How to Help a Child with Narcissistic Parent (Modelling)

Uploaded 11/14/2023, approx. 20 minute read

We have all seen such children cowering in corners, hypervigilant, eyes darting left and right, eager to please.

Or the alternative, children who are infinitely boastful, insufferably haughty, children who are being idolized and pedestalized and therefore feel entitled, are divorced from reality.

Both these types of children are victims of narcissistic abuse. They are being traumatized by narcissistic parents.

What can you do about it? You're a neighbor, a teacher, a social worker, a librarian. What can you do to help these children somehow, however minimally, let alone if you are the other parent co-parenting with the narcissist?

Is there any way to mitigate, minimise, ameliorate the inevitable and inexorable damage that a narcissistic parent, father or mother, and especially mother in the early years, inflicts upon the child?

So this video, like everything Jewish, is divided in two parts. The first part is a response that I've written to a worried mother who asked me how could she help her child cope with a narcissistic father? How could she shield the child from the impacts the father was having at the time of writing and how could she prevent the child from becoming a clone of his father, yet another narcissist?

I've given her some advice, which I'm going to recite to you, whether you want it or not.

And then the second half of the video deals with social learning theory, the theoretical foundation to my response, why I responded the way I did.

Social learning theory was invented by a tomato. Yes, it was the most influential tomato in the history of psychology.

Bandura, in some dialects of Arabic, means tomato. Albert Bandura, Albert Bandura, yes, no less, in the 1960s, came up with social learning theory, later he modified it and renamed it social cognitive theory or social cognitive learning theory.

And so he became the most influential tomato in the second half of the 20th century in the field of psychology. And to this very day, we consider social learning theory a perfect fusion of everything good in behaviorism and everything good in psychodynamic theories, including psychoanalysis.

So he created sort of a grand unifying theory of psychology, possibly the first, definitely not the last.

Albert Bandura.

So let's first tackle the concerned mother. Mothers always come first, even before tomatoes, at least in my world.

This is what I wrote to the mother.

Narcissists are control freaks and they micromanage their children's lives and turn them into sources of narcissistic supply to be discarded when the children grow old and critical of the narcissistic parent.

So what could you do, dear mother? Use your personal example to show the child that not all adults are narcissists.

This process is known as modeling. And I will discuss it in the second half of the video when I deal with the theoretical foundations of my response.

I proceeded to write, "Your son is likely to encounter narcissists in his future. In a way, he will be better prepared to cope with narcissists, more alert to the existence of narcissists and their chicanery and manipulations and more desensitized to their abuse."

So for this, you should actually be grateful. The early exposure to the narcissistic parents prepares the child for a world which is increasingly more narcissistic, allows the child to develop defenses, survival strategies, coping mechanisms for the future.

"There is nothing much you can do otherwise," I told the mother. "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 in 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 your son another role model of a non-narcissistic parent. You.

Hopefully, when the child grows up, your son will prefer your model to his father's model.

But there is only that much you can do. Rest assured, don't feel bad about it. Don't feel guilty.

You cannot control the developmental path of your son, nor should you.

This is exactly what narcissists do. Exerting unlimited control over your son is what narcissism is all about. And it is exactly what you should avoid at all costs.

However worried you might be, give your son space and time to evolve his own way.

Narcissism does tend to breed narcissism, but not inevitably. Not all the offspring of narcissists inexorably become narcissists.

Actually, a very tiny minority do.

The narcissistic parent regards his or her child as a multifaceted source of narcissistic supply. The child is considered, the child is treated as an extension of the narcissist's personality, as an internal object.

The narcissist snapshots the child, converts the child into an introject, an internal object, and then continues to interact with the child in his mind.

It's not an interaction with the child. It's an interaction with the idealized internal object in the narcissist's mind that represents the child out there.

On the one hand, this is a very difficult and harrowing experience. The child does feel that the narcissistic parent is not interacting with her or with him. The child feels that the narcissist is beyond or behind the glass darkly, that there is some partition, some distance between the narcissistic parent and the child.

So, this is a very painful, very hurtful experience on the one hand. And on the other hand, most of the damage that a narcissistic parent inflicts, luckily, is upon the introject. He's inflicted on the internal object because narcissists do not interact with external objects.

This is exactly the child's salvation and protection. It is through the child that the narcissist seeks to settle open scores with the world to realize unfulfilled fantasies and wishes. The child is supposed to realize these unfulfilled, unmet grandiose dreams and fantasies of the narcissistic parent.

The child is therefore objectified and instrumentalized, very often, parentified.

And this life by proxy can develop in two possible ways.

The narcissist can either merge with the child or the narcissist can be ambivalent towards the child, love, hate.

The ambivalence is a result of a conflict within the narcissist between his wish to attain his narcissistic goals through the child and his pathological destructive envy of the child and the child's accomplishments.

The narcissist simultaneously wants to build up the child as the perfect tool to realize the narcissist's dreams, wishes, hopes and fantasies. And on the other hand, the narcissist wants to destroy the child, dismantle the child, eradicate, eliminate, negate the child.

The child provokes in the narcissist enormous envy, the more accomplished the child is. It's an unsolvable conundrum.

And to ameliorate the unease and anxiety bred by such emotional ambivalence, the narcissist resorts to micromanaging the child's life through myriad control mechanisms.

These control mechanisms can be guilt driven, I sacrifice my life for you, or they can be dependency driven, I need you, I cannot cope or live without you, or they can be goal driven, we have a common goal which we must accomplish together, or they can be explicit.

If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion, values, if you don't obey my instructions, if you don't fulfill my wishes, I will impose sanctions on you, I will punish you.

The exercise of control helps the narcissist to sustain the illusion that the child is a part of the narcissist, that the child's success has been brought on by the narcissist, that it's the narcissist's success, not the child.

The child has been just an incidental tool or instrument, a device, it's the narcissist, the narcissist's management, direction, guidance and involvement, they secured the child's success, so it's not the child's success.

Such sustenance calls for extraordinary levels of control and self-delusion on the part of the parent, and equally in extraordinary levels of obedience and submissiveness on the part of the child.

The relationship is typically symbiotic and emotionally vicissitudinal and turbulent.

The child fulfills another important narcissistic function, which I mentioned before, 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 an important driving force in the narcissist's life.

Narcissists don't have object constancy.

Infants, toddlers, babies are constantly present. The first year or so, they can't walk away. The second year or so, they don't want to walk away.

So this presence is very gratifying. It is an engine of narcissistic supply, constant, regulated, predictable.

And so the narcissist tries to perpetuate the child's dependency using the aforementioned control mechanisms, because it's the only way to establish and maintain object constancy, which exerts a calming effect on the narcissist.

The child is also the ultimate secondary source of narcissistic supply. The child is always around.

The child admires the narcissist. The child accumulates and remembers the narcissist's moments of glory. The child recalls every triumph of the narcissist.

Children go around saying, "My daddy is the best."

Owing to the child's wish to be loved, the child can be extorted into giving without ever receiving.

As far as the narcissist is concerned, the child is a dream come true, but only in the most egotistical sense and only for a very limited period of time.

When the child is perceived as reneging on his chief duty to provide a narcissistic parent with a constant supply of adoration and attention, that point, the emotional reaction is harsh, destructive and revealing.

It is when the narcissistic parent becomes disenchanted and disillusioned with the child that we see the true nature of the pathological relationship.

The child is then totally objectified on the way to being destroyed, ruined, dismantled, discarded.

The narcissist reacts to the breach in the unwritten contract with wells of aggression and aggressive transformations, contempt, rage, ridicule, emotional and psychological abuse and even physical violence.

The narcissist tries to annihilate the real child because the real child has been brought to the narcissist's awareness through the child's critical thinking in refusal to act as the narcissist would have in act.

In short, when the externality and separateness of the child are no longer deniable, the child becomes a liability.

The narcissist pushes the child, coerces the child to become subservient again, edifying the former version, but it never works.

The children have the unfortunate propensity to grow up and develop critical thinking.

So they become critical, they criticize, they disagree, they observe the minutest flaws, they react very badly when they realise that their parents are infallible.

This is known as adolescence.

So the narcissistic parent tends to produce another narcissist in his child, but this outcome can be effectively countered by a loving, empathic, predictable, just and positive parent and upbringing.

The other parent, the non-narcissistic parent, needs to encourage in the child a sense of autonomy, agency, independence, personal responsibility and accountability.

The non-narcissistic parent should provide the child with an alternative to his father's or mother's, the narcissistic parent's, venomous and exploitative existence.

I wrote to this mother, "Trust your son to choose life over death, love over narcissism, human relations over narcissistic supply and ultimately you over his father."

Why did I give the mother this kind of advice?

Well, because of a few psychologists.

B.P. Skinner, one of the fathers of behaviorism, came up with the idea of operand conditioning. He said that positive and negative reinforcement determine our behaviors.

So reinforcements determine behaviors. That is also known as "stick and carrot" by my grandmother.

John Dillard came up with the frustration-aggression hypothesis. He said that frustration inevitably leads to aggression.

And this was later modified by Leonhard Berkewys, who suggested that environmental cues are required for aggression to take place.

And we come to the tomato.

The tomato, the sauce in the whole thing. And that is Albert Bandura.

Albert Bandura observed aggression in children. That was his expertise, the famous Bobo Doll experiment.

So Albert Bandura said that aggression in children is a combination of behaviorisms, operand conditioning, stick and carrot, positive and negative reinforcements, coupled with what he erroneously called identification.

Identification is a process in psychodynamic theories. And it's not what Bandura meant. Bandura meant actually imitation. He mislabeled it, identification.

So Bandura said a child's aggression is comprised of operand conditioning, rewards for aggression, positive reinforcements that encourage aggression, negative reinforcements that punish the child when he is not aggressive.

And this is coupled with imitation of role models, imitation of other people, for example parental figures.

The child mentally rehearses other people's behavior, significant others like mother and father, and then imitates them.

And this precisely lies at the core of the advice that I gave the mother.

Provide the child with another model. Allow the child to imitate you, not his narcissistic father.

Give the child a choice of possible models. This is known as modeling.

Now Bandura suggested that modeling takes place in his four components.

Attention. The child pays attention. Monitors. Observes.

Then the child retains retention. The child retains memories, images. And then the child reproduces them via the process of imitation and mimicry.

And then there's the issue of motivation or reward or reinforcement, which either render the behavior more frequent or less frequent.

There is a kind of reciprocal catalonism between person and environment. They affect each other.

This insight is at the core of my intra-psychic activation model, IPAM.

I encourage you to watch the video I've made about IPAM.

Bandura said that the personality is a combination of the environment, behavior and psychological processes, such as language and image retention.

Now, social learning theory is defined this way in the dictionary of the American Psychological Association. And I'm quoting, "The general view that learning is largely or wholly due to modeling, imitation and other social interactions. More specifically, behavior is assumed to be developed and regulated by external stimulus events, such as the influence of other individuals. And by external reinforcement, such as praise, blame and reward.

For example, if a student receives extra credit for arriving early to class and another student in the classroom observes this, the latter student, the second student, may model the behavior by arriving a few minutes early each day as well in anticipation, of course, of the reward.

Indeed, continuously dictionary, modeling is one of the most pervasive and powerful means of transmitting patterns of behavior.

Once observers extract the rules and structure underlying the modelled activities, they can generate new patterns of behavior that conform to those properties and go beyond what they have seen or heard, expanding their knowledge and skills rapidly without having to go through the process of learning by response consequences.

Although many researchers have proposed their own specific social learning theories, the term is most commonly associated with the work of Albert Bandura and Julian Rotta.

Bandura subsequently incorporated cognition into his ideas on social learning, a modification that became known as social cognitive theory.

Despite the distinction, however, many people use the terms interchangeably.

Social cognitive theory is an extension of social learning theory, which includes the effects of cognitive processes such as conceptions, judgment and motivation on an individual's behavior and on the environment that influences him or her.

Rather than passively absorbing knowledge from environmental inputs, individuals actively influence their learning by interpreting the outcomes of their actions, which then affects their environments and their personal factors, which in turn inform and alter subsequent behavior.

Emphasis on this interaction of behavioural, environmental and personal factors is thus a major hallmark of the theory.

Although Julian Rotten, Austrian-born US personality psychologist Walter Mischel and many others have proposed different social cognitive perspectives, the one introduced by Albert Bandura in 1986 remains most prominent and has been applied to a wide range of topics, personality development and functioning, the understanding and treatment of psychological disorders, organisational training programs, education, health promotion strategies, advertising and marketing.

A central tenet of Bandura's social cognitive theory is that people seek to develop a sense of agency and to exert control over important events in their lives, a sense that is affected by factors such as their self-efficacy, outcome expectations, goals and self-evaluation.

Despite the distinction between social cognitive theory and social learning theory, many individuals use the terms synonymously and theory is also called cognitive social learning theory.

So what I advised the mother to do was actually known as modeling.

We use this technique in cognitive behavior therapy, CBT, and in behavior therapy.

And in these therapies we encourage learning through observation and imitation.

The therapist doesn't comment, doesn't analyze, doesn't offer interpretations and doesn't reinforce behavior negatively or positively.

Therapist is just there, behaves in highly specific ways and expects the patient to observe these behaviors and then imitate them.

So modeling is the process in which one or more individuals, and yes children are individuals, one or more individuals serve as examples, models.

So the child observes other individuals from an individual point of view.

The child notices the behavior of other individuals and these behaviors become examples, models, hence the phrase 'role model'.

And then the child emulates these behaviors.

Now models could be parents but could be other adults.

I mentioned at the very beginning of this video when we were all much younger, I mentioned teachers, even neighbours, social workers, you name it, figures in the media.

But role models could also be symbolic, for example, a character on television or in a book.

So we should be very careful when exposing children to role models anywhere, not only physical flesh and blood ones.

There's a modeling effect which is lifelong and persists.

So for example when we conduct experiments, psychological experiments with students, there is something known as the 'experimenter effect' or the modeling effect.

It's when the participant unwittingly is influenced to give responses similar to the responses that the experimenter, the researcher, gives.

So it's as if the participant in the study tries to second-guess the experimenter.

He says, 'I've observed the experimenter, I know a few things about the experimenter, what would the experimenter have done had he participated in the study?'

And then this affects behavior.

So modeling is everywhere.

Modeling theory, the idea that changes in behavior, in cognition, in emotions, they all result from observing someone else's behavior or the consequences of that behavior.

This is very true. There is a process of observational learning.

We acquire information, skills or behaviors, especially in childhood, by watching the performance of others directly, indirectly, via media, films, videos, social media, you name it. This is known as 'vicarious learning'.

We can even condition animals to perform acts if we expose the animal to other members of its species which perform these acts.

So even mockingbirds have been known to learn via modeling and observation, for example, the imitate songs of other mockingbirds.

This is vicarious conditioning.

A good parent models behaviors.

When the child is exposed to an narcissistic parent, the main role of the other parent is to model behavior.

Now we use behavioral modeling in the workplace. We teach workers certain skills, problem-solving methods via behavioral modeling. It's a training technique.

Raw plays, computer simulations, they all involve behavioral modeling.

Any conscious or unconscious imitation of the behavior of another person involves behavioral modeling.

Your presence in your child's life and the behaviors that you model, the behaviors that you adopt, the behaviors your child observes and then later imitates, these behaviors are the best antidote to the influence of the other narcissistic parent on the child.

You are the cure. You are the antidote to the other parent's poison.

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