The Unconscious Narcissism in Relationships Between Parents and Children

· August 18, 2018

Narcissism, understood as the love towards oneself and constantly searching for the satisfaction that produces admiration, is present in parental relationships. The parents project onto their children an enormous impulse to live and love. However, many times this impulse is mediated by their desires to a greater or lesser extent, tinging the relationship of a non-egomaniacal narcissism, yet still being yearning or expectant.

Literature and theory deal with how children interact with their parents, rather than the other way around. Therefore, it’s difficult to find in literature clear references to the narcissism present in parental relationships, understood as viewing what’s alien as their own or viewing the child’s characteristics as their own.

Freud showed the first vestiges of interest in this phenomenon. He theorized the existence of the tendency to attribute all perfections to the child. (It should be noted that he only dealt with the way in which the parents formed relationships with their children). This is sensed at the beginning of parental relationships when the baby becomes the majesty.

Parental narcissism can damage children.

Thus, the phenomenon “His Majesty the Babyis a way to renew in adults the privileges that they imagine they had as children that they had to leave behind. We observe that parents give their children excessive privileges and spoil them, worshiping their qualities and then demanding that their development goes in accordance with their master plan.


Many parents end up projecting “their ideal self” onto their children, making them become a “perfected and perfectionist” version of what the parents think they were or would have liked to have been.

In this regard, parents project their ideal selves onto the child, making the child responsible for the frustrations and deepest desires of the parent’s ego.

Thus, this is why, when we talk about unconscious narcissism and projection, a parent’s love becomes more of a love for themselves, for how they believe they were as children or how they wanted to be.  Also, this is a way of unfolding more this loving relationship.

Narcissism can cause problems in parental relationships.

How is it constructed?

Clinical experience makes professionals related to the field of parent-child relationships delve deeper into the unconscious narcissism that can be present in these types of relationships. In response to this, psychoanalyst Juan Manzano tells us about the four essential elements that constitute this parental unconscious narcissism:

1. Projection from the parents onto the child

The parent projects their own characteristics they had or wished to have as a child, characteristics that they either no longer have or aspects that they felt they lacked. The father or mother who projects onto their child doesn’t want their son or daughter to lack what they longed for or desired. In turn, they see in their children the perfect representation of their ideal self. It’s possible that this projection is, to a large extent, unconscious or that at least the parent never explicitly reflects on this behavior.

2. Complementary identification of parents

The father or mother will consider the son or daughter as a part of themselves or as a type of internal object to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the parent. This is to say that the parent is identifying in a way where they feel an exacerbated sense of possession over the child, which in turn hinders the child’s own self-construction.

Narcissism leads parents to project on their children.

3. Specific purpose

As mentioned, the goal of this projection and complementary identification is the realization of satisfaction for someone with a narcissistic nature. However, other purposes, such as the denial of a loss, can be possible reasons for this type of parental behavior.

4. A relational dynamic

The interaction is based on previously assigned roles, so it will eventually surpass imagination and shape the development of relational dynamics with other people and within the child itself. Essentially, this type of relationship creates a fictional profile that ends up becoming a reality.

In pathological cases, children can react in different ways. Sometimes, they assume the roles that were assigned to them, creating disorders that affect them later on, and which will make them rebel later because they feel abandoned. This feeling of abandonment is due to the simple reason that the relationship between the child and the parent doesn’t exist or is limited. In this regard, the child can begin to feel like their desires aren’t their own, but imposed by parental expectations.

NOTE: The content of this article has been extracted from what was exposed in “Narcissistic scenarios of parenthood” by Juan Manzano.