The primary signs of a narcissistic parent are feelings of superiority or fame, which often go hand in hand with behaviors that promote a sense of inferiority or low self-worth in the involved children. Parents with this condition are also usually unable to empathize with their children, and may believe that a child’s emotions and struggles aren’t legitimate. Narcissism is a clinical psychological condition and it can be quite serious, but it’s also very rare. A parent who displays these symptoms isn’t necessarily a narcissist, particularly if he or she only displays them periodically or sporadically. Parents who are arrogant, insecure, or just generally unprepared for various circumstances may show narcissistic tendencies even if they aren’t actually suffering from the condition. The effects on children can be long lasting and potentially serious, though, which makes treatment and therapy quite important.
Understanding Narcissism Generally
Narcissistic personality disorder essentially materializes as a feeling that the sufferer is somehow better than the people around him or her. This feeling of superiority often causes issues in other areas of life, such as relationships, careers, and finances. The cause of the condition is not fully known, but as with many psychological conditions, it is thought to stem from childhood. The underlying issue with this condition is generally thought to be low self-esteem, which manifests itself as a desire to be better than everybody else. This is responsible for the majority of the symptoms associated with the condition.
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In general, a narcissistic person has a high opinion of himself or herself, sets unrealistic goals, and is unable to empathize with the feelings of others. Narcissistic people are also prone to exaggerate any of their achievements, expect praise constantly, and have trouble recognizing authority.
The chances of having a narcissistic parent are very low; experts generally estimate that less than 1% of families worldwide see this sort of problem. As with many psychological conditions, narcissism has varying degrees, so a parent may be only slightly narcissistic, and the problem may therefore be more difficult to recognize.
Feelings of Fame and Superiority
The main symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder that are usually evident in a parent with this condition are a feeling of superiority towards others, fantasies of power or fame, and exaggerating achievements and talents. Parents who suffer from narcissism will often constantly tell their children about things achieved, and will typically expect enthusiastic praise in response.
Promoting Inferiority in Children
Children may also be made to feel inferior to the parent, which may be evident through the parent downplaying the positive qualities of their child and exaggerating their own in a competitive fashion. Narcissism may also cause a parent to set lofty and unrealistic goals, both for him or herself and also for the child, particularly if the child’s achievements could be seen as advantageous to the parent. He or she will also expect everybody to agree with plans or ideas proposed, and may be hurt if this is not the case. A child may also notice that a parent feels rejected or despondent if he or she doesn't receive the expected positive attention.
Inability to Empathize
A child may also notice that a narcissistic parent is unable to empathize with the feelings of others or even recognize them, and might as a consequence take advantage of people to get certain things. This may be particularly noticeable when the child is unhappy, because the parent is often unable to show understanding of the child's issues, and will often appear entirely unemotional.
A son or daughter trying to determine whether a parent has clinical narcissism should look out for several of the symptoms before considering it a serious possibility. This is because the chances of having a narcissistic parent are very low, and ordinary arrogance is a more common explanation. It is also important for the observer to attempt to detach himself or herself from any preconceptions about the behavior. For example, one symptom of narcissism is taking advantage of other people to achieve selfish ends, but this is a subjective observation, and any preconceptions could lead to a false assumption about what is or isn’t occurring.