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Children of the Aging Self-Absorbed: A Guide to Coping with Difficult, Narcissistic Parents and Grandparents is a book for adult children who are struggling in their relationships with their parents or grandparents for different reasons. First and foremost, the aging self-absorbed are displaying many characteristics that are difficult for (adult) children to deal with, that can cause anger, frustration and hurt. Nina W. Brown has created a guide for adult children on how to protect themselves emotionally from parents and grandparents and what strategies to use based on the various types of self-absorbed parent an adult child is dealing with. According to Brown, there are four types of self-absorbed parents; the clingy parent, the suspicious/defensive, the arrogant and the belligerent parent. Those of us dealing with any parent or grandparent who display the characteristics of any of these types, can relate to the behaviors of that parent or grandparent, how it affects us, and how we can work towards greater understanding of that person, and ways of avoiding frustration, anger and hurt the best we can.
Brown states that a parent/grandparent can either neatly fit into one of the four categories, or may display behaviors consistent with more than one type. At the same time, there are commonly held attributes that most parents/grandparents that are self-absorbed display, characteristic that most of us find unattractive and difficult to deal with. Such attributes include; envy, a lack of empathy, inner emptiness, shallow emotions and projection (projecting their own feelings onto their child/children). Learning more about these attributes teaches children how to guard against them, insulate themselves, and how to deal with a parent/grandparent on a daily basis.
Commonly held attributes for a clingy parent/grandparent includes seeking constant attention, being hungry for attention, maintaining an attitude that the parent is unique and special, as well as feelings of entitlement. The suspicious/defensive parent/grandparent is distrusting of just about everyone, is defensive, fearing that the worst will always happen, and feels an intense need to control everything around them, which only intensifies with age. Then we have the arrogant type of parent/grandparent that exhibit very frustrating characteristics, such as never admitting to be wrong, blames and criticizes others while simultaneously believing that he or she is superior to others. The arrogant type brags and boasts, taking unearned credit for others accomplishments while simultaneously showing contempt for others. Lastly is the belligerent type, perhaps the most fear inducing of them all since the belligerent parent/grandparent, who displays aggressive behaviors, such as being easily angered or offended, is almost always on the defensive, resents people and believes that he/she never receives enough appreciation and recognitions.
After introducing the various types of parents/grandparents, Brown discusses ways in which the child/children can change their own thinking in order to change their responses to the parent/grandparent. It is highly unlikely that the parent/grandparent will change or acknowledge their own behavior, so children need to know what to do to protect themselves in interactions with parents/grandparents. General coping strategies include maintaining a poker face and not letting the parent/grandparent "get under your skin". Sometimes it is important to minimize contact for the child/children without feeling guilt when doing so. Brown also provides concrete coping strategies for each specific type of behavior displayed by these parents/grandparents. Brown will have the reader engage in many reflective exercises throughout the entire book to hone in on ones feelings, the type of parent a child/children is dealing with, and how that person is affected. They are effective self-help tools, and it does not take very long to complete each exercise. At the same time, many of these coping strategies revolve around not creating conflict, such as avoiding comments on physical appearance (in this case Brown mentions comments that compliment another person), not challenging or confronting the parent, avoiding comments and refusing to engage. These are certainly ways in which unwanted behaviors can be avoided, and by not personalizing, the child/children probably feel better about a visit with a parent/grandparent, or about the relationship that they have. At the same time, biting ones tongue can be difficult and frustrating for some, even though we cannot make or force another person to change their ways. It seems that it can be especially difficult to soothe or agree with a parent/grandparent that has made life difficult for their child/grandchild for many years. Even though it may be healthier not to, this child/grandchild might want to tell that person how much hurt and pain they have put them through, even though as was mentioned, that parent/grandparents is unlikely to change or perhaps even acknowledge such a comment.
The book is for those people who have difficult and challenging relationships with a parent/grandparent, and it can almost be humorous reading the various categories or types of behaviors, especially if a person that you know exhibit so many of those characteristics, or falls neatly into one of the categories. The book is easy to read and it engages the audience from the beginning, and chances are that if you do not have a parent/grandparent who is self-absorbed, you know someone else who does and who struggle with their relationship with that parent/grandparent.
© 2016 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.