The Child’s Experience of NPD Abuse
People complain about spoiled children, but children really have very little power over their parents. This is even more true in the case of a child with an NPD parent, since that child intimately knows the unpredictability, implied threats, and intense rages that the parent demonstrates. The child learns early in life to ‘duck and cover’ by constantly appeasing the childish whims (that change with the breeze) of the NPD parent. The child becomes terrified that if they speak to anyone outside of the family about their very ill parent, no one will listen or believe them, since the NPD parent is a master of the ‘false face’ in public. Secondarily, the child is terrified that their complaint will get back to the NPD parent, and they will pay a high penalty.
Narcissistic mothers and fathers elicit intense fear in the child in several ways.
- First, they may tell the child that they have ‘eyes and ears everywhere’ and the child can hide nothing from them. One father of three little girls gave them necklaces that he told them they had to wear at all times, because he had special powers and could see everything the children did through the necklaces. They were terrified to keep them on, and terrified to take them off.
- Another way that NPD parents incite fear is to make either vague or direct threats to the child that the parent will abandon them, or that the parent will not be able to live if the child is not compliant to the parent’s will. A child naturally loves and wants to please their parent; NPD parents can never be pleased and the child is never good enough.
- Yet other NPD parents make it clear ‘between the lines’ that if the child should ever be disloyal to the parent, grave and dangerous things will happen, up to an including harm to their non-NPD parent or the child themselves.
The child victims of NPD parents are simply there to supply the parent with admiration and ego-boosting reassurance; the parent needs the child to adore and agree with them always, something that the child gets very skilled at doing when in the presence of the parent. Away from the parent, these children are often depressed, anxious, and morose, as if they have simply given up on being a normal child. While some school counselors or coaches may notice that the child is having difficulty, they may never suspect it is due to NPD abuse, especially if they know the child’s NPD parent. Should the child tell the adult about the parent, the child will instantly be suspected as having some innate emotional or mental health problem; this plays right into the hands of the NPD parent when the school counselor calls for a meeting. The child is then caught in an impossible trap: the child gets diagnosed with the mental health problem.
The personality disordered parent can slip up sometimes, letting their real character show. This might happen when the parent, intent on what they want, creates an embarrassing public scene with the child present. In fact, they will at times use their children as levers in public situations to get others to back down or give them what they want. The witnesses to such public rages will give in just to save the child the intense embarrassment that their parent is willing to put them through.
The child learns that they must set aside the things that are important to them or the things that they would like to do, because it is only what the NPD parent wants that counts. The parent always places their own desires and needs before the child’s, often cloaking this fact with an altruistic statement that the parent is just doing what is best for the child. The child has no real choice not to buy into their parent’s plan for them, even if the child has no desire or any real talent for the activity that the parent is forcing them to do. Emotional blackmail is a given. On the other hand, some NPD parents will simply ignore any achievement that the child makes on their own, and may even belittle the achievement in private while taking full credit for the child’s accomplishment in public, if the accomplishment reflects the NPD parent as Parent of the Year.