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'How could you do that to me?' The outwardly nurturing narcissistic parent & how to deal with them

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

I have written before about narcissistic influence (see the blog 'The covert or vulnerable narcissist – how showing compassion could help you become stronger') - but there’s a particular relationship I’d like to explore here, within the parental model.

It’s not pleasant living with a bullying, overt narcissist, but you often know what you’re getting! They often don’t have the emotional intelligence or patience to construct a more pleasing ‘front’.

Alternatively, the covert narcissist, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, can in some ways be the more dangerous foe. One presentation within this category of covert (or vulnerable) narcissist is what I’d call the outwardly nurturing narcissistic parent. They’re often mothers, perhaps due to the more traditional care-giver’s role of the mother bringing up the child at home.

With these people, their manipulation is much more creative and covert, and indeed to the outside world, your union may look aspirational. You may well be showered with gifts (presents not emotional presence); you may be enrolled in various sporting or social clubs (of the parent’s choosing); and you are likely to be seen by outsiders as ‘so good at XX sport or activity’… ‘a good kid’… or ‘a well-mannered child’. (Not like those other more expressive kids whose emotions aren’t supressed like yours!)

But this nurturing is conditional – narcissists want control, and you are only validated for being good or successful at what they want you to succeed at. Their ‘love’ is conditional, so if you express negative emotions and try to instil boundaries to keep you emotionally safe, the narcissistic parent is likely to throw the ‘things’ you have back in your face. For example, ‘How could you say that, after all I do for you?’ ‘How could you do that to me, after all the money I spend on you?’

If a narcissist were to wear a slogan T-shirt, it would likely say ‘How could you do that to me?’, because they don’t take responsibility for their emotions. You as the child of the outwardly nurturing narcissistic mother or father are deemed to be responsible for their emotional stability. If they’re mad or angry, it’s your fault. How could you!

And if they’re happy, well done you; thanks to their over-parentification, they’ve conditioned you to feel validated when they’re pleased or happy.

If you’re on a journey of discovery regarding being the child of a narcissist, you may be looking at talking therapy to help you navigate your healing process.

Here’s some of the issues I think cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy (Hypno-CBT) could help you address:

1. You’re likely to have co-dependency issues and may feel validated by helping others, or feel that your sense of self is reliant on others being happy or pleased with you. This leads to a lack of self-esteem and personal agency.

2. You may have trouble setting boundaries with everyone around you – e.g. you say yes to too many things, and don’t prioritise yourself. This may lead to issues of self-efficacy and assertiveness.

3. You feel a sense that’s something’s missing – some kind of emotional void that you may fill with unhealthy habits, whether it’s self-medication, over-exercising or disordered eating, to give just a few examples. Again this leads to a lack of self-esteem and personal agency and leaves you feeling out of control.

4. Your sense of independence (physical or emotional) was never encouraged (your narcissistic family member needed you to be their source or supply – they weren’t going to let you go!). The narcissistic parent may have put you down, criticised your choices and made you feel ‘less than’ others. This can lead to generalised anxiety and social anxiety issues.

Any issues of trauma, PTSD and concerning symptoms of anxiety should of course be taken to a GP; psychotherapists and counsellors can also help with such issues, and can be approached directly as well as referred to by a GP. This is paramount to get across to anyone seeking assistance for trauma-related concerns.

· Cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy or Hypno-CBT is said to be especially useful for improving self-esteem, personal agency and autonomy, self-efficacy, assertiveness and personal control, and is also widely recognised as being useful to help address issues of anxiety and social anxiety.

· Distancing yourself from that narcissistic parent as an adult is the only way to heal your emotional wounds, and many people cut off contact with the narcissist in order to recover. If this isn’t a realistic option for you (and there are many reasons why this may be so), here are some tips to help increase your chances of recovery from narcissistic parenting:

· Physically distance yourself from the person as much as possible – this may mean reducing face to face visits and even altering the place you see them, to reduce the amount of control they can utilise. A neutral place rather than their home (especially if it was your family home) could be beneficial.

· If you can’t reduce the physical visits, try not to ‘give yourself to them’ emotionally. It’s like fanning the flames of a fire. You can be civil and friendly to whatever degree suits the situation without giving too much of yourself away. Examples of giving your emotions to them would be ‘That’s kind of you’, ‘I feel X’, and any attempt to seek validation from your activities, e.g. telling them about a new project you’ve completed, or a qualification you’ve gained that you’re proud of. Your response to them is the air their fire needs to burn.

· If you can’t reduce the physical visits, put something in between you – cushions, coffee tables, handbags, even pets, all help remind you of the need to distance from them. Sit at the farthest available seat from them, make frequent excuses for bathroom or ‘fresh air’ breaks; assist others in other rooms, and don’t be afraid to give white lie excuses about the need to leave early.

· Limit the amount of time they spend staying overnight in your home. (Don’t be tempted to allow them to live with you if they’re incapacitated for any reason; many individuals whose narcissistic parents are older are aggrieved by guilt when the parent wants the son or daughter to care for them, and the son or daughter doesn’t want to be sucked back into that level of control again, and have that boundary desecrated).

· On the subject of boundaries, set as many as you can with the parent. These can be emotional (‘I’m not going to discuss this, if you talk to me like that’… ‘That’s an interesting point of view, but I’d rather not discuss it today’), or practical (‘I will talk to you, but I am only available first thing in the morning, and I will call you’… ‘We don’t give our daughter too much sweets and chocolate so just one Easter egg is fine thank you.’ (Remember that narcissists often over-gift and seem altruistic – the response to their generosity is their ‘supply’.)

Kathy Carter


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