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Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina W. Brown, Ed.D., LPC
The recent media storm over the memoir published by Amy Chua (known as “the Tiger Mom”) has stirred up a wild debate over the question: what, exactly, makes a good parent? And what happens to a child whose parents’ needs overshadow their own?
For many children who were raised by self-absorbed parents, this can be a difficult question to address. Nina Brown approaches it beautifully in her book, Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents. [You can find more information on the book here.] In it, Brown explores what she refers to as “DNP Parents:” parents who exhibit what she characterizes as Destructive Narcissistic Patterns. The mothers and fathers she refers to are not pathological narcissists; rather, they are parents who exhibit a wide range of self-absorbed behaviors that are ultimately damaging their children.
The "DNP" Parent
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have many faces. Brown’s book is easily accessible, with numerous checklists followed by detailed descriptions of all the traits of a narcissistic parent. Some of these traits include:
- Seeing others as an extension of herself
- Feeling his needs should have priority over those of others
- Expects others to read her mind
- Uses put-downs on himself in an effort to get others to disagree
- Reverses parenting, so that the child ends up caring for the adult
- Intolerant of the child’s needs, values, and separateness
Brown goes on to describe the types of narcissistic parents. There is the needy mother, who is overbearing and reliant on the child to validate that she is a good parent, all the while bemoaning how much she sacrifices and suffers for her children. The prickly father is critical, never satisfied, and hypersensitive, whereas the grandstanding mother exaggerates her illnesses, ignores others’ boundaries, and thrives off drama and chaos.
Hope for Adult Children of the Narcissistic
After spending several chapters identifying self-absorbed parenting, Brown explores how is affects the children. She states that children of the self-absorbed grow up feeling that they are flawed and imperfect. Often, they become obsessed with perfection, and work hard to gain approval from others.
Perhaps the most profound revelation in the book is what Brown refers to as “catching.” Because children of the self-absorbed must be vigilant in their awareness of their parent’s feelings and mood swings, they grow up to be like sponges. The thoughts, feelings, needs, judgments, and identities of others get “sucked in.” These grown children often get lost in taking care of others to the point where they neglect taking care of themselves. On the reverse end, some are so afraid of being sucked in that they block out the feelings of others entirely. These people become closed and withdrawn, and have a hard time finding satisfying, intimate connections.
Going Home Safely
Luckily, Brown has numerous suggestions for overcoming the effects of a narcissistic family of origin. She outlines strategies for family gatherings, building healthy boundaries, developing a sense of self, and ultimately, shaking off the lingering effects of a self-absorbed parent.
While the media continues to debate the Tiger Mom’s parenting skills, Children of the Self-Absorbed remains a look into how profound the effect an absorbed parent can have on their child. It offers hope as a guide to breaking the legacy of self-absorbed parenting. With realistic strategies and suggestions, these grown-up children can take their first steps out of helplessness and into health.
The legacy of destructive parenting can continue long into adulthood. With the help of one of our experienced Long Island psychotherapists, you can explore the effects of your upbringing and move toward ending damaging patterns that may be stemming from youth. Call Nassau Guidance and Counseling at (516) 221-9494 today for more information.
Blog Authors and Contributors
Kathleen Dwyer Blair, LCSW, BCD
Director, Nassau Guidance & Counseling