It’s surprising how many stepparents find themselves faced with the challenge of stepchildren who exhibit narcissistic personality traits. Or perhaps – when you consider how narcissism develops – it isn’t surprising at all.
The Narcissist: Nature or Nurture?
A large proportion of my coaching career has been spent studying narcissistic personality disorder and helping those who find themselves in a relationship with someone with NPD, whether that be a parent, a child or a partner.
Narcissists differ from psychopaths, who are often born that way. A narcissist is made, not born. When you understand that, you can begin to grasp how this personality disorder develops and what can be done to manage the behaviour associated with it.
What this means, above all, is that there is hope. Things can change if you approach the situation in the right way. However, I must qualify this by saying that it isn’t always the case. Some narcissists don’t want to change and in those situations, there’s nothing you can do to influence things. If you do find yourself facing a brick wall, despite having worked through the steps below, be easy on yourself. You did your best and the failure of the relationship isn’t your fault, it’s caused by factors way beyond your control.
My stepchild is a narcissist, what can I do?
If your stepchild is a narcissist then it is quite likely that there has been some parental neglect somewhere along the line. Narcissism in these situations is often a coping strategy born out of poor relationship experiences. Children are shaped by their environment and influences and breaking through the barriers that have been put up can be a long, slow and frustrating process.
7 Ways to Break Down Narcissistic Barriers
The experiences that fed into the narcissistic personality of your stepchild will be deep-seated and their insecurities will infect anything you try to do to change things. If you’re serious about building a relationship, keep going. Even when you seem to be taking one step forward and three steps back, make the effort to communicate in a way that nurtures a more positive relationship. Doing so will have a lasting impact on your relationship with your stepchild, not to mention the relationships they may have with others in the future.
Here are 7 ways to break down the barriers:
1. Narcissists thrive on recognition so praise their achievements. This is a simple way to generate positivity in a hostile environment and start improving communication. Even if you don’t want to feed into their need for attention, try to overcome your feelings for the sake of a longer-term objective.
2. I believe the best thing you can do for a young narcissist is to coach them on how to get by in life. Suggest appropriate careers that give them a sense of achievement, teach them to work with their behaviours and to police themselves, since they are the only ones who can do it.
3. Use their own strange logic to explain how kindness to others benefits THEM. Always focus on the benefit to them and not the impact on you or the rest of the family. Remember, narcissists, are self-focused.
4. When things go well, reaffirm the positive. If they make good decisions or do something that helps to improve the situation at home, confirm that they have done something positive.
5. Tell them you understand why they chose to do something in a certain way. Narcissists like to be right. Even if you don’t agree with what they’ve done, show that you understand why they did it and tell them that.
6. Never undermine them if you want to keep your tranquillity. It’s so easy to rise to the bait when in fact the best course of action is appeasement. It’s really hard to do because parenting is usually about setting boundaries and leading by example. A narcissist doesn’t respond to that sort of guidance. Focus on their world, even if you feel like you’re indulging them.
7. Let them choose. If you want to get them onside always give an either-or choice and let it be their decision. However, you can make sure one choice is hopeless so that you are in effect guiding their decision-making and giving them just one real option.
If you want to set house rules or a particular golden rule, impress the importance of how good the golden rule is for THEM. If you remember that they are always thinking “what’s in it for me?” that will help you to steer things in the right direction.
A narcissist believes that people, ALL people, are objects to be used … so teach them to take care of their things, so that they can develop skills that are directed away from themselves just a little.
Final Thoughts on Self-Preservation
Narcissistic stepchildren can wreak havoc in a family. The parent of the child may not acknowledge the existence of a personality disorder and the narcissistic child will seize the opportunity to drive a wedge between their parent and partner.
Discuss your concerns with your partner but don’t make an issue of it if they can’t – or won’t – see it for themselves. Agree to disagree on the matter and tell your partner about some of the methods you are going to try in order to improve relationships in the family. If your partner can see that you’re trying to fix things, this is likely to help your relationship as a couple and build trust.
As I have already said, try the measures set out above and do your best. Sometimes your best just won’t be good enough. If that’s the case, ditch the guilt and move on. Focus on the good in your family and continue to adopt the approaches I have mentioned. They will, at least, help you stay in control of your own emotions.
Angela Whitlock is a stepparent to four children and an experienced teenage and stepfamily coach. She is also the author of The Accidental Parent series of advice books for stepfamilies. For more information visit www.angelawhitlock.com.