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How Can I Save My Child?

By: Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited

His father is a narcissist. We divorced a few months ago, but he has visitation rights. You wrote that "narcissism breeds narcissism". How can I prevent my child from becoming a narcissist under his father's influence?

ANSWER

Your son is likely to encounter narcissists in his future. In a way, he will be better prepared to cope with them, more alert to their existence and chicanery and more desensitized to their abuse.

For this you should be grateful.

There is nothing much you can do, otherwise. Stop wasting your money, time, energy and emotional resources on this intractable "problem" of how to insulate your son from his father's influence. It is a lost war, though a just cause. Instead, make yourself available to your son.

The only thing you can do to prevent your son from emulating his father - is to present to him another role model of a NON-narcissist - YOU. Hopefully, when he grows up, he will prefer your model to his father's. But there is only that much you can do. You cannot control the developmental path of your son. Exerting unlimited control over your son is what narcissism is all about - and is exactly what you should avoid at all costs, however worried you might be.

Narcissism does tend to breed Narcissism - but not inevitably. Not all the off-spring of a narcissist inexorably become narcissists.

The Narcissistic parent regards his or her child as a multi-faceted source of Narcissistic supply. The child is considered and treated as an extension of the Narcissist's personality. It is through the child that the Narcissist seeks to settle "open accounts" with the world. The child is supposed to materialize the unfulfilled Narcissistic dreams and fantasies of the Narcissistic parent. This "Life by Proxy" can develop in two possible ways: the Narcissist can either merge with his child or be ambivalent towards him. The ambivalence is the result of a conflict between the attainment of Narcissistic goals and pathological (destructive) envy.

To ameliorate the unease bred by emotional ambivalence, the Narcissist resorts to a myriad of control mechanisms. The latter can be grouped into: guilt-driven ("I sacrificed my life for you…"), dependence-driven ("I need you, I cannot cope without you…"), goal-driven ("We have a common goal which we must achieve") and explicit ("If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion or any other set of values – sanctions will be imposed").

The exercise of control helps to sustain the illusion that the child is a part of the Narcissist. Such sustenance calls for extraordinary levels of control (on the part of the parent) and obedience (on the part of the child). The relationship is typically symbiotic and emotionally vicissitudinal and turbulent.

The child fulfils another important Narcissistic function – that of Narcissistic supply. There is no denying the implied (though imaginary) immortality in having a child. The early (natural) dependence of the child serves to assuage the fear of abandonment, which is THE driving force in the Narcissist's life. The Narcissist tries to perpetuate this dependence, using the aforementioned control mechanisms. The child is the penultimate Secondary Narcissistic Source of Supply. He is present, he admires, he accumulates and remembers, owing to his wish to be loved he can be extorted into forever giving. For the Narcissist, a child is a dream come true, but only in the most egotistical sense. When the child is perceived as "reneging" on his chief duty (to provide his Narcissistic parent with constant supply of adoration) – the emotional reaction is harsh and revealing.

It is when the Narcissistic parent is disenchanted with his child that we see the true nature of this pathological relationship. The child is totally objectified. The Narcissist reacts to a breach in the unwritten contract with wells of aggression and aggressive transformations: contempt, rage, emotional and psychological abuse, and even physical violence. He tries to annihilate the real child (brought to the Narcissist's awareness through the child's refusal to act as before) and substitute it with the subservient, edifying, former version.

The Narcissistic parent tends to produce another Narcissist in his child. But this outcome can be effectively countered by loving, empathic, predictable, just, and positive upbringing which encourages a sense of autonomy and responsibility. Provide your child with an alternative to his father's venomous and exploitative existence. Trust your son to choose life over death, love over narcissism, human relations over narcissistic supply.


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