I think narcissists believe they love their children. They tend to believe they are the best at literally everything they do. And they expect praise and admiration from everyone about everything they do. So, the question remains, can narcissists love their children?
Narcissists love their children when they do something well or right. But when they don’t perform up to the narcissist’s expectations, instead of love they receive wrath and raging anger. That is because the narcissist doesn’t actually feel empathy or love. They feel anger when things don’t go the way they want. And they feel pleasure when things do go the way they want. So at the end of the day, is it really love for their children? Probably not. The best test to know if the narcissist really loves his children is if his actions match his words.
Let’s take a look at the issues surrounding whether narcissists can love their children.
Table of Contents
What Prevents Narcissists From Feeling Love or Empathy?
According to this article in Science Daily from 2013, even though narcissists are able to recognize what other people think and feel, they will not display compassion towards those people.
They assert that the reason for this is because the cerebral cortex of their brain is significantly thinner than the cerebral cortex of people who have not been diagnosed with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Additionally, they explain that this part of the brain processes and generates compassion, or empathy.
They further describe narcissists as those who feel intense inferiority or shame, yet project themselves to others as “arrogant, disparaging, and self-absorbed.”
It is believed by most research that when very young children are neglected or abused these parts of their brain do not properly form. This actually causes them to be unable to feel compassion, empathy, or love to those around them, even in the most intimate of relationships.
That would almost make one feel sympathy for the narcissist. Until they start to feel the abuse and destruction of the narcissist toward them.
How can Narcissists be Good Parents?
So, if narcissists are unable to feel love, compassion, or empathy for their children, can they possibly be good parents?
Believe it or not, there are some great things that narcissists can do for their children. Because they often need to be seen as the best parent as part of their narcissistic supply, they will often provide for their children in very big ways. They will have the best clothes, the best foods, the best schools, the best toys, I’m sure you are getting the point.
This is the same concept as the “trophy wife.” Except it is the trophy children, the concept of the “perfect family.” And if narcissists know how to do anything well, it is to put on the mask of what they want people to think.
What children of narcissists will be missing, though, is the actual love and empathy. And in spite of all the good things children receive from their narcissistic parents, the lack of love will cause significant damage to their future relationships with nearly everyone in the future. This is especially true if they do not get help to learn what healthy relationships look like. They will be totally confused and often jaded because they can’t understand how the perfect afternoon event can turn into a narcissistic abusive mess.
Narcissistic children often struggle most of their lives with feelings of inferiority, fear, and social anxiety. As adults, they can self-sabotage a successful life or they can go to the opposite extreme and be over-achievers in all they do. Fortunately, though, nearly all adult children of narcissists can heal and live a good life if they get the help and counseling they need. It is amazing to see them emerge from their trauma, realizing that they can live a healthy autonomous life!
Can Narcissists Learn to Love Their Children?
Can narcissists love their children if they learn what is wrong and work to heal the issues? Believe it or not, if someone falls fairly low on the narcissism spectrum, then they can come to love their children. It will not be a complete love, but it can more closely resemble a normal relationship than with a full-blown narcissist.
Much counseling, reading, and conscientious behavior changes would need to be done, but the result would be well worth it. The narcissist would have to be on guard most of the time, as it would be easy to fall back into bad habits and mannerisms.
For the majority of narcissists, however, this will not be the case. In order for them to start to heal, they would need to acknowledge that they have a problem to start with. And the vast majority of narcissists will not do that.
We have to keep in mind that narcissists think they love their children, when they aren’t seething with anger or contempt for them. That is because they aren’t “loving” the person–they are loving the thing that the person did or didn’t do. Remember, everything is a transaction. Their gauge is set on how well their children are feeding their need to be seen as perfect. If their child is living up to their expectations, then they love them. If not, they have no use for them. Except maybe to be a figurative punching bag for the narcissist’s frustrations.
Can Narcissists be Good With Kids?
Narcissists can absolutely be good with their kids–sometimes. When it benefits them they can be great with their kids. In public, most narcissistic parents (especially covert) will look like parent of the year. They will make sure that it looks like they dote on their kids and love being a parent. Until they are behind closed doors.
My ex used to coach the kids in weekend sports leagues. The kids enjoyed the sports, so it was a good thing. But he never practiced with them at home. He very rarely threw a ball with them. Maybe for about 2 minutes when he got home from work and the kids were in the yard. And that was only with the very last child. None of the older kids got anything of the sort. In fact, when he got home back in the day, all of the neighborhood kids would be in the yard. And he would get out of his car and immediately say, “Go home, kids,” in a very gruff tone. The kids would very quickly scatter. He was “affectionately” known around the neighborhood as “the man with eight kids who hated kids.”
When we played family games, he would not only need to win, he would need to decimate all the other players. The last family game we played was a game called Power Grid. Not only did he need to win the game, he needed to obliterate everyone else. He took all the advantages, leaving everybody else unable to even take a turn, while he played all the turns by himself until he won the game. The kids begged to be done, but he forced them to sit there until he took all of his turns and won the game. He gloated for weeks about what a great game he played. He totally missed the whole point of playing family games.
This all sends a very mixed signal, especially to younger children. They love and enjoy the time that their parent dotes on them. But then they don’t understand when that behavior doesn’t continue behind closed doors. They continue to give that parent grace because they want a good relationship to continue. But the more grace they give, the more they get beaten down.
They finally give up.
How Can Spouses Protect Their Children From a Narcissist’s Harm?
If you see your children being harmed by a narcissist, or someone with narcissistic tendencies, you DO have the right to protect your children. This is true even if the narcissist is the other parent or a stepparent. If they are being beaten down by a narcissistic parent, remove them from the situation. But don’t let it escalate in trying to remove the child. Learn ways to get out of difficult situations with a narcissist that will not trigger them to go off the rails. Grey rock is a great way to do that. In case you haven’t heard about grey rocking, go here to learn more.
As the article above states, grey rock is not a method to use on a regular basis. It is not healthy for you to actually become a boring, unresponsive, grey rock person. It is for the sake of getting you and your loved ones out of a sticky situation before it escalates.
Just because you children are not in physical danger does not mean that you do not need to protect them from the narcissist’s harm. Studies have shown that psychological and emotional abuse are actually more damaging to a person in the long run than physical abuse. This is because physical abuse gets more visible and immediate attention. Emotional, psychological, financial, verbal, and spiritual abuse can go on for years, often without the victim even realizing it. And by then, the damage is severe.
If you see that things don’t seem right, be proactive! Don’t let the children try to navigate this alone. They don’t have the tools!
Don’t Let Children Navigate Narcissism Alone
Because none of us are perfect, especially in the difficult job of parenting, your children may be going through a difficult time with a parent, but it may not be abuse. If you are not sure whether your children are being harmed by narcissistic behavior, check out the book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. This book will be an amazing guide for you to be able to recognize inappropriate behavior and start the healing process.
Also know that if your spouse is harming your kids and not high on the narcissism spectrum (or on it all), then maybe a discussion with him behind closed doors will work wonders in getting them to understand and start to heal their relationship with their kids. It is important not to think the worst until you know! But it is also important to advocate for your children if they are being hurt by a relationship with someone significant in their life.
How I Protected my Children From Their Narcissistic Father
When my husband was home, we didn’t spend a lot of interactive time with him from the beginning. But over the years, as things got worse and his narcissistic behavior went unchecked, we started to isolate from him when he was home. We would be in the living area when he was at work or out on deployments (he was in the Navy). But when he was home, we would hang out in my room or go out somewhere. Toward the end, if he was in the house, we would be totally in hiding. We would have our family meal before he got home.
It did protect my children from harm, but it didn’t help them to learn healthy ways to interact with people!
It wasn’t much longer after that that our church stepped in and had him removed from the home. But I will admit, we lived for too long like that because I didn’t think anyone would understand our situation. I now know that there are people all over the world going through what we are going through. And I thought there were people going through much worse than we were, so what right did I have to complain?
DON’T DO THAT!!! If your family is in an unhealthy place, get help!
How to Co-parent With a Narcissistic Spouse
If you are separated or divorced from your narcissistic spouse, parenting can be an even bigger issue than it was when you were together. The children are now spending time alone with their other parent and you are not there to protect them. Most courts don’t consider narcissism as dangerous to children unless they are severely physically at risk. Yep, I had a judge tell me that the physical abuse was not severe enough to limit our son’s time with his dad. And yes, I appealed that court hearing and won the appeal because the new judge did understand the severity of the abuse.
Fighting for Your Kids’ Safety From a Narcissist in Court
There are ways to fight for your children’s safety in court when the narcissistic abuse is severe. I spent a lot of time online looking for how to make it work. It is incredibly important that you do not embellish your accounts! If the judge or lawyers pick up any dishonesty at all, you will lose your case. And your ex will use it against you.
When I was in the think of things, I googled every article I cfould find about how to win in court against a narcissist. I knew he wouldn’t play fair and was already accusing me of things I did not do. And those articles helped me to be able to know how to allow the judge and lawyers to see the actual facts and not what was being made up to support the narcissist side.
There was also a book that was my go-to for the whole time I was dealing with the custody case in court (me ex sued me for half custody so he wouldn’t have to pay full support, plus he knew the kids didn’t want to be with him and it was the only way he could force them). The name of the book was Will I Ever be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-conflict Divorce From a Narcissist and Heal Your Family.
This book was recommended to me by my pastor’s wife at the time I was going through the darkest time just before my ex was removed from our home. It was so incredibly helpful to me because at the time I felt like there was no way I could compete against the narcissism. Everything was all about the narcissist taking me down. He was going to do whatever it took to win.
Fortunately, my counselor and her whole agency knew the patterns of narcissists and knew that as long as I could document what was going on (easy because he was actually displaying his narcissistic behavior clearly in front of counselors, church leaders, lawyers, and literally anyone involved in trying to help us. And we were able to show the narcissist’s behavior in court.
Co-parenting With Your ex After the Court Case
Once the court case is over, you have to do what the court has determined. My son was very blessed to not have to do overnights with his father or Sundays because of the religious abuse. What he did end up having to do was a few hours one weeknight a week and a few hours every other Saturday. Because everything is done in a public place, the chance of physical or other forms of abuse is not as great. And counseling with my son and his dad is also court ordered, which helps to keep my ex from pulling any inappropriate tricks.
So, in co-parenting with my ex, there are some things that have made it easier. To keep things clear, all plans are made via email or text. Then we can go back and prove what was discussed when it goes awry.
It is important to not get upset over little details, even if they are a narcissistic trick. If it isn’t earth shattering, don’t let it rock your boat. Then if you get dragged back to court, you can’t get into trouble for seeming to be unreasonable, even if you were provoked. Keeping your calm no matter the circumstances is critical.
There are a lot of components to relating to a narcissistic parent. Do they love their children on some level? Probably in their own eyes they do, which means they actually probably love their kids on some level. But should they be allowed to destroy their children with their funny form of love? No! The bottom line is, no matter how much your narcissistic spouse claims to love his children, if he is abusing them, it cannot continue.
What does your narcissistic ex’s relationship with his children look like to you? Is he able to relate to them on some level? Have you all worked out a good system for him to spend time and develop a deeper relationship with his children? Are the children okay with it? Did it go through the court system?
Feel free to answer in the comments below
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Blessings, hugs, and prayers for you,
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