Children

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What if your own child is a narcissist? Not much is written about this, but I have received several private notes asking for help with this situation. Frankly, the question is difficult because it brings out so many emotions.

When you read about narcissism, you will almost always find that it begins when the person is young, perhaps very young. Something happens in the life of the child to make him/her afraid. The child learns to hide behind an image that is superior to others. This choice is not genetic or physical. It is not a disease or a mental disorder. It is a learned response to the struggles of life—and that makes parents feel guilty.

Now, you can find that in almost every book and from almost every professional that teaches about narcissism. In general, I agree with that assessment. But that does not mean that we can take the next steps without extreme caution. Before you begin to judge yourselves or your children, consider these things.

First, young children often lean toward narcissism. In the process of finding “self,” a child may go through many personalities. At various points, a single child might be boisterous, quiet, kind, mean, critical, accepting, happy, and sad. That’s normal. Children learn how to deal with life by experimentation. If you happen to catch your child in a narcissistic time, when trying to be superior and uncaring, don’t assume the child is stuck in that stage. I would not diagnose a young person (under 18) as a narcissist even if I was in the role of a professional counselor. In fact, today’s young people might be well into their 30’s before their identity settles down. (That’s another topic for another day.) Please do not be quick to label your son or daughter as a narcissist.

Second, parents are not the only influence in a child’s life. While I believe distant or over-bearing parents can trigger narcissistic behavior, it may not always be parents that are the direct cause. How many parents have learned years later of the pains and fears their child had in school or even church? Children may be afraid to talk with parents, even good parents. Grandparents may also influence children, as can other siblings. Parents are often unaware of the real struggles of their kids.

It seems sad to me that good parents blame themselves when they see their child exhibiting a narcissistic personality. The more they read, the stronger they feel the shame and blame. They forget that they could not control all the influences in their kids’ lives. Yes, some parents are to blame. Not all.

Third, children raised in the same homes by the same parents grow up to be different. Each person is complex. It is arrogant and foolish for any parent to think that they could raise their children to all be the same. It simply doesn’t work that way. If one grows up to be narcissistic, but the two others do not, how do we understand that? The only answer I know is that children are different from the beginning. Some are sensitive. Some are loud. Some make friends easily. Others are quiet. While parents may try to be fair and still treat each child according to his or her uniqueness, the job is far more complex than we usually understand. No one can always say or do the right thing, especially under the pressures of parenting. And no one can be fully responsible for the choices of another, even when that is your own child.

Fourth, children make many choices as they grow. Some of those choices are made many times until they become habitual or internal. I have been convinced that narcissistic behavior is a choice. It comes naturally to a person only after many other such choices have produced successful or acceptable results. Professionals are still not sure what to call narcissism. It doesn’t even fit well in the category of a personality disorder. Instead, narcissism seems to be a pragmatic lifestyle choice. It doesn’t pay for the narcissist to care, so she doesn’t. It doesn’t make a difference if the narcissist is kind, so he isn’t. The only way to get ahead in this world, the narcissist thinks, is to take what you want and let others suffer the consequences.

It does seem to be true that narcissists lack empathy and don’t know how to love, but even those seem to be choices, choices made almost unconsciously after long habit. We know that narcissists can be kind, attentive, generous, sensitive—when they want to be—but they are able to turn that behavior on and off. This is why it is sometimes long into a relationship before a victim discovers the truth. But, again, parents are only a small part of the influences that have touched those choices.

One more thing: parents will not be able to fix narcissistic children. It is a normal part of parenting to struggle with the negative things you see in your kids and the desire you have to change them. Sometimes just a good talk can help one of them make better choices. But not a narcissist. If your child is a narcissist, back away. Love from a distance. Pray and let the Lord do His work. That may be the only choice you have available.

*****

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5 responses to “Children

  1. Pamela Kay De Smet

    I really appreciated this post, Pastor Dave. One of my daughters turned completely narcissist by the time she was 35. I watched her make a series of choices that turned her very bitter at life, God, and her parents. I tried to talk her out of some of her attitudes and she would not receive help or corrections. She would hide it a bit and it would come out again. She would rail on God to me, and I would stop it by saying, I would not participate in her ranting at God….nor would I listen to it. This was after I tried to reason with her many times over this, and even prayed with her; which she allowed at first. So she would switch the subject and did a lot of switch/bait traps for me. Then she turned on me viciously and would not let up her attacks. I think she thought I owed it to her as her mother, to take all of her horrible emotional abuse and I was to love her and let her make me her whipping post for all her frustrations of life. I finally had my fill of it, and as you know, a Godly, Christian mother who raised her children to be godly also, is slow….very slow to cut their child off from their communication and presence; but I was left with no choice, unless I wanted to let her destroy me in a daily way through e-mails and phone calls. I warned her many times, tried to work with her, and she refused to truly repent of her attacks. Finally, after much prayer and travail, I said to her, “Andrea, it is clear, that you are making no changes in your thoughts and behaviors toward me; and I am weary to bones of the whole situation. I turn you over to the HOLY SPIRIT of God to be your mother from here on out. I have clearly done Everything I can for you to help you take a different attitude in life; and I am not going to allow you to destroy my heart, mind, and life as your mother. I have resigned the position, and turned you over to God. I will still pray for you, but there will be no contact between us. I will see you again on the other side of all of this.” From that day forward, 2-1/2 years ago, I have refused to allow her contact with me. Andrea just turned 41 this year. I believe God’s Hand is upon her to turn her life around for His Glory. I listen for what the Holy Spirit speaks to me, praying for the return of my real daughter, who used to be, when she was quite young, a pure gift of heaven to me; and probably WHY I tolerated so much from her to start with. The enemy has tried to destroy her life and calling, and take her over through unforgiveness and bitterness in life. I have stood against this to the enemies of her soul; but her will is also involved. I may not know how to reach her; but GOD does. I am counting on it; and I fully expect her to be redeemed from all of this, and to see her in heaven. I hope before then; but I will be content with seeing her in eternity and heaven. I am 70 and I am not sure how much longer I have on this earth. Her dad passed into eternity this past year, and was suffering greatly in a care home with dementia. I wondered if that would impact her. We shall see. Thank you for your faithful posts that are life giving and full of wisdom. I thought this article was really good and balanced. Blessings, Pamela

    • I purposely saved this post so I could meditate on it more fully as it affects me so greatly. And after yet another emotional encounter with one of my adult children I want so badly to ‘be done’ with the mind games and being blamed for the past. For years my adult children decided to favour their father rather than me even though he had sinned greatly against me according to Scripture. I still live here but we are non-verbal for almost 6 yrs and my children seem to condone that even after from what others have said I was a faithful wife and mother.
      What makes it all so messy is that young grandchildren are involved. I know that they have been lied to already about me and yet seem quite happy for a few hours when I get to see them which is not very often. How do I say no more after the hurtful accusations thrown at me? When I tried to defend myself I was told to lower my voice and to stop being so childish. This is how my adult children treat me.
      I am feeling guilty for not even wanting to be a part of their lives because they are so deceitful and toxic. The two other children came into our community to visit their sibling and didn’t even let me know they were here. They visit with their father at one of the other homes. 😦
      This has been my life for so many years. Only God can help me and yet I doubt my decision making and even now find myself close to tears as I realize how raped I feel by the man I married and how my children think nothing of how I feel. I am told to not speak of the past, however, they are allowed to.
      Pamela, Thank you for sharing. I want to give this all over to the Lord. It’s the grandchildren that hold me back. How do I see them under such circumstances? I sense already that I am losing touch as they soon grow tired of me. I can’t compete with their grandfather who has so many things to entertain them with. The gifts I give at Christmas and birthdays are not to be seen? I’m sensing that I must address this issue and calmly say that I can’t afford to purchase gifts which are soon discarded?
      “Dear God. Thank you for hearing our prayers. You are so very awesome. Please help all of us. Guide us with the wisdom found only in Your Word. Take away the confusion and the many voices who try to lead us astray even though they claim to be Christians. Thank you, Lord for providing ministries that care to reach out to us. Thank you, thank you.”

  2. Kim Costanzo

    Narcissism is the ABSENCE of love, empathy and remorse. If it was learned, it could be unlearned. The mental health community does not take the spiritual aspect into consideration. Most narcs were encouraged and emboldened and spoiled rotten. There is a contradiction when professionals say it is incurable yet it is learned. No. Narcs are born this way. You cannot teach someone to have love, empathy or remorse. They DO learn to ACT early to survive. A person who has spiritual discernment when reading the Bible would know the difference between those with the blood of Cain.

    • As you may have discovered here, I am not one who thinks narcissism is incurable. I believe it is learned, as do almost all professionals, but it is extremely difficult for the narcissist to unlearn primarily because there is such small motivation. The loss of relationships means almost nothing to those who do not value others. Instead of unlearning narcissistic motivation, narcissists can unlearn behaviors that hurt others. They can act as though others are real and valuable. There are those who claim to have success in working with narcissists.

      The spiritual aspect you mention is key, of course, but I have never been willing to say that all narcissists are unsaved. I do not see that a narcissist would be motivated to yield to the Lord, but there are levels of narcissism. I have to remind myself that believers are capable of all manner of sin in the flesh and that narcissism is primarily a sin. It is a sin that isolates the person from others and, I think mostly, from the Lord.

      If narcissism is a birth defect, then our response to them would have to be more compassionate and less judgmental. If it is simply the result of being born without Christ, then all who are apart from Christ would be narcissists. Neither of these does justice to the peculiar cruelty and lack of empathy of the narcissist, nor to the culpability the narcissist should bear.

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