Watching the negative effect that narcissists have on their children is devastating. The utter disregard that they have for the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their children is disturbing but it is really important to take a closer look at it if you are to understand the reason that narcissists have children in the first place.
Narcissists have children to feel good about themselves. For a narcissist, having children offers them another source of narcissistic supply, helps them to fit in and be accepted by society, fulfills their need for power and control, and allows them to chase their fantasies by living vicariously through their children.
This article is going to guide you though the different reasons that narcissists have children. We’ve also created a short video (see below) that goes through the different roles that children have in narcissistic family systems. Having a clear understanding of the way that narcissists treat their children will help you understand why they have children.
The 5 Roles That the Children of Narcissists Have
Narcissists construct their self-perception out of narcissistic supply. This “supply” is validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control. It is very common for narcissists to have children so they can secure a consistent flow of narcissistic supply from both their children and people in their external environment such as friends, family, and colleagues.
When it comes to getting narcissistic supply from their children and external environment, the most common approach that narcissists will have is pushing the “good parent” narrative. With their children, they will do things like buy their children amazing gifts and then ask them, “Who’s the best dad/mom in the world?” for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that the child’s answer brings.
This could be a very innocent thing to do if it is coming from someone who is emotionally healthy, stable, and safe, but when it comes from a narcissist it is selfish, manipulative, and abusive.
Narcissists could also get narcissistic supply by living vicariously through their children to soak up the validation, admiration, and reassurance that the children get from their external environment.
A simple example of this would be a narcissistic mother who felt validated, admired, and reassured because her children were praised by someone about their good behavior (e.g. “I am such a good mother, I raised them so well.”)
Or a narcissistic father that gets an extraordinary amount of narcissistic supply because his son won his high school championship for his football team (e.g. “I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! I was the starting QB for my high school team so he must have gotten that arm from me! I could have gone pro but the coaches didn’t want me to succeed so they didn’t help me get scouted”).
From the outside looking in, a narcissist’s behavior towards his/her children when they are trying to get positive sources of narcissistic supply (e.g. validation, admiration, and reassurance) may come off as innocent and wholesome but the truth is that they don’t care about their children at all. They only care about the amount of narcissistic supply that they can get from their children.
To Fit In and Be Accepted by Society
The most important thing that narcissists have to do is maintain a public persona, which is also called a falsified identity, that can fit in and be accepted by society. Generally speaking, a narcissist’s public persona portrays them as charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous.
But narcissists also make sure that their public persona follows “societal norms” like getting married, finding a good job, or having kids. It is possible that the reason the narcissist in your life decided to have children was because they wanted to use them to fit into society.
A strong indication of this would be a narcissist who is willing to walk to the ends of the earth for their child in public but be unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with them behind closed doors.
They work really hard to have the “perfect” family photo so they can show it off to friends and colleagues, but they won’t put any time or resources towards having a healthy relationship with their children or other family members.
To Have Power and Control Over Their Spouse
The largest and most consistent sources of narcissistic supply that narcissists have access to are the people that they abuse on a daily basis. If they want to keep the people that they abuse as sources of narcissistic supply, they have to remain in power and control of them at all times.
Without power and control, narcissists won’t be able to force the people that they abuse to justify, rationalize, and normalize their abusive behavior on a daily basis. Meaning that their victims would be much more likely to acknowledge that what they are experiencing is abuse and leave the relationship.
Narcissists can’t afford to lose their biggest source of narcissistic supply so one of the ways that they prevent this from happening is by having children. In a series of interviews that we’ve conducted among 30 people who have had a child with a narcissist, two very distinct behaviors emerged.
First, 11 out of the 30 people that we interviewed informed us that the narcissist in their life sabotaged the safe sex that they were having by doing things such as lying about being on birth control or damaging/refusing to wear protection.
“I remember that we had a huge fight about the future of our relationship. I was starting to see all of the red flags but I still loved him so much. I set really good boundaries with him because I didn’t want to get blinded by my love for him. We were sleeping in separate rooms but one night he raped me and I got pregnant from it. I never asked him but I know that he did it so I got pregnant because when he finished he said, ‘I’d like to see you try to leave me now.'”
Second, 19 out of the 30 people that we interviewed informed us that the narcissist in their life decided to have a kid with them to keep them hooked in the relationship. Meaning that the narcissist knew that our interviewees wanted to have children so when they felt like they were losing power and control over them, they decided to have a kid to manipulate our interviewees into staying in the relationship.
“My ex-wife knew that I wanted to have kids our entire relationship. She would future fake me into believing that she wanted to have kids as well but eventually I figured out it just wasn’t true. When I decided to leave the relationship, she decided that she was ready to have kids. We had 2 beautiful girls but instead of having an amazing family life, my wife used my kids to keep me under her thumb. If I didn’t do what she wanted, she would threaten to take them away from me.”
Narcissists view the people that they abuse, including their children, as objects that they are entitled to use to get enough narcissistic supply. They make a conscious decision to neglect the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of others so they can have their own selfish needs met. It is very common for narcissists to have children to remain in power and control of their relationships.
To Regulate Their Own Painful Emotions
Narcissists have an extraordinary amount of painful emotions suppressed behind their grandiose self-perception and public persona. We highly recommend that you read our article How Are Narcissists Made for more information about the origin of these painful emotions but they are powerful ones such as a belief that they’re unlovable, unwanted, weak, inadequate, and worthless.
To keep these emotions suppressed, it is common for narcissists to project them onto their children. Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto someone else (e.g. an angry man accusing his wife of being angry because he can’t accept the fact that he is angry).
Narcissists use projection with their children by scapegoating them. A scapegoat is a person that receives the worst of the narcissist. They are mocked, ridiculed, and punished for the shortcomings of the narcissist because parts of their identity trigger the painful emotions that narcissists have about themselves.
A simple example of this would be a narcissistic mother using her daughter as a scapegoat because she views her daughter as “ugly” and this reminds the narcissistic mother of how invalidating, devaluing, and degrading her own mother was towards her about her appearances.
What scapegoating does is it allows narcissists to attack parts about themselves that they find unacceptable without ever truly acknowledging their own suppressed painful emotions. Instead they invalidate, devalue, and degrade their scapegoat so they can figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “They are the unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, weak, and worthless ones, not me!”
Suggested Reading: What Are the Characteristics of a Scapegoat?
One of the worst combinations in the world is narcissism and money. We currently live in a society where money can get anyone power, control, validation, admiration, and reassurance. It is for this reason that narcissists gravitate towards money when seeking out narcissistic supply.
Sadly, narcissists have been known to have/use children so they can get money from the government, their spouse (e.g. child support), family, friends, etc. To make matters even worse, it’s common for narcissists to have expensive compulsive behaviors (e.g. gambling, drug/alcohol, shopping, transactional sex).
“When our daughters were 4 and 6 I got a phone call from the police that they had found them walking around their mother’s neighborhood completely naked at 3 in the morning. Their mother had left them to go to a party down the street so when they woke up in the middle of the night looking for her, but she was nowhere to be found. After this happened I looked more closely at how my ex-wife was co-parenting and found out that she had been using all of the child support money to go shopping for herself!” – Andrew, a Survivor of Narcissistic Abuse
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Narcissists view the people in their life, including their own children, as sources of narcissistic supply that they are entitled to having power and control over. They don’t view their children as people with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their own, they view them as tools that they can use to better their own life.
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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Donald G. Dutton, Matthew K. Denny-Keys & Joanna R. Sells (2011) Parental Personality Disorder and Its Effects on Children: A Review of Current Literature, Journal of Child Custody, 8:4, 268-283