Why Does My Child Say I’m a Narcissist or a Borderline? Today’s adult children diagnose their parents
BY DR. JOSHUA COLEMAN
Part of what’s desirable about a diagnosis is that it allows an estranged child to legitimize their need to feel separate, not feel as influenced by the parent, ally with a troubled DIL or SIL, or feel more immune to the parent’s need of them.
The downside of growing up feeling extremely close to your parents is that you may be far less immune to the normal slings and arrows that come when you transition into adulthood. You may have to powerfully claim your right to independence in part because you’ve been so dependent. You may have to be difficult, in part because you’ve been so nice all of your life. You may have to align yourself with a more troubled spouse because you admire his or her ability to not be so sensitive to the feelings of others since that’s something you have a hard time knowing how to do.
“Deciding to end a relationship with a parent can have a lot of power to it from the perspective of the adult child.”
Many of the parents in my practice bring in letters from adult children who only a year before wrote them at Mother’s or Father’s day, or their birthday, or some other occasion to say how much they loved them and how grateful they were to have them as parents; adult children who were clearly close to their parents growing up and now, due to a marriage, children, the influence of an ex, or a need to feel separate are now eager to label their parents as toxic, borderline or narcissistic.
Deciding to end a relationship with a parent can have a lot of power to it from the perspective of the adult child. Woven into the symbols of our American ideals of autonomy and independence, cutting off a parent can be one of the few rites of passages of entering adulthood in a culture starved for ritual such as ours. It may be especially meaningful now that other markers of adulthood such as career, marriage, and children are attained at a much later date. How do I know I’ve reached adulthood? I can survive independently of my parents.
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About Dr. Coleman
Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of London, Cornell Weill Medical School, and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine.
He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books: The Free Study Guide Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin’s Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin’s Press); When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (HarperCollins); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia.
He is the co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of seven online volumes of Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.