The Narcissist as Parent, Spouse or Both

Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissists themselves are so clueless. ~Jeffrey Kluger

Many enter therapy because they have been raised by a narcissistic parent or have married a spouse with these traits. Feeling enraged that they must seek treatment, while the other continues to leave a path of pain and destruction in their wake is a common theme for these individuals who seek help.

A hallmark trait of the narcissist is that they lack empathy and are unable to see and respond to the real needs and "self" of the other. It you are married to, or in a relationship with a narcissist, sadly, you are very much alone because you don't actually have a real relationship. It is likely one-sided -- you are there to admire, serve and meet the needs of the narcissist. When things are going well, you may feel invited into their special world -- it can feel seductive and exciting -- you will be rewarded for mirroring their specialness and sharing the delusion. You may also feel very lonely. Your are always at risk for being de-throned; the narcissist can idealize you one moment and devalue you the next. Crossing or denying the narcissist what they need has consequences. This type of relationship may work until the weary partner, who has likely subjugated and denied his/her needs rebels and begins to rewrite the script. Things get ugly fast. You will be fired, or replaced with a better version -- this is reality, and it's just a matter of time! The break-up of a relationship with a narcissist is often emotionally charged, destructive and even devastating. The life review of time spent with a narcissist usually reveals a history of deception, feeling invisible, keeping secrets, collusion, humiliations, betrayals and the denial of one's true and authentic self in an effort to support the narcissistic partner or parent's fragile self and maintain a connection.

Narcissists rarely land in the office of a therapist on their own. Sometimes they are dragged in by a partner who feels unseen and unheard, or have landed in some devastating, humiliating legal situation. It may be the spouse or family member who seeks treatment to break free of the narcissist and the course of therapy will likely involve helping the individual address their underlying lack of self-esteem or past dynamics that get played out in the present. Children of narcissists often marry a partner who has similar traits. The pattern gets repeated. The children of a narcissist will face unique problems, especially if the parent uses control, money, power or other trappings to maintain the fragile, transactional connection.

If any of this resonates for you, I have included helpful reading so that you can educate and support yourself in the healing process. If you're interested in how you or someone in your life rates on The Narcissistic Personality Inventory, you can take the test here.

Take a look at these “Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism" from Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism - Sandy Hotchkiss & James F. Masterson 

Shamelessness – Shame is the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the inability to process shame in healthy ways.

Magical thinking – Narcissists see themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto others.

Arrogance – A narcissist who is feeling deflated may reinflate by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else.

Envy – A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person’s ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.

Entitlement – Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Any failure to comply will be considered an attack on their superiority and the perpetrator is considered to be an “awkward” or “difficult” person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.

Exploitation – can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.

Bad Boundaries – narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist will be treated as if they are part of the narcissist and be expected to live up to those expectations. In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and other.

Source: Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003)

Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life - Linda Martinez-Lewi

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder - Randi Kreger and Bill Eddy LCSW JD

Children of the Self Absorbed - Nina W Brown

Alice Miller's seminal work The Drama of the Gifted Child

Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a New York City Therapist + Coach with a private practice in Manhattan.