Children of Narcissistic Parents Feel They Have to Raise Their Parents

Walter Rhein

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Narcissistic parents are individuals who have never matured beyond infantile selfishness. The result of their stunted development means they are ill-suited to become parents. When narcissists have children, the children feel as if they must take on parental roles.

My father’s narcissism was a constant problem around my household. From a very early age, I understood it was my responsibility to perform damage control.

For example, my father thought it was funny to insult everyone in the household. Sometimes his comments could be very hurtful. It wasn’t uncommon to see my little brother or sister tear up after something he said.

In those instances, I’d try to cushion the effect of my father’s words by rephrasing them. I’d say things like, “Dad’s trying to say you did a good job.”

It was obvious that dad wasn’t saying nice things, but he’d let my comment stand. He didn’t like to have his dinner interrupted by his kids throwing a temper tantrum. My brother and sister were pacified by kinder words.

When I was alone with my father, I tried to have conversations with him about using better language. On good days, he would laugh at me and say that people had to toughen up. On bad days, he would become enraged and punish me.

My father never understood that he drove people away from him with his boorish behavior. He thought people were being arrogant or elitist when they cut him out of his life. He never did the mature thing and considered that other people might find his behavior offensive.

I was fortunate in that my narcissistic father was capable of holding down a job. Some of my friends had narcissistic parents who descended into alcoholism. In those cases, it became the children’s responsibility to cook dinner, tend the house, and make sure the other children were healthy.

The older I got, the more responsibilities I had to take on. In my last years of high school, my father didn’t spend any time at home at all. I had to become a surrogate father to my brother and sister.

When my parents got divorced, my father became the "good-time" guy. My father was only concerned about his happiness. He was not concerned about being a good role model to my brother or sister.

During that time, my brother fell into an extreme depression. He started getting into problems with the local police. My mom and I tried to teach him that he needed to change his attitude. We would make progress with him until he’d visit my father.

When my father would visit, he would tell my brother that the police were jerks. My brother then would become defiant.

A narcissistic parent can make it impossible to create a decent home environment. When a child is having behavioral issues, it takes a unified front to correct them. The child will listen to the parent who denies there is a problem for his selfish ends.

Children of narcissistic parents do not get to have a childhood of their own. At the same time, their narcissistic parent is caught in perpetual childhood. People cannot achieve a healthy life until they mature and learn to have empathy for others.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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