Couples Therapy in NYC: Tales for Lovebirds
If you and your partner are perched atop a Manhattan tower, squinting across the skyline and wondering, “Is my parent a narcissist or the Statue of Liberty?” this article is your compass. Brace yourself for a unique odyssey through the labyrinthine city of parental narcissism — what it is like to have a parent with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
“Does My Narcissistic Father or Mother Wear a Crown?”
Being raised by a narcissistic father or mother is like being in a New York subway at peak hour: chaotic, cramped, and challenging. You didn’t pick the train, but now you’re stuck, armed only with a worn-out MetroCard, dealing with rush-hour damages. It’s time to find a new route.
Imagine you wake up at midnight, your belly mimicking a siren. You rush to the ER, only to learn that your appendix is throwing a tantrum and must come out.
Like our emotional distress, the first step towards healing a mental health disorder is understanding the source, similar to tracking down the subway rat who ran across the tracks.
Narcissistic parents may have sabotaged your self-esteem, causing psychological damage that can linger for decades in the adult child of a narcissistic mother or father — a parent with a narcissistic personality disorder.
The 5th Avenue of Narcissism: What Do Narcissist Parents Do?
Narcissistic parents are like 5th Avenue fashionistas – always seeking the spotlight, attention-seeking for themselves, maintaining a superior image, and reacting fiercely when that image is threatened. Here’s how to tell if your parent has been strutting down the 5th Avenue of pathological narcissism:
Moving the Goalposts: The Broadway of Narcissism
Imagine your parent is a Broadway director, and you are their understudy. You get applause for good grades or public achievements but outshine them, and the curtain abruptly falls.
Similarly, unique talents, like drawing, may initially invite criticism but turn into bragging rights when the spotlight hits. The signs of a narcissistic show director are ever-changing the script to keep their star shining.
Faulty Blame Game: The Wall Street Crash
Did your narcissistic parent turn every academic hurdle into your personal Wall Street crash while claiming the success dividends? You’d be caught between a praise bull market and a blame bear market if raised with narcissistic parents.
At a young age, when you transition into adulthood, the same trend of narcissistic parenting behavior continues. The narcissistic parent is your stockbroker, attributing self-blame for failures to you but celebrating your victories as their own.
Infallibility: The Timeless Time Square Billboard
Imagine your narcissistic parent as a timeless Time Square billboard, proclaiming their ‘always-right’ status. Even trivial disagreements would turn into a ‘who knows better’ contest. Conversely, you are a graffiti artist; your art and opinions are often overlooked or negated.
Emotional Roulette: The Central Park Carousel
You’re riding an emotional carousel in Central Park with a narcissistic parent, spun around by their moods. Your achievements are met with giddy joy, while failures rain down disappointments. You become the unwitting conductor of their emotional symphony, expected to keep the tunes pleasant solely for their benefit.
Spotting Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Key Indicators
I’m not casually using narcissism as a label that can so commonly occur now. Officially, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a comprehensive guide used by mental health professionals worldwide to diagnose and classify mental disorders, is characterized by a distinct set of behaviors and tendencies.
To make it easier for you to identify these patterns in a potential narcissistic parent with adult children, I’ve clarified the criteria into some key categories:
A Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
- They frequently exaggerate their achievements or talents, expecting others to recognize them as superior.
- They tend to weave fantasies about unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, often seeming out of touch with reality.
A Constant Craving for Admiration
- They constantly seek admiration and validation from others, thriving on compliments but falling apart under criticism.
- They can be excessively charming and charismatic when they believe someone can enhance their status or self-esteem.
A Lack of Empathy
- They struggle to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others, often dismissing them as unimportant.
- They’re oblivious to the harm they cause, focusing solely on their needs and desires.
Exploitative and Envious Behavior
- They often exploit others for personal gain without guilt or remorse.
- They frequently envy others and believe others to be envious of them, leading to toxic dynamics.
Not every person exhibiting these characteristics has Narcissistic Personality Disorder — they may have one or more narcissistic personality traits without technically qualifying for the diagnostic disorder.
Still, these traits may indicate a potential for narcissistic characteristics that could harm you, the adult children of narcissistic parents, and those around them.
The Ripple Effects of a Narcissistic Parent on Your Marriage or Love Life
Imagine growing up in a house of mirrors. Everywhere you look, your reflection is distorted, warped by the curved glass. In this confusing landscape, you struggle to understand your true self, what you genuinely want and need — much like growing up with a narcissistic parent.
The child learns to navigate their world using a distorted reflection, ultimately taking this warped sense of self into adult relationships.
A partner of an adult child of a narcissistic parent with an inflated sense of self can introduce many complex issues into marriage and love relationships. In many cases, the adult child of a narcissist may find themselves consistently drawn to partners who display similar narcissistic traits to their narcissistic parent.
They might be repeatedly lured into a dance of constantly giving without receiving much in return, akin to a one-sided waltz that leaves them perpetually off-balance.
In other instances, they might continuously seek validation from their partner, much like a ship lost at sea yearning for a lighthouse beam. This desperate need for approval often stems from the narcissistic parent’s conditional love that hinged on performance rather than inherent self-esteem and worth.
Marriages and love relationships can turn into battlegrounds for acceptance and validation, where the adult child struggles to reconcile their learned behaviors with the inherent need for mutual respect, love, and understanding.
The adult child of a narcissistic parent might find it challenging to set healthy boundaries, express needs, or even recognize them, like trying to paint a masterpiece without having all the colors on their palette.
The impact of a narcissistic parent’s behavior can permeate many facets of an adult child’s love life, but understanding and addressing these patterns can pave the way for healthier, more satisfying relationships.
Shining a light on these distorted mirrors can reshape the reflections and foster a more authentic sense of self.
The Impact of Narcissistic Parenting on Couples Therapy
Being caught in the storm of a narcissistic parent could color your worldview with pessimism and negativity. But like NYC, thriving despite its challenges, overcoming these shadows and stepping into a healthier state of mind is possible.
The Scenic Route to Healing: Tips and Strategies
What Happens When You’re the Emotional Trash Can?
When you constantly carry the weight of the emotions of your narcissistic parents as a child, you might grow up feeling like the world’s emotional trash can. You learn to step lightly, avoid poking the bear, and always put your narcissistic parent or other family unit members’ emotions ahead of your own.
This emotional labor can leave a kid feeling like they’re climbing up the Empire State Building with King Kong on their back.
Adults who grew up with a narcissistic parent may experience one or more of the following:
- Take responsibility for other people’s emotions, jumping to solve problems that aren’t theirs to solve
- Struggle to identify and express their emotions because they’re so used to having them ignored
- Become the ultimate narcissistic people-pleasers, losing themselves while trying to keep everyone else happy
- End up in relationships with other narcissists, repeating the cycle of emotional and psychological abuse they experienced in their childhood
Narcissistic Parents Keep the Spotlight Centered on Them
Like a Broadway diva hogging the spotlight, adult children of narcissistic parents see them continuously insisting on being the center of attention. Every other family member’s event, holiday, or quiet Tuesday night at home turns into “The Parent Show.”
Your accomplishments are downplayed or ignored unless they can be used to reflect well on the narcissistic parent.
Say you’re graduating as valedictorian. A healthy parent without self-doubt would feel pride and joy toward you. But a narcissistic parent? They might respond with something like, “Well, if you had worked a bit harder, you could have gotten that scholarship too. Your cousin got a scholarship, you know.”
They’re like an actor who’s forgotten they’re part of an ensemble cast. Narcissistic parents think the entire performance is about them and everyone else is just an extra.
A Star-Studded Disaster
Your narcissistic parents cannot share the spotlight with a golden child, which can feel devastating. You may feel like your accomplishments aren’t real unless your narcissistic parent recognizes them. And yet, that recognition never comes unless it somehow benefits the parent.
“It’s like spending years rehearsing for a Broadway debut, only to be upstaged by the narcissistic parent “Star” who insists on singing your solo.”
As an adult, you may find yourself constantly seeking validation and approval. You might struggle with impostor syndrome and self-doubt, feeling like you’re not genuinely successful or competent, no matter how much evidence there is.
It’s like trying to fill a cup with a hole in the bottom – no matter how much you achieve as adult children, it’s never enough for narcissistic parents.
Being on the Receiving End of Parent-Narcissist’s Wrath is Not a Walk in Central Park
Parental narcissists have a knack for turning the blame around onto their adult children. You could be on the receiving end of their wrath, and somehow they’d make it out to be your fault. If you come home late, it’s because you’re irresponsible. If they forget to pick you up, you don’t remind them.
It’s like a never-ending game of pin the blame on the donkey, and you’re always the donkey.
Growing Up In a Blame-Shifting Whirlwind
This blame-shifting whirlwind can make you question your reality. It’s like living in a carnival funhouse – everything is distorted, and nothing makes sense. You can start to feel like you’re the problem as adult children like everything that goes wrong is your fault.
As adult children, you may find yourself apologizing for things you have little regard for and no control over or accepting blame when it’s not your fault. You may also do the same thing to your own children regardless of your own feelings. This can even turn into narcissistic abuse.
It’s like carrying around an invisible “kick me” sign – you’re always ready to take the fall.
The Expectation of Comfort is a One-Way Street
In children of narcissists or adults with a narcissistic parent, there’s an obvious hierarchy of needs – and theirs are always at the top. Their emotional comfort is always prioritized, with your needs coming a distant second.
When you’re hurting, it’s unlikely that your emotional distress will be met with anything more than indifference and, in worst-case scenarios, outright hostility.
It’s like a twisted version of the golden rule, where you’re always expected to do unto them, but they never reciprocate.
The Curse of Second-hand Emotions
Growing up, a child of a narcissistic parent often becomes conditioned to take on the emotional burden of others. They may find themselves trying to mend others’ negative emotions, regardless of the cost to their own decisions and mental well-being.
This habit may manifest in adulthood as overworking to appease a demanding boss or rushing to mend friendships despite being wrongfully accused. This unconscious drive to cater to others makes them particularly susceptible to other children of narcissists, who can sense and exploit their low self-esteem and-sacrificing nature.
Your Voice Echoes Unheard in Their Chamber
Listening is often another performance for narcissistic parents to maintain their “good parent” image. However, a parent with narcissistic personality disorder with superficial attention lacks genuine curiosity and is usually self-serving.
They don’t take the time to truly understand the needs or feelings behind their child’s words. Instead, they seize these moments to showcase their ‘wisdom,’ turning your problems into their grand soliloquy.
This skewed dynamic extends to the parent’s perception of their child. They may fixate on your achievements if they reflect well on themself. At the same time, your personal preferences and emotional needs get sidelined.
Most narcissistic parents say you’re spoiled if you complain about your shoes being too small. If you enjoy a birthday check from your grandparents, you’re ‘money-grabbing.’ They become so lost in their preconceived notions of who you should be that they lose sight and lack self-awareness of their perceived outsized importance, missing who you are.
Being Unseen Can Lead to An Identity Crisis
As a child of a narcissist, if you were praised for public achievements, you might find yourself constantly seeking external validation as an adult. However, these victories are fleeting, never fulfilling the sustained, unconditional love you crave.
Similarly, if you were constantly criticized, you may have internalized those views and found yourself denying your needs. This self-denial can persist in adulthood, impacting your ability to advocate for better circumstances or necessities.
Additionally, if your thoughts and feelings were dismissed or met with irritation, you might struggle with anxiety when expressing yourself. You may feel anxious or uneasy speaking up at work, sharing personal feelings, or standing your ground in relationships, fearing rejection.
Narcissistic Parenting Leaves Deep Emotional Scars
Children of narcissistic parents need more than just their basic needs met to thrive; they also need emotional nurturing and social support. A narcissistic parent, however, fails to provide this meaningfully.
Affection, if shown at all, is often superficial and reserved for public appearances. Love in the narcissistic parents’ world is highly conditional, and genuine interest in the child or children is almost nonexistent.
This emotional deprivation schema results in deep-seated trauma that can persist into adulthood, manifesting as mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Understanding Emotional Deprivation in Schema Therapy: Decoding the Key Coping Modes
Emotional Deprivation Schema in Schema Therapy
In Schema Therapy, the Emotional Deprivation schema is one of the 18 core schemas describing a pattern of consistent emotional neglect throughout a person’s life. Individuals with this schema often lack fulfillment in their emotional needs, such as:
- a sense of security from those around them
This feeling of emotional deprivation may stem from childhood experiences where these basic emotional needs weren’t adequately met — highly likely with children of narcissistic parents.
How we cope when the Emotional Deprivation schema is triggered typically falls into three categories of schema coping modes:
- Surrender: This coping mode occurs when the individual accepts the schema as a fundamental part of their reality, often feeling perpetually unfulfilled in relationships. For instance, someone may stay in an emotionally unsatisfying relationship, believing they don’t deserve better.
- Avoidance: In this coping mode, the person actively avoids situations or relationships that might trigger feelings of emotional deprivation. As an example, a person might choose to remain solitary, avoiding close relationships altogether to prevent the possibility of feeling emotionally neglected.
- Counterattack: The counterattack mode happens when the person fights back against the schema, usually through anger or aggression. An individual might become overly demanding or critical in their relationships, trying to force the fulfillment of their unmet emotional needs.
Understanding these coping modes can be incredibly valuable in Schema Therapy, enabling a deeper understanding of behavior patterns and offering insights into developing healthier coping strategies.
Turning Trauma into Triumph
While the damage inflicted by a narcissistic parent is not your fault, the responsibility for healing falls upon you. It starts with understanding and acknowledging your experiences with family members and treating the emotional wounds they’ve left behind.
Education about narcissism and mental disorders is a crucial part of this journey. Wendy Behary’s book “Disarming the Narcissist” is a great starting point, providing an in-depth look at the traits of narcissists, narcissistic behavior, and personality disorders from a research-based schema therapy perspective.
Conquer Your Past, Embrace Your Future
By reading this far, you’ve already taken a big step towards understanding the roots of your narcissistic parents’ abuse and your struggles. You’re acknowledging that your childhood experiences, which may have included physical violence or emotional abuse from a narcissistic parent leading to your own pain, have left you with emotional wounds that you’re ready to heal– not an easy task. We commend you for your bravery and resilience.
However, you don’t have to walk this healing journey alone. Having a professional to guide you can make it significantly more manageable — an expert at Loving at Your Best Marriage and Couples Counseling.
Unleashing the Power of Schema Therapy
Schema therapy is an evidence-based approach that has shown to be highly effective for individuals grappling with the effects of a narcissistic upbringing from exposure to a parent with a narcissistic personality disorder. It enables you to understand and change deep emotional patterns, ultimately leading to a healthier relationship with yourself and others.
Case Studies: From Childhood Shadows to Relationship Challenges
Let’s delve deeper into the profound impact of being raised by a narcissistic parent on adult romantic relationships. By exploring the experiences of Alex, Taylor, and Jordan, we’ll gain insight into how schema therapy can help illuminate these issues and foster healthier connections.
Real-Life Success Story 1: Alex and their Relationship Struggles
Alex, a successful software engineer, grew up with a narcissistic father. They tended to retreat into themselves whenever conflict arose in their family relationships. Alex had adopted a coping mode known as the Detached Protector in response to their father’s overpowering personality disorder.
In their current relationship, whenever their partner, Jamie, expressed frustration or disappointment, Alex would shut down, often dismissing their feelings, to maintain peace. Jamie felt unheard and lonely, while Alex felt guilty and drained. This pattern had been a massive roadblock to their relationship’s growth.
Schema therapy helped Alex recognize their Detached Protector mode, and they started challenging this tendency to shut down. Alex learned to express their feelings, even during conflicts, radically changing their relationship dynamics. Jamie started feeling more connected to Alex, and they began working through disagreements instead of avoiding them.
Real-Life Success Story 2: Taylor’s Pleasing Pattern
Taylor, a talented artist, grew up with a narcissistic mother who only acknowledged Taylor’s achievements when they enhanced her image. Taylor developed a Compliant Surrenderer mode, how schema therapy defines a way of coping that always tries to please others at the cost of their desires and needs.
In their relationship with Casey, Taylor always went above and beyond to satisfy Casey’s desires, often at the cost of their own needs. Casey loved Taylor but felt burdened by the one-sidedness of the relationship and longed for a more balanced connection.
With schema therapy for couples at Loving at Your Best Marriage and Couples Counseling, Taylor began to acknowledge and voice their needs in their relationship. They learned that their value wasn’t determined solely by how much they could please others.
Gradually, Taylor and Casey found a new rhythm in their relationship, valuing both partners’ needs equally.
Real-Life Success Story 3: Jordan and their Guarded Heart
Jordan, a devoted social worker, had a narcissistic parent who often rebuked them. Jordan adopted a Vulnerable Child mode, how schema therapy views the state when one harbors feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection.
In their relationship with Reese, Jordan was often defensive and reacted strongly to even mild criticism. Reese was patient but felt hurt when their well-intentioned feedback was met with such defensiveness. On the other hand, Jordan constantly felt under attack, even when Reese was trying to communicate their needs.
Through schema therapy for couples, Jordan identified their Vulnerable Child mode and learned to discern between constructive feedback and outright criticism. They started to trust Reese’s intentions and opened up to receiving feedback without feeling threatened. Reese, in turn, appreciated Jordan’s effort and made sure to frame their communication more sensitively.
Your Relationship Can Be Your Safe Harbor
The psychological effects of having a narcissistic parent can seep into adult romantic relationships, but this does not mean these relationships are doomed. Like Alex, Taylor, and Jordan, you can use schema therapy to understand and overcome the challenges your upbringing might have imposed on you.
At Loving at Your Best Marriage and Couples Counseling, we are committed to helping you navigate these complexities. With understanding, compassion, and effective therapeutic strategies from schema therapy, we aim to turn your relationship into a source of healing and growth.
Take the Leap Towards a Healthier You
Imagine a life where you’re not constantly burdened by the needs of others, where you are heard and valued. Imagine healthy relationships where you feel loved and supported, not disregarded or exploited — not a distant dream but a future you can create.
It’s not just about surviving; it’s about thriving. Let’s turn your understanding into action, your wounds into wisdom, healing from your pain, and laying down a stepping stone toward healthier relationships to create a fulfilling future. You’ve carried the weight for so long; it’s time you experience what it’s like to be genuinely loving at your best.
Be the Architect of Your Healing
Your story doesn’t end with a narcissistic parent; it begins with you, here and now, taking charge of your life. Let’s write the next chapter together, filled with understanding, healing, and self-love.