A tall man standing near a younger man dressed in the same clothes, symbolizing a narcissistic father and a son.
Photo by Kaysha from Pexels

Those raised by a narcissistic mother or father are aware of their parent’s painful limitations.

Narcissistic parents don’t want their children to turn into adults with a mind, body, and spirit of their own. 

They don’t plan on helping their children become independent and manage life on their terms.

For most people, watching their adult children experience life makes them happy. Healthy parents induce confidence and a sense of trust in their children before they leave the ‘nest’. 

These parents can attribute the successes of their children to how much they’ve worked on building a self in the child early on.

Narcissistic parents do not think of their children this way.

Narcissists cannot help their children build a self. Which will force the child to rely on their parents later into adulthood for their needs. For housing needs, financial, emotional, relationship needs, and so on.


Because the child cannot trust herself and her abilities to build their own life and overcome various obstacles.

What are narcissistic parents?

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, psychologist and expert in Cluster B personalities, believes narcissistic parents make it impossible for their children to become confident adults. Ramani identifies some signs of a narcissistic parent that everyone should know.

  1. Low empathy. Narcissistic parents have trouble understanding their children’s point of view and their negative emotions. A narcissistic parent may ignore the child if they are sick, upset, or have trouble at school.
  2. Emotional stiffness. They can’t express emotions or tolerate them.
  3. Appearances matter. The parent focuses on the looks or the achievements of their children and encourages a superficial worldview.
  4. They create scapegoats and golden children. Narcissistic parents create roles for their children. They often choose a scapegoat who is, most often, the source and cause of the parents’ suffering. Narcissists also choose a golden child who has to carry the hope that the family will be OK, that the family will look good to others and will be successful.
  5. Invalidation. The parent constantly denies the child’s emotions, pain, suffering, and even their abuse experience. If the parent was the abuser, he rewrites history to appear like the good parent who is never mean. 
  6. Controlling behavior. A narcissistic parent will keep tabs on everything that the child does. The parent wants to know who the child is meeting with and the decisions he needs to take. This type of micromanagement can chew on the child’s self-esteem later on.
  7. Arrogance. The narcissistic parent is often unaware of their own negative emotions and inner self-hate. To manage their self-hate, they adopt the “I am better than you” attitude wherever they go. Narcissists are arrogant and often feel the need to show this to the world.

All these traits create an impenetrable wall between the parent and the child, which will lead to the child thinking it is their fault for not being engaged with the parent.

Later in life, the adult child will chase the narcissistic parent for the love, acceptance, and approval that they never had.

Accepting a narcissistic parent’s limitations

It’s difficult to accept our family exactly as it is. To recognize that we never had loving and compassionate parents growing up. 

For some of us, it’s better to think our family was not that bad than to accept the daunting reality of abuse.

We’ve had everything that we needed as a child. Food on the table, clothes, shoes, and clean towels in the morning. We had a comfortable bed and pocket money for school.

We were in good health and a cavity would often warrant a trip to the dentist.

However, we may have grown up with a sense of doom looming over our heads. Maybe our family ignored us and we were often sad. If that is the case, our parents failed to meet our emotional needs.

Indeed, all families have problems, but unhealthy families do more damage than good.

Families with narcissistic parents do not meet their children’s emotional needs.

The result is a child growing up alone, sad, without a sense of self.

Narcissistic parents prevent their children from developing a personality and that is because they, too, haven’t developed their own personalities.

They believe not helping their offspring separate emotionally from them is the right thing to do.

This leads to the child craving the narcissistic mother’s validation and him/her feeling like they need to prove their worth to them.

When we’re not ourselves but only a reflection of our narcissistic parent, it is quite hard to trust ourselves and take vital life decisions.

Not knowing what we love to do for work, what we love to eat, what type of people resonate with us more, or even the hobbies we’d enjoy can bring much suffering.

This can also make us demand love and respect from the very people who neglected us growing up.

And it is understandable. Anyone who grew up in a narcissistic home is hungry for those emotional goodies: connection, affection, and nourishment.

However, until we accept our narcissistic parent’s inability to empathize with us and fulfill our needs, we’ll struggle a lot.

How to move on?

Jerry Wise, a family and relationship expert, touts the importance of differentiating ourselves from our narcissistic parents and building a self.

He wants those raised in dysfunctional families to understand that they don’t need their parents any longer. Children need their parents to survive, but adults need equal relationships.

If an equal relationship with a narcissistic parent is impossible, he advises the adult child to stop wanting things to change and have limited interaction with them.

In more severe cases of abuse, Wise encourages us to go “no contact” to prevent further damage to our self-esteem.

Understanding that there is nothing we can do to change our personality-disordered father (or mother) will help us assess this relationship and take the healthy step forward.

Knowing this can shed feelings of shame regarding our inability to connect with our parents.

Wise also promotes the importance of boundaries and that they need to be expressed over and over in this relationship. We need to remind ourselves that it’s our responsibility to keep these boundaries up.

Also, our narcissistic parent does not need to agree with our boundaries for us to feel good. Our family can have their own opinion about what we do and who we are, even if it’s negative.

The goal here is to become OK with our family’s disdain for us.

Grieving the loss

Children raised by emotionally or verbally abusive parents grow up with an impaired sense of self. However, they also struggle with mental health problems. 

study by Amin A. Muhammad Gadit in 2011 and published in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association found that verbal abuse like put-downs, swear words, threats, yelling, criticism and nasty remarks lead to mental disorders later in life.

Interacting with a narcissistic parent over an extended period can affect our mental health. However, we can start feeling better about these relationships by grieving what we never had.

Being the child of a narcissistic parent means we’ve suffered a significant loss. We’ve lost a good childhood and beautiful memories of us growing up. We’ve lost a relationship with a brother or a sister. We’ve lost our confidence, our trust, and the ability to experience selfless love.

Grieving an abusive parent is a non-linear process. 

Sometimes we may go back and forth between reconnecting with our narcissistic family and letting them go.

However, if done with the help of a mental health professional, grieving can be less painful. It can also help us shed the shame we have accumulated in our family. The very shame that tells us we’re not good enough.