When narcissistic parents die, images of celebration and thoughts of relief might come to mind for those who've lived under the control of an abusive parent. But their parent's death doesn't always bring feelings of joy and consolation. Many survivors are left dealing with unresolved hurts in the wake of their parent's death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Do People Typically Feel When a Narcissistic Parent Dies?
- Tips for Coping With the Death of Narcissistic Parent in Adulthood
- Tips for Coping With the Death of Narcissistic Parent During Childhood
- How Can You Help a Loved One After the Death of Their Narcissistic Parent?
Dealing with the death of a parent during adulthood, whether the parent was caring and loving or narcissistic and toxic, can be challenging to deal with at any age. But when forced to deal with the death of a narcissist, some complex feelings and emotions may emerge.
Narcissistic behavior makes coping with the death of an estranged parent even more challenging than expected. Grieving the loss of a self-absorbed parent is a complicated and confusing experience for many survivors.
How Do People Typically Feel When a Narcissistic Parent Dies?
A narcissistic parent is one who is self-absorbed, often manipulative, and who puts down others or makes them feel like they’re not good enough. Narcissism also means having the inability to empathize with others, demonstrate certain emotions, or show care and understanding.
Some of the more common traits of a narcissist are:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, and beauty
- Belief in being special and unique
- Requiring excessive admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Having unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
- Taking advantage of others
- Lacking empathy
- Being envious of others or believing others are jealous of them
- Showing arrogance
Some feelings associated with grief reactions that emerge after a self-centered parent dies include the following.
For many people, when their narcissistic parent dies, they feel an overwhelming sense of relief, at first. But as time goes on, they may feel a sense of numbness or apathy towards their parent’s death because it feels so anticlimactic. Their death can feel disappointing in many ways and may evoke many negative feelings tied to the pain and hurt created by the parent’s self-centeredness when alive.
Feeling relieved when a narcissistic parent dies is one of the most commonly shared grief reactions in those who've suffered with their toxic parent either in childhood or throughout their lifetimes.
Although every death brings forth a unique approach to grieving, anger is a common grief reaction in those grieving multiple doses of betrayal from a narcissistic parent. The abuse endured during a child’s lifetime is likely to manifest in anger later on in life.
Feelings of rage typically show up well before the death of the abusive parent. Anger tends to affect the child’s relationship-building abilities, both in their childhood and in their adult years. Friendships, romantic relationships, and sibling relationships can all be affected by this.
When dealing with the death of a self-absorbed parent, survivors often face significant emotional conflicts. A survivor can feel torn between mourning the loss of the person who was instrumental in giving them life but who has died without taking responsibility for the damage they caused.
The anger and hurt outweigh the need to grieve their loss, and even that can leave survivors feeling frustrated and bitter over their parent's death. With no timeline for grief, survivors can spend an entire lifetime lamenting the lack of love from a self-centered parent or reaching for something that was never obtainable in the end.
Tips for Coping With the Death of Narcissistic Parent in Adulthood
Dealing with the death of a narcissistic parent may take years to process fully. Getting past the pain and trauma an abusive parent leaves behind can prove challenging after their death. This type of parent usually breaks down their children’s spirit and breeds divisiveness among siblings by showing favoritism to some and lacking connectedness to others. Here are some ways of coping:
Accept your feelings and emotions
Allow grief expressions to manifest naturally. At first, you may feel confused by the complex feelings and emotions you’re experiencing. Sometimes you may think that you’ll never get past the anger stage. Feeling anger and resentment is a normal part of the grieving process, as is having a lack of sadness or remorse over an abusive parent’s death.
Be gentle and understanding with yourself as you learn to cope with your loss. You may have already grieved your loss of not having a loving and caring parent throughout your lifetime. Feeling nothing when they die is not unexpected. Acceptance is one of the most loving gifts you can give yourself.
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Don’t blame yourself
Justifying a narcissist's behavior is another type of grief response. Most narcissists gaslight their victims into thinking that the trouble with any relationship is all the victim’s fault. They confuse their target by twisting words and having them question their beliefs and sanity.
Survivor self-blame is often the result of the abusive parent's manipulation. Some parents are so adept at hiding their manipulations that the people around them never have an idea of their true character.
Set healthy boundaries
Manipulating and destroying relationships among siblings is a hallmark of narcissistic parenting behavior. When a parent dies, it's natural for their children to come together to commemorate their life.
Society expects children to grieve their parents' deaths, but not every child feels the need to celebrate their parent’s life or to say their final goodbyes. Determine if attending a funeral or memorial service is the right thing for you without caving to family pressure. If making it to the funeral or memorial service doesn't feel right to you, it's OK not to go.
Tips for Coping With the Death of Narcissistic Parent During Childhood
Dealing with a narcissistic parent during your childhood is an incredibly challenging and hurtful experience. A parent showing indifference to you as a child can leave you with lifelong injuries that may never fade or completely heal. An abusive parent might leave you wondering if they ever loved you or if they ever fully supported you in your decisions as you were growing up. Here are several things to keep in mind to help you cope with their death.
Remember that you are good enough
When working through your grief, allow yourself to release the pain of feeling inadequate and unloved during your childhood. Practice self-talk to reassure yourself that you’re enough. A narcissistic parent might’ve shown deference to their favorite child as you were growing up. Perhaps they made you feel as if you were less than or could never live up to your sibling’s potential.
Narcissists are good at pitting siblings against one another in childhood and their adult years. Often the favored child is stuck between not knowing how to handle the situation and being aware that this is happening.
Reach out for support
Reaching out for support is vital to help cope with the loss of an abusive parent. However, particular challenges come up when others don't see or acknowledge the parent's behavior towards the child. Sometimes it might feel as if no one will believe you when you tell them how cruel and self-centered your parent was when everyone else idolized them.
Finding the proper support, although challenging, is necessary. Consider talking to someone who isn't part of the family or isn’t one of your parent's close friends. Try connecting with a neutral third party to support you through your loss.
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Get into therapy
Therapists help you learn to cope with your loss and in changing the dynamic in your remaining relationships. A therapist familiar with narcissism can be of great help with processing the anger, hurt, and grief you may feel when your parent dies.
A good therapist can also make an immeasurable difference in dealing with post-traumatic issues and help you work through some of the anger and confusion you feel.
How Can You Help a Loved One After the Death of Their Narcissistic Parent?
There are a few ways that you can help someone deal with the loss of a parent with whom they might've had a contentious relationship. Although it's never easy knowing what to say to someone who's dealing with loss, there are some ways for you to be supportive in this situation.
Be supportive and nonjudgmental
When a loved one deals with the death of a narcissistic parent, anger and hurt may outweigh the ability to grieve. While most people would expect to feel profound sadness at the loss of their parent, survivors of emotional and psychological abuse may not experience grief in the same way.
Most people who survive this type of abuse by their parents experience intense depression and pain associated with having a parent who doesn't care. Consider being nonjudgmental when lending your support.
Understand their need to grieve
Although your loved one may express feelings of sadness and betrayal, it doesn't mean that they aren't grieving their loss. Survivors of emotional abuse continue to need to find closure and mourn their loss.
The way they approach their grief may be vastly different from someone who experienced a loving relationship with their parent growing up. It's essential to understand that adults and children need validation and support after suffering the loss of a narcissistic parent.
Suggest online support groups
Survivors of narcissistic parents usually suffer from extreme trauma that may leave them feeling relieved by their parent's death. However, an abusive parent's death doesn't necessarily reduce the damage they've caused to the survivor.
Feeling a mix of relief and loss is a natural part of the grieving process associated with stress release when the strained relationship ends. Unfortunately for many, other complex emotional responses to their parent's death quickly replace this initial feeling of alleviation. They may benefit from joining an online support group to talk about their loss.
Dealing With the Death of a Narcissistic Parent
Grieving the death of a narcissistic parent can be challenging because there’s a lot more to mourn than just their death. Expect to grieve the lifetime of abuse suffered, the parent that they never were or could ever be, and the damage and destruction left in their wake. Realize that it’s possible to let go of the past and embrace a brighter future.