Narcissistic parenting is a form of parenting where the parent puts their own needs and desires above those of their child. Narcissistic parents tend to be highly controlling, overly critical, and demanding. They may also be emotionally distant, manipulative, and/or neglectful of their children’s needs.
When a child is raised by a narcissistic parent, they may develop a distorted sense of self-identity. This is because they are constantly receiving messages from their parent that they are not good enough or not worthy of love and approval. The child may become desperate for approval and may turn to extreme measures to seek it.
The child may also become highly sensitive, have trouble regulating, and be easily hurt. They may become prone to anger and frustration and have trouble forming relationships and difficulty trusting others.
How to recognize the signs? How does narcissistic parenting impact one’s mental health? How to deal with the aftermath?
Signs that one has been raised by a narcissistic parent
Many parents have high expectations from their children. However, it doesn’t have to mean that they are narcissistic.
Chronic narcissistic parenting shows clear signs of denying the child’s independence, even later in life when they are an adult. The parent(s) are often not aware of the impact their behavior has on their children.
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Imposing their own wishes
Narcissistic parents reflect their wishes and dreams on their children, repressing their individuality and affecting their sense of self-worth. The parent may force the child to engage in activities they don’t like and pursue dreams they do not believe in.
Suffocating their child’s own personality, desires, and dreams, a narcissistic family will induce feelings of shame and interfere with the child’s authenticity. Narcissistic parent abuse is often correlated with the child adopting a people-pleasing behavior.
Paradoxically, even though parental narcissism often leads to pushing the child to accomplish spectacular results, a narcissistic parent feels threatened by their child’s achievements. Consequently, they will try to bring them down to regain the feeling of superiority. The parent does this through criticism, exaggerated comparisons, and not validating the child’s achievements.
A narcissistic parent uses manipulation, imposing a feeling of guilt. They blame the child for things that originate from their own behavior. Furthermore, they make the child feel unworthy of love and affection for not putting their own needs first.
A self-centered parent feels jealous when the child becomes independent. They expect to influence the child forever, and any sign of independence results in envy. The behavior can go to extremes, and they might even feel the adult child’s romantic partner is a competition.
The narcissistic parent often displays a superior attitude and brags about their “success,” looking to always be the center of attention. Social media is often an outlet for narcissistic personas, feeding their inflated sense of their own importance and allowing them to overshare their accomplishments, looks, or material possessions.
What happens when you grow up with narcissistic parents
Being raised by a narcissistic parent can lead to different mental health conditions. As a response to trauma, abused children develop certain characteristics and behaviors that gravitate around a common theme: low self-esteem. Furthermore, children of narcissists often struggle with toxic shame, anxiety, and depression.
For a self-obsessed parent, children will never meet their high expectations. Due to constant criticism, the child feels incapable and unworthy of love. These feelings affect the person on a subconscious level, resulting in low self-esteem and types of behaviors that can impact their relationships with other adults and even their own children.
Children of narcissists learn they aren’t good enough and eventually can adopt an attention-seeking behavior in their adult life. A self-obsessed parent expresses their needs for achievement and praise through the child, resulting in a strong need for validation and approval from others.
The years of living with a narcissistic parent have a toll on one’s mental health, which manifests in different ways. One of the common effects is the feeling of indecisiveness. After years of narcissistic abuse, they still feel they would hurt someone if they choose the right thing for them.
People with narcissistic traits can’t stand the feeling of weakness. As a response, they will shame their children to achieve their much-needed feeling of superiority and feed their exaggerated sense of self-importance.
Tendency to pick partners that exhibit narcissistic traits
Children exposed to abusive behavior tend to dive into relationships that compromise their sense of self-worth. They are more likely to choose a partner with narcissistic behavior in future relationships to continue the pattern they have been taught in their childhood. Of course, everything happens on a subconscious level due to the trauma that is now deeply rooted in their belief system and, simply put, in their way of life. A healthy relationship with healthy boundaries is a difficult task for someone who doesn’t feel validated.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are often the results of children raised by narcissistic parents. The high standards imposed by self-obsessed parents put extreme pressure on children to perform well. Whenever these unrealistic goals aren’t met, the child feels less than perfect and worthless. Anxiety and depression often follow.
After a childhood spent trying to please their hot-headed parent, the child can develop people-pleasing behavior. This type of behavior is often found in children whose needs have been neglected. A narcissistic parent makes the child feel guilty when they try to achieve their own goals and stray from the path planned ahead. And no child wants to be the cause of an unhappy parent. Thus, the child understands they need to cater to others’ needs to be worthy. Therefore, they can become overly accommodating to others.
How can one deal with the aftermath of being raised by a narcissistic parent?
The healing process for individuals raised by narcissistic parents is difficult. However, everything starts with recognizing narcissism.
For a narcissist, their needs are a priority. Therefore, they will put them ahead of having a functional family unit.
After years of emotional abuse, it is challenging for individuals to understand they aren’t responsible for their parent’s behavior. But this is the first step to developing self-supporting/coping behavior.
When the individual understands they aren’t responsible for their parent’s abusive behavior, they can start to set boundaries. No one is obligated to endure unpleasant behavior and emotional abuse.
Therefore, setting healthy boundaries is key if you want to escape the chains of low self-esteem. Remember that it is in the narcissist’s nature to go beyond the set boundaries, so you need to learn to be firm and clear about the consequences.
Parental narcissism is a sensitive subject, and many aren’t familiar with it. Therefore, seeking help and support from your close friends might not work.
Instead, you can always try to find support groups and connect with people that have experienced what you have experienced. They know what you’ve been through and will understand the struggles you are dealing with now as an adult.
It’s a lot easier to form a connection with someone who’s been through what you’ve been than to try and make people understand your inner struggles if they come from a different emotional background than yours.
A narcissistic parent brings their child down to feel superior. Therefore, low self-confidence is an unavoidable result for children brought up by this type of parental influence.
Individuals who want to heal need to work on improving their self-confidence. They can participate in various activities that enhance their skills and capabilities and create a self-care plan. Adults who were once children of narcissistic parents need to learn to love themselves for who they are and understand that their wishes and needs are valid and should be fulfilled and respected.
Working with a therapist
Recovering from emotional abuse is a lengthy and challenging journey, so seeking professional help might be helpful. Working with an experienced therapist can give them access to tools that will help them move through the healing process.
There is no way to estimate how long you’ll be in therapy for, but sessions will be focused on understanding the root causes, enhanced self-compassion while providing clients with the necessary coping skills to health with the trauma caused by their parent(s).