This well-written article is from:: Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. on PsychCentral.com/Psychoanalysis Now (blog)
Over the years I have often been asked what is the most harmful thing a parent can do to a child. There are many harmful things a parent can do, too many to point out. It is easier to focus on the kind of parent that does most harm.
The most harmful parents are the parents who have a narcissistic need to think of themselves as great parents. Because of this need, they are unable to look at their parenting in an objective way. And they are unable to hear their children’s complaints about their parenting.
One family with which I became acquainted had two daughters. The oldest daughter could do nothing wrong. The youngest daughter could do nothing right. Both parents lamented the troublesome nature of their youngest daughter. To both of them, she was a thorn in their sides and an embarrassment to the family. As Mary (the name I’ll give to the youngest daughter) grew up, she was always being compared unfavorably to her older sister. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” She was constantly being looked at in a negative way. If she told a joke, they laughed at her, not with her, and treated her as if she were stupid to say such a thing.
When she was a preteen, her father, who was a wealthy real estate tycoon, took her on a business trip with him. She was flattered to be brought along, because he had always favored her older sister. He insisted they share the same hotel room, telling her they were family. When she was taking a shower, he walked in and said she shouldn’t be shy around him because he was her father. That night he insisted she sleep in the queen-sized bed with him, and in the middle of the night he began touching her and telling her it was all right because they were family.
When she mentioned this event to her mother, the mother treated the daughter as if she were just being a trouble-maker as usual. “Why would your father do something like that? He’s a powerful man. He could have any woman he wanted, but he has always been totally loyal to me. I want you to apologize for what you just said.” Mary had to repress this incident and she grew up to be a child who doubted her perceptions of things. She remained attached to her father and continued to idealize him as the rest of the family did. But her idealization of her father, her mother and her older sister kept her in a one-down position. Her relationships with men were a disaster as were her relationships with women friends. She distrusted everybody and would sooner or later find a reason to reject them (symbolically rejecting her family).