Narcissistic Parents: Signs, Symptoms, and How to Heal
If you were unfortunate enough to grow up with narcissistic parents or know someone who did, then you already know how damaging these types of parents can be. In this article, we’ll delve deep into the characteristics of narcissistic mothers and fathers, the toll they take on their children, and how kids can recoup.
- Narcissistic Parents: Who Are They?
- How Do Narcissistic Parents Affect Children’s Mental Health?
- How to Handle A Narcissistic Parent?
- Healing From Narcissistic Parents
- What to Do if You Are a Narcissistic Parent?
Narcissistic Parents: Who Are They?
Some of the terms used to describe narcissistic parents can be deceptive. That’s because all parents can, at times, be overbearing, rigid, and demanding, for instance. Such is the nature of parenthood. But for narcissistic parents, these aren’t just fleeting moods. They’re consistent personality traits, and they’re signs of something much more problematic in the parent-child relationship.
The Narcissistic Parent Defined
Usually victims of abuse themselves, narcissistic parents have very fragile self-esteem. To hide their insecurities, however, they develop a public mask that presents just the opposite. When you meet a narcissistic mom or dad for the first time, you’ll likely view them as confident, in-charge, and even charismatic. However, these false qualities are meant to throw people off from the truth of their self-doubt.
Signs of A Narcissistic Mother or Father (Plus Narcissistic Parents Checklist)
Without the help of a mental health professional, it may be impossible to prove the parent has a narcissistic personality disorder. Still, there are some narcissistic parent symptoms to be aware of that can point toward a diagnosis.
Lack of Empathy
One of the classic characteristics of a narcissist is that they lack empathy for others. In the most severe cases, a narcissistic parent will be unable to see anyone’s perspective other than their own. They may feel as if their opinion is the only one that matters. Thus, they often invalidate the feelings of others, including their children.
Inflated Sense of Self
Sometimes referred to as grandiosity, a narcissistic mother or father has an inflated sense of self. They may appear to be very confident and even think that they are better than everyone else. In some cases, a narcissist feels special somehow, as if they are more talented, insightful, or entitled than others. Because of this, narcissistic parents may feel that their children owe them something simply because of who they are.
As a result, they can be quite demanding of their children’s time, energy, and effort. Children of narcissistic parents may feel as if they have no life of their own because they constantly have to tend to their parents’ demands.
Lives Vicariously Through Their Children
One of the most damaging flaws of narcissistic parents is their inability to see their children as “other” people. Instead, narcissists view their children as an extension of themselves. Therefore, every success or failure of a child will be seen as a personal success or failure for the parent. A narcissistic father or mother may have an intense desire for the child to perform well at a sport or in school, for instance, as a way to prove the parent’s superiority.
Another common trait of narcissistic parents is their tendency to use gaslighting. Gaslighting is a term that refers to the denial of past events to cast doubt on someone’s version of reality. When parents gaslight their children, they intentionally deny the truth in order to protect the perfect image of themselves that they work hard to portray. For example, a narcissistic dad might deny ever hitting a child even if the abuse did in fact occur. As a result, the child’s feelings about the abuse are invalidated, which only rubs salt in the wound. In severe cases involving continual gaslighting, a child may begin to mistrust their own ability to discern truth from fiction.
Loving and nurturing parents won’t hesitate to put their children’s interests before their own. This is not the case for a parent with narcissistic personality disorder, though. In fact, the reverse is often true. Moms and dads with narcissistic personalities often neglect their child’s needs in favor of their own. In many cases, they may neglect their child by turning all of their attention to things that fulfill their own desires. This could be a career, significant other, hobby, or even addiction.
Narcissistic parents are keenly aware that their children are emotionally sensitive, and unfortunately, they use this to their advantage. To gain preferential treatment, narcissistic mothers and fathers will emotionally manipulate their kids in various ways. One classic strategy is the narcissistic guilt trip wherein moms and dads will prey on their children’s sympathies and make them feel guilty for setting boundaries or taking care of their own needs, for instance.
Blame and shame are also important tools in the narcissistic parents’ toolkit. These moms and dads often blame their kids for all of their problems and act embarrassed by them when they misbehave or make a simple mistake. They may be unreasonably demanding, withhold their affection as punishment, and relentlessly compare kids to their supposedly smarter or more successful siblings.
Jealousy and Competition
Because of their fragile egos, many narcissistic parents feel threatened by their children. This can be especially true when kids begin to grow up and seek more independence. Instead of providing support and encouragement like nurturing parents do, narcissistic moms and dads may begin to feel jealousy toward their children. Worse, they may also feel as if this jealousy is reciprocated and respond by competing with a son or daughter. This toxic dynamic can lead to narcissistic parents belittling their children in an attempt to get the upper hand.
Quick to Anger
Many children of narcissistic parents report feeling like they were walking on eggshells during their childhood. Indeed, narcissistic mothers and fathers tend to be hot-headed and have difficulty controlling their tempers. Little things may set them off, and their reaction to small infractions could be hugely disproportionate. Children of narcissists often go out of their way to avoid conflict with their parents, often bending over backward to ensure they remain happy. Of course, this is all done for fear of causing an angry outburst or violent episode.
Narcissistic Parents Checklist
Take this test to determine whether a mom or dad meets the criteria for a narcissistic parent:
- Do they seem like different people in public versus in private?
- Do they brag about children’s achievements to others but withhold praise?
- Do they act childish themselves?
- Are they reluctant to forgive others or hold long-standing grudges?
- Do they fail to show up for family functions or other important events for no good reason?
- Are they cold or indifferent when upset, even to their children?
- Are they quick-tempered or apt to fly into rages?
- Are they unreasonably critical of others, especially their kids?
Keep in mind that not all narcissistic parents will present the exact same traits, but answering “yes” to several of the above questions may indicate a narcissistic personality or parenting style.
How Do Narcissistic Parents View Their Children?
Narcissistic parents have difficulty nurturing their children primarily because of how they view them. Instead of seeing them as separate people, they perceive them as extensions of themselves. This is problematic since it gives the narcissist the impression that their children are entirely under their control. As the child becomes more independent, the narcissistic parent becomes threatened, and the relationship becomes more tumultuous.
How Do Narcissistic Parents Affect Children’s Mental Health?
The effects of a narcissistic parent are far-reaching. They not only have a negative impact on the child in the here and now, but they follow children into adulthood. In fact, this is when children of narcissistic parents may experience the most difficulty. These challenges can run the gamut from simple indecisiveness to full-blown anxiety and depression.
Here are some other mental health challenges children of narcissistic parents commonly experience:
People Pleasing Behavior
Narcissistic parents train their children to do their bidding. They also teach children that their own needs aren’t as important as the needs and desires of others. This often results in chronic people-pleasing behavior for kids who were raised by narcissists. They may find that they have a hard time saying “no” to people, even when saying “yes” is detrimental to them.
Since narcissistic parents are known for being harsh critics of their children, it’s no surprise that their kids grow up to struggle with low self-esteem. They may feel inferior to those around them and question their own value or worth as a person.
Children of narcissistic parents often form insecure attachments to them. This means their needs weren’t met consistently during their formative years. As an adult, these children often struggle in relationships, not just with their narcissistic mother or father, but with others as well. In a romantic relationship, for example, they may be unreasonably jealous or question their partner’s feelings for them. It may be hard for them to be vulnerable for fear of being rejected or abandoned, as they felt during their formative years.
Related: How to Deal With a Jealous Child?
How to Handle A Narcissistic Parent?
Dealing with a narcissistic parent is challenging to say the least. For most children, parents are a haven of safety, security, and comfort. For children of narcissistic parents, however, there is no such refuge. Still, there are some things these children can do to navigate the troublesome relationships they have with their parents.
Acknowledge the Problem
Much of the damage incurred by a narcissistic parent occurs when a child internalizes the problem. Instead of acknowledging it as the parent’s issue, they believe there is something wrong with them that causes their parent to mistreat them. This belief may follow them throughout life.
Perhaps the most helpful thing children can do to deal with a narcissistic parent is to reject this belief and avoid taking their parent’s behavior personally. Of course, this can be incredibly hard to do since the narcissistic parent tends to wage very personal attacks. It’s crucial to the child’s well-being, though, that they acknowledge that the problem lies with the parent. In the most severe cases, narcissistic parents may even suffer from a mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD.
Once children of narcissistic parents are able to acknowledge their parent’s personality problems, they can begin to set healthy boundaries to protect themselves from their mother’s or father’s toxic behaviors. This requires them to communicate with their parents assertively and let them know that they will no longer tolerate disrespect, angry outbursts, manipulation, or put-downs, for example.
Along with setting boundaries, kids of narcissistic moms and dads must outline clear consequences for violating these boundaries. For instance, a daughter may tell her mother that she will hang up the phone or leave the house if the mother engages in toxic competition with her.
If narcissistic parents continue to violate boundaries, it may be necessary for the child to end contact with them for the sake of their own mental health.
Healing From Narcissistic Parents
An upbringing that involves narcissistic parents can be a recipe for disaster, but it doesn’t have to be. It is possible to heal from narcissistic abuse, but it will take both commitment and effort.
Here are some things you can do to begin the healing journey:
It’s common for children of narcissistic parents to lack support. For obvious reasons, they can’t go to their parents, and their extended family may be dysfunctional as a result of their parent’s narcissistic behaviors. To complicate matters, their friends with somewhat normal families may regard their complaints as overblown or dramatic. That’s because it’s hard to fully grasp the reality of a narcissistic parent unless you’ve experienced it firsthand.
Fortunately, support groups for children of abuse, including narcissistic abuse, exist. It can be incredibly healing for children of narcissistic parents to realize that they are not the only one who has suffered through this type of toxic upbringing. For many victims, this is the first step in realizing that they are not to blame for their parent’s behavior.
Seek Professional Help
Children of narcissistic parents often experience challenges that can be addressed with the help of a mental health professional like a therapist or counselor. These professionals are experienced in dealing with narcissistic personalities and will be able to recognize the effects of narcissistic abuse. Perhaps more importantly, they can help you resolve problems that may arise as a result of being raised by a narcissist.
Professional counseling can be beneficial for any child of a narcissistic parent. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition or substance use disorder, however, it’s important to seek help right away. A trained therapist can help you recognize the signs of a mental health issue and provide you with resources for recovery.
What to Do if You Are a Narcissistic Parent?
If you recognize the signs and symptoms of narcissistic parenting in yourself, there are some things you can do to address the issue. Narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult to treat, but it’s not impossible if the person truly wants to change their ways. A trained mental health professional can help you get the diagnosis you need and develop a treatment plan.
A Cycle of Trauma
There is a cyclical component of narcissism, especially when it comes to narcissistic parents and their children. When kids of narcissistic mothers and fathers grow up and have their own children, the damaging effects of narcissistic abuse can be perpetuated. Some children of narcissists grow up to have some of the same tendencies while others struggle with other issues as a result of their upbringing. This can make the already-difficult task of raising children even more challenging.
Narcissistic parents pose a threat to their children’s mental health. Spread the word about this toxic personality trait and how it affects children by sharing this article with your parenting circle.
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