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.
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This affiliation is part of an effort to provide more effective and useful solutions for healing from narcissistic abuse.
Who is Dr. Judy Rosenberg?
Dr. Judy Rosenberg is the founder of the Psychological Healing Center and the Be The Cause® Mind Map System to help “Heal Human Disconnect,” the cause of most psychopathology. By helping people identify their problem and dismantle it, Dr. Judy helps her patients to paradigm shift from the problem into the solution. She completed her undergraduate work in psychology at UCLA and her graduate work at CGI (California Graduate Institute).
Dr. Judy is currently in private practice in Sherman Oaks and Beverly Hills, CA, and continues to help people with various psychological issues. You may also know her from YouTube as Dr. Judy WTF?!, as she has a weekly call-in radio show titled Dr. Judy WTF (What The Freud?!). Her focus there is on healing the “hole in the soul” that results from Human Disconnect.
She is a consultant to the media and has appeared on several television shows and is often interviewed by high-profile publications. Her recent appearances include Huffington Post, MTV, E Entertainment, KCAL News, CBS News, CNN, and Animal Planet. She has been in private practice as a clinical psychologist since 1996.
What is QueenBeeing?
QueenBeeing is an online, comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support System created by certified life coach Angie Atkinson and continuously supported by our team of fellow survivors, certified life coaches, and mental health professionals. QueenBeeing also features a strong, vibrant, supportive community for survivors of Narcissistic Abuse that offers support in the form of support groups, counseling, coaching, and a number of courses and tools available for low or no cost.
In addition to the mission of empowering survivors of narcissistic abuse to become thrivers and to create the lives they want, QueenBeeing.com has launched a movement to spread awareness and to help survivors create change in their own families and social circles to prevent enabling and creating toxic people in this world.
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Have you ever been in a crowded space and still felt completely alone and separate from everyone else? Do you secretly wonder if you’re the only one who doesn’t know the joke? If you have, you’re not alone. Many narcissistic abuse survivors feel this way.
Have you ever felt disconnected from everyone and everything around you?
There’s a chance you’re dealing with “human disconnect,” a term coined by Dr. Judy Rosenberg, and it’s a bit more complex than it sounds.
As society progresses to the point that we are less and less able (or willing) to be “out there” in the world, doing normal, real-world things, the more isolated we become as individuals. and this is exactly why it so important to understand the definition of human disconnect.
We now order groceries at 3 a.m. and wake up the next morning to find them gently stacked on the front porch. We can have nearly anything we want hand-delivered and left at our door.
Since I recently had the privilege of discussing this with Dr. Judy herself, I was able to ask questions and get clarification on the meaning of “human disconnect,” and what it means in relation to narcissistic abuse. I’m sharing our conversation with Dr. Judy’s permission.
What is Human Disconnect?
Dr. Judy explained that “human disconnect” is a condition that is relatively common among humans, but it doesn’t affect only individual humans and no one else. In fact, it affects society, communities, and cultures.
“What (Human Disconnect) means is that it’s a disconnect from your own soul, self, community, and family.” Dr. Judy said, adding that, “it can mean a disconnect from your own ability to feel emotions as well as to truly connect in a healthy way with others.”
She explained that when we experience pain from abuse or neglect, it causes a disconnection from the person who is inflicting the pain.
In other words, you emotionally detach from that person – and in my experience, that makes a lot of sense. And, in so many cases, you emotionally detach from yourself somewhere along the way too.
Human Disconnect Leads to Global Disconnect
“The disconnect can take the form of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn – and it breaks trust,” Dr. Judy said. “This breaking of trust can then project on other people and communities and create more human disconnect.”
Of course, for each person who deals with human disconnect, a few more could be “broken down” and destroyed, left feeling alone, abandoned, and disconnected.
All of that, Dr, Judy told me, is the perfect storm to create Global Disconnect – which she says she’s working to help solve as part of her larger missions. It occurs to me that human disconnect is some kind of viral outbreak of loneliness and separateness. It can feel almost like it’s out of our control and we don’t have a choice.
What causes Human Disconnect?
Human disconnect starts with the original human disconnect, Dr. Judy told me, nodding when I asked if she was referring to attachment styles.
“Yes, think John Bowlby and attachment theory,” she said. “And then it becomes projected onto other people and relationships. All of this can lead to globally creating a global disconnect – we as a society are currently staring in the eyes at this right now. Bigtime.”
The original disconnect would be due to the development of attachment styles as early as birth. “When there is not healthy attachment,” Dr. Judy says, reminding me to consider Dr. Bowlby’s attachment theory.
What is attachment theory?
Attachment theory states that our relationships with our mothers can affect us and our lifelong development (and even our relationships with others) in profound ways. The theory first originated in 1958, when John Bowlby recognized the importance of a child’s relationship with their mother.
Bowlby found that our emotional, social, and cognitive development are all directly affected by our attachment to our mothers, which begins at birth and can be affected by her own attachment style, which would be affected by her mother’s, and so on.
He also noticed that children who were separated from their mothers experienced extreme distress, which he assumed led to anxiety related to the idea that their mothers fed and cared for them.
But Bowlby and his fellow researchers noticed something kind of unexpected: that the separation anxiety would not diminish even when the kids were fed and cared for by other caregivers. Even the youngest children seemed to still miss their mothers.
Bowlby was the first to propose that attachment could be an evolutionary thing – the child’s caregiver obviously is the person who provides safety, security, and food.
So, he reckoned, being attached to the mother would increase a baby’s chance of survival.
Toxicity Runs in the Family
In this video, I break down attachment theory and how it explains narcissists, codependents, and the reasons this sort of toxicity tends to “run in the family,” so to speak,.
As a psychologist, I know that for us to be healthy on a global level, we need individual healing. As you can see our micro problems have gone full blow macro with a threat of global nuclear clash.
Although we are under the power and control of our leaders and are essentially in a hostage situation, we all have the power of choice.
As hard as that might be in some circumstances, the message I want to convey is that before we identify with our isms of race, politics, nationality, socioeconomic, or any other ism, we are first and foremost, human beings.
What is Global Disconnect?
Global Disconnect comes in many forms such as racism, sexism, politics, religion, etc. Sadly, when individuals become heavily defended because of fear of getting re-injured, there will be little vulnerability and connection.
This results in global breakdown and extreme darkness such as wars, hate groups, and anything that causes separation and fracturing of humanity.
The Pathway to a Healthier and More United Humanity
The Mind Map was originally intended to create a system of healing of the individual for the individual to then start helping heal outwardly on a global level. From a global perspective, we are interconnected and all one people.
It’s the fracturing and splintering of humanity that has disconnected us from creating unity. By healing human disconnect – the childhood and cultural wounds that affect and infect us both individually and as a human race, we can create a more sustainable and synergistic global system.
Via the Be The Cause Mind Map® System, we can Be The Cause® of creating a pathway to a healthier and more united humanity.
Power and Control vs. Love and Intimacy
I’ve done talks and episodes regarding power and control vs love and intimacy. Our current world is a representation of the former (power and control). Power and control are the way of narcissism.
Where does our power lie? Individual freedom of choice.
Starting with the basic concept that consciousness is causal, we can all choose our own version of intimacy and love as our pathway to healing individually and globally. This is also to recognize that sometimes taking the path of free choice is not always the safest way.
Case in point, the people of Ukraine and their leader, standing up and looking at death and destruction in the face. This is not an easy choice and certainly no shame in our human fragility and backing down.
After all, not everyone has the constitution to put their life on the line. I believe that by putting your consciousness in a state of interconnection to humanity, we can conquer the darkness of tyrannical systems.
There is power in global unity against these dark forces in whichever way you uniquely can express that. We all have our own unique light via our talents such as art, music, communication, or however your expression looks like.
I am inviting you to tap into your own unique love and vulnerability to be the cause of creating light during these very dark times.
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