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Interview with Meredith Resnick: Author of “When Your Parent is a Narcissist”

Published: June 28, 2016 | Last Updated: November 10, 2021 By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
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When Your Parent is a Narcissist

When Your Parent is a Narcissist

My friend and colleague, Meredith Resnick, just announced the release of her third e-book in the Surviving Narcissism series.

When Your Parent Is a Narcissist: Uncovering origins, patterns, and unconscious dynamics—to help you grow and let go is written in simple language to help adult children better understand the dynamics and impact of having a parent who is a narcissist. It may also help you think about your friendships.

“The parent-child relationship forms, in some way, the foundation, blueprint and framework for every friendship we have,” says Resnick. “ It’s useful to revisit our understanding of them in order to reframe them as time passes and we continue to grow.”

Meredith Resnick graciously agreed to talk about her book and answer some questions on this subject for readers of The Friendship Blog:

What are some of the signs that might help you identify a parent who is a narcissist?

Meredith Resnick: Think about patterns in the parent’s behavior, especially when you were growing up. For example, the parent might tease the child, little jabs in public or private that criticize things the child is excited about. During adolescence, the parent might launch a repeated (though) subtle campaign of snide disapproval (usually in public and often fortified in private) of a cause or belief the teen has taken up.

Conversely, the parent may take up that exact cause as well. Whatever belongs to the child becomes the property of the narcissist parent. This is how the parent attaches to something outside of himself or herself and tries to “be” that person. This is a parasitic behavior. It can be difficult for the child to see that. It is difficult for adults to see it.

All this is doubly difficult for the child when it involves something he or she was enthused about and had discovered on his/her own. When a parent steals the “cause” or “idea” from a teen, they are also, in a way, stealing a teen’s identity. During adolescence, identity is what’s at stake for a typical person. For a narcissistic person, identity is always at stake. Therefore nothing, not even a child’s identity—is off-limits.

What are some ways a teenager can handle a parent narcissist?

Meredith Resnick: As mentioned above, adolescence is supposed to be a time of discovering one’s own identity outside of the parent. That part of development does not change.

Before I answer I think it’s important to briefly give neutral context to adolescent development in general. By virtue of trying to discover who they are as individuals, teenagers may (and do) behave in ways that make a parent react. Some issues are more universal while others are more culturally or familial-specific. That said, it’s by these reactions that teenagers unconsciously or consciously determine if their parents’ reactions are or are not like their own. What will the teen accept, reject or neutralize? This process is part of growing up. It is a natural and an important part of separating.

All this “data” the teen gets through years of engaging and struggling and loving between parent and child feeds into the decisions the child makes about himself (consciously, unconsciously). Some of the choices we later go back and reevaluate—does this really work for me? Is it who I really am? All this is part of adolescence.

A teen of a narcissist lives with a parent who is in a constant state of reactivity. Teens are resilient. Learning to focus on what fulfills you from the inside is important. Likewise, so is learning how to temper expectations about what your parent is capable of—and knowing there will be fallout when they feel inadequate about something you are seeking from them. This does not mean you are not allowed to want these things—nurturing support, empathy, sensitivity, consistency, etc. Rather, it’s understanding that what you want from your parent is something your parent is not typically able to give.

The support and encouragement of safe adults (at school, church), or of family friends, of a licensed therapist or school counselor, older siblings, etc, won’t replace the parent, but can definitely help. Find ways to be part of healthy activities rather than isolating. Learning to connect to oneself (through meditation or yoga, perhaps) can help ground you and help you cultivate energy to nurture yourself in a healthy way. Healthy adults can model for the child what it means to dig deep within himself or herself to discover who they are regardless of who their parent is. This, in fact, is a lesson for every child, not only for the child of a narcissist.

What are some ways an adult can handle a parent narcissist?

Meredith: Stop engaging, stop trying to make a point and win, and stop trying to get your childhood needs to be met in the here and now. This is not meant to sound harsh but it might sound that way to a person who has not truly accepted that their parent still is not able to give them what they have always wanted. By the way, this truth also goes for many adults of parents who were not narcissists.

How could growing up with a narcissistic parent affect your friendships?

Meredith: Childhood patterns of responding to a narcissist parent can unwittingly get translated into friendships. It’s common for people to think about how their early parental relationships affect their romantic partnerships—who they gravitate toward and are attracted to (or not) and why. People make direct comparisons to their parents and say things like they will never marry someone like their mom or dad. When it comes to romantic relationships, we’re accustomed to hearing such things.

Less so with platonic relationships. But the seeds of why we’re friends (or not) with someone may be useful to examine. Why? Because the blueprints from our relationships with our parents get carried over into friendships. Maybe because the physical intimacy is absent we tend to overlook this and perhaps devalue its significance.

Growing up with a narcissist parent can make it difficult for a person to separate themselves from the narcissist’s motives. What I mean is, they may internalize the blame and feel at fault even once they realize that the person is manipulating them. Awareness, simply of the fact that this happens, can help move the uncomfortable energy (of inappropriate self-blame) along. Once that energy is moved the true anger or disgust can be felt and dissipated more and more. As it lessens the individual will be left with a new piece of awareness.

Depending on the situation, it can sometimes take a bit longer for a child of a narcissist (versus a non-narcissist) to let go. Again, I feel like this is a holdover from the original relationship and can be dealt with by focusing inwardly instead of outside.

How do you deal with the grief of the part of your parent that wasn’t there for you?

Meredith: By feeling those feelings and then, despite those feelings, continuing on with your life. By going to therapy and working through feelings/thoughts you haven’t been able to release.

How common is it to have a parent who is a narcissist? 

Meredith: As far as an official diagnosis, I do not know. What I do know is that many adults have parents with narcissistic traits. I also know that when it comes to narcissism in real life, a little bit of it goes a long way in causing hurt. So the prevalence to me is less important than what individuals can do to help themselves heal without putting their life on hold. Healing, by the way, is not about stepping out of life, it’s about stepping into life.

About Meredith Resnick

Meredith Resnick holds a license in clinical social work. Her essays have been published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Newsweek, Purple Clover, PsychologyToday.com, Los Angeles Times, Santa Monica Review, Journal of Palliative Care.com, Bride’s, and many others, and anthologized in Dancing at the Shame Prom, Fits, Starts, and Matters of the Heart, and The Complete Book of Aunts.

Also on The Friendship Blog:  5 Ways To Know If Your Friend Is A Narcissist

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Category: Narcissists

Comments (6)

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  1. Henry says:

    My MIL is a narcissist. Being around the family for many years, I’ve noticed certain patterns over time. All of her children seem to have roles: one is the “invisible” child, one is the scapegoat, one is the golden child, one is the manipulator, etc. I know enough about my MIL to know she had a tough childhood and upbringing and that this personality disorder was born from these circumstances — a way to view the world, shield, and cope. Unfortunately, it has a toxic effect on the family. Many of her relationships with her children are fractured or revolve through cycles of anger, shunning, and reunion.

    I have personally learned to keep her at an arms-length and have as limited contact as possible. I don’t believe she is bad at heart, per se… just very toxic and unaware of herself.

    Other things I’ve noticed through the years. She has no friends. She expects her children to be her companions, even though most of them are grown and with families/lives of their own. She never apologizes, never have heard her once say “I’m sorry” for anything to anyone, I’ve been told she “doesn’t do apologies”. She attempts to manipulate through money or gifts, so most things are very transactional with her. She views people her in life as her property almost, she bitterly will say things like “When so-and-so moved out of state, they took my granddaughter away from me.” You cannot take away what’s not yours to begin with, though. She tends to view other people as “doing things to her” or being a victim of other people’s actions, rather than ever ruminate on her part or her role in things.

    She will tease and ridicule family members about their weight, in front of a large audience. This one is probably the one that upsets my wife the most.

    It’s sad because she lacks the introspection that would help her grow past this world-view and have good relationships and inner peace. I tend to try to remember that she’s still a human being and is not ill-intentioned, but has a legitimate personality disorder.

    My best advice with dealing with a narcissistic family member would be to take the arms-length approach and think of them with empathy. This is not excusing their behavior, but it will help you be calm, objective, and non-judgmental. Spend as little time with them as possible, and when you are with them, imagine a white light around you that they cannot penetrate with their negativity/manipulations. Finally, and most importantly, establish your boundaries and keep them no matter what. Narcissists are allergic to boundaries. They will test them over and over… be consistent and stand your ground each time.

  2. an says:

    I am a product of narcissistic parents. I’m in my 30’s now and married with a son, but I must say that the way my parents were did affect my friendships, and making and keeping friends. My folks were also overprotective.

  3. Clarice says:

    I cannot understand. In today’s world, where not a single day passes by, without a person posting a selfie on social media like Facebook or Twitter or Whatsapp etc. He/She just cannot sleep a day without changing his/her profile picture, in various poses and various places and various outfits! Welcome to the world of narcissists! So, why the blame game?

    • Trina says:

      I think we all have a bit of self centeredness in us. It’s what what we do that determines true narcissism.
      The true NPD individual is deadly to deal with.
      We all love our images ( well many), but that same person may turn around and give their last dollar to a homeless person. For some it’s insecurity. I think
      We all have a touch of “look at me” syndrome.
      It’s when we can’t consider someone else being nearly as important as ourselves that we may need a check up

  4. Amy F says:

    When I worked with children, the most difficult parents to engage in treatment to support their kids were narcissistic, because the nature of their problems was that everyone else was THE problem.

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