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Therapy for Adult Children of Emotionally Immature or Narcissistic Parents & Family Members

Therapist for Trauma Ridgewood, Bergen County, NJ 07450
"Your authenticity shouldn't be overshadowed by anyone." 

When you are an adult child of emotionally immature or narcissistic parents your relationship with your family can feel awfully complicated. Growing up in a household with an emotionally immature parent, roles between parents and children are often blurred, reversed, distorted, or conditional. Many children of emotionally immature or narcissistic parents grow up being parentified or spousified. They learn that connection with their emotionally immature or narcissistic parent is based on meeting their parent's emotional or attachment needs. This often forces the child to minimize, shame, or avoid their own needs in an effort to maintain connection with their parent and avoid disapproval, retribution, or lack of compassion. How confusing!

 

As adults, children of emotionally immature or narcissistic parents can experience a lot of anxiety within adult relationships. They may be people-pleasing, emotionally avoidant, or relationally dependent. Self-esteem can feel quite fragile, and often fluctuates based on external circumstances. Boundaries can be difficult to maintain or so rigidly held. An internal sense of loneliness and isolation can feel prevalent. 

Reaching out for support is a huge step toward reclaiming your sense of self!

 

Types of Emotionally Immature and Narcissistic Parents

Emotional/Unwell Parent: The Emotional/Unwell Parent can come across as needy and whiny. Their emotions, which shift swiftly and unpredictably, drive their actions and behaviors. They often rely on others to soothe and meet their emotional needs. If they are not met in a way that is sufficient for the Emotional/Unwell Parent, they can become angry, irritable, passive aggressive, or abusive. When the emotional experiences of others are at the forefront (i.e. a wedding celebration, a child’s choir recital, a partner’s tough day at work), the Emotional Parent finds ways to draw the attention back toward themselves. They can use physical ailments or mental health concerns (real or fictional) as attention-seeking and guilt inducing tactics to manipulate others into meeting their needs.

Driven Parent: The Driven Parent’s connection with their child is goal-oriented and outcome driven (i.e. the beauty pageant mom, sports-obsessed dad, academic-driven parent). They expect their child to meet their vision for success, having a rigid view of what success should entail. Their child’s success is typically then claimed by the parent as their doing. The Driven Parent comes in two flavors: 1) cold, critical, and demanding or 2) emotionally available on a conditional basis that is dependent on their in-the-moment approval of the child. They can also be emotionally distant or disengaged from other children within the family whom they don’t see as capable of meeting the specific version of success they envision for their child.

Passive Parents: The Passive Parent is hands-off with a laissez faire attitude on parenting (i.e. the fun mom, chill dad, or the way too busy parent). They avoid conflict and are not keen on setting house rules, boundaries, or expectations for their children. They tend to leave the caregiving responsibilities to their spouse or place the ownness on the child to figure things out by themselves. Some Passive Parents cross appropriate boundaries with their child by becoming friends with them—think of the dad who brings his teenage son to the bar on Friday nights to DD, or the mom who hosts wild house parties for her teenage daughter and her friends. Other Passive Parents prioritize their own lives over their child’s need for a present and available caregiver. Overall, the Passive Parent has trouble providing the necessary structure and security that a child requires to feel safe and seen.  

Rejecting/Malignant Parents: The Rejecting/Malignant Parent is cold, closed-off, self-involved, and distant. They command the household with fear, temperamental demands, abusive behavior, and rigid expectations. They prefer to be left alone, ignoring their child—and other members of the family—unless they need something or have reason to express rage, shame, criticism, cruelty, or ridicule.

Altruistic Parent: The Altruistic Parent want others to believe that they are Mother Theresa or Mary Poppins. In public they present themselves as nurturing, giving, caring, and loving. They may volunteer, be members of the PTA, or lead the local Boy Scouts troop. When behind closed doors with their family however, they are quick to anger, judgement, and insult. They may verbally or physically retaliate for a perceived slight that occurred outside of the home that they did not address out in public where others can see. For the Altruistic Parent, nurturing is on their own terms, not based on their child’s in-the-moment desires for love, affection, and connection. They can at times put down, reprimand, or punish their child one moment, then nurture the hurt child the next moment.

Grandiose/Entitled Parent: The Grandiose/Entitled Parent makes sure the spotlight is always on them. To others outside of the family, they are the life of the party. They can be great storytellers and loads of fun as long as the attention is directed towards them. At home, love comes with strings attached. Any act of kindness and attention towards the child is met with an expectation of unwavering admiration, gratitude, and rigid obedience. "You should be grateful for all that I do for you!" is the mantra of this parent. Similar to the Driven Parent, the Grandiose/Entitled Parent is quick to claim their child's successes as their own because after all, "if I didn't pay for all of those lessons, you never would have competed to begin with!" And for that, the child should be grateful for too. 

Children of Emotionally Immature or Narcissistic Parents

The Golden Child: This is the child who can do no wrong. Often held to high esteem by the emotionally immature or narcissistic parent. This child gets the most positive attention and affection from the parent. Some Golden Children can feel a lot of pressure to maintain this role, leading to tendencies of perfectionism, self-judgement, anxiety, and guilt/shame. Others end up developing a sense of entitlement, self-involvement, and narcissism. 

The Chosen Child: The child who is expected to meet the emotionally immature or narcissistic parent's emotional and attachment needs. This child receives conditional connection and affection when they tend to their parent's needs. They are often also the ones who are shamed, criticized, or ignored if they do not meet the parent's needs, attempt to individuate from their parent, or if they request reciprocal connection and affection. These children often feel like their sense of worth is based primarily on what they can do for others, rather than who they are. The chosen child can experience tendencies of perfectionism, self-judgement, anxiety, people-pleasing, and guilt/shame. 

The Scapegoat: The child who receives the brunt of the emotionally immature or narcissistic parent's rath, shame, blame, and insecurity. This child is often pinned against other members in the family. They are blamed for much of the dysfunction that occurs within the family. This child is made to feel bad and shameful for simply existing. Depression, anger, insecurity, and shame are common with this child. They can engage in dissociative and/or self-protective behaviors that can include: using substances, immersing themselves in video games, books, or the internet, isolating in their bedroom, spending more time at extra curricular activities or with friends than at home, avoiding family interaction, submitting to avoid confrontation, fighting back or acting out, etc.

Tje Invisible Child: Receives little attention (positive or negative) from the emotionally immature or narcissistic parent. Parents often assume that the Invisible Child is fine and goes with the flow while on the inside the Invisible Child is carrying just as much anxiety, insecurity, and shame as the rest of the siblings. At times the Invisible Child may try to seek attention and connection with the emotionally immature or narcissistic parent utilizing the connection-seeking skills prevalent in the other three archetypes, with little success.

Many children in emotionally immature or narcissistic families find relational solace in external forms of healthy support like after school activities, caring teachers, close friendships, or chosen families.  

 

How Can Attachment-Informed Psychotherapy Help?

Integrating relational neuroscience (attachment neuroscience), emotionally-focused therapy, and somatic understanding of the mind-body connection, we will work together to understand how your past experiences have had an impact throughout your personal, social-relational, and internal life. Together, we will process the influence your relationship with an emotionally insecure or narcissistic parent has had on your perceptions of self and relationships with others.

 

As we untangle your childhood experience, we can begin to identify ways of reclaiming your sense of self that feel right, authentic, and empowering for you!

  

Tools fostered throughout our sessions include: self-advocacy, self-compassion, enhancing flexible thinking, expanding window of tolerance (increasing ability to safely tolerate certain emotions, physiological sensations, memories, etc.), resiliency strengthening, and somatic-affective awareness and regulation (increase in awareness of emotions, their body-based felt sense, and nervous system regulation), boundary-setting skills. 

What Makes You Different from Other Trauma Therapists in Bergen County, New Jersey? 

As an attachment-informed trauma therapist, I bring a wealth of expertise shaped by extensive post-graduate training in attachment theory, childhood and adolescent development, human sexuality, developmental trauma, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), trauma-related dissociation, and relational neuroscience.

My qualifications extend to specific certifications, notably as an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist specializing in childhood sexual abuse and incest. I also hold the designation of WIEBGE Certified Clinical Narcissistic Abuse Therapist.

In practice, I employ a range of attachment-informed trauma modalities, including Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, Emotionally Focused Individual Psychotherapy, and Internal Family Systems Therapy. My dedication to staying at the forefront of trauma treatment is evident through ongoing advanced study and clinical consultation with experts such as Kathy Steele, MS, CN, APRN, co-author of Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation.

Continuing my professional development, I am currently immersed in a 6-Month Complex Trauma & Dissociation Informed Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) Master Class with Certified IFS Therapist and Approved Consultant Colleen West, LMFT. 

In addition, I have delved deeply into the complexities of narcissistic abuse and parental narcissism. Mentorship from esteemed authority Dr. Karyl McBride, author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, has been instrumental in my advanced understanding, culminating in WIEBGE Level 2 Clinical Certification.

Importantly, my journey as a therapist is deeply personal, informed by my own experiences as a survivor of childhood developmental trauma and parental narcissism. This lived experience fuels my empathy and understanding as I navigate both my clients' healing paths and my own ongoing journey toward wholeness.

For additional resources on narcissism and the narcissistic family system, check out my entire series on Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism here.

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