Don’t Over-Compensate for the Narcissistic Parent
When our co-parent is abusing our children in any way, it is extremely easy to over-compensate by trying to erase all the bad feelings in our child. Our intentions are good. We know that those bad feelings are coming from the way they are being treated. So if we can erase those bad feelings, then maybe we can erase the damage they are suffering. However the results may not be quite what we hope for.
One definition of a narcissist is an empty shell wrapped in a façade of grandiosity. That empty shell comes from all the abuse, but the façade of grandiosity comes from the over-compensation.
Kids cannot emotionally comprehend the abuse of a parent who is supposed to love them. They internalize it, believing that they themselves are to blame. This leaves them feeling worthless and hopeless. These feelings are too overwhelming for kids and leave them numb and closed off to their own feelings. In other words, an empty shell.
Façade of Grandiosity
When the other parent over compensates by telling them how wonderful, beautiful, amazing and so on that they are, this does not line up with the empty feelings they are experiencing. But it feels better, so they try to cling to this. However, this then becomes a false sense of security for them. It is often easier to ignore bad internal feelings than it is to face them. So it is easy to cling to those feelings that they are great and wonderful, even though they don’t truly believe them. They become that empty shell wrapped in a façade of grandiosity.
So how do we help them instead?
Obviously we can’t always or even often change the behavior of our narcissistic counter parent. So we have to focus on our own parenting skills. The goal is to create a healthy sense of self in our child. What does that look like?
· Acceptance of personal strengths and weaknesses
· Acceptance of one’s humanness
Emotional Muscle Building
Kids need emotional muscles in life. If you carry your child everywhere, they will never learn to walk on their own. Their own leg muscles will atrophy and, over a long enough period, walking will never be an option for them. If you “fix” everything for them so they never build emotional muscles, then this same thing happens.
Quit protecting them from ever feeling disappointment or sadness. Quit protecting them from feeling shame when they deserve it. Quit making them believe that they are above others. Quit rescuing them from the consequences of their actions. Start calling them out on their self-centeredness. Start holding them accountable for their words and actions. Take away their emotional handicaps and create emotional resilience. They are stronger than you think they are. Have confidence in their hearts and in their potential.
Fill the Inner Emptiness
So how do you fill that inner emptiness? Let’s start by looking at how many of us try to fill it and fail. We tell them that they are wonderful. We tell them how great they are, how smart they are, how handsome or pretty they are. None of this ever seemed to work for my kids. They blew it off and never believed me anyways. This is empty praise and does not make help them to fill that emptiness.
I teach martial arts to kids. I see this empty praise often at my school. A parent will sit in the viewing chairs, with their nose in their phone. They don’t pay any attention to what their child is doing in the class. In the meantime, I am having to correct their child repeatedly, calling them out for bad behavior and lack of focus. Much to my surprise though, as we dismiss and the child leaves the floor, the parent will happily exclaim, “Great job today son/daughter. You did great!” I want to say, “Did you see the class? Were you watching how they did?” That child knows they were called out and corrected. They may not be able to verbalize this, but they feel that parent’s empty praise for what it is. While they can’t put it into words, they know that it doesn’t feel right.
Empty praise makes us feel even emptier.
Teach them the feeling of mattering
When my oldest son was around the age of 10, he had a day that was feeling particularly off to him. He was down and completely unmotivated. He was home all day and completely bored, adding to his lack of motivation. I gave him a small list with a few options of productive things to do. On that list were things like bathe the dogs, vacuum the house, wash the windows, and so on. He decided to bathe the dogs. I was extremely glad he chose that one because it was one chore that I really did not like doing, as it was hard on my back. When he got done, I told him how much I appreciated him doing that and how much it helped me. He actually told me, at that young age, that it had really made him feel better. He felt like he had done something very useful and beneficial. I used this opportunity to teach him about the value of productivity.
On his own, he applied this later in his childhood. As any normal kid does, he had other days when he was off. But he noticed it in himself. So, on his own, he chose to go bathe the dogs. He felt the value of this action and felt like he mattered in our world. He did not need a reward of ice cream, money, or anything else. In fact, sometimes those rewards interfere with a child feeling the more internal rewards. He needed to FEEL productive, helpful, and appreciated.
Your kids need to feel that they matter in your world. Don’t do this through excessive praise. This so easily gets shallow and meaningless. They need to have chores and responsibilities. They need to feel like a necessary and valuable part of the family. If it is their job to feed the pets, then they need to feed the pets. When they forget, simply remind them and have them do it. Resist the temptation to just do it for them. I know that is quicker and easier, but it does not teach them responsibility and value. Those pets are relying on your kids for their nourishment. Explain that to your child. Most pets will show great appreciation to the one that feeds them. Let your child experience that. It helps them to feel like they matter, which of course, they do.
You are NOT a superhero!
One final note here. Please remember that you are no different than any other parent struggling through parenthood. I got wrapped up in trying to make sure I did everything right for my kids. I so badly wanted to, as I’m sure you do. I don’t question your desire to be a great parent. That is a wonderful desire. But it is easy to get so caught up in trying to do everything right that we end up making a complete disaster of it.
Give yourself permission to be human. You can’t fix everything. You can’t help them with everything. This isn’t all bad. They NEED to learn some things for themselves as well. They NEED to learn to rely on themselves as well. That’s okay.
If someone would have just told me what to do in order to ensure my boys have a bright, healthy and happy future, I would have walked through fire for them. Trouble is that there is no blueprint, no sure way, no guidebook with all the answers. You do the best you can and then let them go. Trust your heart and learn to trust theirs too!