Whilst many people experience our kind in the context of the romantic relationship, there are also many people whose experience of the narcissistic dynamic arises from their relationship with a parent. Naturally, nobody recognises at first blush that they have a narcissistic parent. When somebody is a child, they have nothing to benchmark it against and invariably it is usually the case that enlightenment only arises once the child has become an adult.
Sometimes it takes that person to become entangled with a narcissist in a romantic relationship before they are awakened to the fact that they have so been entangled. As part of their enlightenment as to the fact that one of our kind ensnared them through the auspices of a romantic relationship, the individual then also realises that one (or possibly both) of their parents is a narcissist. It takes the coupling with a narcissist in a romantic sense to bring about that realisation. For others, it is the comparison between their relationship with that parent and how they see the relationship of their friends with their parents, or the relationship between their significant other (who is not a narcissist) and his or her parents, to cause them to question the behaviour of their parent which eventually takes them along the path to discovery.
For my own part, it was not until I was shown by an ex-girlfriend what I was, that I realised that MatriNarc was also of our brethren. It was an unusual moment. On the one hand I now had a label to apply to myself, courtesy of the non-judgemental observations of that informed girlfriend. I was pleased with this label as it enabled me to understand more about what I was, although it was not something I planned on sharing. Yet, as I understood how my behaviours fitted with the model of behaviour to which she had directed me, I also realised that my mother was similar and thus also was one of us. A different type of narcissist, but one nevertheless. Such a revelation admittedly stunned me but I soon buried such thoughts as they served no purpose. There was no point dwelling on what had occurred in the past, that was redundant and only going to take me to a place that I had long since escaped. Instead, I focused on my new understanding and how I should now apply this knowledge to my advantage. Thus, that is what I did as I began my journey post university, entering the world of work (aside from summer jobs and the like) and continuing to ensnare unwitting victims romantically, socially and even through the merest of interactions.
Through this time I sought to exercise my independence from MatriNaric who of course sought to exert it as often as she could. I attended university, like many, away from the place where I grew up and therefore this represented the first weakening of the control that MatriNarc had exerted over me. Of course, those elongated holidays meant a return to the mother ship and her continuing machinations and it was only when I commenced my first position on the career ladder of my chosen profession and with that came the necessity of being based in a city, that I truly started to pull away from her grip.
As you would expect, she would not allow that grip to be relinquished with ease and so it is with all parental narcissists. Just like the viewpoint of the romantic relationship narcissist, the parental narcissist considers that you, his or her child belongs to him or her until death. Indeed, whilst those in a romantic liaison with us may sever the Formal Relationship this is far less likely where the dynamic is between parent and adult child. The adult child feels a sense of obligation borne out of the familial tie. How often have you said,
“She is my mother, I can’t NOT invite her to the christening.”
“I know she can be a pain, but she is my mother after all.”
“He is bound to cause a scene but he is my father and well, it would just feel wrong if he was not there.”
“It will cause too many questions if my dad doesn’t attend.”
Such is the sense of obligation which is imbued by the familial link. The narcissist knows of this sense of obligation and moreover relies on it. That is why there is no seduction between narcissistic parent and child (leaving aside those arrangements where incest arises, which is not the purpose of this article) because the existing familial connection supplants the need for seduction. The victim is already tied to the narcissist through blood and you are never allowed to forget that fact.
This tight binding of victim to narcissist does not end there. The existence of the other parent (usually not a narcissist) also causes the victim to remain exposed and bound to the narcissistic parent. Perhaps some of these comments will be familiar to you?
“I put up with my dad for my mum’s sake.”
“I feel sorry for my dad having to deal with my mum.”
“I only see my dad because I love my mum and want to spend time with her.”
“I do it for my children so they see their grandfather, otherwise I would not bother with my mum.”
Unlike the romantic coupling where, once you realise that this person is an abuser (if you have not worked out that they are one of us) you may well escape and aside from the usual concerns and vulnerabilities which come with the empathic victim in such an instance, you make good that escape, the familial ensnarement brings with it a collateral consequence; the other parent. Whilst you may consider quite readily abandoning the narcissistic parent, once you have become alive to what he or she is and how this will not change, your planned escape is hampered by the consequential impact on the other parent who is not a narcissist. Like the dedicated platoon which ‘leaves no man behind’, you are also kept in the grip of the narcissistic parent because of your obligations towards your other parent who is not one of our kind. Once again, do not underestimate the narcissist’s knowledge of this sense of obligation. They will be unlikely to realise that they are a narcissist, but they know how to exploit your relationship with the other parent to their advantage.
Whilst devaluation is a frequent occurrence within the dynamic between the parent narcissist and the adult child, discard is fairly rare. The dynamic between parent and child falls into one of three categories:-
- The adult child is an intimate partner primary source – rare;
- The adult child is a non-intimate partner primary source – unusual; or
- The adult child is a non-intimate secondary source – common
With most interactions falling into the third category, the adult child will be relied upon as an intermittent, but frequent provider of fuel. The narcissistic parent will also look to gather traits (for instance living through the success of the adult child) and utilise residual benefits (especially as the narcissistic parent ages).
In a non-familial dynamic, the narcissist tends to interact largely with the secondary source victim in benign ways to gain positive fuel, for instance:-
- A secondary source who is a friend will be invited to social events and spend time with the narcissist;
- A secondary source who is a colleague will also be invited to social events, but will be relied on by virtue of the existing obligation which arises out of the work dynamic;
- A secondary source who is also an intimate source will be picked up to use for social events, intimacy, spending time together. For instance, a person the narcissist is having an affair with, a friend with benefits or a dirty little secret.
In those instances the narcissist offers a benign hoover
“Do you fancy going to the pub tonight?”
“I can meet you at the hotel at 3pm this afternoon.”
“I have tickets for that new play, I hope you want to come.”
“I have not seen you in ages, how about lunch?”
“Can we get our heads together to discuss the new project?”
And consequently the victim will almost always respond to this hoover, interact with the narcissist and provide the positive fuel. The narcissist will have a range of secondary sources so the reliance on one particular secondary source is intermittent. This means the positive fuel remains fresh for far, far longer and therefore the golden period can continue for a long time.
With the situation where the narcissist interacts with a familial secondary source, the victim may well be a golden child or a scapegoat. In either instance, the parental narcissist considers there to be an obligation borne out of the familial tie so that the secondary source should not actually need to be hoovered. Since the range of familial secondary sources will be far fewer than secondary sources as a whole, the familial secondary source is EXPECTED to make themselves available for fuel provision et al. Whilst they may no longer live with the parental narcissist this does not matter. The adult child who is a secondary source should attend without prompting to provide fuel to the parental narcissist. For instance, it is expected they will come over for Sunday lunch each week or visit at least once a month for the weekend if they live a distance away. There ought to be weekly, perhaps daily telephone calls/skype/facetime. They expect to be messaged first to be asked how they are, whether they need anything and so forth. If these expected routine events where fuel is provided are not adhered to, then the parental narcissist will deploy a hoover to bring about the interaction and of course the required reaction which provides fuel.
The parental hoover may be benign in nature (which is usually used for the golden child) but also malign. The latter type of hoovers vary to the degree by which malignancy is used. Some may be mild, intending to prick the conscience of the recipient adult child and others especially savage in order to provoke an outraged or alarmed response. The malign parental hoover has one key ingredient ; it invariably causes the child to have to parent the parent. This of course should come as no surprise to the seasoned scholars of the narcissistic dynamic. The parental narcissist remains the vulnerable child which manifests when fuel levels begin to dip and thus the hoover deployed to the adult child is designed to trigger that long-held obligation of the adult child to parent their parent, something they have done for as long as they might care to remember.
It is often the case that a parental narcissist will have given rise to the creation of a child narcissist which in the fullness of time becomes an adult child narcissist. This individual does not escape the demands of the parental narcissist. They still have fuel to provide and most parental narcissists do not know what they are and therefore do not recognise themselves in the adult child narcissist, thus the interaction will continue, often with explosive consequences.
Thus, the parental hoover is a frequently used manipulation which is deployed by the parental narcissist for the purposes of exerting control over the adult child and for the gathering of precious fuel. What do these hoovers look like? There are many of them and here are just a number of examples.
Benign Parental Hoovers
- Holding a celebration for the achievements of the golden child;
- Wanting the golden child to show what they have done or explain their latest promotion, show their painting etc to both the parents and third parties who have been summoned;
- An impromptu BBQ because it is a ‘lovely summer’s day’;
- To celebrate the birthday of the golden child;
- Wanting to share good news with the golden child;
- Seeking the advice of the golden child if they are a specialist in some area – for instance investment advice;
- Wanting to effect an introduction to or for the golden child which places the parental narcissist in a good light for being the deal maker;
- Identifying a problem and wondering if the golden child might possibly have the time to resolve it for them;
- Identifying (or fabricating) a family problem involving triangulation with another relative (usually the scapegoat) and seeking the good office of the golden child to resolve the issue;
- Having some spare tickets (which are not spare at all but purposefully bought) which they would like to offer the golden child;
- Suggesting a holiday with the golden child
- Noting the adult child (“AC”) has not visited and asking when this might happen;
- Triangulating the AC with the golden child pointing out how the golden child has visited more often;
- Feigning a crisis – the ceiling is leaking, the oven does not work, the neighbours are too noisy and something must be done immediately
- Bemoaning the fact nobody comes to see them;
- Highlighting how unwell they are;
- Pointing out financial difficulties
- Disapproving of the AC’s friends, romantic partner
- Claiming they never get to see their grandchildren;
- Complaining they are only ever used as a child minder for their grandchildren;
- Berating the AC for some imagined vice – drugs, drink, gambling etc based on the flimsiest of evidence but declaring that “I only have your best interests at heart”
- Turning up unannounced and uninvited for the weekend;
- Declaring how lonely they are and how “your father never listens”
- Moaning about never being able to go anywhere;
- Pretending to not understand what a letter means and asking for them to come and help;
- Deliberately sabotaging something and using it as a pretext for requiring immediate help and assistance;
- Threatening to remove the AC from their will unless they make more of an effort;
- Calling early on Christmas Day or their birthday to demand why the AC has not contacted them to wish them Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday;
- Frequently referring to the death of people they know and commenting how they won’t be long for this world and then “you will be free of me which is what you want really”.
- Throwing in the face of the AC everything they have ever done for the AC from his or her childhood “I wiped your bottom” even though they actually did the bare minimum of parenting;
- Utilising frequent sarcasm “I was just calling to let you know I am still alive because after all you have never bothered to call me in three days.”
The adult child is not allowed to lead their own life, to expect the ongoing support of their parent but instead be on call whenever these hoovers are deployed and to respond straight away so that fuel is provided without question or delay.