It can be very difficult to discover that your adult child is a narcissist and equally as difficult to know how to deal with them because as parents, we will do nearly anything to support and love our children.
There are many different ways that adult narcissistic children can be managed, but in this article, I’ve picked out 5 solid suggestions to help you manage your child’s demanding and often selfish ways.
As a bonus, I will share 3 of the best things you can do to help yourself because this issue can cause a lot of pain and anguish, so finding a way to allow yourself some time to rest and do some introspection is just as important to ensure you remain in the best frame of mind to help both you and your child.
It’s also important to note the fact that at the development age of around 3-6 years every child goes through what would be described as a narcissistic phase. At this age, it’s normal for them to believe the world really does revolve around them. This is an important part of child development and figuring out their place in the world. This becomes a problem when the child gets stuck in this phase and is unable to appropriately develop. That is also why a child can not be diagnosed as a narcissist. As such, this article is aimed towards those who would be classed as adult children, eighteen and older. So let’s take a look at my top 5 tips for how to deal with a narcissistic child.
#1 Boundaries don’t work
Unfortunately, narcissists will not respect any boundaries you put in place because they don’t think they matter. Narcissists by nature are abusive and abusers do not respect boundaries. Remember, narcissists believe it’s all about them, so unless the boundary is benefitting them in some way, it won’t work. This is where many people can go wrong in believing that by setting boundaries they will be able to change the narcissist’s behavior, however recognizing and accepting that boundaries won’t work is important. Boundaries can be helpful for you personally, but they must be for your own happiness and peace only. Your child won't adjust their actions based on your boundaries.
#2 Accept the scraps
As difficult as it may be to accept in a relationship with a narcissistic child you will not receive the love, attention, or affection that you may desire. You will only ever get the small scraps of attention or love that they wish to give to you and there’s not a lot you can do to change this. In this relationship, the child is in control and no matter how much you want things to change, it is the child who is the one to decide how things will work. As parents, we want to teach or figure out our child’s behavior so we can improve it. This plays right into their hands and the power they crave. Therefore, It is important that you try to keep hold of a certain amount of self-esteem and power - don’t waste time trying to reason with the child or trying to figure them out as this will be wasted energy. Instead, moving on to tip three, try turning everything into a question.
#3 Turn everything into a question
A good rule for parenting in general, but in particular with a narcissistic child, is to ask them a question instead of telling them something. For example, when your child is treating you badly, instead of saying something like ‘Stop treating me that way, it’s not nice’, ask a question such as ‘I’m curious, what advantage do you get from treating me that way?’ This way, you’re staying contained and placing a boundary within the question at the same time. What you have to remember is that the child doesn’t care how you feel naturally, so turning the question around to be about them, rather than you, invites them to be introspective and more likely to be interested in finding the answer as it’s related to them.
Another great question would be to ask them what they think about a certain behavior, for example, ‘Do you think that is kind or do you think that is hurtful?’ which is good for getting them to explain themselves. Whilst, they may not answer the question and may even get defensive about the question itself, keep doing this and reflecting back to them in this way. This is a method of deflecting and shielding yourself by creating a ‘Wall of Pleasantness’, which stops you from falling back into the trap of investing your time and energy into trying to change their behavior. This can create a form of connection and potential insight in a way that hands back the responsibility to them.
#4 Put the responsibility on them
Following this, turning their comments into questions is a way of giving responsibility back to them - both protecting you and making them think about their actions. If your child is unhappy with the way things are, then you can ask ‘Why do you think you want things another way?” Or, “why would you choose that?’ - it’s about making them responsible, rather than trying to defend yourself or get into a debate. For example, if they’re saying somewhat derogatory things to you, rather than becoming defensive, flip it back on them and say ‘Ok, that’s an interesting perspective, why would you want something like that in your life then?’The secret is to create questions that place the responsibility for their behavior and their outcomes squarely on their shoulders. This protects you from getting sucked into investing your own thoughts and feelings into the situation.
#5 Safeguard your money, possessions and heart
It's not uncommon for narcissistic children to steal from you, often because it feels as though they are entitled to anything they want. They prey on your desire to fix and help them, maybe they’ll even make you believe that this time it will be different? But, it's important to remember that this is all part of their game. They can be very cunning in order to get hold of what they want. It’s not easy, but it’s important to remember that it’s not real. Remind yourself to accept the scraps and to place responsibility on their shoulders.
It’s your turn
Part of what can cause parents of narcissistic children to become tired, fraught, and disheveled, is that they have been spending all their time trying to help the child to not be a narcissist, which is, unfortunately, an uphill battle. Spending time trying to figure out what the child is saying or meaning is often fruitless. These next 3 steps flip the attention onto you so that you can heal yourself and better be there for your child in the right way.
#1 You’re number one
The first step is to make your own recovery your priority and to take your focus off the narcissist. It’s a red flag to be spending all of your time and energy trying to ’fix’ them. Instead, invest time in self-care for yourself and spend time prioritizing yourself so that when you do interact with your child you come to the interaction in a much more positive and stable frame of mind.
#2 Watch their actions, not their words
If and when there is time and space for you to focus on the narcissist, it’s important to look at their actions rather than their words because the words they speak don’t matter. The narcissist’s main goal is always to get what they want when they want it, so they will tell you what they think you want to hear only for their own benefit. Keep a closer eye on what they’re actually doing. Actions never lie, are never up for debate. A person is the sum of their actions!
#3 Accept that you played a part in your child’s behavior
This is the toughest but also most loving thing you can do for yourself. Be willing to accept that you have unhealed trauma that will have contributed to your child’s behavior. Ironically, to not accept this is narcissistic in itself - the inability to accept the truth. The self-esteem wound is truly at the core of narcissistic behavior, with narcissists being unable to accept the truth and look at themselves honestly. Narcissism is primarily a learned behavior from the type of childhood they experienced with their caregivers. This can be a difficult truth to accept but it really shouldn’t be. We are all human and perfectly imperfect. Since we don’t teach parenting skills, most of us are just winging it with no idea if what we are doing is helpful or hurtful. That doesn’t make any of us bad. It is just truth. The key to healing from anything is truth.
What is the primary cause for a child becoming narcissistic?
This is a sensitive and emotive topic to discuss, especially for the parent of a narcissistic child. It can be very difficult to firstly accept that your child may be this way or to accept that you have played a part in the way they are. The natural inclination is to believe it is genetic in nature. Scientifically it has been proven that genes become activated through the environment they are placed in. A child might be born with a specific gene for a disease or illness but that is not enough for the gene to be activated. We all have genes that carry the potential for illness and disease. As long as we don’t experience the environment for the genetic factors to activate, they won’t. Famed cell biologist Bruce Lipton discovered this years ago and shared how it all works in his book ‘The Biology of Belief.’
I personally don’t feel any parent is to blame and they are responsible. It is both. A quote from Gabor Mate that addresses the difference between blame and responsibility is helpful here to understand that while you may have played a part, it’s not you who is to blame:
"I need to make the distinction between blame and responsibility. Blame says that you did something wrong. You did something that you could’ve done differently and therefore you are at fault. Responsibility says yes, I played a part in creating this in my child but not consciously or deliberately. I did it because I was programmed to do it by my own childhood experience which in turn was programmed by my parent’s childhood experience Therefore nobody is at fault. Everybody does their best but we do pass these unconscious patterns on. And we don’t blame people for having unconscious patterns. Instead, we try to make them conscious of it so that they can take responsibility for it.
Therefore, there’s no responsibility without consciousness and that also means there is no blame. So I don’t blame the person or their parents for their perfectly imperfect parenting but I do say that the unconscious patterns they learned in their childhood have an impact on every area of their life. So if they want to have a better life and want to help their child they have to get conscious, they have to face the self-deception and get into the reality of what they have been doing so they can stop doing it or do it differently. Doing this liberates people from blame and empowers them to be response-able! Which means they are able to respond appropriately, lovingly, and confidently to events in their life and in this case, their children.”
If you want to help your narcissistic child, becoming conscious and taking responsibility for how you played a part in the relationship and upbringing, rather than focusing on them wholly, will do this. Don’t avoid yourself and your part in this - place the focus back on yourself and on your unconscious patterns that have added to the dynamic so that you may heal them. By modeling your ability to heal the unconscious traits that have contributed to your child’s development, it will be easier for your child to start doing the same.
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