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Copyright 2009 by Richard A. Grossman, Ph.D.    All Rights reserved    E-Mail: ragrossman@voicelessness.com
When lay people and professionals alike talk about dysfunctional families, often the question arises: Did the mother love the children? Or, did the father love the children?

Parental love is a very complicated emotion. If a parent compulsively looks after their children's health, insisting they eat only organic food, and natural vitamins, is this a form of love? How about if a parent makes a child come home after school and forbids any socializing until the studies are completed to her satisfaction--because this way the child will get into Harvard. Is this love? If the parent is looking after the child's best interests, then arguably their actions reflect love. But where is the line drawn? Some parents say to their children: "Everything I did, I did for you--fed you, clothed you, put a roof over your head--all of it for you." While probably an exaggeration, there is still a bit of truth here. Was there love? Perhaps. One can sometimes find a small measure of love in narcissistic parents (see, e.g., Do Narcissistic Parents Love Their Children?).  "I love you because you reflect well on me" may still be love, however sullied. (One might argue that love in the service of selfish needs is not really love--but the line between selfish and unselfish love is a fuzzy one indeed if you consider "selfish gene" theory, and the fact that even normal parents have a "healthy" amount of narcissism.) Furthermore, the tears a mildly narcissistic parent sheds when their child dies may be, at least for the moment, real.

Simply put, love may be too complicated an emotion to be of much use in distinguishing mildly narcissistic and healthy parents. In my experience, if you ask adult children of mildly narcissistic parents whether they were loved, some will say "yes, in a controlling, self-centered way".  Another variable, however, is far more telling. The critical questions are: "Did my parent respect and

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