As much as this might hurt to read, none of the above is true for the adult child of a narcissistic parent.
You already know that your parent is not like other parents. Your parent is self-absorbed, talks about themselves in grandiose terms, and is overly critical. You may have come to accept it.
What you may not have come to accept is your parent’s limitations when it comes to loving others, even you. But coming to accept your parent’s limitations in this area will take your further down the road of healing.
Therefore, it’s vital that we explore this painful topic.
How a Narcissistic Parent Views His Child
When you were born, you hopefully entered the family of two people, one of whom was not a narcissist. Your non-narcissistic parent gave you the attention that an infant needs. She bonded with you, giving you the capacity to love. This parent, I hope, loved you and showed you genuine affection.
Meanwhile, your narcissistic parent resented your presence. Let’s say the narcissistic parent was your father. He viewed you—all eight pounds of you—as a threat.
As a threat to what? To his source of narcissistic supply.
While your mother cuddled and held you, your father felt increasingly ignored. This is a phenomenon in healthy couples where the husband feels ignored and a bit resentful of the baby. Healthy couples work this out and move on with their lives.
But in a couple where the father is a narcissist, this resentment doesn’t get worked out in a healthy way.
He resents his wife’s ministrations toward the baby and will manipulate her into turning his attention back to him. He will act loving to the wife and get her to attend him even when the baby has needs. To the narcissist, the needs of his infant child are secondary to his own need for narcissistic supply.
The Narcissistic Parent’s Conditional Love for His Children
Healthy sets of parents have a goal of raising their children to have high self-esteem. They also teach their kids to be autonomous individuals who can successfully navigate life.
Doing this for their kids is not even on the narcissist’s radar. Let’s take our narcissistic father again. He views his children as a way to maintain his self-image and to provide narcissistic supply—the fuel that keeps his false self-image in place.
The narcissistic parent loves his children for their ability to maintain his self-image and provide narcissistic supply. Both of these things are important to him.
When we think of a healthy mother’s love for her children, we automatically assume it is unconditional love. The parent will love that child no matter what she does or becomes. There are no conditions on that love. If the child runs away and doesn’t speak to her parents for years, her parents will still love her. They would welcome her back into their lives and give her whatever she needs.
Unconditional love is not the type of love narcissists have for their children.
Narcissistic love is conditional love. The narcissistic parent loves his children only to the extent that they can help him maintain his image—his false self—and provide narcissistic supply. If the child stops giving the narcissist what he needs, the narcissist stops loving his children.
If the narcissist’s child ran away, she would, for all practical purposes, cease to exist in his mind. The only way he would welcome her back into his live is if she immediately started providing narcissistic supply and could bolster his self-image. Then he would love her again.
That’s because his love for her is conditional. It is based on his daughter meeting certain condition. Conditions that he determines. The narcissist lacks the ability to love unconditionally. Everything is about what’s in it for him.
To love unconditionally, you have to be willing to put the welfare of the person you love before your own. You have to be willing to give love with no expectation of anything in return. And you have to be willing to make sacrifices on behalf of who you love and not make the one you love feel guilty about it.
The narcissistic parent can do none of these things for their child. A narcissist’s welfare always comes before that of others. They give nothing without expecting a greater return. And if they make a “sacrifice,” they do it with the intent of getting something back.
As my narcissistic mother used to say to us four kids. “You don’t appreciate the sacrifices I make for you.” She was attempting to make us feel guilty. She also sought narcissistic supply from us in the form of us saying thank you and begging her not to make sacrifices for us. When we did that, she expressed love for us. A love that was absent when we were not feeding her endless need for narcissistic supply.
Your Narcissistic Parent Today
So what about now? Has your parent changed since you grew up and started your own life? Has he learned to love you unconditionally?
I’m sorry to say that he has not. Nor will he ever unconditionally love you. He lacks the ability and, even if he wanted it, there is no way for him to attain the ability.
But your parents tell you they love you? Yes, but just as when you were a child, that love is conditional. Even though you do not live with them, they seek to bolster their false-self and gain narcissistic supply from you.
One way they use you to obtain narcissistic supply is by telling others about your accomplishments. Maybe you hold a prestigious job, are an artist, or are a community leader. You can be sure if you do they tell their acquaintances about you, while making it sound like they are the reason for your success. The same if your spouse is exceptional in any way. They will always find a way to take credit.
And if you have children, they will use them the same way they used you. They will not be loving grandparents who unconditionally love their grandchildren. Rather they will be vampires that suck narcissistic supply from you kids.
Boundaries Between Narcissistic Grandparents and Your Kids
You have an important decision to make when it comes to your narcissistic parent and his relationship to your kids. And that decision is where you draw the boundary line between him and your kids.
This is not an easy decision. Your parent has conditioned you to please him. He’ll try to manipulate you by saying he wants to take those little sweethearts out. He might even plead with you to spend time with them.
But remember, he is incapable of unconditional love. He only wants to use your children to bolster his false image and as sources of narcissistic supply.
Just like he did with you.
Do you want him getting his claws into your children? Do you want to let him make them feel like you did as a child? Do you want to turn your children over to someone who only loves them for what they can give him? And if they don’t provide what he wants, do you want him raging at them?
Keeping you children from your narcissistic parent can be difficult. I know because I’ve drawn the boundary line.
With my narcissistic father, drawing the line was simple. He wants nothing to do with my kids.
With my narcissistic mother, it’s been more difficult. She keeps wanting to take them out, and my wife and I ignore her requests. We used to let her take them out. But then we saw it was all about how she looked. She took a ton of photos, but she forced the kids to smile widely in each one. The pictures communicate “Can you see by my painful smile how much fun I’m having with grandma?
My wife and I realized we didn’t want my narcissistic mother’s toxicity in our kid’s lives. So we drew a line.
And the line needs to be constantly reinforced. Because your narcissistic parent will try again and again to get past it—like some guerrilla warrior intent in getting into the enemies base. You have to stay strong. You have to think of your child in your parent’s clutches and the damage your child might suffer.
Accept Your Narcissistic Parent Can’t Love
This may have been a hard post for you to read. I’m sorry for that. We all want our parent to love us. We want to think they’d come to us no matter what the situation.
But we children of narcissists are both cursed and blessed. We are cursed because we don’t have parents who love us no matter what. And I think we sensed this all of our lives. Maybe this knowledge can help us make more sense out of our pasts. Perhaps it’ll explain that pain that sits in our guts.
And we can be thankful because we are blessed. The effect that many narcissists have on their children is that the child grows up to be a narcissist too. My sister is an example.
However, something saved you and me and we were spared the horrid, empty existence of a narcissistic life. So even as you mourn your parent’s inability to love you, be grateful for your ability to love unconditionally. Whether that love is directed at a significant lover, your kids, a friend, or even you pet—maybe all these beings—you have something precious that your parent will never have.
And all the pain he caused you couldn’t knock out your ability to love unconditionally. Be grateful each and every day for being spared.
See your parent for who they are and recognize that the pain, inadequacy, and self-doubt you feel is in you not because you have something wrong with you, but because it’s what your narcissistic parent gave you instead of love.
May you heal and be at peace.
How does your narcissistic parent use you for narcissistic supply? Tell us in the comments below.