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Children of Narcissists Don't Have Childhoods

Posted Jul 10 2010 3:29pm

Children of narcissists are in many ways psychological orphans. No one has perfect parents; they all make mistakes and plenty of them. The children of narcissists suffer in a specific way. The narcissistic parent(s) rules the house and control every member of the family obsessively. The narcissistic parent rewards the child who is attractive, bright, talented in the arts or sports and derides, criticizes and humiliates the others. The chosen child is treated as a special possession who will add to the narcissistic parent's need for ego supplies: praise, adulation, perfection. The special child who becomes a narcissist may be treated like royalty but in the end he or she is a false self who causes horrendous pain to all of those who share their lives.  Even budding narcissists don't have natural childhoods since they are being molded into the image that the parent foresees and demands. The budding narcissist becomes untrue to himself and even though he or she may rise to great heights of power and material acquisition, this individual unconsciously feels completely empty and worthless and spends his or her days making others feel miserable and causing deep psychological pain.

The discarded child of the narcissist is left alone emotionally to fend for himself or herself. He is scapegoated and constantly compared with the chosen, elevated sibling. He or she is made to feel ashamed for not being good enough, bright enough, attractive enough, unvalued, unnoticed, unimportant. Often the discarded child grows up too fast in order to escape the imprisonment of the narcissistic household. He or she often hides in his room, in libraries, at friend's houses. Others find outlets for their pain through various addictions and acting out behaviors: alcohol, drugs, early sexual activity, teenage pregnancy.

There is no joy to be found as the child of a narcissistic parent. Everything revolves around them. Some children become their servants, always hoping to catch some tiny bouquet of love that is thrown their way---always chasing after it, wishing that this time mom or dad will be different, warm, receptive, attuned, affectionate. But this time never comes and children of narcissists become adults who carry the psychological burdens and emotional pain of not having a real childhood--a time for spaciousness of mind, reverie, creative play, being lovingly heard, talking about their dreams and visions of the future, laughter that comes from a sense of security and feeling that life is good.

We cannot undo our childhoods but we can rediscover and celebrate the child within us and nurture this little one with deep understanding and affection. We can expand our consciousness and propel our creativity and find deep inner peace and an acceptance of ourselves and, yes, love for who we are becoming as unique individuals, striving toward the light of wholeness. Visit my website:

Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.

Telephone Consultation: United States and International


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