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THERAPY FOR ADULT CHILDREN OF EMOTIONALLY IMMATURE OR NARCISSISTIC PARENTS

Image by Kylo
"You are more than just what happened to you." 

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:

1) Emotional Parents: Their feelings drive their actions and behaviors. They can be emotionally unpredictable and unstable. They often rely on their child to soothe, regulate, and meet their emotional needs.

2) Driven Parents: Not emotionally available or conditionally available depending on their approval of the child. Their connection with their child is goal-oriented and outcome driven. They expect their children to meet their expectations for "success", having a rigid view on what success should entail. 

3) Passive Parents: The "hands off parent" with a "laissez faire attitude" on parenting. Not too keen on setting necessary boundaries for their child to feel a sense of structure and security. Often leave their child to "figure things out" on their own. Passive Parents do not tolerate conflict or discipline well, and often avoid moments when this occurs. They can enable abuse or neglect by the other parent by avoiding confrontation. 

4) Rejecting Parents: They are walled off, prefer to spend time alone, or are hyper-focused on their own lives. They would rather not parent at all. These parents often ignore their children or interact with them solely to criticize, put down, or shame. Often avoidant, temperamental, critical, and emotionally and physically rejecting. They can be seen as selfish, negligent, anti-social, and sometimes even abusive. 

5) Unwell Parents: Similar to the emotional parents, the unwell parents can be emotionally unpredictable and unstable. These parents can use physical ailments or mental health concerns as attention-seeking and guilt-inducing tactics. 

6) Altruistic Parents: These parents want others to believe that they are Mother Theresa or Mary Poppins. In public they present as nurturing, giving, caring, and loving. They may volunteer, be members of the PTA, orchestrate group play dates. When behind closed doors with their family, they are quick to anger, judgement, and insult. Nurturing is on their 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 now upset/hurt child the next moment.  

Child Archetypes of Emotionally Immature or Narcissistic Parents:

Based on research on Emotionally Immature and Narcissistic Parents, I have identified four archetypes that may be assigned (either intentionally or unintentionally) to a child of emotionally immature or narcissistic parents.   

1) 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. 

2) 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. 

3) 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 children 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 acting out or dissociative behaviors (i.e. fighting back, doing poorly in school, using substances, over immersing themselves online, isolating in their bedroom, or never being at home). 

4) Invisible Child: The child who is expected to simply exist in the family. They receive 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.

 

Some children in emotionally immature or narcissistic families in the family seek solace from external forms of healthy support like after school activities, teachers, close friendships, or surrogate/chosen families.  

 

 

How Can You 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: emotional and body-based regulation skills, self-compassion, effective communication, embracing resiliency, boundary setting skills, and somatic affective awareness.

What Makes You Different from Other Trauma Therapists? 

In addition to trauma training, I am a WIEBGE Certified - Clinical Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist. I have completed extensive training and consultation on healing from narcissistic parents and narcissistic abuse from expert in the field Dr. Karyl McBride, author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. This advance training led to Level 2 Clinical Certification in Dr. McBride's recovery model for treating adult children of narcissistic parents and narcissistic partners. I am also in the process of completing an Advance Certificate in Narcissistic Abuse Treatment with Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of It's Not You: Identifying and Healing from Narcissistic People.

As an attachment-informed trauma therapist, I have completed post-graduate training in attachment theory, childhood and adolescent development, relational trauma, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and relational neuroscience. I am formally trained in attachment-informed modalities including: Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy, Core Self Reclamation Therapy, and Somatic Attachment Therapy.

Lastly, I myself am a survivor of emotional incest and parental narcissism on my own healing journey as I navigate the residual effects of my childhood experiences.  

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