A narcissistic parent is incredibly possessive, critical, and controlling of their children. They fear their child becoming independent and will do whatever it takes to ensure the child is unable to do so. Children of narcissistic parents experience humiliation and shame, which can result in poor self-esteem , over-achieving tendencies, or self-sabotaging behaviors in adulthood.
17 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. However, behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.1
Not all parents have NPD, but it’s not uncommon for parents to display narcissistic tendencies, which can be just as damaging to a child. Identifying the signs of narcissistic abuse can be difficult, but there are several common themes among narcissistic family members, narcissistic mothers, and narcissistic fathers.
Here are 17 possible signs of a narcissistic parent:
- They constantly need the conversation to be about them.
- They are immature and selfish.
- They brag about your achievements to others, but rarely acknowledging you or support you emotionally.
- They will blame others for any problems that actually stem from their own behavior.
- They are well-liked and important to others, but controlling and harsh when no one is looking.
- They make you feel bad for not doing what they want immediately.
- They make you feel guilty by boasting about how much they have done for you.
- They are harshly opinionated at home, but put up a front for others.
- They are ruthless and unforgiving, and will do anything to be on top.
- They make you feel anxious and often lower your confidence.
- They are absent from your significant life events.
- They force you to engage in sports or other activities, despite your wishes.
- They fail to provide warmth and emotional nurturance in the relationship.
- They use you for personal gain.
- They become bothered or annoyed when you need time and attention.
- They make poor excuses to limit your time together.
- They display sudden mood changes and volatile anger.
How Narcissistic Parents Affect Your Mental Health
Being raised by a narcissist can take a severe toll on your mental wellbeing. In public, these parents are viewed as perfect and loving. But behind closed doors, they rage, scream, and criticize. The parent will control their child’s life, be possessive, and view the child as an extension of the parent.1
Here are common traits of adult children who grow up with narcissistic parents:2
Adult children of narcissistic parents fear that they will hurt someone else by choosing to do what’s right for them. They have been ‘trained’ to consider their parent’s needs first and foremost, and it is therefore hard for them to consider their own needs without feeling selfish. This indecision and guilt can be paralyzing.
Narcissistic gaslighting is a form of narcissistic manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement. One example of a gaslighting parent is when they deny some experience from the past, invalidating their child’s feelings of the event.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can leave an adult child feeling that they have very little to offer. Growing up, their talents and skills may have been downplayed, ignored, or co-opted by the narcissistic parent who felt threatened by their child’s skills. Even when the now-adult experiences success, they may feel that they don’t deserve it—this can give rise to impostor syndrome.
Loyalty & Guilt for Moving On
Even after growing up amid lies, emotional manipulation, and abuse, it can be really difficult for adult children to step away from caring for and loving their narcissistic parent. They will likely feel guilty for trying to step away or input boundaries, and may even enter into relationships with partners who show narcissistic traits. A love that is based on manipulation and conditions is something that is familiar to them, whereas one that is unconditional might seem quite terrifying.
No Focus on Their Own Needs
As the parent lives vicariously through their child, the child’s goals are ignored. The child learns that their goals and needs are not important. Their focus is on pleasing the parent to stay in their good graces. This may lead to anxiety as the child strives to be the perfect child – living up to the narcissist’s unrealistic desires. Depression may occur as a result of the child not meeting the parent’s expectations.
Whether or not the parent is openly abusive to the child, they are usually emotionally unavailable and are too preoccupied with themselves to hear the pain of their child. In order to maintain the family unit, the child shies away from blaming their parent and instead takes all the blame on themselves. This can continue into adulthood, which can result in them becoming the scapegoat in many situations.
Echoists and narcissists complement each other, as echoists fear becoming narcissists or taking any attention away from them. Essentially, narcissistic parents can explode into narcissistic rage or burst into tears without much warning, which forces their children to take up as little space as possible in order to avoid triggering the parent. It can feel like walking on eggshells as they do everything possible to avoid their parent having a meltdown.
Adult children of a narcissist are likely to become insecurely attached to their parent as they never experience a safe base to feel comfortable in when exploring their environment. The neglect, manipulation, or emotional absence of a parent can leave their child questioning how safe they will be in other people’s hands. This leads some adults to become fiercely independent and develop trust issues. This can lead them to cling to their partners for love and demand the attention of their significant other at all times.
Constant Focus on Others’ Happiness
Children who grow up with a narcissistic parent will have organized their whole life and personality around the happiness of their parent. In adulthood, they will do the same for the happiness of others–many of them may end up working in a care profession.
Always on Edge
A narcissistic parent’s behavior is unpredictable. A child is unsure what will please the parent, thus causing feelings of being on edge. The child will feel responsible for the parent’s happiness. They will also learn that their parent’s kindness comes with conditions, leaving the child feeling beholden to the parent.
How to Deal With a Narcissistic Parent
Confronting a narcissistic parent head-on will lead to an ongoing battle. Pointing out a narcissistic parent’s negative or undesired behavior challenges the perfect world they created in their mind, resulting in feelings of shame and vulnerability. Remember, that your feelings and point of view are also important when dealing with a narcissist.
Here are tips for dealing with a narcissistic parent:
Realize What Is Happening
You will never win with a narcissist. A narcissistic parent thrives on their sense of control, and you will pay dearly if you do not bend to their will. Getting their needs met is more valuable than having a functional family structure. If you try to compromise, they will only manipulate the situation in their favor. You need to realize that this is not normal behavior.
Accept & Let Go
Trying to change a narcissist is nearly impossible unless the narcissist wants to change. Accepting who they are will reduce your anxiety. Remember, the negative words and actions aimed at you are really projections of how they feel about themselves, and they are deeply wounded people.
Resist Gaslighting Attempts
Unfortunately, it is common for a narcissistic parent to make their child feel crazy or delusional. A narcissistic parent will tell you it’s sunny outside during a hurricane. Ignoring these narcissistic phrases and working on your self-esteem and confidence is key to your survival.
Though they may not show it, deep down the narcissistic parent does care about you. Under that hard exterior is a highly sensitive individual that needs compassion and empathy from you.
After having a difficult childhood that most likely lacked compassion, it is time you give that compassion to yourself. Pat yourself on the back for making it through this abusive parent-child relationship. Learn to self-soothe and provide yourself all the love your parent couldn’t give you. Recovering from such a childhood is not an easy process. It will take time. So, be patient and forgive yourself. It is okay to put your needs first, take time for yourself, and choose when to offer energy and support for others. It is okay to say no without offering an explanation.
Lean on Other Support Systems
Children of narcissistic parents may often have difficulty validating their own children. Seeking out the support of others is key. Create your own social network through friends, co-workers, or social clubs. It may also be helpful to join a support group with others who had narcissistic parents.
Develop Confidence & Self-Worth
It is important to recognize your self-worth in spite of the insults from your narcissistic parent. Finding activities that increase your skills and abilities will help boost your confidence.
Assert Your Boundaries
A narcissistic parent will often test and cross your boundaries simply to prove that they can. They may show up uninvited to your home, break family rules to get you angry, or play favorites with your children. You must set boundaries with your parents and enforce consequences when they are crossed. It may feel like you are disciplining a child, but be firm and clear as to why you are putting your foot down. You may even need to give them a timeout by asking them to leave if they do not follow the rules.
Be Transparent With Your Plans
You may be tempted into using subtle or sneaky behaviors with your narcissistic parent, but try to avoid this. You may be better off stating your plans and intentions clearly and concisely. Let them know that you recognize their undesirable or harmful behaviors, and express your course of action. This practice will eliminate their ability to act surprised by your reactions, and it will reduce the risk of you feeling guilty or regretful about your decisions later.
Predict Their Next Moves
Narcissists are complicated and complex, but sometimes their behaviors can be expected and predictable. Help yourself deal with a narcissistic parent by identifying their next possible action and how you’d like to respond. Even if you are inaccurate, there is some benefit to being prepared. It’s unlikely their narcissistic traits will simply stop, so staying thoughtful can help limit future damage.
There is a tremendous amount of societal pressure to maintain family relationships, but these bonds may do more bad than good. Spend some time fully considering the prospect of temporarily or permanently ending the relationship. In some cases, it may be the only helpful option.
All of these tips are easier said than done. It’s hard to deal with a narcissistic parent on your own. This is why finding a therapist who is committed to your wellbeing is so important. If you’re ready to get the support you deserve, find the right therapist who specializes in working with children of narcissistic parents.
Is Having a Narcissistic Parent All Bad?
Certainly, most people would not actively choose to have a parent with narcissistic personality disorder, but if you are a combination of resilient and fortunate, positives could emerge.
Some of the possible benefits of having a narcissistic parent include:
- Better awareness of personality disorders. Navigating life with a personality disordered parent will serve as a great education in the world of mental health. This process can help you identify and manage issues in your friendships, romantic relationships, and in the workplace
- The ability to distinguish someone’s words from their behaviors. A narcissistic parent may often say one thing and do the other. The incongruence can be jarring to a child, but learning how people display this inconsistency can encourage you to seek out people who are stable and reliable.
- Increased thoughtfulness. Narcissistic parents can hurt by trying to make their wants your wants. When you can shed this burden, you can spend more time thinking about what you truly want and what direction you’d like to take your life.
- Improved sense of self. In a similar fashion, narcissistic parents may think they know you better than you know yourself. Without their influence, you can identify who you are apart from them and their influence.
- Independence. Personality disorders are frequently about control. Once you find freedom, you will never put yourself in that situation again. The autonomy you find will feel so compelling and rewarding.
Spinning a negative situation into a positive is not easy, and some will never have the opportunity to do so. If you can break away from the narcissistic influence, seek out the good to minimize the past.
How to Heal From Narcissistic Parents
Most people will not understand the emotional toll you experience with a narcissistic parent. Seeking help from people who lack experience with narcissism will only leave you feeling silly. Even if they tell you about problematic family members, it will not compare. It is hard to put into words your experiences in a way that others can understand.
If you’re the child of a narcissist, you will likely struggle with these problems:
- Low self-esteem
- Anxiety or depression
- Codependency in other relationships
- Poor boundaries
- Being a people-pleaser
- Inability to say “no”
- Chronic guilt
- Inability to express or handle emotions
- Trust issues
- Anger, confusion, stress,
How to Support a Loved One Dealing With Narcissistic Parents
Children of narcissistic parents are unaware of the life-long effect that will disrupt their life if left untreated. To support a loved one dealing with narcissistic parents or narcissistic abuse, you must first educate yourself on the disorder. Read articles and watch videos on the topic.
Here are some ways to support a loved one who has narcissistic parents:
- Avoid blaming them, as they are the victim in the scenario
- Be compassionate and listen to their story
- Validate their feelings
- Help them to create a safe space to share their experience
- Remember that they have been trained to accept this behavior
- Be patient with them during their healing process
Finding a Therapist for Narcissistic Abuse
Treatment for adult children of narcissistic parents is very personal, so it is important to work with a provider who understands your experience and makes you feel safe. Make sure they understand narcissistic personality disorder and recovery from narcissistic abuse or trauma. Finding the right therapist can be made easier by using an online therapist directory. Most sessions can be covered by insurance, while self-pay costs typically range from $85 – $150. It could take months or years for a full recovery, but seeking professional help is the best way to heal.
I know first hand of the struggles of dealing with a narcissistic parent. You are not alone. Talking to a therapist or reaching out to a trusted friend or family member can make a big difference in how you feel.