“Babies don’t come with manuals,” my parents would sometimes moan, half in jest, half seriously. So, like all first-time parents, they parented from the only resource they had: themselves. It’s natural to assume that your child will be a chip off the old block, with the same weaknesses and temptations, the same interests and skills.

But that’s not necessarily true, especially if you have parents who share from their own mistakes to warn their kids what not to do. The kids are actually listening.

Engulfing narcissists make two big mistakes in parenting. First, they assume their kids haven’t listened, heard nor retained a word they said. Big mistake. They should give their parenting skills more credit and their kids more credit as well.

Secondly, they confuse protection with projection. That’s when Dad and Mom go all hard-core ninja parent to protect their children from stuff their children aren’t even remotely interested in doing.

Here’s a prime example that has flummoxed me for years. The year was 2010 and I’d recently acquired my first smartphone. Well, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t exactly a smartphone. I goofed and ordered a Sidekick which my coworkers politely labeled a “slightly intelligent” phone. Just one step up from “dumb phone.”

I’d had it only a couple of months when Dad sat me down at the kitchen table for one of Those Talks. Oh yes, you know the kind I mean. Your adrenalin starts squirting even before you know what The Talk is about. I had no idea what, if anything, I was in trouble for this time but my stomach was in knots anyways. Heart racing, palms sweating, blood pressure skyrocketing, dizzy, the whole nine yards. Did I mention I was thirty years old?

As it turns out, my new Sidekick was under the parental magnifying glass, or should I say, vivid imagination. Very suspiciously, Dad asked, “Are you looking at pornography on your phone?”

I said “no” but my manner was 100% guilty although I was 100% innocent. Being interrogated by a narcissist will do that. No matter how innocent you may be, the more they question you, the more guilty you will act. I bet even a lie detector test would register your truthful answers as lies.

But I was telling the truth. Not only had I never seen pornography, but my conception of it was so antiquated, I thought porn was photos of naked women. Michelangelo’s David sculpture. Videos of people actually doing it on camera never occurred to me. Yes, I was that nave.

“Really!?” Dad’s eyes said, “Pfffft, I don’t believe you” even though I had a perfect track record for always narcing on myself when guilty and bringing punishment down on my own head.

“Really!” I insisted, acting even guiltier.

Then Dad launched into a lecture I shall never forget. It went something like this, “I heard a bit on NPR how more and more women are becoming addicted to pornography and {heavy sigh} I don’t have the time to get you un-addicted to pornography. If I find you’ve been viewing it on your phone, I will smash your phone.” His hands were balled into fists as he yelled, “I hate porn.” Very Academy of Dramatic Arts.

I came away from that conversation shaken and confused on so many levels. I was more frightened of my father than ever before and worried for the safety of my $344.98 semi-intelligent phone. That Dad was way out of line never occurred to me.

But looking back, I see something else. At the time, I assumed he was protecting me. A decade later, I wonder. I wonder a lot.

Were our narcissistic parents really motivated by a desire to protect us? Or were they actually projecting themselves onto us? Would they have been secretly thrilled if we actually did do the big, bad thing they warned us not to do (then accused us of doing)!?! The fix was in.

Take that ol’ stand-by “slut-shaming” for example. I’ve heard your stories and lived a few of my own. The accusations, the shaming for sexual activity we didn’t do, didn’t plan to do, had never thought about doing. We were still virgins while they were slut-shaming us, but that didn’t matter. Theyneeded to transfer all of their own shame onto us in the name of “protection” when it was really “projection.” Or as I was told, “You have bad sexual genetics”…whatever that means!

But it gets even weirder. Do you remember the book Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Bront? Well, if you didn’t have to read it in high school, you’ve probably seen one of the many, many movies based on the book. In a nutshell, Mr. Rochester is a wealthy, mysterious bachelor who falls in love with his ward’s nanny, the innocent and virtuous Jane Eyre. On their wedding morning, she discovers Mr. Rochester’s secret: his insane wife is locked up in one wing of his mansion.

Narcissists are like that. They have secrets they never tell anyone but that nevertheless affect you in very weird ways. Take for example the time my father told me, “You shouldn’t wear your hair off your face. You have a weak hairline.” Or his objection to me getting a dog. Or getting my ears pierced. The fact that we never ate at nor spoke the name of a certain fast food chain. All weird details that were never explained.

Recently, I discovered the real basis for all of these bizarre idiosyncrasies. There was a person my family prefers to forget who wore her hair off her face, has pierced ears, loves dogs and shares her name with a fast food chain. Suddenly my family’s obsession with Jane Eyre makes sense. Just like Mr. Rochester, we too have a never-spoken-about entity that haunted all our lives, affecting how Iwas allowed to lead my life. Sometimes I felt that she was being projected onto me. It’s super creepy!

But I digress…

Sometimes I wonder if it’s terribly disappointing to narcissistic parents when their kids don’t fall for the temptations they fell for in their youth. If all those warnings aren’t actually caring but perhaps a kind-of parental game. “If I warn my teen not to do X, Y and Z, they’ll automatically do it…and then I’ll have the scapegoat I so badly need for my own youthful errors.” Like I wrote in The Fix Is In: How Narcissists Spin Your (Possible) Future Problems To Make Themselves Look Good:

Another classic example is the daughter of a Bible-thumping narcissist who fell pregnant and expected her father to freak. It was a reasonable assumption as during her teen years, hed put her over his knee, rip down her panties and paddle her bare bottom for trivial things.

Instead, she tells me, her father was the soul of kindness and helpfulness to her during her pregnancy. She was baffled!

I told her, He was thrilled when you fell pregnant. You fulfilled all of his dire predictions about his rebellious daughter. It was just the ego boost your narc father needed. The fix was fulfilledand he couldnt have been happier.

If we dont fulfill narcissists prediction about us, its no skin off their nose. An unfulfilled fix doesnt make them look bad. But if we do what theyd always predicted and pre-spuntheyre secretly jumping up-and-down with joy. We are as bad as they predicted. They were right about us all along. They are better than us. Or, at the very least, our one tiny failing distracts attention from all of their worse failings. Its a windfall for their false egos.

Of course it’s parents’ responsibility to protect their children, but as in so many other ways, narcissists go about it bass-ackwards. They project all their own vices and regret onto their child and then aggressively protect them…from something they aren’t in danger of. Along the way, the inculcate so much self-blame and shame and false guilt for what the child never did. That’s the real danger!

Instead of projection, how about we make it safe for our kids to talk to us, actually listen to them and parent them. Not ourselves, not their siblings…but parent who they truly are. It’s like Eve said in Season 3, Episode 17 of Last Man Standing:

You’re not me! Okay!?!…

Why would I ever do [what you] would have done?

When I talk about you to my friends, I always call you “the cautionary tale.”

So many narcissists raise such wonderful kids. No, I mean it! Really wonderful adults with good work ethics and integrity…but their need for a scapegoat blinds these parents to how proud they should be of their child. They should be patting themselves on the back for a job well done but instead they’re busy telling everyone falsehoods about how bad their kid is. Damn, that’s a crying shame.

Well, if you are the good child of narcissistic parents, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re a credit to yourself. Even if your parents refuse to be proud of you, you can be very proud of you!