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.
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.
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.”
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
You’ve probably wondered what a narcissist thinks about – and, if you’re anything like me, who told them they could TREAT PEOPLE THIS WAY! You might wonder if it hurts their feelings when someone corrects them or “bests” them.
They will take extreme measures to tell you exactly what they want you to hear without any regard for the truth. Their main concern is only getting their desperate need for narcissistic supply met.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a way of relating to others involving the exploitation, blatant manipulation, and control of others in order to meet the abuser’s own needs. It can exist in a relationship between any two people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or type of relationship.
Narcissistic abusers are often difficult to spot and even harder to leave. Whether or not they have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t as important as whether or not they have narcissistic traits and behaviors.
For example, a narcissistic abuser can be charming, charismatic, and fun at times – and they can turn on a dime and become your worst nightmare. However, thanks to their powerful ability to project, deflect and play the victim, narcissists are rarely confronted about their behavior.
Of course, this is possibly due to the fact that they frequently surround themselves with enablers (AKA flying monkeys) who don’t want to believe that anything is wrong.
The effects of narcissistic abuse can last for years after the relationship has ended and may lead the survivor to develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). C-PTSD from narcissistic abuse differs from PTSD caused by experiences such as car accidents or military combat in that it involves re-living or re-experiencing rather than avoidance or numbing of memories.
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic narcissists use to control someone and make them feel crazy. It doesn’t matter how great a relationship you have with your partner or spouse; as long as there’s abuse and manipulation, your relationship isn’t healthy.
Gaslighting occurs when someone tells you that what you’re experiencing isn’t authentic or not genuine, in other words causing the victim to question their feelings, instincts, and sanity.
First and foremost, you need to know that nothing you do will force the narcissist to change. They will only change if it benefits them.
You must understand that this person does not have the same morals, emotions, or feelings as ordinary people. These people cannot be around a good and decent person or have friends who care about them.
They are only after one thing in life, and that is control. They can never be satisfied with what they have accomplished because there will always be someone out there that they think has more than whatever they have at the moment.
Listen, if you were ever to feel like you want revenge on the narcissist in your life, trust me when I tell you that you are FAR from alone. But is it worth the trouble?
The truth is that whether or not you’re a narcissist’s target, interacting with them can be exhausting (to put it mildly). That’s why it’s essential to keep the upper hand and ensure that they are the ones chasing you – not the other way around.
It doesn’t even have to be anything drastic – act interested in their lives, but not to the extent that they think they can manipulate you.
Toxic relationships have a huge effect on survivors’ lives. They affect every aspect of the survivor’s life and can destroy the survivor’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, confidence, and trust in their own judgment – as well as their ability to relate to other people.
Trust Your Gut
Trust your instincts, always. When it comes to the narcissist, you, unfortunately, need to be on guard at all times. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it probably is.
Take action: confront the narcissist (if safe to do so), call the authorities, alert family members, tell other people about what’s going on – do whatever it takes to get out.
Do you feel like you’re never able to win over your narcissist husband, wife, or partner? Or maybe it’s your narcissistic parent, friend, or neighbor? Do you find that they always seem to be a step ahead of you?
Somehow, narcissists have this intrinsic ability to “know” what buttons to push that will hurt you the most. This is because narcissists are expert mind game players. The narcissist is a master of manipulation. They can get you to do things that you don’t want to do and think thoughts that you don’t want to think…all under the guise of “love.”
What are narcissist mind games?
There are so many different kinds of narcissist mind games, but in this case, we’re talking about different types of emotional manipulation. The manipulation of emotions can be so subtle, so smooth, so insidious that you hardly notice it’s happening. Sometimes the narcissist’s words and actions are so contradictory that you might even doubt your own judgment. Each game has a purpose, whether it’s to keep us hooked in the cycle of abuse, to use us for supply, or to manipulate us into giving them what they want. These games are designed to make you feel insecure, relatively inferior to them, and encourage you to compete with them or put your energy into earning their approval.
The good news is that once we know what the games are, we can work through them and learn to break free.
Why do narcissists play mind games with you?
To be able to play mind games, the narcissist has to ignore the feelings of others completely. They have no empathy and can’t see their pain or feel it. They have no ability to connect with others on any other level than a superficial one. They have no interest in others as people other than how they can use them, and they lie for no reason other than to avoid being honest.
In other words, narcissists play head games to control others and be in power. The main goal is to confuse, deceive and manipulate. They enjoy the ‘chase’ and the ‘hunt’ more than the actual ‘kill,’ so they want you to stay hooked at all times so they can keep playing this game. Whether consciously or otherwise, the narcissist’s goal is to keep you confused about and focused on figuring out how to navigate their behavior.
That way, they’ll have more control over you because you’ll be so focused on trying to figure them out that you might not recognize what’s happening. Plus, in most cases, the mind games involve tearing you down and making you feel worthless – so you won’t believe you can do any better than them. It may be hard to believe that a person who loves you would knowingly try to hurt you, but if they are a narcissist, that’s exactly what they do. But you’ve got to understand that a narcissist cannot love you in the same way you could love them.
What are the most common mind games played by the narcissist?
There are many narcissist mind games but these are the most common. They’re used often to play with your emotions, your intelligence, your sanity and they’re used often to confuse you. They don’t mean anything; it’s nothing personal (usually) It’s just for one reason or another they use these mind games to make you feel like you aren’t good enough… like you need to change something about yourself…
The cold shoulder. Ostracization. Social exclusion. Being actively, directly rudely ignored! It’s exhausting, It’s upsetting. And quite honestly, it’s abusive. So, let me ask you something.
Have you been there? Does someone in your life cut off contact, directly or indirectly, anytime you upset or annoy them? If so, you might be falling victim to a well-known manipulation tactic – the old silent treatment.
What is silent treatment?
The silent treatment is amanipulation tactic where someone will stop talking to you. This painful, uncomfortable silence can go on for days, hours, weeks, or even months in order to punish you for some perceived slight. It can cause serious emotional and psychological damage if you don’t realize what is happening. While people who aren’t narcissists may also use this tactic, it is commonly used among narcissists.
Narcissists and the Silent Treatment
Are you dealing with getting the silent treatment from a narcissist? If you are, then you already how upsetting and confusing this can be. When a narcissist is involved, it’s possible that you’re being discarded, either permanently or temporarily. You might be getting the silent treatment due to a breakup or the end of your relationship, or it could be one in a long line of discards during an ongoing relationship. It’s all part of the narcissist’s cycle of abuse. But the narcissist’s motivations are what you’re really interested in, so let’s discuss what they’re thinking when they give you the silent treatment.
What are the narcissist’s motivations for using the silent treatment?
When you think about the silent treatment and how cruel it can be, not only does it affirm that the narcissist lacks compassionate and emotional empathy, but you find yourself wondering how they could be so cruel? What motivates a narcissist to stop communicating with you?
The relationship is ending.
When a narcissistic ex gives you the silent treatment after a breakup, it is not that they are suffering and processing how your relationship ended. That is what you would expect a neurotypical non-narcissistic ex to do. But the narcissist deals with it by searching for a new source of narcissistic supply. You have to remember that this “supply,” for the narcissist, can feel as important as air might feel you or any living being. In other words, despite their claims of wanting to “be alone” or needing to “figure things out on their own,” the narcissist will feel as though they cannot be without it. So, they might have gone silent as they are engaging with others and attempting to get the supply they so desperately need. They can’t stand to be alone with their thoughts.
The narcissist controls you through gaslighting and confusion
Narcissists are known manipulators, and one of their most notorious tactics is to gaslight you through confusion emotional manipulation, and abuse. The silent treatment is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this, and this is especially true of covert narcissists – although their more grandiose counterparts are also skilled at this particular tactic. You know that narcissists enjoy manipulating and gaslighting you. The narcissist loves the idea of you lying awake all night wondering why they are giving you the silent treatment. It actually offers them a certain amount of supply in itself.
The narcissist lives to keep you in limbo
With a sudden change in behavior, the narcissist can throw you into limbo, that feeling where you’re lost and not sure what to do or what’s next. For example, when they go from being overly demanding to not saying anything at all, you might be left spinning. They love the idea of you being distracted all day, unable to focus on anything except for what they could be possibly thinking.
The narcissist feels powerful through silent treatment.`
Narcissists thrive on power, as you know. They envision you waiting by your phone waiting for a text, or even for an email. The fact that they will not send you a message or speak to you makes them feel powerful as they control your emotions and productivity.
If your narcissistic ex is giving you the silent treatment, the best thing to do is not even to acknowledge it at all. Please realize that this is a manipulative tactic to play around with their mind and emotions.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique often used by narcissists to make you doubt your thoughts, your ideas, your own judgment, your ability to understand, and even your own perception of the world around you.
How can you gaslight yourSELF?
See, we really CAN gaslight ourselves – and it’s a phenomenon that isn’t just seen in people who have been in toxic relationships with narcissists. Of course, it’s probably most prominent among this particular population. But it doesn’t have to be the story of your life. There are ways to identify self-gaslighting and ways to overcome it. So, let’s talk about self-gaslighting.
What is self-gaslighting?
Self-gaslighting, sometimes referred to as “internalized gaslighting,” is what you’re doing when you’re suppressing your own thoughts and emotions, and when you’re actively telling yourself that your own thoughts, ideas, feelings, and perceptions are inaccurate or invalid.
An easier way to understand self-gaslighting might be to see it as a sort of remnant of the narcissist’s voice in your own head, in which you sort of “do the dirty work” on the narcissist’s behalf. In other words, you minimize and invalidate yourself and your own thoughts, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. This is often a result of years or decades of conditioning by the narcissist.
Why is self-gaslighting a problem in narcissistic abuse recovery?
When you’re going through narcissistic abuse, you may have developed the self-gaslighting habit as an attempt to pre-screen your conversations with the narcissist in order to reduce stress on yourself and the relationship. It might have been safer for you to sort of censor yourself before speaking.
This mindset isn’t uncommon with survivors, but it’s problematic for you because it causes you to be overly cautious and not trust yourself and your decisions. This keeps you emotionally and psychologically stuck in the toxic relationship, even if you’ve physically left it. It makes moving forward and creating a life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled nearly impossible.
It keeps you stuck in victim mode and never allows you to evolve beyond the role of “survivor,” even if you do manage to remove yourself from the direct influence of the narcissist. It makes you feel not good enough, not smart enough, not “enough” in general. You become a disconnected, fragmented shell of your former self.
What are the signs you’re self-gaslighting?
1. You don’t trust yourself.
Whenever you have to make a decision or a change in your life, you worry that you’ll make the wrong choice. This can be debilitating, especially if you don’t have anyone you can trust to discuss your choices with. In reality, you might even prefer that someone else just tells you what to do – otherwise, you worry you’ll ruin everything, and that you’ll only have yourself to blame.
2. You don’t know who you are these days.
You don’t know how to talk about yourself, and if someone asks you to do so, you’re quick to change the subject. You find yourself feeling numb, or lost, or like you aren’t even sure who you really are anymore. You might not know what you like or what you want, and even if someone directly asks you, you can’t explain who you are in any meaningful way. After spending years or decades focused on the narcissist’s needs, wants, and whims, you have lost the ability to talk about yourself. You’re far more comfortable letting other people talk about themselves, and will quickly change the subject if it turns to you.
3. You’re quick to assign blame…to yourself.
If you’re being honest, you don’t even really like yourself, and your self-confidence is practically non-existent. You’re comfortable in the role of scapegoat, it seems. No matter who’s really at fault, if things go wrong, you instantly assume that you’re wrong and that no one else is responsible. Even with the evidence of someone else being responsible laid out in front of you, you’ll figure out a way to make it your fault. You might imagine that you could have said or done something differently to affect the outcome, or that maybe if you’d just offered the right kind of support, it would never have happened.
4. You’re always apologizing.
You find yourself saying “I’m sorry” so much that healthier people in your life tell you to stop apologizing so much. You are sorry when someone bumps into you, or when you state an opinion or thought – even if no one around you objects. You can’t stop apologizing, and when someone calls you on it, you apologize for that too.
5. You feel like a fraud.
You often worry that people will discover you’re not “enough” or that you’re not even a whole person. Maybe you even have full-blown imposter syndrome. Everything you do leaves you feeling like you’re pretending. You assume everyone around you is more qualified or effective than you, and you are either terrified that people will find out, or you’re already assuming that everyone knows it.
How do you overcome self-gaslighting?
Once you’ve recognized that you’re using self-gaslighting, you’ve already taken the first step toward resolving it. But what comes next? How do you stop gaslighting yourself so you can continue to heal and move forward in your life?
Remember that these aren’t your own thoughts.
As I explained earlier, very often, self-gaslighting feels a lot like a remnant of the narcissist’s voice in your head. So, ask yourself: where do these thoughts really come from and why am I thinking them? Take some time and really think about it. Ask yourself:
Are these thoughts accurate?
When and where did I first think this way?
Who taught me to think this way about myself?
How does thinking this way affect me long-term?
Try this healing list exercise.
One exercise I do with my narcissistic abuse recovery clients to help them create some awareness around this kind of thing is to have them write a list of all of the negative self-perceptions they have picked up along the way. Then, during a session, we go down the list and first identify where they got these ideas from initially. When that’s done, the client will go down the list and cross off these negative self-perceptions and replace them with their truth (or what they want to be the truth). These truths then become new affirmations the clients can use to help them grow forward in their narcissistic abuse recovery.
Think about how you’d talk to your child or another person you love unconditionally.
Survivors often have a really difficult time figuring out how to appropriately treat and speak to themselves. Not only have their parents and other people in their lives not given them the skills they need to love themselves, but they’ve actually worked against the idea of independent thought and autonomy. In order to work through this and speak to yourself in a way that is appropriate and self-validating, think about how you’d speak to your child or someone else who you love unconditionally – and speak to yourself that way. I have found this to be an incredibly effective way to shift my own self-talk.
Use pattern interrupts.
Pattern interrupts are highly effective for so many different aspects of narcissistic abuse recovery, and this is one more way they can be used. When you have been self-gaslighting for so long, it almost becomes an automatic behavior – a pattern – that you fall into without thought. So, when you begin to work on letting go of self-gaslighting, you can use mindfulness to pay attention to your thoughts and ideas, and then you can choose to use a pattern-interrupt to change it.
Easy-to-Implement Pattern Interrupt Ideas
Pattern interrupts are part of NLP (Neurolinguistic programming). Sounds complicated, right? But it’s so simple. Here are some quick and easy-to-implement pattern interrupt ideas for you.
Try a simple affirmation you repeat to yourself in the moment.
Try standing up and moving into a different room of the house.
Try taking a quick shower.
You can brush your teeth or hair or wash your hands.
Try to count all of the items in a room that are a certain color.
5. Work on understanding yourself and your own emotions better.
We become so disconnected from ourselves when we’re involved with a narcissist that we can’t even remember who we are. So one of the best ways to push through self-gaslighting is to take a deep breath and dive into the emotions when we can.
So, if you’re feeling sad, allow yourself to cry if you need to. Then explore the tears: what do they mean? Why are you crying? What is making you sad?
Validate your own emotions and figure out how to resolve them. Take the time to find out what you really want and need, and work on developing more connection to your own intuition. Journaling can help a lot with this because it lets you process and understand your thoughts and emotions.
Ultimately, you can stop gaslighting yourself with a little self-compassion, intention, and mindful action.
Question of the Day – This brings me to the question of the day: Have you ever experienced self-gaslighting, or are you going through it now? Have you found ways to cope? Share your thoughts, share your ideas and share your experiences in the comments section below this video – and let’s talk about it.
Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery, right now.
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Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships is both confusing and debilitating for the victim of the narcissist. But what is interesting is that nearly everyone who has experienced it can relate to certain issues that come up. In fact, you might be surprised to learn how often we hear the same questions, again and again.
For people who are surviving narcissistic abuse, some of the most common questions I hear from my coaching clients are the following.
Questions like these are asked so often that you might be shocked. But I get it because I’ve been there personally – as have all of our narcissistic abuse recovery coaches and counselors here at QueenBeing. In fact, that’s exactly why we do what we do! We’re here to provide the validation a survivor seeks to help with moving forward. The truth is that getting out of toxic relationships often feels impossible without some validation that the relationship is indeed as bad as you think it is.
The thing is that, quite frankly, a label does not matter. What matters is how you are treated in the relationship – and how you feel when you spend time with that person.
Toxic is toxic.
The struggle to even know if your relationship is toxic is totally normal with emotional abuse. Many of the mistreatments and abuse can be covert and almost impossible to describe. Check out this list of signs that your relationship may be toxic if you need support and validation. Hopefully, this will help you see some common ways people know things are unhealthy and can help you make the decision that is right for your healing and life.
You are confused by any conflict because it feels like your reality is being twisted (gaslighting).
You are required to check-in and it feels like your every move is monitored. You have anxiety if you do not check-in or check-in late.
You feel sad when your partner jokes with you because the jokes feel like hidden criticism or emotional attacks. This is especially true for those who normally find joking to be a fun way to enjoy communication with others.