5 Manipulation Tactics Narcissistic Parents Use To Control Their Adult Children

3) Shaming

Narcissistic, toxic parents shame their children to further belittle and demean them. This is actually quite effective, as research has shown that when someone feels flawed and defective, they tend to be more compliant to the requests of others (Walster, 1965; Gudjonsson and Sigurdsson, 2003).

Example: Your narcissistic parent begins remarking upon your career choices during Thanksgiving dinner, calling them reckless and irresponsible. Even though you are successful, financially stable and own your own home, they continue to nitpick in ways you fall short since you didn’t choose the career they had demanded of you. They criticize your ability to provide for your family and to be a role model for your children.

4) Triangulation and Comparison

Narcissistic parents love to compare their children to other siblings or peers in an effort to further diminish them. They want their scapegoated children to fight for their approval and attention. They also want to provoke them into feeling less than.

Example: You get a call from your parents who tell you the news of your cousin getting engaged. Your toxic mother makes a snide comment like, “You know, your cousin Ashley just completed medical school and got engaged. What are you doing with your life?”

Self-Care Tip: Don’t give into petty comparisons – label them as triangulation and realize it is just another way to undermine you. Switch the subject or find an excuse to cut the conversation short if your narcissistic parent engages in needless comparisons and disparaging comments. Notice if you have an urge to justify or explain yourself – and resist the urge to do so.

5) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is an insidious weapon in the toolbox of a narcissistic parent. It allows the toxic parent to distort reality, deny the reality of the abuse, and make you feel like the toxic one for calling them out.

Example: Your narcissistic father leaves you an abusive voicemail late at night and ten missed calls when you refuse to go out of your way to do something for him. Even though you’ve explained to him that it’s inconvenient for you to do, he persists in punishing you for not complying to his requests and continues to badger you through the phone. The next day, you call him to confront him about his harassing behavior and he responds by saying, “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. I barely called you last night. You’re imagining things.”

Self-Care Tip: Those who are gaslighted in childhood often suffer from a persistent sense of self-doubt in adulthood. Rather than giving into your conditioned sense of self-doubt, begin to notice whenever your narcissist parent’s falsehoods do not match up with reality. When you experience an abusive incident, document it and work with a therapist to remain grounded in what you’ve experienced in both childhood and adulthood rather than subscribing to the toxic parent’s version of events.

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