How many people say that ‘as long as I do the opposite of my Mum when raising my own children, my kids will be fine.’ I have a Mum who has narcissistic traits and I had fears of becoming like my Mum too. I disagree with the statement to do the opposite of your parents, as that classes everything they did as outright terrible. Even with a narcissistic mum, she has got some great qualities that I will pass down the family line. I will research the hurtful sides to my parents to become a better Mum than how I was raised. This blog post will discuss the more traumatic traits of narcissism when raising your kids and how to overcome them.
Overanalysing the Cause of Your Parents Rage / Hate / Anger
As I began healing from my own childhood wounds, I spent a significant amount of time researching ‘what is narcissism’, ‘what are the effects of narcissism’, ‘why is my Mum a narcissist’, ‘can you fix a narcissist’, ‘how to go no contact with your own Mum’. My brain whirred constantly. I felt anxiety at what I should do to protect my emotions in the present and my children’s emotions going forward, whilst also considering my Mum’s feelings. Part of me worried about other family member’s becoming flying monkeys and putting pressure on me to reunite with my Mum after my decision to go no contact.
After a few months of being no contact, I had worn myself out with justifying my reasons to everyone (including myself). I realised that actually having a label for whatever illness my Mum has is totally irrelevant. Is she a narcissist? Is she just not very good at showing love? Does she maybe think she’s being helpful and what I need? I mean… when it boils down to it, who cares what she is and why we aren’t very close? I can choose to tell whoever I want. If someone asks if Grandma has a close part in my kids lives, I can simply say “no, not really” and leave the conversation at that. I don’t have to delve into the fact I had a terribly emotional time feeling forced to go no contact to reduce my anxiety and become a better mother.
Accepting the Situation
I started to realise my Mum’s inability to love me stemmed either from some undiagnosed mental illness like narcissism or from her not having dealt with her own childhood traumas. The most important thing to do, opposite to my Mum, was therefore to deal with my own traumas. This would allow me to value my children, respect them and not lash out in anger at them, thereby reducing their own traumas in the years to come.
In my situation, my childhood traumas would become apparent when I felt a strong emotional reaction to something innocent my child had done. That flagged to me that I needed help. I tried counselling but the therapist was not experienced in narcissism so said he could reunite us as a relationship with your Mum is important. I tried blocking the traumas out by covering my eyes for example. I attempted to discuss my hurtful reactions with my husband and a few other people, but there was a lack of empathy. They just could not understand why I would feel these things about my children or why I wouldn’t just ‘move on’ from the past.
Everyone I sought for help, wonderful as they are as individuals, did not have the ability to help me heal. Only I had that key, as it was me who was there as a child with my Mum screaming at me. It was me who was forced to make up with her to keep my Dad close. It was me who still felt the anger for hurtful things she said to me when I was at an all-time-low. It was all inside me, so I had to be the one to face those memories head on and realise how traumatic they were. I had to find ways to see the other person (mainly my Mum) as not doing those things to me because of something I’d done, but because of something they had not done – deal with their childhood.
If you’re interested in how to deal with your own childhood traumas, have a read of my blog post about this topic.
What Are Some Key Traits To Avoid Passing Onto Your Kids?
As mentioned above, my Mum displayed many signs of narcissism. I cannot be 100% sure she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as I am not a psychologist nor can I see inside her mind. Plus narcissism is on a scale – we all have it to some extent.
Before delving into the lessons my upbringing taught me for raising my kids, it is important to start with a definition. What is narcissism? The American Pyshciatric Association (APA) defines narcissism as meeting at least five of the following traits. If you consider that to have NPD you need five of the below traits, all of us can have some of the traits of narcissism without having NPD. That can make us all have hurtful narcissistic traits, so it is worth being aware of the traits to limit our impact of narcissism on our children.
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally exploitive behaviour
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
- A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviours or attitudes
If you search Google for ‘no contact with Mum’, the main reasons you will be considering stopping having a relationship with your Mum include narcissism. This means that the traits of narcissism are definitely not things great parents want to show to their children regularly. Nobody wants their children not to want contact with them. Below I will use the definition of narcissism to discuss traits that can affect you as a parent and your children. If we all have narcissistic traits to some extent, then whether you have any trauma from a narcissistic parent or not, these pointers will help you consider traits we all may have which harm your relationships.
Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
This means the person exaggerates their achievements. My Mum exaggerated her qualifications and experiences, expecting compliance with her statements just because she said it. This mentality can cause hurtful situations to occur as those following that person’s guidance may do so as they view you with respect as a mother. The outcome may be less than ideal, or even dangerous.
What can we all take from this? If our children ask us for advice and we do not have the qualifications or experience to answer, we can help them find the answers from those who will know. We should not make a guess at the answer and state it confidently as if we are experts who should be followed. This will teach our children how to research for answers confidently themselves and show modesty when they are not certain of an answer.
Many parents have dreams for their children to achieve the best they can in life. This is a natural part of loving someone, wanting the best for them. However where the fantasies take over and your desires for accomplishments or grades or personal preferences in after school clubs take over, it can become unhealthy for your children. Your children will be most happy with themselves when they are allowed to follow their own dreams.
Special and Unique
At the end of the day, most of us have similar emotions in life. We may experience sadness when we fail, anger when we are betrayed, happiness at a wedding celebration. Whilst some of us can relate more to others due to having similar ‘unique’ life experiences, it does not mean that we cannot also relate to other people on different levels too. We can be mindful as parents that we do not only associate with one type of person. Our society is full of a range of professionals and characters who can bring all sorts of benefits to us and our families. As long as we have boundaries on how others may treat us, we can associate with many different people happily.
There were numerous examples where my Mum’s selfishness or stress took centre stage. Often it was about failing to keep up appearances and look the part to other families. I was around 4 years old when I was entranced with ballet. I took up lessons but at the Christmas dress rehearsal I froze and was pushed around the stage by a friend. My Mum dragged me off the stage, yanked my hand along the road so hard it really hurt. Later at home she said she wasted so much time making dresses, that she’d asked if I wanted to do these lessons and I’d said yes, and then I just stood there.
It was pretty traumatic for me, not the freezing on stage part (I don’t remember that part of the evening), but my Mum’s reaction to it all. I was such a shy child, petrified of most adults no matter other children. If that were my child I would like to think when the dress rehearsal ended I would pick her up, hold her and ask if she enjoyed herself. If she cried and said she felt scared, I would have held her. I would not have cared about the other Mum’s views, as frankly, I doubt any of them cared if I stood frozen anyway. Certainly not if they were nice people.
What can we all learn from my Mum’s selfish outbursts? We can learn to start with empathy, putting ourselves in our child’s shoes when they do something that angers us. In my Mum’s situation, she felt I was being spiteful and wasted her time. I know that I was just scared and that there was definitely no scorn in my action when I froze on stage. If my Mum could have tried to first imagine, even while feeling her strong emotions, what I was feeling when up on the stage, she would have realised I was scared. Her interaction would have more likely been one of love rather than anger. That is vital to keeping our relationships strong. I remember much of the aftermath of this minor dress rehearsal and the physical and emotional pressure put on me to act a certain way so that people don’t judge us.
Sense of Entitlement
Why would your son or daughter deserve something more than the neighbour’s children? This is the question you need to think if you are expecting your children to be treated preferentially to other’s kids. This can grow your children into expecting to receive more than others in later years. They may expect a pay rise just because they look good. They may demand a 5* hotel on a work trip just because it’s inconvenient for them to travel that week. Consider trying to treat your children respectfully but not giving them things just because they are better than the other kids have in their class, for example. This sort of ‘you deserve this just because…’ attitude can become problematic when a parent lacks self esteem and feels they can win their child’s heart by spoiling them.
Need for Excessive Admiration
My Mum is the master of this trait. She needs adoration to continue treating you kindly. You have to tell her she’s the best Mum since sliced bread. I don’t think she actually ever told me I had to admire her, but it’s a sixth sense that she only seems to like the company of people who admire her. She looks miserable around people who don’t openly adore her. This paves way for lots of fake interactions.
A child raised with a pressure to dote on their caregiver may feel a pressure to act like they are happy and really they can’t wait to escape. Be mindful of how you discuss other’s views of you. Constantly making statements like ‘that person is horrible, she didn’t smile at me…’ can send signals that you will think your children are horrible if they don’t smile at you all the time too.
Interpersonally Exploitive Behaviour
These types of behaviour mean you take advantage of others without giving something in return. You allow your wife to respond to the baby’s needs all through the night, and then don’t get up in the morning to let her recover. Unless you become Super Dad in the daytime and sort the dinners, clean the house and make your wife lovely cups of tea, this kind of behaviour will take its toll on your wife and children. Your children will see that it’s ok to use someone, even if that someone is close to you. How will they treat friends as a result? They probably won’t be the favourite person in a crowd if they’re known for using people for their gains.
Lack of Empathy
Reacting to your children with anger, with your opinion or not responding at all can show a lack of empathy. This can put a wall up between both of you straight away. You can try to react with how your child is feeling. Considering another person’s feelings in a situation is the first step in having empathy towards them. Empathy is key to forming and maintaining healthy connections.
For older children you can ask them how they are feeling about the situation and why they were driven to doing something. For babies and toddlers who are unable to communicate effectively yet, you can create the conversation for them by imagining what they may feel based on their reactions.
When you start conversations with the emotions first, others feel you empathise with their feelings. Frustration levels are lowered for everybody and constructive conversations are more likely to happen. If you dive straight in with a disciplinary reaction ‘How dare you talk to me like that!’, it lacks empathy as to why they spoke to you in this way in the first place. You can instead say “It looks like you’re very upset because I told you we have to leave the club now. Is that why you’re feeling sad?”.
Envy can include being jealous of other people for things they have. Some negative consequences of envy include putting blocks on what could otherwise be healthy relationships for you and your children. The other person senses you don’t like them for some reason and they’d rather not spend time with you. Instead, you could try and focus on the benefits that person does bring to you or your child’s life. Imagine your child and their child in 20 years time, for example, and that they could be great friends. Will they care about who won the ballet medal when they were 3 years old? Doubtful. Sometimes raising babies can be so competitive as healthcare professionals, family, friends all dominate the conversations with ‘milestones’ (a.k.a. ‘achievements’) and it can make you envious if your child is not excelling. Instead, admire what your child is great at. My daughter couldn’t talk at 2 years old, but boy, did she have empathy. She was amazing, and still is.
Envy can also focus you on someone else’s life rather than focusing on your children or what you can do to improve your own life. It can make you angry, anxious and depressed. You are constantly dwelling on why you do not have what someone else has, and it literally takes over your life. Instead of thinking ‘why can’t I have…’, it is useful to try and consider the good things you do have. If there’s anything you can do to bring better things into your life, take the steps steadily to do it. I used to feel jealous about all the other women falling pregnant so easily whilst I was infertile. Then I discovered Chinese herbal therapy and me being in control of becoming healthier, refocused my mind to becoming healthier rather than dwelling on everyone else’s successes.
Arrogant and Haughty Behaviours
Arrogance can come across in how you talk to others, including your children. Rather than being empathetic with your child’s needs, being arrogant may make you say things like “don’t be so stupid…” when they’re crying. Arrogance also causes you to focus mainly on yourself. You may find yourself getting angry because your child keeps making the room messy. Instead, consider that maybe the child would like to play right now and then you can clean up together later.