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As adults, we often find ourselves reflecting on our lives, seeking to understand the experiences that have shaped us and the relationships that have influenced our development. For some, this introspection may reveal a difficult truth: the realization that their childhood was marked by the presence of a narcissistic parent.
For the adult children of narcissists who are beginning to unravel the complexities of their upbringing and question the impact of a toxic family environment on their adult lives, the realization of the existence of a narcissist parent can be shocking, but it also allows so many pieces of the puzzle of life to fall into place and make sense of those things that didn’t previously make sense.
We will explore the traits and behaviors of narcissistic parents, shedding light on how their actions can shape their children’s emotional well-being, attachment styles, and interpersonal relationships. In addition, we will discuss the healing process and provide guidance on moving forward, overcoming the challenges posed by a narcissistic upbringing, and building a more fulfilling life.
We hope to empower survivors on their journey toward self-discovery, healing, and ultimately a brighter future through a deeper understanding of the frequently hidden effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent.
What is a Narcissistic Parent?
So what constitutes narcissistic parenting?
Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by:
- an inflated sense of self-importance,
- a constant need for admiration, and a
- lack of empathy for others.
A narcissistic parent exhibits these traits in their parenting style, often prioritizing their own needs and desires over those of their young children.
Below are some key characteristics of a narcissistic parent:
1. Excessive Self-Focus
A narcissistic parent often places their own needs, emotions, and desires above those of their young children. They are entirely self-absorbed parents, leaving little room for the children’s needs and feelings to be acknowledged or attended to.
2. Lack of Empathy
One of the defining traits of narcissism is a lack of empathy for others. A narcissistic parent may struggle to understand or empathize with their child’s emotions, leading to a lack of emotional support and connection with their children.
3. Manipulation and Control
Narcissistic parents often use manipulation and control tactics to maintain their desired image and assert their dominance within the family. They may employ guilt, fear, or even love as tools to keep their child under their control and maintain their own sense of power.
4. Exaggerated Sense of Entitlement
A narcissistic parent may have an exaggerated sense of entitlement, expecting special treatment and demanding that their needs be met above all else. This sense of entitlement can extend to their child, as they may view their child as an extension of themselves and expect them to fulfill their desires and aspirations.
5. Envious and Competitive
Narcissistic parents can be envious and competitive with their children, feeling threatened by their child’s accomplishments or talents.
This jealousy may manifest in various ways, including belittling the child’s achievements, over-exaggerating their own accomplishments, or attempting to overshadow the child. In these cases, the children’s best interests are not always considered.
6. The Exploitation of the Child
A narcissistic parent may exploit their child for their own gain, using the child’s achievements, appearance, or talents to boost their own self-image or social standing.
The child may be pushed to excel in areas that the parent values, often without regard for the child’s own interests or well-being.
7. Emotionally Incestuous
In some cases, a narcissistic parent may create an emotionally incestuous relationship with their child, treating the child as a surrogate partner or confidante.
This inappropriate level of emotional closeness can blur the boundaries between parent and child and place an unhealthy burden of emotional responsibility on the child.
8. Inconsistent Parenting
Narcissistic parents may display inconsistency in their parenting, alternating between affection and neglect, depending on their own needs and moods.
This unpredictability can leave the child feeling insecure and unsure of their parent’s love and support. The child will not experience the feeling of unconditional love.
9. Disregard for Personal Boundaries
A narcissistic parent often struggles with respecting their child’s personal boundaries, treating the child as an extension of themselves rather than an individual with their own needs and desires. This can manifest in various ways, including excessive control, a lack of privacy, or a disregard for the child’s feelings and opinions.
10. Idealization and Devaluation
Narcissistic parents may engage in a cycle of idealization and devaluation, where they initially place their child on a pedestal, only to later criticize and belittle them. This inconsistency can be confusing and emotionally damaging for the child, who may struggle to understand their parent’s changing attitudes.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the narcissistic parent attempts to make the child doubt their own perceptions, memory, or sanity. This can involve denying or distorting facts, blaming the child for the parent’s mistakes, or dismissing the child’s feelings and experiences.
Triangulation is a manipulation tactic often used by a narcissistic parent, where they create a dynamic in which two parties (usually siblings or other family members) are pitted against each other to compete for the parent’s attention, affection, or approval.
Parental alienation may be used, which is a strategy where the narcissistic parent intentionally displays the other parent in a negative light to the children.
These strategies serve to maintain the narcissistic parent’s position of power and control within the family.
Understanding the traits and behaviors of a narcissistic parent can help you better recognize the impact such a parent has on a child’s development and well-being and how it can affect you throughout your adult life.
The Impact of Growing Up with a Narcissistic Parent
As an adult, you may often wonder why you react in certain ways or always seem to encounter people who take advantage of your time, resources, or well-being. You may never have considered that this may be the result of the negative effects of a narcissistic parent.
Below, I have listed some of the consequences of spending your early childhood with a primary caregiver who has narcissistic tendencies:
Children of narcissistic parents may develop people-pleasing tendencies as a survival mechanism in response to their toxic family environment.
In an attempt to avoid criticism, rejection, or emotional manipulation, these children may learn to anticipate and cater to their narcissistic parent’s needs, desires, and moods.
This behavior can extend beyond their relationship with the narcissistic parent, manifesting in other areas of their lives.
As adults, children of narcissistic parents may continue to exhibit people-pleasing behaviors, such as:
- Suppressing their own needs and desires in favor of others.
- Constantly seeking approval and validation from others.
- Struggling to assert themselves or express their opinions.
- Avoiding conflict or confrontation at all costs.
- Feeling responsible for other people’s emotions and well-being.
- Over-apologizing or feeling excessive guilt for perceived mistakes.
People-pleasing tendencies can interfere with an individual’s ability to develop a healthy sense of self, establish boundaries, and engage in authentic relationships.
Recognizing and addressing these behaviors is an essential part of healing and recovery from a narcissistic upbringing.
2. Codependency and Caretaking Patterns
Children of narcissistic parents often develop codependent and caretaking tendencies in their relationships as they grow into adulthood. These patterns are rooted in the child’s attempts to manage the emotional instability and unpredictability of their narcissistic parent.
In doing so, they may have learned to prioritize others’ needs and well-being over their own, inadvertently setting the stage for codependent relationships in their adult lives.
Some signs of codependency and caretaking patterns include:
- Excessive reliance on others for validation, self-worth, and emotional support.
- A need to control or fix other people’s problems, often at the expense of their own needs.
- Difficulty setting boundaries and maintaining a sense of self in relationships.
- A tendency to remain in unhealthy or toxic relationships due to a fear of abandonment or feelings of unworthiness.
- Experiencing guilt or anxiety when prioritizing personal needs or interests.
- A strong drive to rescue or protect others, even when it may be detrimental to their own well-being.
Codependency and caretaking patterns can hinder an individual’s ability to form healthy, balanced relationships and maintain a strong sense of self.
3. Difficulty becoming independent adults
Children of narcissistic parents often face challenges when it comes to becoming independent adults. Narcissistic parents may have an intense need for control and might manipulate, undermine, or sabotage their children’s attempts to assert their autonomy.
This can be emotionally and psychologically detrimental, causing adult children to struggle with becoming self-sufficient and independent.
Signs of difficulty in gaining independence from a narcissistic parent include:
- Emotional dependence on the parent, seeking their approval or validation in various aspects of life.
- Fear of making decisions without the input or guidance of the parent.
- Excessive guilt or anxiety about asserting personal needs, desires, or boundaries.
- Struggling to form a stable sense of self or identity separate from the parent.
- Feeling responsible for the parent’s emotional well-being or happiness.
- Difficulty pursuing personal goals, interests, or relationships that conflict with the parent’s expectations or desires.
4. Emotional Neglect
A narcissistic parent often prioritizes their own needs and desires over those of their child. This can lead to emotional neglect, where the child’s emotional needs are consistently ignored or dismissed.
As a result, the child may grow up feeling unloved, unworthy, and unsure of their own emotions, often leading to difficulties in forming healthy relationships in adulthood.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have a lasting impact on an individual’s ability to form healthy, balanced relationships in adulthood.
The emotional turmoil and manipulation experienced in childhood can lead to a pattern of attracting or tolerating toxic relationships, as these dynamics may feel familiar or even comfortable.
The reasons adult children of narcissistic parents may find themselves in unhealthy relationships include:
- Lack of healthy relationship role models: Narcissistic parents often fail to provide a positive example of a loving, supportive partnership, leaving their children without a clear understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship.
- Low self-esteem: Children of narcissistic parents may internalize feelings of unworthiness, making them more susceptible to emotional abuse or partners who take advantage of their vulnerability.
- Difficulty setting boundaries: A history of having their boundaries disregarded or disrespected by a narcissistic parent can make it challenging for adult children to assert their needs and establish healthy limits in their relationships. Due to their childhood trauma, they may not even be sure of what their boundaries are as adults.
- Codependency: As previously discussed, codependent behaviors and caretaking patterns often develop in response to a narcissistic upbringing, which can contribute to unhealthy relationship dynamics.
- Fear of abandonment: Children of narcissistic parents may have deep-seated fears of abandonment or rejection, causing them to cling to toxic relationships in an effort to avoid feelings of loneliness or loss.
5. Low Self-Esteem, Shame, and Insecurities
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can take a toll on a child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. The constant criticism, emotional manipulation, and conditional love experienced in such a toxic environment often lead to deep-rooted feelings of toxic shame and insecurity in adulthood.
Some ways low self-esteem, shame, and insecurities manifest in adult children of narcissistic parents include:
- A pervasive belief that they are unworthy, unlovable, or inadequate.
- Difficulty accepting compliments, praise, or recognition for their accomplishments.
- A tendency to minimize their own achievements or attribute them to luck or external factors.
- Excessive fear of failure, rejection, or judgment from others.
- A constant need for validation, approval, or reassurance from others.
- Difficulty asserting themselves, expressing their opinions, or standing up for their rights and needs.
- A tendency to compare themselves unfavorably to others or to seek perfection in their actions and appearance.
6. Invalidation of Feelings.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent often involves the frequent invalidation of a child’s feelings and emotions.
Narcissistic parents tend to prioritize their own emotional needs and may dismiss, ignore, or belittle their child’s emotions as a means of exerting control or maintaining their self-image.
Some consequences of having one’s feelings invalidated by a narcissistic parent include:
- Difficulty recognizing, understanding, or expressing emotions: Constant invalidation can make it challenging for adult children of narcissistic parents to trust their own emotional experiences or to communicate their feelings effectively.
- Emotional suppression or numbing: To cope with their parent’s dismissal of their emotions, children may learn to suppress or numb their feelings, leading to emotional disconnection in adulthood.
- Difficulty forming deep, authentic connections: As a result of their emotional suppression or lack of trust in their own feelings, adult children of narcissistic parents may struggle to form deep, authentic connections with others.
- A tendency to second-guess oneself: Frequent invalidation can cause individuals to doubt their own perceptions, emotions, and experiences, leading to feelings of confusion, anxiety, or self-doubt.
- Increased vulnerability to manipulation or gaslighting: Having been conditioned to dismiss their own feelings and experiences, adult children of narcissistic parents may be more susceptible to manipulation or gaslighting in their adult relationships.
7. Lack of Boundaries
Growing up with a narcissistic parent often involves a lack of respect for personal boundaries. Narcissistic parents may have difficulty recognizing their children as separate individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and needs.
As a result, they may frequently overstep or disregard their child’s boundaries in an attempt to maintain control or to fulfill their own emotional needs.
Some consequences of a lack of boundaries in adult children of narcissistic parents include:
- Difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships: Having had their boundaries consistently violated or dismissed, adult children of narcissistic parents may struggle to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with others.
- A tendency to become enmeshed or overly involved in others’ lives: Without a clear understanding of their own boundaries, individuals may become overly enmeshed in the lives and emotions of those around them, leading to codependency or caretaking patterns.
- Fear of confrontation or conflict: Adult children of narcissistic parents may have learned to avoid confrontation or conflict to preserve their parent’s fragile egos, making it challenging for them to assert their boundaries when necessary.
- A propensity to attract boundary-violating individuals: A lack of boundaries can make individuals more vulnerable to attracting partners or friends who similarly disrespect or violate their personal boundaries.
- Difficulty asserting one’s own needs, desires, or preferences: Having had their needs and desires consistently overlooked or dismissed, adult children of narcissistic parents may find it challenging to assert their own needs, desires, or preferences in their relationships. When they do try to assert their needs, they are overcome with guilt.
8. Needing validation from others
A narcissistic parent may only provide love and affection when it serves their own needs or when the child meets certain expectations. This conditional love can leave the child constantly striving for approval and validation, often at the expense of their own well-being and self-esteem.
Children raised by narcissistic parents often develop a deep-seated need for validation from others as a result of their upbringing. Narcissistic parents may provide love and attention conditionally, depending on their child’s ability to meet their expectations or fulfill their emotional needs.
This can lead to a constant search for validation and approval from others in adulthood.
Some consequences of needing validation from others as an adult child of a narcissistic parent include:
- People-pleasing behaviors: A strong desire for validation may lead to a pattern of people-pleasing, where individuals prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own in order to gain approval or avoid rejection.
- Low self-esteem: Relying on external validation for self-worth can contribute to low self-esteem, as individuals may struggle to believe in their own value or worthiness without the affirmation of others.
- Fear of rejection or abandonment: Adult children of narcissistic parents may have a heightened fear of rejection or abandonment, causing them to seek constant reassurance or validation from others to mitigate these fears.
- Difficulty making decisions: A reliance on external validation can make it challenging for individuals to make decisions independently, as they may feel uncertain or anxious without the input or approval of others.
- Vulnerability to manipulation or controlling relationships: A need for validation can make individuals more susceptible to manipulation or control from partners or friends who exploit their desire for approval or affirmation.
9. The Role of the Scapegoat or Golden Child
In families with narcissistic parents, children may be assigned the role of the scapegoat or golden child.
The scapegoat is often blamed for the family’s problems and bears the brunt of the parent’s anger and abuse, while the golden child is placed on a pedestal and expected to meet unrealistic expectations.
Both roles can have long-lasting effects on the child’s self-esteem and relationships.
10. Perfectionist or Self-Destructive Tendencies
Children of narcissistic parents often develop perfectionist or self-destructive tendencies as a response to the high expectations, criticism, and emotional manipulation they experienced growing up.
These behaviors can manifest in various aspects of their lives, including personal achievements, relationships, and self-care.
Perfectionism in adult children of narcissistic parents may stem from:
- An attempt to gain approval, love, or validation from their parent by meeting their high expectations or demands.
- A belief that their worth is dependent on their achievements, appearance, or success.
- Internalized self-criticism, where they feel they are never good enough or must constantly prove themselves.
Self-destructive tendencies in adult children of narcissistic parents may arise from:
- A lack of self-worth, causing them to engage in behaviors that are harmful to their physical, emotional, or mental well-being
- A subconscious attempt to regain control over their lives, particularly in situations where they felt powerless or helpless as a child
- A desire to “punish” themselves for perceived failures or shortcomings, as a result of the criticism and blame they experienced in their childhood
Children raised by narcissistic parents are at an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression. The constant pressure to meet their parent’s expectations, combined with a lack of emotional support, can leave these individuals feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and unable to cope with life’s challenges.
11. Difficulties with Trust and Intimacy
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can leave a child with trust issues and an inability to form deep, intimate connections with others. The child may have learned that love is conditional and that people cannot be relied upon, leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy future relationships in adulthood.
12. Struggles with Self-Identity
A child raised by a narcissistic parent may have difficulty developing a strong sense of self-identity.
As the child’s needs and feelings are often disregarded, they may struggle to understand who they are and what they want out of life.
This lack of self-awareness can lead to difficulties in making decisions and pursuing personal goals.
Children of narcissistic parents often experience difficulty making decisions, even in simple matters, due to the constant manipulation, control, and invalidation they face. As they grow up, these children may have learned to doubt their own judgment and instincts, fearing that any decision they make will be met with disapproval or criticism from their parents.
Moreover, the inconsistent and unpredictable nature of the narcissistic parent’s behavior can leave the child feeling unsure of what is expected of them.
As a result, they may become overly cautious in their decision-making process, fearing the potential consequences of making the “wrong” choice.
This indecisiveness can extend into adulthood, affecting various aspects of the individual’s life, including relationships, career choices, and personal goals.
Learning to trust oneself and build confidence in one’s decision-making abilities is an essential part of healing and recovery from a narcissistic upbringing.
14. Insecure Attachment Styles in Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents
A significant impact of being raised by a narcissistic parent is the development of insecure attachment styles in adulthood. Attachment styles are patterns of behavior that individuals exhibit in relationships, rooted in their early attachment experiences with their primary caregivers.
Adult children of narcissistic parents often struggle with forming secure attachments due to the emotional neglect, manipulation, and inconsistent parenting they experienced in childhood.
There are two main types of insecure attachment styles that may develop in adult children of narcissistic parents:
1. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment
Individuals with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style tend to be overly dependent on their romantic partners, constantly seeking reassurance, validation, and attention.
They often fear abandonment and may engage in controlling or clingy behaviors to maintain closeness in their relationships. This attachment style may develop in adult children of narcissistic parents who were subjected to conditional love, emotional manipulation, and inconsistent caregiving.
These individuals may have learned that love is unstable and needs to be constantly earned or proven.
2. Avoidant Attachment (Dismissive or Fearful)
Adult children of narcissistic parents may also develop avoidant attachment styles, characterized by emotional distancing and self-reliance in relationships. There are two subtypes of avoidant attachment: dismissive and fearful.
- Dismissive-Avoidant: Individuals with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style may appear emotionally detached and independent, often prioritizing their own needs and desires over those of their partners. They may avoid close relationships, fearing vulnerability and emotional intimacy. This attachment style may stem from the emotional neglect and lack of empathy experienced by a narcissistic parent.
- Fearful-Avoidant: Those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style may have a strong desire for emotional intimacy but also a deep fear of being hurt or rejected. They may experience inner conflict between their longing for closeness and their need for self-protection. This attachment style can develop as a result of inconsistent caregiving and the emotional turmoil caused by a narcissistic parent’s unpredictable behavior.
Narcissistic parenting has long-term effects on children. These children carry the effects of this parenting into their adult lives, often falling prey to narcissistic people and abusive relationships.
How to Move Forward and Heal
Recovering from the effects of being raised by a narcissistic parent can be a challenging and ongoing process. However, the good news is that with the right support and resources, it is possible to heal and build a healthier, happier life.
Here are some steps you can take to move forward and heal from a toxic upbringing:
1. Acknowledge and Validate Your Experience
The first step in healing is to acknowledge and validate your experiences. Recognize that the challenges you faced growing up with a narcissistic parent was not your fault, and give yourself permission without feeling disloyal or guilty to feel the emotions associated with your upbringing.
This self-validation can help you release any lingering feelings of guilt or shame and find your true self.
2. Seek Professional Support
Therapy can be an invaluable resource for processing the impact of a narcissistic upbringing and developing healthier coping mechanisms.
A mental health professional with experience in narcissistic abuse and toxic family units can help guide you through the healing process and provide support tailored to your specific needs.
3. Establish Boundaries
Learning to set healthy boundaries is crucial to recovering from a narcissistic upbringing. Establishing boundaries with your narcissistic parent, as well as in your other relationships, can help protect your emotional well-being and promote healthier interactions.
You may have to initially take the important step of determining what your boundaries are, and that is okay.
4. Develop Self-Compassion and Self-Care
Practicing self-compassion and prioritizing self-care are essential aspects of healing. Nurture yourself by engaging in activities that bring you joy, comfort, and relaxation.
Develop a daily self-care routine that includes exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices such as meditation or journaling. Your self-care routine should include developing a positive mindset and ridding yourself of negative feelings about yourself.
This may take a lot of work, but it is necessary to ensure that you truly appreciate your own value.
5. Cultivate a Support Network
Surround yourself with supportive friends and loved ones who understand your experiences and can provide encouragement and empathy.
Connecting with others who have experienced similar upbringings, either in person or through online support groups, can offer valuable insights, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging.
6. Work on Your Attachment Style
As discussed earlier, adult children of narcissistic parents may struggle with insecure attachment styles.
Engaging in self-help resources can help you identify and address your attachment patterns, allowing you to build healthier and more secure, meaningful relationships in the future.
7. Develop Your Sense of Identity
Growing up with a narcissistic parent may have left you with a lack of self-identity. Take time to explore your interests, values, and goals to develop a clearer understanding of who you are and what you want from life.
Embrace your individuality and recognize that you are more than just an extension of your narcissistic parent.
8. Practice Forgiveness and Acceptance
While forgiveness does not mean condoning or forgetting the harm caused by a narcissistic parent, it can be a powerful step in the healing process.
Forgiving yourself and your parents, to the extent that feels appropriate, can help release the emotional burden of anger and resentment.
Accepting that you cannot change the past but you can shape your future can empower you to move forward in your journey of healing and self-discovery.
Healing from a narcissistic upbringing is an individual process, but with persistence, support, and self-compassion, you can overcome the challenges and build a more fulfilling life.
9. Going no contact
In some cases, adult children of narcissistic parents may find that going no contact is the best option for their emotional well-being and personal growth.
Going no contact means completely cutting off communication and interactions with the narcissistic parent, essentially severing the relationship to protect oneself from further emotional harm and narcissistic behaviors
Deciding to go no contact can be an incredibly difficult decision, as it involves grappling with feelings of guilt, grief, and societal expectations about familial obligations.
However, for some individuals, it may be a necessary step in their healing journey, allowing them to establish healthy boundaries, prioritize their own emotional needs, and break free from the toxic patterns of their upbringing.
Ultimately, going no contact is a deeply personal decision that depends on the individual’s circumstances and the severity of the emotional abuse or manipulation they have experienced.
By prioritizing self-care, emotional health, and personal growth, adult children of narcissistic parents can make the best decision for themselves and their journey toward healing and recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a narcissistic parent?
A narcissistic parent is an individual who exhibits narcissistic traits and prioritizes their own needs and desires over those of their children. Such parents often lack empathy, seek admiration, and can manipulate or neglect their children to maintain their own self-image.
2. How does being raised by a narcissistic parent impact a child’s emotional and psychological development?
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can lead to a myriad of emotional and psychological challenges, including low self-esteem, difficulty establishing healthy relationships, chronic self-doubt, codependency, and a higher risk for anxiety and depression.
3. Are there any positive traits or skills children might develop as a result of having a narcissistic parent?
While the overall experience is often negative, some children might develop resilience, strong problem-solving skills, and a heightened ability to read and navigate complex social situations. However, these skills often come at the cost of their own emotional well-being.
4. What are some common signs or behaviors in adults that might suggest they were raised by a narcissistic parent?
Adults raised by narcissistic parents might exhibit behaviors like seeking constant validation, difficulty setting boundaries, a fear of confrontation, feelings of inadequacy, or patterns of entering into manipulative or one-sided relationships.
5. How can adults who were raised by narcissistic parents seek help or healing?
Therapy, particularly with professionals familiar with narcissistic abuse, can be immensely helpful. Support groups, reading resources on the topic, setting boundaries, and surrounding oneself with supportive relationships can also aid in the healing process.
The effects of having a narcissistic parent can show up in a person’s relationships, ability to set healthy boundaries, and sense of self-worth, among other areas of their life.
As we’ve explored, some of the key effects of a narcissistic upbringing include low self-esteem, shame, insecurities, invalidation of feelings, lack of boundaries, codependency, trouble gaining independence, unhealthy adult relationships, perfectionist tendencies, and a constant need for validation from others.
While the challenges faced by adult children of narcissistic parents are significant, it’s crucial to remember that healing and growth are possible.
Through self-reflection and self-compassion, individuals can work to address the impacts of their upbringing, develop a stronger sense of self, and create healthier patterns in their relationships and emotional lives.
Adult children can start to break free from the toxic patterns of their past and create a better, healthier future for themselves by acknowledging and addressing the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent.