When the Narcissist's Parents Die

Uploaded 8/17/2010, approx. 5 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

What happens to the narcissist when his parents die?

The narcissist has a complicated relationship with his parents, mainly with his mother, but oftentimes with his father as well.

The narcissist's parents are the source of frustration which led to the repressed or self-directed aggression which resulted in the narcissist's pathology.

These parents traumatized the narcissist during his infancy and early childhood. They are the ones who thwart the narcissist's healthy development well into his adolescence and adulthood.

Often these parents are narcissistic themselves. Always the narcissist's parents behave capriciously, reward and punish arbitrarily, abandon the narcissist, or exactly the opposite, smother him with ill-regulated emotions and unrealistic expectations.

These parents instill in the narcissist a demanding, rigid, idealistic and sadistic superego. Their voices continue to echo in him, to haunt him, to resonate in his mind as an adult, and to adjudicate, convict and punish him in myriad ways.

Thus, in many important respects, the narcissist's parents never actually die. They live on to torment him, to persecute and prosecute him. Their criticism, their verbal and other forms of abuse, their berating. These go on long after they die. Their objectification of a narcissist lasts longer than any corporeal reality.

Naturally, the narcissist has a mixed reaction to the passing away of his parents. This reaction is composed of equal measures of elation and a sense of overwhelming freedom on the one hand, mixed with grief on the other hand.

The narcissist is attached to his parents, but not in a normal, healthy way. He is attached to them the same way that hostages get attached to their captors, Stockholm Syndrome. The same way that torture victims get attached to their tormentors or prisoners, to their wardens.

When this bondage, because it's not a bond, it's bondage. When this bondage seizes, the narcissist feels both lost and released, saddened and euphoric, empowered and drained.

Additionally, the narcissist's parents are typically what is called secondary sources of narcissistic supply. They fulfill the roles of accumulation of narcissistic supply.

In other words, their job is to witness the narcissist's great moments and then to function as a kind of life history or tape recorder, playing these moments back to the narcissist.

This playback helps to smooth the level of narcissistic supply, to regulate the narcissistic supply so that when there is a deficiency, the playback fulfills the role of life supply.

The parents provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a regular and reliable basis. Their death represents the loss of the narcissist's best and most veteran sources of supply.

Therefore, it constitutes a devastating blow to the narcissist's mental composure.

Narcissists react a severe depression to the loss of sources of supply.

But beneath these evident losses lies a more disturbing reality.

The narcissist has unfinished business with his parents. All of us do, but the narcissist's unfinished business is more fundamental.

Unresolved conflicts, traumas, fears and hurts seethe under the surface, under the veneer of stability, and the resulting pressure within the narcissist deforms the narcissist's personality.

The death of his parents denies the narcissist closure, the closure he so craves and needs. It seals his inability to come to terms with the very sources of his invalidity, with very poisonous roots of his disorder.

This is a grave and disconcerting news indeed for the narcissist.

Moreover, the death of his parents virtually secures a continuation of the acrimonious debate between the narcissist's superego internalized voices of his parents and the other structures of his personality, which are intended to compensate for these voices and silence them.

Unable to contrast the ideal parents in his mind with the real less than ideal parents in life, in reality, unable to communicate with them further, unable to defend himself, to accuse, to pity them because they're dead, the narcissist finds himself trapped in a time capsule forever reenacting his childhood and its injustice and abandonment, ongoing dialogue with parents who never respond and are never there to provide, as we said, closure.

The narcissist needs his parents alive, mostly in order to get back at them, to accuse and to punish them for what they have done to him.

This attempt at reciprocity, settling the scores, represents to the narcissist justice and order. It introduces sense and logic into an otherwise totally chaotic mental landscape.

It is a triumph of right over wrong, weak over strong, law and order, over chaos, arbitrariness and capriciousness.

The demise of his parents is perceived by the narcissist to be a cosmic joke at his expense.

If he is stuck for the rest of his life with the consequences of events and behavior, not of his own doing or fault, the villains evade responsibility and justice by leaving the stage, ignoring the script and the director's orders, director being, in this case, the narcissist.

So the narcissist, when his parents die, goes through a final big cycle of helpless rage.

He then feels once again belittled, ashamed and guilty, worthy of condemnation and punishment for being angry at his parents, as well as for being elated at her death.

It is when his parents pass away that the narcissist becomes a child again, and like the first time around, it is not a pleasant or savory experience.

Again, his parents have abused him by dying out of him.

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