April 21, 2009

Parental Denial: Children-at-Risk

Children in the Wood by Charles Lucy



"Parents who tended to exaggerate their child’s talents reported more reactions on the part of their child to others’ envy of him/her. However, these parents also tended to be unable to acknowledge their child’s needs.

"Parents who were unable to acknowledge their child’s needs also had a strong tendency to report that their child does not express a need for admiration, is not sensitive to criticism and does not take pleasure in activities that he/she usually enjoys (anhedonia). These findings support clinical observations that narcissistic parents tend to report fewer problems in their children." (link: page 77) 

Parental Denial

This is something that's always bothered me from the time I became a young mother to becoming my nephew's second-mother: How do parents ignore a child's developmental or social maladjustments? Why do they not acknowledge the truth---rather than pretending everything is fine when everyone is telling them something's wrong, very wrong?

I was startled and pleased to read the article above because it validated my perceptions: Narcissistic parents judge other kids as inferior and their child as exceptional. While they may be trying to make their child feel better about social rejection/problems in reminding them how special they are, it's actually counterproductive, increasing the child's isolation (and narcissism).

Being so so exceptional that nobody likes ya, makes for a lonely and miserable existence. We're social creatures after all.

So instead of securing therapeutic support as any GOOD parent is obligated to do, they deny the truth. Parents like this would have to be in true denial (unconscious) because it sure seems as though they only see what they want to see. They aren't ignoring warning signs because they're short on time and/or finances. They really do not see a child's needs and problems. Problems that might be precursors to an alienated existence or even: character flaws.

I can't quite 'get' this degree of Parental Denial and I've witnessed it with friends, with family, with acquaintances. It's the same story over and over: "Nothing's wrong with my kid. It's all those other kids that are wrong. They're just envious because they aren't as cute, as smart, as wealthy, or as talented as MY kid. MY kid is special!"

If the child is less than perfect, so are the parents. How does the narcissist deal with imperfection? Denial, denial, denial.

Unfortunately, the adolescent's unchallenged grandiosity is also reinforced, possibly hindering future development of normal, fulfilling, and intimate relationships.

I recall a humorous situation when our family returned to the United States after living in France for nearly five years. We were asked to speak with business peers who were considering a company move to France. Human resources asked us to be honest about our children's adaptation to French-Only schools. Now mind you, we were living in the Bay Area where parents are not known for humility when it comes to their children's gifted and notable achievements...by, ahem...kindergarten.

I started out with a dramatic introduction, "First of all," I said very seriously, "It's important for everyone in this room to know that my spouse and I have two extremely and very ex-cep-tion-al-ly average children."

The whole room stared at me as if I'd fallen off a turnip truck. My husband included. Evidently, no bay area executive's wife ought be proud of having AVERAGE kids...even if it were the truth.

The research article (linked above and below) focuses on children's pathological narcissism. Maybe in the future, psychologists will be able to intervene before children-at-risk develop a personality disorder that is harmful to not only themselves, but other people, too.

Our hopes for happier individuals and healthier communities hinge on early intervention, thwarting the rigid development of pathological narcissism. Prevention also depends on adults breaking through parental denial and accepting their children as separate and unique.

Our vulnerable children are dependent on being loved and cherished as individual human beings; not valued as trophies and prizes sacrificing their souls to the maintenance of parental narcissism.

Jean-Marc Guilé MD, Liliane Sayegh Ph.D., Line Bergeron M.Ps., Hélène Fortier B.Sc., Deborah Goldberg MOCM, John Gunderson MD
"...The construct of narcissistic pathology in children and adolescents remains a controversial topic. Both the psychodynamically-oriented literature (Bleiberg, 1994, 2001; Kernberg, 1989; Kernberg et al., 2000; McDavid and Pilkonis, 1996) and our clinical observations (Guilé, 1996), however, support the clinical need for delineating a core set of pathological narcissistic behaviors in children.
"Narcissistic children experience interpersonal difficulties with peers as well as relatives. They appear haughty and self-absorbed, as well as exploitative and demanding of others but giving little in return. They behave as if they are entitled to do what they want, avoid making any effort to realize their academic potential and tend to control others through dramatic tantrums. Their grandiose self-experience is organized around over-evaluation of their achievements, fantasies of invulnerability, success or beauty, and a feeling of uniqueness. Their need for admiration is impossible to fulfill (Guilé, 1996).
"Lack of empathy and hypersensitivity to criticism and defeat are associated with longstanding problems of adjustment in school and at play as well as treatment resistance and failure (Kernberg, 1989; Guilé et al., 2002). Self-centeredness and lack of empathy, which are central to narcissistic conditions impede the development of peer relations in children (Kernberg et al., 2000; Rinsley, 1990). Consequently, they constitute risk factors for the development of disturbances in identity and autonomy during adolescence (Weise et al., 2004; Guilé, 1999; Kernberg et al., 1997; Kernberg, 1991, 1989) and may increase the risk of presenting a personality disorder in adulthood (Crawford et al, 2001; Korenblum et al., 1997; Rey et al., 1995; Bleiberg, 1990).
"Accordingly, it may be useful to properly identify narcissistic pathology in children so that earlier detection and more effective intervention programs can be provided to these children..." 

Hugs all,
CZBZ


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1 comment:

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