A person who shows narcissistic tendencies displays a distinct lack of empathy and concern for other people, according to therapist Karyl McBride with the Psychology Today website. When children have contact with a narcissist, the effects of that person's personality can result in specific behaviors in children.
A narcissist typically approaches life from a self-absorbed perspective, according to counselor and educator Nina W. Brown published in the journal "Paradigm." This self-absorption leads the narcissist to behave without empathy and in an indifferent manner to other people and their needs. The narcissist tends to place her needs above everyone else’s needs, including children. Over time, a child can develop a care-taking persona, believing that taking care of the narcissist is his responsibility.
Trying to Please
When a narcissistic person cares for a child, the child often feels an intense need to please the narcissist and attain perfection, advises psychologist Benzion Sorotzkin writing at DrSorotzkin.com. A narcissistic parent provides love with tight strings to a child, with conditions attached to the love. These high standards result in a hypercritical environment in the home, with children feeling a strong need to please the narcissistic adult. As children inevitably fail to reach perfection, they feel inferior and might exhibit behaviors indicative of low self-esteem, shame and depression.
The harm inflicted on a child from a narcissistic caregiver might be traumatic and significant, warns sociologist and psychotherapist Sophia J. Wien of Long Island, New York. The ongoing, abusive demands of the narcissist on a child lead the child to a common coping mechanism -- dissociation. To cope and survive, the child learns to deny and hide negative feelings. Instead of feeling the pain and hurt of the abuse, the child makes up a happier -- and fictitious -- existence. This pretend existence divorces a child from her true feelings over time and numbness sets in. Acting-out behaviors usually follow when a child feels unaccepted and unconnected with feelings.
When a child lives with the continual message that he is not measuring up and not good enough, eventually the child will internalize this message and adopt it as a personal belief. The child might become self-critical and dissatisfied with himself, always finding fault and feeling as though he doesn’t perform as well as he should. The child might also dwell on faults and flaws because he finds them so egregious and appalling, thanks to the message received from the narcissist.