Find out how narcissistic YOU REALLY ARE.
Most people are quick to spot a narcissist, but it's much more difficult to recognize your own narcissism. However, based on my 20 years of experience as a therapist and psychoanalyst, I can say with confidence that everyone is a little bit narcissistic.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, it's hard to admit that you have narcissistic tendencies to begin with, let alone identify how they're impacting your life and your loved ones. "Narcissist" is often perceived as an insult reserved for people like Donald Trump, and our culture is generally judgmental of people with narcissism.
Narcissism exists on a continuum, and some amount of narcissism can be healthy for parents and their children.
Healthy narcissists have a reasonable sense of themselves and others, and are concerned with their own well-being as well as that of their loved ones.
They have a genuine interest in their children's thoughts and feelings, and are able to recognize their children as distinct people, not mere extensions of themselves. They acknowledge their child's likes and dislikes, even when they differ from their parents' preferences, and they appreciate who their child is as an individual, complex person, marveling equally at the ways their child is exemplary and average.
Malignant narcissists are on the other end of the spectrum. As parents, their core challenge is perceiving their child as a separate individual. It's their tendency to align or malign their children's characteristics so their picture of the children works with their own self-image.
Narcissistic parents will often use their children as a function or an ornament, sometimes treating their kids like caregivers, appendages, or confidants. Malignant narcissism can lead to abuse, yet it can also manifest in less egregious forms.
It's normal for parents to occasionally miss their pre-kids freedom, but some parents experience this to more extreme degrees, taking every opportunity to escape from their children, or neglecting, forgetting, or being overwhelmed by their needs.
These parents were raised by narcissistic parents and are trying to manage their own unfulfilled psychological needs.
For example, I once knew a woman, whom I'll call Sally, who complained of having too much to do and not enough time. In an effort to manage all her responsibilities, she was frequently about an hour late to pick her young children up from pre-school. Her children would wait at pre-school, unsure of when their mother would arrive, feeling anxious and forgotten.
Sally wasn't consciously trying to make her kids feel insecure, but in a mad rush to meet her own needs and deadlines, she treated her children like an afterthought.
Most of us fall somewhere between healthy and malignant narcissism, sharing qualities of both depending on our state of mind, vulnerabilities, and life circumstances at a given time. Middle-of-the-spectrum parents will sway toward the unhealthy side when they're confronted with major life stressors, feel empty, out of control, or are working through their own childhood issues.
Several years ago, I knew a recently divorced couple, whom I'll call Susan and Bill. They had two children and shared partial custody. Although they weren't malignant narcissists in general, the pain and anger they experienced as a newly divorced couple evoked their narcissistic tendencies.
Each time Susan waited for Bill to pick up the kids, she couldn't help herself: She had to get a dig in under her breath about how Bill was always late. Although it was a little thing, voicing her frustration to their kids was a narcissistic move — it propped up her superior standing among the kids by lowering Bill's position, potentially creating distance between the kids and Bill when they most needed the love and support of both parents.
Or take Karen, a stay-at home-mother who sacrificed her career to raise her children. Karen's perfectionistic qualities, which she once saved for her career, were transferred onto child-rearing. She manages her kids like she used to manage her career, and organizes and controls her children as a means of managing her own anxiety.
Unfortunately, Karen is unable to see how her no-tolerance parenting has impacted one of her kids, who has developed a compulsive disorder. Without self-awareness, Karen transferred her own insecurities onto her children, confusing herself with them and lacking empathy for their individuality.
When I consult with people in my practice, I listen and think about where they are struggling on the narcissistic spectrum. If you're wondering where you fall on the scale, here are 15 factors and situations you can consider:
- In a mad scurry to get your own needs met, are your kids just simply fitting in, or in between?
- Can you identify and appreciate the ways your kids are different from you?
- Do you stay with a partner whom your kids hate to prevent your own loneliness?
- Do you disparage your spouse or partner so that your child can hear?
- Are you working late to escape from your kids?
- Do you get more accolades from your career than from child-rearing?
- Do you resent the demands and time raising children take from your life?
- Do you feel disrespected and criticized by your children?
- Do you miss milestone events because you think there will be more and there's something you'd rather do?
- Have you devoted your entire life to your child's life such that you no longer have your own identity?
- Are you a helicopter parent?
- Do you tell yourself that you deserve that new handbag, sleeve of cookies, or that extra drink for having to endure so much?
- Do you insist that your child take up an activity because you're trying to patch up your own disappointment, all the while rationalizing that your kid really loves it?
- Do you ever find yourself comparing and competing with your kids? Do you secretly want to win?
- Do you ever watch your child interact with their peers and think that they are just like you when you were young? Alternately, have you secretly enjoyed thinking that you were more popular or talented at their age?
In his 2011 novel When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession, Stanford psychiatry professor Irvin D. Yalom wrote, "It is wrong to bear children out of need, wrong to use a child to alleviate loneliness, wrong to provide purpose in life by reproducing another copy of oneself. It is wrong also to seek immortality by spewing one's germ into the future as though sperm contains your consciousness!"
If you recognize yourself in any of the questions above, you don't need to feel discouraged. There are ways you can address your vulnerable areas. Here are seven steps you can take to address your narcissistic tendencies:
- Honestly assess your narcissism.
- Develop self awareness, which will create the space for change and empower you to make different choices. Know your good, bad, and ugly. Try to sit with these thoughts about yourself for more than a minute.
- Imagine what others are feeling and thinking, and then contrast that to how you feel. Try to appreciate why someone else might feel differently.
- Develop patience and acceptance for the process. Having narcissistic tendencies can go hand-in-hand with the need for immediate gratification, but addressing narcissistic tendencies is not easy or quick, especially if you've been contending with this emptiness for a while.
- Mourn and grieve for the losses, pain, and life experiences that have made you who you are thus far. This is the most important step you can take to address your narcissism. It is only through grieving and repairing your own pain — and the pain you have passed on — that you can achieve greater freedom from narcissism.
- Seek psychodynamic therapies and psychoanalysis. These modalities of treatment are the most direct way to address your narcissistic tendencies.
We're all prone to narcissism, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have no control over how these qualities affect your kids. You can alter your narcissistic proclivities by being present, listening, and connecting with your children.
These are the best remedies for narcissistic predilections. You can raise your own awareness to break the cycle for the next generation.