Narcissistic parents are defined as those who live their lives through their kids. They are incredibly possessive and competitive towards their offspring. A narcissistic parent sees the child’s independence as a threat to themselves. They will most often coerce the child to exist in their own shadow. They also have unreasonable expectations. A narcissistic parent can never love the child for who the child is. The love only pours out when the child does something that benefits the parent.
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Who are narcissistic parents?
Many studies have been conducted on understanding narcissistic parents and the impact narcissism can have on the offspring. Having high expectations, showing off the child’s success, and being firm at times (for the betterment of the child) does not make a parent narcissistic. These traits do not constitute pathological narcissism. What distinguishes a narcissistic parent from a non-narcissistic one is that they will deny their child any sense of being independent. This keeps going even after the child has turned into a full-grown adult. The purpose of the child in the world of a narcissistic parent is to only fulfill the wishes of the parent and the parent alone. They see their child as a tool to get everything they want.
How do you know if you are a child of narcissistic parents?
At one point or the other, every child feels that their parent is a narcissist. However, as I mentioned before, having high expectations from your child does not make a parent a narcissist. Narcissistic parents have very specific traits that I will be discussing in this blog post. If your parents are showing most of the following traits, chances are that you have narcissistic parents.
Signs you have narcissistic parents
They live through their child.
In most cases, parents want to see their children lead successful lives. However, in the case of narcissistic parents, they do not want to see their child lead a good life. Their expectation is based on their selfish dreams and needs that they want to fulfill. Instead of bringing up a child who has nurtured goals, emotions, and thought processes, their child grows up to be an extension of themselves. They want their child to have a hive mind and think of what they are thinking, feel what they are feeling, and do everything for the benefit of the parents. Therefore, the offspring has only one work: to fulfill the parent’s desires and wishes. They try to diminish the individuality of their child.
The growth of their children almost always threatens narcissistic parents. If their child is showing promise, success, or potential, this will be a huge dent in the self-esteem of the parent. They are always afraid that their child will grow up and not be bothered to fulfill their wishes. Therefore, narcissistic parents will always try to bring their children down and demotivate them so that they can feel superior to their children. This type of competitive marginalization also includes the behavior of unreasonable judgment, nitpicking, uncalled criticism of any positive emotion and attitude that the child shows, and finally, rejection or minimization of the child’s accomplishments and successes.
The easiest way to do this is to make their child feel that they are not competent enough or there is always something wrong with the child. Even if the child scores high marks in school, the parents will make it sound like without their help; the child would have failed miserably. They will make the success all about them instead of the child who put hard work and dedication into it.
Neglect the emotional needs of the child
Narcissistic parents don’t care about what their child is feeling or going through. All they care about is how they are feeling. One of the child’s primary needs during the growth stages is receiving unconditional love, support, acceptance, and a sense of belonging from the parents. But narcissistic parents do not feel that their child deserves love. They will only shower love if the child has done something that benefits them.
Under normal conditions, the child will never receive love from their parents. Therefore, the child grows up with very low self-esteem and an incredibly diminished self-worth. The child must always do things according to their parents to be accepted or provided with words of love and acceptance. Since the parents do not care about the child’s needs or requirements, they ignore the emotional conditions and leave the child feeling unfulfilled. This leads to repressed childhood trauma when the child grows up.
Experts at not admitting their own fault
No one is perfect. Parenting is a tough job. Parents are bound to commit mistakes. Most parents are aware of this fact. They are also ready to accept that they have committed errors while bringing up their child. Understanding and accepting mistakes is a part of having a healthy parent-child relationship.
Unfortunately, in the case of narcissistic parents, they think that they are perfect and can never make any mistakes. In their minds, they are never at fault. Therefore, if their child is facing an issue, it has to be the child’s fault. As per them, they are the best parents, and their children should consider themselves lucky to even have them.
Demand total obedience from the child
Narcissistic parents are highly self-serving. They have an extremely rigid worldview. This worldview it’s focused on supporting the weight of their inflated ego. Their attitudes and beliefs are most often contradictory and irrational. They don’t care about what the child thinks. They want all decisions in the child’s life to be theirs. And the child is not allowed to question them.
Children of narcissistic parents are expected to show complete obedience and total admiration all the time. Their primary role is to serve as the reflection of their parents. The children must work as slaves and be there to fulfill their parent’s every whim and demand.
If the child is good at affirming the parent’s self-grandiose and worships them, the parents will be very happy. However, if the child chooses to go on his or her path and fails to repeatedly tell the parents how amazing and God-like they are, the child will be used as the scapegoat of the family.
Comparing never stops if you have narcissistic parents. The first rule of parenting is to not compare your child to other children. Unfavorable comparisons can cause deep wounds to the self-esteem of the child. However, do narcissistic parents care about this? No! Narcissistic parents have no care in the world regarding their children. All they care about is the fulfillment of their own demands. If the child is getting 98%, such parents would want the child to get 100% because that would reflect well on the parents. They don’t care if trying to score high marks causes their child depression. As long as the child is doing what they want, the child is good. Otherwise, the child is bad.
Since narcissistic parents do not care about the damage they cause the child, they insistently engage in comparing their child to others. They will always find good qualities in others and demean their own child in the name of betterment. They may feel that the comparison will motivate their child to be better. However, it generally has the opposite effect.
Their feelings and needs always take priority.
When people become parents, the first thing they understand is that they may have to sacrifice their own needs for the betterment of their child to a certain level. However, in the case of narcissistic parents, they do not have a bone of empathy in them. Prioritizing others’ needs over their own is impossible. They are incapable of even thinking about it. Therefore, such kids learn to take care of themselves at a very early age.
This factor is standard with both psychopathic as well as narcissistic parents. In my blog post about psychopathic mothers, I addressed this issue. A narcissistic parent will try to gain control by any means necessary. Whether it is gaslighting, guilt stripping, victimizing themselves, playing the blame game, etcetera, as long as they are getting what they want, they don’t care what kind of psychological abuse they are putting their child through. They are experts at saying, “I gave you birth, I sacrificed my life for you. All I ask from you is to do this much for me, and you cannot even do that. You are such an ungrateful child.”.
Verbal abuse does not necessarily mean that your narcissistic parents have to use words deemed as abuse in the English language. They can also use derogatory terms like selfish, uncaring, and other phrases that hurt the child’s psyche. Such parents understand which of these words is going to break the child the most, and they will deliberately use it.
They can also stoop so low as to jokingly humiliate you. Such parents may call you fat even if you are just mildly chubby. They will continue till you start believing that you are fat. All they care about is making you unhappy with your own self. If you question their motives, they will say that they were just joking and you should take their words lightly.
Obsessed with their public image
Most parents are obsessed with the image that their child has in public. However, in the case of narcissistic variants, they are obsessed with their image. It is crucial that everyone around them appreciates their parenting skill and deems them as being excellent parents. All they care about is gaining public admiration. They may put their child on a pedestal in front of others because this will get them respect from other parents. They may force their child to be someone else, behave in a certain way and not be themselves in the public environment because they are afraid that this may reflect poorly on their parenting skills.
All they care about is the accolade that they will receive from others. However, this benevolent behavior and pretending to be amazing parents is a mask that they are experts at wearing in public. When the child is away from the public image, that is when the child sees their true self.
Hypersensitive to criticism
If the child even cracks a joke on the parent, narcissistic parents can bring the house down on the child. They feel they have the right to crack a joke and humiliate their child, but their child does not have the right to even crack a joke about them. This happens because they are very insecure about themselves. Narcissists most often feel that they are worthless. This is why they try so hard to impose on their child and get their child to fulfill their every whim. This makes them feel better about themselves.
No one likes to be criticized. However, narcissistic parents have an unshaken belief about themselves that they are perfect. Any kind of criticism, even if it occurs as a joke, can throw them off balance and trigger a negative sense of self and insecurity.
Play the blame game
I have mentioned before that such parents are incapable of accepting their mistakes and apologizing for them. If narcissistic parent commits a mistake, they will most often try to blame it on their children. Nothing a narcissistic parent can do will ever be free or selfless. There is always a price attached to it. If you want your parents to buy you a doll for Christmas, you will have to first come first in your class. They may pretend that this is for your own betterment and that they are motivating you to do better in your studies. However, the reality is that there is always a bill attached to everything that they do for you.
Whether a narcissistic parent is sacrificing their time, fever, money, or showing affection, there will be a price tag attached to it. They are experts at collecting their revenue. If you decide to go your way or not comply with their wishes, they will guilt trip you till you agree.
Fabricate being sick to gain attention
As I mentioned before, there is no level that a narcissistic parent will not go down to get what they want. If you decide to cut your ties or call your parents on their deeds, they might just fabricate a health scare to make you submit. This characteristic is typically observed in the case of narcissistic moms and grandmoms. They will try to exaggerate their illness or fake being ill to get you to submit to their whims and demands.
A narcissistic attribute is different from that of a Hypochondriac. Hypochondriacs genuinely believe that they are sick and need medication to make them well. However, narcissistic parents know and understand that they are not sick. They use their fake illness to deliberately exert power on their child and evade accountability for any of their misdeeds.
For example, suppose you call your mother and lay down everything bad that she has ever done to you. You decide that you are going to cut ties with her unless she decides to change herself. The moment your phone call ends, your mother suddenly develops a grieving illness or a mysterious ailment. She calls you up and blames you for what she is going through. She says it’s because of the sudden accusations you have put on her. Your actions are the reason she is suddenly sick. She guilt trips you into leaving all your tasks behind, forgiving her, abandoning the boundary, and going back to help her recover. You bowing down to her gives her the self-esteem boost that she needs. This gives her the sense that she has regained control over you and can start manipulating you for the benefit of her own needs again.
Have unrealistic expectations
This behavior is typical of both narcissistic as well as psychopathic parents. They set impossible standards for their kids. Then they act disappointed if their kids cannot meet those standards. There is one thing that you must understand here. It is the difference between impossible standards and high standards.
Most parents set high standards for their children because they want their kids to know that they believe in them. They think that their child can do better in studies and life in general.
However, unrealistic expectations are ones where the parents set the stage for their child’s failure and then blame the child for failing in the endeavor. Parents keep using these unrealistic expectations, even after the child has failed, to remind the child of how badly he or she failed in the first place. Even though it has been years since the child failed, they will use this to guilt trip their child every time.
Loving one minute, cursing the next
Narcissistic parents can switch their love on and off. In normal circumstances, parents who love their children love them through difficult and happy times. Narcissistic parents only act lovingly when they want something from their child. They will tell you everything you want to hear. They will say how proud they are of you and how much they love and do for you.
However, If the child displays even one iota of insubordination, the love switch will be switched off immediately. The love and support are only granted as glimpses to the child so that the child can stay on track and do what the parents want. They don’t love their kids because they are incapable of feeling love towards anyone else but themselves.
Narcissistic parents can be hypocritical to the point where they tell you that you should not pursue this career because you will not be good at it. Even if you have all the self-confidence in the world that the specific career path is the one meant for you. Normal parents or parents who care for their kids would be delighted if their child shows confidence in choosing a career route and wants to excel in it. However, a narcissistic parent will feel jealous of the child’s accomplishments.
They will feel that the child may become successful and leave them. Then who will take care of their whims? Thus, they will try to demotivate their own child. They may say that this career path is not for you. You are not that hard working. You do not have that much brain to qualify for this examination. Instead, you should go for something easier. This is their way of demotivating the child and pushing them off the career path they chose for themselves. They will never shy from letting you know that you are not good enough. Narcissistic parents always feel empty on their own self. Thus, they project this emptiness towards their kids as well.
Silent treatment is very common.
One mistake and the silent treatment are on. Silent treatment has been referred to as ‘mental murder’ by psychologists. This is one of the narcissistic parents’ favorite forms of control because this gives them full leverage over the child. This is the technique that narcissistic parents use to kill their children repeatedly in their minds. Eventually, the child starts to feel that nothing they do or say can matter. This sets in deep fear for the parent. Because of the fear, the child is ready to do anything the parent wants to keep them happy.
Such behavior can go on for days, weeks, months, or years. Unless you decide to apologize to your parent and make amends, your parent will continue practicing silent treatment. Alternatively, your parents may practice silent treatment while bad-mouthing you to your siblings and forcing your siblings to come and ask you to apologize to your parents.
Likes to control every aspect of your life
Even the most critical factor of your life like choosing a life partner has to be done by such parents. Narcissistic parents act like history’s most infamous rulers who used fear and an iron fist to control their countrymen. If you don’t do things as per your parents, they might threaten to remove you from the will. They will have temper tantrums repeatedly and will make you walk on eggshells. Such parents do not shy away from publicly shaming you if that is what gets them power over you.
They try to micromanage everything and manipulate you into thinking that they are helping you as you are not good enough to do anything yourself. You had unreasonably strict rules and codes of conduct to follow growing up. The child like feeling was never there. You always felt like you were in a mental jail. You’re always worried that your parents will sneak up on you to check what you are doing. These are just some forms of mental torture that a child of a narcissistic parent has to endure.
Jealous of the success of their child
A narcissistic parent does not want their child to succeed. If their child succeeds, the spotlight will be on their child and will be taken away from the parents. They want their child to do good because then society will praise the parents for a good upbringing. However, they also do not want their child to overshadow them. Thus, in the end, they are never satisfied with your efforts, your focus, or even your accomplishments. There is never any way to satisfy such parents.
A habit of turning the conversation back to their own self
Narcissistic parents are experts at bringing the attention back to themselves. That is why they are narcissists. Narcissists love attention. They will do anything to get attention, even if it involves discrediting you and stealing your credit for themselves. Trying to show others that you are who you are because of them is a regular habit. They deserve all the credit for all the good things that you do.
If you are a child of narcissistic parents, you must be well aware of this behavior. During parties, you must feel like wallpaper compared to your parents. You also cannot turn to your parents for any kind of support because every good thing that you have in life and every good deed that you have done is because of their upbringing. However, if you are facing any problems, it’s probably because of you.
You are their path to success.
In most cases, parents want their children to achieve what they could never achieve in their own life. Parents who did not go to college would emphasize the importance of college for their kids. Those who did not have a happy family would try their best to provide their child with a happy and secure environment. However, in the case of a narcissistic parent, they don’t care how and what you feel. All they care about is their own lifestyle, their thought process, and their happiness. They want you to sacrifice your own happiness to fulfill their desires. What you want to do with your life is of no importance to them. Your life belongs to them. Therefore, you must do what they want you to do.
Monopolizing your time
Suppose you are talking to your narcissistic parent, and you get another phone call. You tell your parent you will call them back. When you do call them back, all you hear is how ungrateful of a child you are. How much they have sacrificed to give you the best life. How grateful you should be that you have been blessed with such amazing parents. However, all you want to do is ignore them, leave them in the lurch and spend time with your friends and other acquaintances. You try to explain to your parents that it was a work call, but it falls on deaf ears.
They may suddenly appear out of nowhere and disrupt your schedule for the day because they expect you to spend all of your time with them. They may keep harassing you to go and meet them even when they know that you have a very busy life and your work schedule keeps you up till late at night. Instead of asking you to rest on your day off, they want you to spend your time with them.
Relationships are always difficult.
Whether it’s interpersonal relationships or relationships with their friends, you will notice that your parents are not like others. Narcissistic parents lack empathy. This makes it very difficult for them to hold a friendship, engage in a parent-child bond or even have an intimate relationship with anyone else except themselves. Such parents constantly face conflict and tension in their relationships. Unless you are the ideal child for such parents, you will never get any appreciation from them. Despite being the golden child, if you commit one simple mistake, you will lose all of your standing in the eyes of your parents.
Boundaries are very hard for narcissistic parents to understand. They do not observe their child as a separate entity. For them, their child is an extension of themselves. The child is seen as a tool using which they can fulfill their desires. They believe that they have the right to dictate how the child should be living his or her life. The lines between children and their parents are very blurred. This creates a codependent relationship. If the child is not dependent, there is a high chance that they may leave the parents and follow their own path. This is not acceptable for a narcissistic parent. They will do everything in their power to keep the relationship co-dependent.
If something does not go as per the narcissistic parents, they will throw a tantrum. They behave like kids all the time. The one factor that triggers such parents the most is setting boundaries. If the child grows up and decides to put a boundary between them and the parents, this can be very triggering.
They can use various tantrum methods. The tantrum can range from arguing, to shouting, to throwing things to using the silent treatment. Their aim is to get a reaction from you, manipulate you, and make you feel guilty. Anything that can get you back to serve them is what counts as a win for them.
As I have mentioned before in this post, narcissistic parents do not have a bone of empathy in their bodies.
- They are oblivious to the pain they cause their child by putting all their demands, needs, and necessities on the kid.
- They don’t care about providing emotional or financial support to their child.
- They constantly use their ‘I have sacrificed so much for your card and make their child sacrifice everything for the parent’s benefit.
- They constantly feed off their child and want their child to be available for them, both emotionally and financially.
- They are experts at draining their children, leaving them feeling lifeless and drained from the inside.
If you have narcissistic parents, your experiences will resonate with most of the scenarios mentioned above. Narcissistic parents live only for themselves. Their child is an extension of them. They only want the child to work for them. The children are not allowed to have a life of their own, only live in the shadow of the parents, and do whatever the parents want them to. The moment the child decides to do something for herself, she becomes the worst child in the world. The parents will use any weapon in their arsenal from guilt tripping to faking illnesses to get their child back to service them.
Are you the child of narcissistic parents? How did you deal with them? What happened when you finally decided to put your boundary up? Please mention your experiences in the comments section below. Your past may help someone else derive the courage that they need to stand up against such parents.
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See you in my next blog post
I read the whole article. very well written Shruti covering each and every point comprehensively
Thank you so much!! I really appreciate it.