The Impact of Narcissistic Parents

Written by Dr. Eric Perry
Image Credit: Pixabay

“I always felt like I was an extra appendage having no life of my own. All of us kids belonging to an octopus mom.” ~Anonymous

It is an understatement to state that parenting is difficult. It is perhaps the only job a person can get that is full-time and for life without having all the requisite skills and qualifications. The responsibility is great. One must equip a child with all the necessary tools they will need in adulthood to forge their own lives. It is a self-less relationship that most parents take great pride in. From the moment their child is born, the child becomes the focal point of the family unit. While this is a non-issue to most couples, what happens when one of the parents lacks empathy and is unable to see the importance in anyone else’s feelings or interests?

Perhaps you were raised by a self-proclaimed or widely admired super parent. Admired by all of the community, to the outside world, your parent had it all. On paper, everyone saw a doting parent, a successful career, marriage and with positive community involvement in church or school activities. But, reflecting on our childhood we realize that behind closed doors the reality was a lot harsher and lonelier than the public image portrayed. As we get older and start to form a life of our own we begin to see our parents more as real humans and not the superheroes of our childhood. This is quite normal and healthy. Stripped of the cape of perfection that kept us in an unequal relationship, we can then begin to form a healthy adult relationship with our parents.

But what happens if once the heroic cape is removed, we notice that our parental figure has nothing to offer us. They are basically an egocentric person who is essentially empty, fearful and manipulative. We take notice that they purposely use control and manipulation to keep us engaged in an unhealthy relationship. Our parents should want us to leave the nest and soar and not to live in their shadows. But, the NPD parent does not want his child to live an independent life. They see their children as an extension of themselves to use as they wish.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a spectrum disorder which means it exists on a continuum. On one end of the spectrum, are individuals who exhibit a healthy dose of narcissism and may exhibit some narcissistic traits at times but do not have NPD. On the other end of the spectrum are individuals who consistently and throughout their lives exhibit five or more of the nine characteristics listed below. Here are some of the ways that this may manifest itself in a child-parent relationship.

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. Will exaggerate achievements and talents and expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
An example of this would be a mother who, after meeting her daughter’s friends, will take center stage and tell all about how beautiful and talented she was as a younger woman. She will proclaim that only if she had met the right people, her singing voice could have made her a star. This is the type of parent that constantly talks about themselves and never asks the child what is going on in their lives.

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
The NPD parent is constantly talking about the important people in their lives or about past perfect loves and their many admirers. The focus of their conversations is often fantastical and difficult to believe.

3. Believes that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with, other special or high-status people
The NPD parent will distinguish between social and economic status of people. For example, they may only admire people who have Master’s degrees or are doctors. They will treat all others as nonexistent. They believe that they are special and everyone should treat them as such.

4. Requires excessive admiration
The NPD parent is the center of the family. The parent needs to be constantly doted on. They need to be told how beautiful and special they are. Often times the child takes on the role of the parent having to constantly feed the parents fragile ego. The child or the other spouse becomes the primary provider of narcissistic supply leading to an unhealthy co-dependency. They require constant praise and are constantly reminding the child what they have done for them.

5. Has a sense of entitlement
To the parent with NPD, the child is merely an extension of themselves and they feel they are entitled to anything and everything the child has. There is no boundary that the NPD parent will not cross when it comes to their child. Any accolades or achievements the child has achieved are due to the parents. They expect favorable treatment not only from the child but from everyone they meet.

6. Is interpersonally exploitive
A narcissistic parent tends to be very possessive of their child. Similar to what is seen in non-narcissistic parents, helicoptering around their child making sure everything is ok, the NPD parent is more like a hot air balloon who hovers around the child to feed off them whenever they feel deflated. The NPD parent is manipulative and controlling. They will undermine their child’s career, relationships, overall happiness and growth in order to get what they want. They are extremely intrusive and do not respect their child’s personal boundaries. They will use many tactics to get their way, including feigning sickness and withholding love.

7. Lacks empathy
The NPD has a superficial relationship with no real emotional bonds with the child. The child is seen as an extension of the NPD parent and the parent will not have any empathy towards the child. They lack compassion towards the child and are not able to provide any emotional security. They are not able to hear about issues that may be affecting their child because they simply are not able to tune in to their emotional frequency.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
A parent with NPD will become envious of their child and may directly compete with them. A mother may envy their young daughter’s developing beauty and may begin to compete with them for attention from husband/father as well as other men. The mother cannot allow the child to outshine her and may begin to undermine the daughter’s self-esteem. A father may humiliate and bully his young son because he is envious of the son’s developing strength and youth.

9. Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes
The NPD parent always has to be right. They will make the child feel like they can’t do anything right. The parent will be overly critical and will focus only on faults and never praise. Later in life, the parent’s voice will become a critical and judgmental voice in child’s mind.

As adults, children of a narcissist are more likely to exhibit the following traits:

1. Co-dependency in relationships
A child of a parent with NPD learns to stop their childhood and become anything the parent wants them to be in order to gain their parent’s approval. The lines between the child and the NPD parent are blurred. The child is seen as an extension of the parent to be used and manipulated. If the child begins to develop a desire for independence, the parent is threatened and will set out to undermine their independence and break down their self-esteem to keep them dependent on them. The child learns that nothing they do will ever be acceptable and will seek the approval of the parent before they do anything. This behavior will continue into adulthood and into other relationships. As an adult, they learn to accommodate anything their partner desires in order to feel wanted and validated.

2. Weak sense of self
As children, they received no validation or negative feedback for any form of self-expression. Their childhood has been spent constantly trying to be who their parent wanted them to be. As adults, children of NPD parents will have a difficult time separating themselves with the identity that was created to please their parents.

3. Poor interpersonal boundaries
As children, they have learned that nothing they say or do matter. Things are done and said to them and they have no choice or means to defend themselves. Their feelings, thoughts and sense of self are invalidated by their parents. Healthy boundaries have not been taught or nurtured. As adults, they are unable to say no and exhibit chronic guilt or shame.

4. Self-loathing
As adults, children of NPD parents still carry the trauma of the alienation and neglect that they felt. Subconsciously there may be a belief that if their parent did not love them then they must be unloveable. The child learns to see themselves through the eyes of their neglectful parent.

5. Trust issues
As a result of childhood mistreatment, they are mistrustful and fearful of other people and unable to make meaningful connections. They may often develop an insecure attachment style which may lead to difficulty in establishing stable and healthy relationships.

6. Inability to express or handle emotions
The child has learned not to depend on others for any emotional support.
They will develop extreme emotional independence and have a hard time developing close interpersonal connections. They may become solitary and become distrusting adults.

7. Depression
As children, they have learned to ignore and disconnect from their emotions which may lead to difficulties processing emotions. As adults, this may lead to the development of depression.

8. People pleaser
As children, they have been told by the NPD parent that they are to blame for their parent’s unhappiness. They learn to hyper-focus on their mistakes and believe they are at fault. They wrongly believe that if only they can do better they will be loved by the parent, or the parent will be nicer. As adults, they are unable to say no and are afraid to displease others for fear that they will be abandoned.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful. This article is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis. If you recognize these scenarios and symptoms in the relationship with your parents I encourage you to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional who specializes in NPD.

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a professional relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a medical professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Dr. Perry

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88 responses to The Impact of Narcissistic Parents

  1. Georgia Anne says:

    Dr. Perry, you know how to write words that speak directly to my soul. Thank you for another informative post. I have seen many of the things you have mentioned here in my own life as I myself have been afflicted by a narcissistic parent. Please keep doing what you are doing. You are helping me make more sense of my world and I really truly appreciate it. ❤

    Liked by 11 people

  2. Irene says:

    Great read! Thank you for taking the time to write this in order to educate us. I do appreciate everything you write. Have a great day☀️

    Liked by 5 people

  3. After reading through the list of traits of the adult children, I see myself in that entire list. My family structure growing up was not the best. Thank you for sharing this. Several of these topics have already been discussed with my therapist. I think we may have to revisit them after reading this. I love new ideas to talk about.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. Ilka says:

    Thank you for this post. I know the NPD very well: from my mother and my ex-husband. If I raised I always meant it was me who is not alright. Was a long way to found myself. I assume my father had a narcissistic mother too and that’s why he got depression and tooked his own life when I was a child of two. (Can’t explain that so good, my first language is German) Later the father of my two younger children became NPD and first I tought I was not alright again. Hard time with little babies. A divorce from a Narcissist is like going trough hell. I had six of years to appear for court and I was always afraid to loose my children. Narcissists are great speaker and it was a very hard time and I had to spend lot of money for lawyer and court fees. One can’t imagine that! Hard way, but now we are free and happy. Me and my children learned a lot about us such as we are very tough and we do not need a lot of things to be a lucky small family. ❤

    Liked by 11 people

  5. Leon Garber says:

    This was hard to read; made me sad to have so many reminders of my avoidance and that of someone I really cared for. But, this information is so necessary; thank you for posting it.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Whoa! Very powerful stuff here. Still not sure what my mom was, but she never missed an opportunity to let me know how much she NEVER wanted me! Her last words to me before her death were “Get out of here and take your junk with you”. Nice, huh? Took several sessions with a wonderful counselor to begin coming to terms with that, but while still working on it, things are better! She probably wasn’t so narcissistic as just plain old sick! And I still want to pick up the phone to ask her some of the same old questions about a recipe she developed or how we are related to certain people. I’ve learned a lot about myself as well as about her during my sessions, but it will take the rest of my life to get it resolved completely!
    Thanks for posting this/

    Liked by 9 people

  7. Separated From The Flock says:

    Thank you Dr. Perry for shining some light on my own experiences. As a child I endured a mother, father and stepmother with traits of the NPD parent. It’s no wonder as a ten year old I designated myself as a superhero known as “the everything kid,” as it was my goal then and for many years after to gain the approval of my parental figures, and later, other adults. It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand how I’ve so easily assumed people-pleasing roles and let my own desires take a back seat to the wants and needs of others. It’s amazing how it can take decades to overcome a few years of bad parenting.

    Liked by 8 people

  8. BollyReview says:

    My mother uses systematic re-direction of her own shame/blame to me. I don’t know where that fits in with narcissism, but she has many tactics and knows me really well and has been using them ever since I’ve known myself. So first it’s direct blaming of her own mistakes on me and when I call her out on it, she’ll change tactics to the opposite, will suddenly start acting very innocent and nice so that I doubt myself and feel guilty for confronting her. I’m just tired of mind games and tactics and manipulation. If we can’t trust and be vulnerable with those that we think are the closest to us, how are we ever supposed to be okay?

    Liked by 7 people

  9. Tamara says:

    This post hit home for me. I have seen many of these traits in my mother and am purposely NOT doing this with my daughter. The cycle stops here!!! Thank you for enlightening me Dr. Perry. I am extremely thankful for you ❤

    Liked by 8 people

  10. Viola Bleu says:

    Reblogged this on Ideas.Become.Words and commented:
    Having been through 18 months of intense counselling which started out as one type of investigation but quickly materialised into the study of a narcissist mother, I whole heartedly agree with each and every section of Dr Perry’s explanation here.
    While an interesting read to someone without a parent like this, for any who experienced it first hand, or still does, these words here should help enlighten and educate.

    I support Dr. Perry with his suggestion that professional help is needed. Without it, I’d still be the people pleaser I grew up to be, I’d still be feeling responsible for her happiness because she’s spent years telling me I’ve ‘ignored’ her since being married, I’d still be fearfully making excuses to her when my farming husband cannot make a family meal (because she’s always taken it personally, when in fact the weather dictates the farming calendar and I was too scared to stand up for him so instead fed her need to believe I was in a controlling marriage).
    I don’t tend, these days, to brood on this too much because I have a newly discovered self-esteem to nurture and a self belief and goals I wish to pursue.

    But sometimes. Just sometimes, I’ll read about the condition to remind myself that I will never be able to ‘help’ her in the traditional sense because she has no empathy for anyone around her. She is THE most selfish person I’ve ever met.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Thank you for this article, slightly depressing being reminded of my childhood, also grateful to know I am this way because of this and not just crazy for no reason!

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Perfectly imperfect says:

    Thank you. I was in this kind of relationship for a while and it messed me up even still today

    Liked by 3 people

  13. queentracey1 says:

    Reblogged this on Tracey in Maine and commented:
    Explains my husbands childhood to him in a way he now understands and helped him to understand his ex wife and their relationship but sadly now describes his two sons exactly.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Glenda Herdman says:

    Thank you Dr Perry. Helps me to make sense of my childhood and my mother, as well as my adult life.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. tjdevarie says:

    Once, I tried to talk about a new disability with my mother (resulting from being hit by drunk driver as a pedestrian), and she immediately snapped back ‘Why did you wait this long to tell me?!’ Then she dismissed my vulnerability and pivoted the conversation to herself, again, of course.

    Talk about narcissistic. Just one of many things I recall from our relationship. And that was just months ago.

    I’ve needed to create space between us and enforce boundaries, but hopefully it’s not for long. I hope there’s hope!

    Liked by 5 people

  16. suavetrans says:

    This post is so helpful and a very timely reminder. One of the hardest struggles I have had continually since being a young adult is putting up boundaries for self preservation. You once again have hit the nail on the head. I shared a link to this post on my blog. I will likely revisit this post in particular as an affirmation and reminder. I also shared this with my siblings and they appreciated it as well! Thank you for this eye opening and concise post.

    Liked by 6 people

  17. This is such a wonderful post. Thank you for bringing in such clarity to the subject Dr Perry. I’m so glad I came across your site. I think I will thoroughly enjoy going through your articles.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. I know someone who fits this perfectly. She’s been trying to be my friend for over a decade. We do share some very specific hobbies, so move in the same circle, but once she drops her guard, I am unable to cope with her negativity, guilt, judgement and controlling nature. We drift apart and then meet again through common interests months later. So the cycle begins again. She’ll never admit she need help for that would be weak and mean that her mother has ‘won’ but without some kind of therapy, we can never be married to than acquaintances .

    Liked by 4 people

  19. lynettedavis says:

    Great post on narcissistic parents! I grew up with a narcissistic mother. Then I married twice–both narcissists. I seem to be a magnet for them. I’m convinced it has to do with my narcissistic upbringing.

    Liked by 6 people

  20. Hello Dr. Perry. Thank you for for this insightful post. I echo Natesh Shetty’s comment that your clarity is most appreciated. I teach a high school psychology class. Would you be comfortable with me sharing this post with my students next year when we get to our unit on psychological disorders?

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Yes of course. I would be honored if you shared this post or any other with your students. Kindly, Dr. Perry


  21. conversationswithangelsblog says:

    I identified tremendously with this article. I have no doubt at all my own guilt, shame, depression, people pleasing, perfectionism and subsequent battle with eating disorders and other addictions stemmed from a NPD parent. Thanks for the post – Andrea

    Liked by 5 people

  22. Snob Not says:

    To the last letter this is my mother and I couldn’t have described her any better and had no idea that it was a pattern, because i have never met anyone with my same issues with their mother.

    Liked by 6 people

  23. Snob Not says:

    Reblogged this on SnobNot and commented:
    Every since I was a child I have tried to explain my strange relationship with mother, a guilt-filled love-hate relationship. Although one’s life is their own choices and they have to own up to them, I believe that the way children are nurtured is what makes them who they are; their decisions, attitude, fears, cravings, interactions, how they express or understand love, … all of it is a result of how they were raised and their relationship with their parents. They shape them!! So people are an accumulated result of their ancestors and the tree goes back to the beginning of humanity and that is the only reason why anyone can say that life is predetermined and one’s fate is already written. Thus, if a divine power has knowledge of all the humans ever lived, by default they would easily know, putting aside the complexity of the matrix of course, how people’s life would turn out to be!
    So she cannot really bare the burden of who I am, it’s it my entire line of ancestors, both maternal and paternal who have shaped who I am.

    Liked by 5 people

  24. Wow! No 7 & 9 are the two traits I see in my ex husband towards my girls…..they see it too and it has driven a wedge between him and them sadly to his own detriment in years to come…..thank you for the article!

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Interestingly enough, as I read your article, I realized that I have experienced the opposite situation: a narcissistic child who was a student in my grade school classroom. It was fascinating to observe while reading this how the situation is reversed in that case – how it is the parents and the other children who are manipulated. I think I was the first person this child had ever encountered for any length of time who refused to play the game.

    Needless to say, our relationship quickly developed into a battle because the child absolutely could not see any reason to work on changing the narcissistic tendencies for the better.

    Liked by 5 people

  26. heatherjo86 says:

    This is such an informative post! Thank you. It reminds me of Colossians 3:21 which says, “You fathers, do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.” It’s so important for parents to show love and support for their children. I had no idea so many consequences could be experienced by the child of a NPD parent.

    Liked by 5 people

  27. Correen says:

    Thank you Dr. Perry. A lot of this article reminds me of my mother. I wish I could get her to acknowledge the impact of her behavior. At this point I have no contact and do believe I am better off.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Dr. Perry
    Thank you for this post. I can see alot of these characteristics in some of the parents of my students. The students are often completely consumed with their parents ‘ behaviors, and it often times leaves them lacking the skills to be successful.

    Liked by 4 people

  29. YariGarciaWrites says:

    Thank you for posting this! It has taken me my entire life to recover from a NPD step-parent, and I even went through alcoholism for 10 years due to this issue of abuse.

    The worst and most confusing aspect was being very young and unable to cope. When I did things “right,” I was paraded around like the most precious daughter ever.

    But when I did things “wrong” or made a mistake (as children often do) I was humiliated like a disgusting, useless thing.

    The extremes of being loved and hated really hurt me as a child, and it confused me greatly.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing again.


    Liked by 5 people

  30. *eye opener* I was always told I was too strong and didn’t need my parents affirmation and protection but yet my sister did. She was the one he dotes on. She was the one he manipulated. I guess I was blessed that he ignored me.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. We can honor our parents the best when we live out our own life well, in spite of their parenting mistakes. A child succeeding where their parents failed is a threat to their parent’s parenting.

    Too many parents demand honor or obedience and tolerance of their abuse. Just posted my own thoughts on this topic on my blog. I explained why logically, we are NOT commanded by God, nature, nor logic to ALWAYS give our parents an ear and help them if they ask.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. A lovely summary and very true. What is even more true that I recognize so many in it…as adults, as parents and as children. But no one seems to recognize it or give practical advice how to cope with narcissistic parenting, narcissism or building oneself up when you were a child of this type of parenting. How should the wife or husband of such in law parents react? Or a teacher? Would be great to hear something about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Aliefwrites says:

    This was a great read. It explained why I let so many people walk over and why I am in a marriage with a Narcissist. It was what I was accustomed to. I felt this is the way I am supposed to be treated because something was wrong with me. To my mom nothing I did was correct. When it came to me wanting to make my own decisions or do something, it was wrong and crazy. If I wasnt like her or agree with her I was wrong.
    Now, like I said, Im in the same rut with my husband. I now know how not to treat my kids and what to look out for.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am glad you found this helpful. Thank you for commenting Alie✨


  34. Angela says:

    Another wonderful post. I’m a “child” of a severely narcissistic mother who abandoned me as an adult when I finally said, “no more.” I’ve suffered through all of the effects. Lots of acceptance of the situation, forgiveness, lots of therapy and lots of compassion for myself. It’s tough being alienated but no amount of toxicity is worth not.

    Liked by 3 people

  35. I realized only a few years ago that this is what the problem was. Most of the points you wrote out apply to me. My mother only sees what is right in her eyes and if something is different or “weird” then it’s wrong. I’m positive she has depression herself yet isn’t willing to admit it or do anything about it because according to my parents “everyone has depression” and the culture that they were raised doesn’t acknowledge issues like that but rather forces people to ignore them.
    I remember one time when my mom was having yet another tantrum about something and crying, my dad told me to go apologize and comfort her. I said “for what, I didnt do anything.” And he replied with “well you know how your mother is, you have to be the mature one”…I still remember that so clearly.
    I’m really glad that lately I’ve been seeing more content about Narcissistic parents because I can see that I’m not crazy for feeling the way I do. Thank you for the post

    Liked by 3 people

  36. C.C. says:

    Thank you for this post. As I have gotten older I realize that my mother was a narcissist. The information you provide is invaluable and so helpful.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. Ladysag77 says:

    This post really put things into perspective for me. I am an adult child of a who’s mother is a narcissistic borderline. It’s taken me many years of therapy, time spent in self reflection to understand not only myself but to unravel the harmful conditioning placed upon me by my mother. I’ve come a long way yet it will always be a work in progress. One of the main roles I played in our family was emotionally rescuing her. Recently, we spent time together and there was a situation I found myself in where I recognized I was doing it again! We had a blow up and it became quite clear how much that doesn’t serve me, makes me feel awful and how over doing that I am! I look at these moments now in my life as gifts. Like, oh thank you God for presenting me with another experience to know and solidify just how much that behavior is in my past and needs to be done with!
    It’s all about forgiveness, acceptance and moving on. I have healed and have created real change in my own life. At 75, I know my mother will always be the way she is. No amount of my input will change her.
    Your posts are so informative Dr. Perry. Thank you for being here in this space❤

    Liked by 2 people

  38. AnuRijo says:

    Good to readers..especially for parents always interesting and informative 👍🏻keep up the good work..jus wondering how you pick such interesting topics..hats off 👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  39. “We take notice that they purposely use control and manipulation to keep us engaged in an unhealthy relationship. Our parents should want us to leave the nest and soar and not to live in their shadows.”
    Yes! That is what I experienced, but when I brought up MY children, I wanted them to leave the nest and soar, which they did!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. On point and well-written! 🙂
    Even if it’s something a lot of us have gotten to see and understand, narcissism or any other disorder, often are seen in the abused themselves. Holding on to a perfection card, even though you very well know life is not perfect for anyone.
    It’s good to remind ourselves to be more forgiving; to not try to change what we can’t, yet know what we can, so as to not blame ourselves or another anymore, otherwise it’d counterproductive to our own healing. Thanks for the read, Doc!

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Nicole Smoke says:

    My mother and father have made no effort to apologize for their response to me asking them for custody of my daughter. I was disillusioned to think my father was the one who had his head screwed on straight, then I remember that he didn’t say anything to me for a year and a half after I moved out of the house. I love my family and my daughter shouldn’t have to go through what they are putting us through out of fear that I won’t be able to be her mother. My heart breaks as I consider that the only way to stop them badmouthing me is if I have no contact with them. It’s killing me but it’s for her so she is not consistently told what a useless person her mother is. It’s sickening how much they just don’t care what damages are done. Thank you for your post, a little reflection of the truth never hurt anyone…

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Rowena says:

    Thank you for this. I was delighted not to know anybody who matched this description, although your explanation was very clear and I could see this type very clearly.
    It’s interesting to think of kids moving out and developing their own lives. Family and extended family have always been very important to me and it’s hard to imagine not seeing our kids regularly although they’re about to turn 18 and 16. So many kids don’t leave the nest these days too. It’s hard to know what our connection with our older children will be, although I know the youngest will be gone as soon as she can. She’s wanting to become a professional ballerina and could end up anywhere.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

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