What’s it like growing up with a narcissistic parent?

Being around a narcissist can be difficult, whether it’s a co-worker, an acquaintance or even a neighbour – but having a parent who is a narcissist can be even more challenging. Growing up with a narcissist can actually cause life-long psychological trauma which can be incredibly difficult to overcome, and so many children of narcissists seek professional help after finally moving away from home. 

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is defined as a personality disorder whereby the person lacks empathy, is manipulative and extremely self-centred. Narcissists are unrelenting in their selfish and often sadistic ways. This means that those with narcissistic parents are often faced with having to fight back or brush off persistent toxic behaviours within the family unit.

To give you an example, imagine you’ve had an awful day and you need a shoulder to cry on. You hope for some comfort and sympathy, but instead, your parent becomes angry at you or invalidates your feelings of stress. They might even go as far as to tell you that you’re selfish and that you should be thinking about them instead of making everything about yourself.  They show no empathy and often make each situation about themselves. They like to get their own way and have high, sometimes unrealistic, expectations of how you should behave or how certain events should go, or how you are expected to communicate with them and respond to them instantly via phone or text. They don’t like their children to grow up and be independent of them making their own decisions in life, especially when it’s not the same as their thoughts or opinions. They believe they are superior to others and like to be the centre of attention, adored and admired. They manipulate and guilt-trip to get their own way. They don’t like to be told no. They play the victim and make out they are being attacked, especially when someone reacts to their constant narcissistic behaviour. It’s always someone else’s fault or problem; they don’t take responsibility and rarely or never say sorry. They lack self-awareness of their actions and behaviours, completely oblivious to how they behave and how it affects those around them. Their needs, thoughts and opinions always come first. Everyone else is always wrong. They can’t accept a different opinion to their own causing clashes when people do things another way or have a difference in thoughts.

So how exactly does it feel to be the child of a narcissist, and how can you be sure that your parent is showing signs of this personality disorder? Let’s look at some of the common traits of people with narcissistic parents:

What’s it like growing up with a narcissistic parent?
  • You always blame yourself

If you’ve always been manipulated into thinking that everything that goes wrong is your fault, you’re probably going to carry this way of thinking into later life. Whether your partner has cheated on you or you’ve been made redundant from your job, you will likely have this underlying belief that you are somehow to blame. You may even look back on your childhood and believe that your parent’s narcissistic behaviour was justified. Speaking to a therapist and getting the right counselling and psychotherapy can help you manage these unhelpful thoughts and give you the confidence to believe that not everything is your fault. 

  • You feel guilty about putting yourself first

If you’ve suffered years of being told you are selfish for not constantly putting your parents’ feelings first in every situation, you might find unusual difficulty within your adult life to consider your own needs without feeling tremendous amounts of guilt. This type of behaviour can be incredibly damaging and can lead to people staying in relationships and jobs even if they are being mistreated, so as to avoid being seen as ‘selfish’.

  • You cannot set boundaries with your parents

Even though children of narcissistic parents can suffer intense emotional abuse, they may still feel obligated to stay by their parent’s side even if it causes further damage to their own mental health. This kind of relationship can be incredibly difficult to manage, but asserting the correct balance is important for the child of a narcissist, especially as they move into adult life. Walking away can be tough (it is your parent, after all), but therapy and counselling can work wonders if you are struggling to assert yourself. 

  • You choose bad partners

You might have heard the phrase that we marry our parents, and without trying to sound too Freudian, there is some truth to this. It is often the case that we mirror our parents and their relationships as we grow up. This could either mean that a child acts narcissistic towards their partners, or they find themselves looking for people who have narcissistic tendencies because this is what they perceive as “the norm”. If this is the case, you may want to consider relationship counselling. 

  • You avoid romantic relationships

Although some people might yearn to have a partner after suffering abuse from a narcissistic parent, others will choose to avoid romantic relationships completely. This can be because they struggle to trust people, or simply cannot face the idea of spending their time with someone who might become another abuser. Either way, choosing to isolate yourself from romantic relationships can be incredibly damaging – we as a species are very social by nature, and choosing to stay away from others out of fear of being hurt can mean that we damage ourselves emotionally. 

  • You display narcissistic behaviour

Much like children who come from violent households can sometimes grow up to be violent themselves, children from narcissistic homes can grow up mirroring their parent’s behaviour. For children, in particular, this is because they are led to believe that’s how adults should behave. As you can imagine, this can not only be damaging in childhood, but if the behaviours persist into adult life, it can become extremely difficult to form meaningful bonds with others. 

It may be difficult to recognise narcissistic qualities in yourself, but if you believe your parent is a narcissist it may be worth getting yourself checked out just in case. 

What can you do if you have a narcissistic parent?

Fortunately, as research into narcissistic behaviour continues to advance, so does the treatment for those who have suffered at the hands of a narcissist. However, the road to recovery can be long and difficult, and as a result, anyone looking to move forward in their life should not try to do so alone. There is help out there – it might be difficult to take the first step and speak up, but doing so can infinitely improve your quality of life, outlook and wellbeing.

3 thoughts on “What’s it like growing up with a narcissistic parent?”

  1. I didn’t come from a narcissistic, family of origin/childhood. It was a very strange, disturbing difficult childhood which was full of secrets, lies and violence.

    I totally identify with the trauma you are left with. It is.possiblw to get some recovery whilst excepting the aftermath will always live with you.

    Analogy: smash a plate on the floor. Now pick it up and glue it together. It’s not the same anymore. Now do you get it?

  2. Sounds awful 🙁

  3. This is very helpful, thank you. That’s a great point about advances in understanding. The fact that this phenomenon is discussed so much more nowadays is a real cause for optimism, I think.


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