Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have profound and lasting effects on a child’s emotional and psychological well-being. Such parents often prioritize their own needs and desires, leaving their children feeling neglected and unimportant. Children may develop low self esteem, seek constant validation, or struggle with self-worth issues. They may become overly self-reliant or overly dependent as they navigate this tumultuous environment marked by unpredictable mood swings and emotional manipulation. Additionally, children of narcissistic parents often find it difficult to develop healthy relationships, set boundaries, and express their own needs and emotions. The impact can extend into adulthood, necessitating therapy and self-awareness to heal and foster healthier connections.
What is a Narcissist?
Narcissists have a heightened sense of self-importance, a strong desire for attention and admiration, and a tendency to lack empathy towards others. This personality trait often stems from deep-rooted insecurities and a fragile self-esteem, despite projecting confidence.
Narcissists tend to seek validation and praise from people around them and sometimes disregard others’ feelings or needs in order to feel better. Their behavior is centered on a grandiose self-image, preoccupation with fantasies of success or beauty, and a belief in their uniqueness and superiority.
Recognizing and understanding narcissism is crucial, particularly when dealing with a parent who might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), because NPD profoundly impacts a person’s life and relationships. Acknowledging these narcissistic traits is vital for setting necessary boundaries and effectively handling interactions with such parents without conflict, fear, or unwarranted judgment.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder is a rare condition, affecting less than 1% of the population, and often remains undiagnosed and untreated. When we discuss narcissism, it’s typically in the context of a personality style rather than a formal diagnosis.
Individuals with NPD may seem self-absorbed, but their self-love is directed at an idealized version of themselves. This idealization shields them from deep-seated insecurities and a negative self-image. However, maintaining this facade is no easy task; it demands constant, meticulous upkeep, resulting in the dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors associated with narcissism.1
What Causes Narcissism?
Narcissism doesn’t stem from innate traits; rather, it evolves over time. Although the journey to narcissism is not a straight path, two primary routes are recognized, both rooted in early socialization. The first involves proximity to trauma and adverse childhood experiences, which fosters self-criticism, anxiety, and high agreeableness or, conversely, disagreeableness and narcissistic tendencies. The second route emerges from parental overvaluation, where children are excessively praised and made to believe they are exceptional.
These paths are not exclusive. Genetics also play a role, and certain temperamental traits, which appear early in a child’s life, may heighten susceptibility to narcissistic traits when exposed to overvaluation or adverse experiences. Such early experiences can lead to insecure attachment disorders when a child’s needs are consistently disregarded or misunderstood. Understanding these origins is crucial when dealing with narcissistic individuals and their complex behaviors.
Narcissists as Parents
Narcissistic parents tend to be emotionally distant, neglectful, and even abusive. This creates a challenging environment to grow up in. Children of narcissists constantly strive but often fail to meet the ever-shifting parental expectations. Children may start perceiving their parent’s love as conditional, which leads to self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy adult relationships.
Signs of Narcissistic Parenting
Conditional Love and Self-Blame: Children of narcissists often face conditional love, which leads to their blaming themselves for parental dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem, and diminished mental well-being.
Gaslighting and Reality Distortion: Narcissistic parents employ gaslighting by distorting reality and fostering self-doubt in their children, which makes the children question their own sanity.
Self-Centered Focus and Attention Seeking: Narcissists perpetually center situations on themselves, leaving their children feeling unheard and overlooked even during personal milestones.
Neglect of Feelings and Needs: Children with narcissistic parents struggle to express emotions or needs, which leads to uncertainty about their identity and decisions in adulthood.
Fear of Displeasing the Parent: Because they live in constant fear of displeasing a narcissistic parent, children endure stress and anxiety due to unpredictable punishments and changing expectations.
Guarding the Parent’s Image: Children become responsible for preserving the parent’s image and are punished for tarnishing it, which adds pressure and emotional strain.
Love Bombing and Emotional Turmoil: Narcissistic parents use “love bombing” as a tactic to draw children close and then follow it with emotional neglect or abuse, which creates confusion and a cycle of hope and disappointment.
Denial of Wrongdoing: Narcissistic parents rarely admit fault and tend to deflect blame, refuse to acknowledge mistakes, and leave their children unsupported in seeking resolution.
Toxic Relationship Modeling: Narcissistic parents showcase unhealthy relationships through lack of empathy and exploitation of others, which impacts their children’s understanding of healthy connections.
Long Term Effects of Growing up with a Narcissistic Parent
Children who are raised by narcissists can face a range of long term effects related to self esteem, confidence, attachment, and relationships. Children of narcissistic parents repress their needs to avoid anger or punishment. They often feel invisible and lack healthy self-images or boundaries because their parent’s needs dominate.
As adults, they may grapple with insecure attachment styles and potentially avoid intimacy or seek excessive attention. Without intervention, some may emulate their narcissistic parents, perpetuating a damaging cycle in future generations.
The following are some common effects of being raised by a narcissist:
Internalized Gaslighting: Individuals raised by a narcissistic parent often doubt their own worth, talents, and successes due to consistent belittlement and manipulation during childhood. This fosters imposter syndrome even in adulthood.
Chronic Self-Blame: Whether overtly abusive or emotionally neglectful, narcissistic parents make their children internalize blame, which causes the adult child to shoulder unnecessary blame, even in situations that are not their fault, to maintain family harmony.
Indecision and Guilt: Adult children of narcissistic parents struggle with making decisions or prioritizing their needs due to ingrained guilt for considering themselves first, which is a result of being conditioned to prioritize their parent’s needs.
Love and Loyalty Dilemma: Despite enduring manipulation and abuse, adult children grapple with guilt, find it challenging to distance themselves from their narcissistic parent, and often enter relationships with similarly narcissistic partners due to their familiarity with conditional love.
Strength and Resilience: Despite their challenging upbringing, many adult children of narcissists exhibit resilience, compassion, and the ability to form healthy relationships, which showcases the potential for recovery and personal growth.
Echoism and Emotional Caution: Growing up with volatile, unpredictable parents, adult children learn to minimize their presence and emotions, avoid triggers for their parent’s outbursts, adopt people-pleasing behaviors, and fear emotional expression.
Insecure Attachment and Trust Issues: Narcissistic parenting leads to insecure attachments, which hinders the development of a secure emotional base and results in adult children struggling with trust and either becoming overly independent or overly dependent on others.
Parentified Child and Caregiver Role: Children of narcissists grow up caretaking their parents’ emotions and needs, shaping their adult lives around pleasing and caring for others, and often pursuing helping professions to perpetuate this caregiving role.
Recovering from the Effects of a Narcissistic Parent
Professional help is recommended when recovering from narcissistic abuse. Family therapy may be an option if the parent acknowledges fault and is willing to mend the relationship. Key steps include recognizing narcissistic traits, educating oneself about NPD, recounting personal experiences, identifying abuse, reframing narratives, and understanding that the narcissistic parent likely won’t change. Acknowledging and possibly forgiving the enabling parent is crucial, too, as they contribute to the sustained abuse.
The effects of narcissistic parenting can be long lasting. However, with treatment, it is possible to heal, identify the root of issues you may be facing, learn ways to improve your mental well-being, and form healthy, fulfilling relationships as an adult.
 Miller, J. D., Back, M. D., Lynam, D. R., & Wright, A. G. C. (2021). Narcissism Today: What we Know and What we Need to Learn. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 30(6), 519–525. https://doi.org/10.1177/09637214211044109
 Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. [Updated 2023 Mar 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/