How the children of narcissists get conditioned to tolerate narcissists
Many people don't understand how the children of narcissists get conditioned to tolerate narcissists. Here is one scenario that can explain some cases.
Let's say, for example, you have a family of four. One parent is a narcissist. His narcissistic abuse of the more vulnerable child makes her a budding narcissist too.
The other parent, the normal parent, will be driven to deal with the situation in a way that does serious harm. Without intending to, of course.
The problem is that she can't change her husband. She can't even reason with him. Because he is a big, irrational baby.
For example, what if she tells him not to lash out viciously at the kids for trying to get his attention or for some minor imperfection of behavior? What if she tells him that he's hurting the kids' feelings and that he must pay some attention to them, must stop treating them like insignificant flies on the wall by burying his attention in the newspaper, a radio talk show, or the TV and acting as though they aren't there?
Since, he's a narcissist, he will bawl, "WAAAH!" (as if imitating HER as the big baby in the house), and whine, "Get off my back!"
End of story. Nothing less than forcing him to behave at gunpoint will work with a narcissist. You cannot reason with one, because all you get is a blowback of irrationality like that to silence you.
In fact, she soon learns that trying to get him to treat the kids better backfires. His reaction is to get in her face by immediately abusing them worse to train her not to try to protect them.
So, what is she going to do? She has but one stick - leaving him. She draws red lines and lets him know that she will leave him if he crosses one. Typically, the red lines are at physically beating the kids or committing adultery.
He doesn't want to lose his mamma and sources of NS, so he stays back of those red lines. But every day, in every way, he abuses everyone to his heart's content in every other way he can.
In other words, he runs amok just this side of those red lines.
So, what is she going to do? She is normal, so she can't stand his constant uproars. She is normal, so she can't stand to see him lash out viciously at her three- and four-year-olds. She is normal, so she want peace and happiness in her home.
Or at least the semblance of it.
She can't control this wild man. He can't control himself. But guess what? She can control his victims.
No misstep = no uproar. No complaint = no abuse. Get it?
His VICTIMS are the ones she can control. The children. So she deals with the problem by controlling the victims instead of the abuser. In fact, this is why people always blame the victim of a bully = because the bully is wild and the victim ain't.
So, if you can't get the abuser to stop, make the victim stop complaining. Expect perfect behavior of the children so that he doesn't go off at them. Tell them they want too much when they ask for his attention. Instill the belief in them that they have nothing better coming from him, that things are as they should be. All in the name of "peace."
Now, of course this is wrong, because if you instill the belief in children that they have no attention, affection, or praise coming, you instill in them the belief they are unworthy of it. Indeed, they see other kids and the narcissist getting plenty of this good stuff. But THEY, they alone, don't deserve any.
Now before you go condemning her, remember that he is abusing her too. He very likely has her on the edge of a nervous breakdown early in the marriage when she discovers what kind of father her very young children have. She will see how he is hurting their tender little hearts at such a tender age and be beside herself with fear at what this might do to them. Plus, she wants peace. So she goes into denial.
And when one of the children starts showing signs of narcissism, flying into rages at the other, pretty much the same thing happens. At the first sign that something is seriously wrong with that child (such as shocking violence or diabolical behavior), she goes into denial. Because of course she suspects that she is partly to blame for not getting her children away from this man.
She wants peace from those uproars too. So the normal child gets told that he must control the narcissistic sibling's fits by never "being" the kind of person who sets his sister off.
Mother doesn't have to come out and literally TELL the normal child that he is the one to blame. That message comes through loud and clear without ever needing to say it out loud and literally. The normal parent doesn't have to come right out and tell the children that they must make sure Mommy isn't troubled by anything = that they are a troublesome burden on Mommy if they make a mistake, complain about anything, or make anyone mad at them.
That child will grow up conditioned to think that the greatest sin is having anybody commit one against you.
That child has no idea that all families aren't like his, that he has grown up in a home where two people belonged in a psych ward.
When that child becomes an adult and goes out into the world, he will tolerate narcissists, because he has been conditioned to. The double-standard is so deeply ingrained that this child thinks, "Some people are just that way." To be a good person, you must tolerate whatever treatment they feel like dishing out to you.
Nonetheless, I'm not at all sure that this makes the child more likely to marry a narcissist. Perhaps in some cases it does. But I think this upbringing makes it just as likely that the child will never marry. For example, if you're a woman whose father is a narcissist, what have you seen in marriage that you would want? Nothing. But you've seen a lot you want to avoid!
What does all this mean? It means that you must seriously consider getting very young children away from a narcissistic spouse. And, if you can't or decide not to for some reason, you must make sure not to fall into this trap.
The main thing is NOT to go into denial. Consider and be aware of the effect it tends to have on your children's psyche. Counter that effect. Make sure the normal child never feels responsible for something no one can control = the narcissist's wild behavior.
Children are amazingly resilient. If the normal parent relates appropriately to them and really makes the effort to compensate, it makes a huge difference. Kids catch on to things at a much earlier age than we realize.
They know Daddy isn't satisfied with them. Make sure they learn that it's due to Daddy's defect, not theirs. Yes, that will sadden them and perhaps make them feel cheated. But it won't damage them. Similarly, it's sad to know that your Daddy doesn't care about you. But it's torture to be subjected to conditional love, tantalized forever with cruel hope that you can somehow MAKE him like you if you just keep trying hard enough.