a relationship with a narcissist, you are:

These are all accomplishments – they take time, effort, and energy. Pat yourself on the back and recognize how significant that is – and then go on to step two.

Step Two: Choose Your Boundaries

So, if you’re going to set boundaries, you have to know what behaviors are acceptable for you, and which ones aren’t. Be aware that the narcissist will not love the fact that you begin to change and tolerate less and less of their disrespect and manipulation. But keep going. It’s worth it – I promise.

Step Three: Learn to Set and Maintain Boundaries

Boundaries are extremely important in any relationship, whether it’s a friend, loved one, family, or lover. But in narcissistic abuse recovery, they can become even more important.

Narcissists don’t believe you have the right to have boundaries, but they are VERY concerned about their OWN boundaries,

Obviously, this causes problems in relationships with other people, most certainly those who are their primary sources of narcissistic supply. They overstep your boundaries to manipulate situations to get their own way. They will flit between abusive cycles of blame and manipulation to try and control you.

Your average person might not ever overstep your boundaries, or if they do, will correct their behavior if you note it. Not so with narcissists. That’s why it’s so important to maintain your boundaries in toxic relationships.

Learn how to set your boundaries. 

Shame Quote, Angie Atkinson

Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today

 

Announcement: New Contact Information for QueenBeeing.com

Announcement: New Contact Information for QueenBeeing.com

We’re sad to announce that Melina, Angie’s former assistant, has moved on to a new job. She was an integral part of our team and will be greatly missed. We hope you’ll join us in wishing her the very best as her own career blossoms and evolves!

Updated Contact Information for QueenBeeing.com

If you have contacted Melina previously to schedule appointments or to ask questions, you’ll want to update your contact information with the updated contact email, which is [email protected].

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