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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism Part 6: The Enabling Parent in the Narcissistic Family System

Updated: May 14




The Enabling Parent: Victim, Perpetrator, or Witness?


In a two-parent narcissistic household, if one parent is narcissistic, the other often plays the role of the enabler. However, there are cases where both parents in a family system exhibit narcissistic traits, enabling each other's behaviors. For the focus of this article, we will delve into a scenario where one parent is the narcissist and the other is not.


I do want to preface this by intentionally acknowledging that not every enabling parent is an intentional perpetrator of child abuse, neglect, or harm. Many enabling parents are kind, loving, compassionate, and nurturing. They are trying their best to also survive in a dysfunctional family system. Trying their best however, is not always enough and their attempts to navigate the tricky road that is parenting with a narcissistic partner can result in undo harm to the child or children.


Do I believe that enabling parent is a victim, perpetrator, or witness? My nebulous answer to that is yes and...


With this being said, let's dive deeper into each aspect of the enabling parent.


Enabling Parent as Victim


The enabling parent themselves is caught in a cycle of narcissistic abuse, where they are given breadcrumbs of affection, attention, and value to remain in the partnership, in addition to being devalued, exploited, and harmed. If the enabling parent contemplates leaving, their partner may threaten filthy divorces, custody battles, and potentially even physical harm. The enabling parent is torn between fearing the narcissist, wanting to be loved, and caring for their children whom they can only protect to a certain extent unless they leave. This can contribute to the emergence of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, suicidality, and even symptoms of PTSD. If the enabling parent experiences severe mental health concerns, they can prevent them from providing comfort, support, and essential caregiving to their child. Their narcissistic partner, lacking empathy, can shame and guilt their partner for not meeting their wants, needs, and expectations.


As we will see below, not all enabling parents are the caring and loving type. Some contribute in their own ways to the perpetuation of abuse and family dysfunction.


Enabling Parent and Perpetrator


In attempts to garner affection and attention from their narcissistic partner, the enabling parent may mimic the narcissist's behavior towards their children. This includes projecting their own shame, blame, insecurities, and anger onto the scapegoat child as a way to cope with the narcissist's projections. Sometimes, this behavior is an attempt to align themselves with their partner, who often expresses disdain for the scapegoat child. In the most severe cases, the enabling parent might even physically abuse their child at the request of the angry narcissist.


Additionally, the enabling parent may treat the golden child or the favored child with contempt, passive aggressiveness, or jealousy, as these children often receive more time and attention from the narcissistic parent than the enabling parent does.


They may distance themselves from the family system to cope with the toxicity by overworking, having an affair, or spending more time socializing out of the home or online. If the enabling parent neglects their caregiving responsibilities, the children are then forced to deal with the family abuse and overall dysfunction on their own without a save haven to rely on.


Enabling Parent as Witness


Fear, hypervigilance, and the longing for love and connection can greatly affect the enabling parent's capacity to advocate for themselves and their children. The enabling parent may remain silent or withdraw when the narcissist is exploiting or abusing their child, only to later comfort and console their distressed child once the ordeal has passed.


In summary, the enabling parent in a narcissistic household navigates a tumultuous role. They are not completely innocent, yet most are not completely guilty.

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