Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

Did you have a parent who constantly criticized you? Did this parent expect you to admire him or her and give him or her constant attention? Or perhaps your parent insisted that everything be done his or her way, and your contributions were ignored or devalued. If these descriptions of one or both of your parents ring true, it is very likely that you have been shaped by a parent with destructive narcissism.

An adult with healthy narcissism has a good sense of self, has empathy for others, is able to delay gratification, assumes responsibility for himself or herself and for others, has a capacity to develop and maintain meaningful and satisfying relationships, and has clear and firm boundaries, according to Nina Brown in her book Children of the Self-Absorbed (New Harbinger Publications).

An adult with destructive narcissism, on the other hand, cannot reliably respond to a child’s needs, nurture, respond empathically, or put a child’s needs above his or her own – or tune in to the emotional life of a child. Instead, the child is expected to meet the adult’s needs.

The child constantly receives messages about what he or she is supposed to be or do for the parent. When the child becomes an adult, the expectations are so internalized that he or she now responds to other people in the same way he or she responded to his or her parents, Brown says. As an adult, you will either cater to others (and then resent them-or ignore others (and they will be unhappy with you).

Here’s a description of various components of destructive narcissism, courtesy of Brown:

  • Attention needs. Becomes uncomfortable when the spotlight is turned to someone else. Will brag, throw a tantrum, sulk, act loud and boisterous, complain, act seductive and engage in one-upmanship.
  • Admiration needs, including fishing for compliments or approval, flaunting possessions, being vain, gloating in victory, trying to impress others and doing everything so that others think he or she is “superman” or “super-woman.”
  • Feels that what they have to say is more important than what others have to say, so he or she frequently interrupts others; does not wait his or her turn; becomes angry when ignored or over-looked; tries to find a way around rules or laws; or expects to be taken care of first and to receive more service than others.
  • Has a lack of empathy. Is more interested in his or her concerns than in yours; ignores your feelings and fails to listen to you; diminishes the importance of your concerns, issues or feelings; and calls you “touchy” “oversensitive” or says “you brought it on yourself” if you say you feel devalued or upset.
  • Wants to control what you do and say. Expects you to drop what you’re doing and attend to him or her; uses your possessions without first asking permission; gets angry when you don’t act as he or she tells you to; gives you their name (“junior”) ; forces you to accept unwanted touching or kisses; and makes you feel inept when you don’t rely on him or her to tell you what to do.
  • Considers others inferior. Is easily offended by any hint that you think he or she is mistaken; is wounded when you disagree with his or her opinions or suggestions; is arrogant and acts as if he or she is in control of everything.
  • Has shallow emotions, except for anger and fear.
  • Acts entitled.  Expects to receive more attention, special consideration and deference.  Assumes that his or her wants and needs take priority over yours, and that things be done in his or her way.
  • Exploits others by making misleading statements, being manipulative, lying, not reciprocating a gift or favor, or using emotional blackmail.
  • Is emotionally abusive.  Makes demeaning comments about your appearance or abilities, is critical, devalues you and your accomplishments, suggests that whatever you do or say is never quite right, attacks without provocation and keeps you on the defensive.

I will write about the effects a narcissistic parent has on you in next week’s column.

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