Breaking Free: Overcoming the Legacy of Narcissistic Parents

Growing up with narcissistic parents can be like trying to navigate a maze in the dark, full of unexpected twists and turns that leave you feeling lost and confused. The legacy of such an upbringing can be challenging to overcome.

However, by understanding the nature of narcissism and the impact it has on familial relationships, we can begin to break free from its damaging effects.

narcissistic parents

The Characteristics and Behaviors of Narcissistic Parents

Narcissistic parents exhibit a range of behaviors and characteristics that can be damaging to their children. Here are some of the most common:

1. Self-Centeredness

In the world of a narcissistic parent, they are the sun around which all else orbits.

Their needs, desires, and interests take precedence over everything else, including the needs of their children.

They view their offspring as extensions of themselves, rather than as separate individuals with unique thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Consequently, their parenting style is primarily driven by self-interest, often at the expense of their children’s well-being.

A narcissistic parent’s self-centeredness extends beyond mere selfishness or occasional neglect.

It is a pervasive pattern of behavior that dictates the dynamics within the family.

The parent’s wants and moods can dominate the household, creating an environment where everyone else’s needs, including those of the children, are consistently sidelined.

This can lead to situations where the child feels unheard, invisible, or unimportant.

25 characteristics of narcissistic mothers

2. Emotionally Unavailable

One of the most damaging aspects of this self-centeredness is the lack of emotional availability for their children.

Narcissistic parents are typically engrossed in their own emotional experiences and struggles, leaving little room for empathy or understanding towards their children’s feelings.

They may dismiss, ignore, or even ridicule their children’s emotions if they perceive them as inconvenient or irrelevant to their own concerns.

This consistent lack of emotional support can lead to feelings of loneliness and alienation in children.

They grow up believing that their feelings are invalid or unimportant, which can impact their ability to form healthy emotional relationships in the future.

Moreover, the child may develop a distorted sense of self-worth, believing that they must suppress their needs and desires to accommodate those of others.

daughters of narcissistic fathers

3. Grandiosity and Superiority

A key characteristic of narcissistic parents is their grandiose sense of self-importance and superiority.

They view themselves as exceptional individuals – superior to others in terms of intelligence, attractiveness, or achievements.

This inflated self-perception is frequently accompanied by a deep-seated need for admiration and validation, causing them to constantly seek the spotlight.

In their quest for admiration, narcissistic parents may resort to boasting about their accomplishments, exaggerating their skills, or even fabricating stories that portray them as being more successful than they truly are.

They will also belittle or dismiss the achievements of others, including their own children, to maintain their perceived superiority.

This behavior is not just confined to private interactions, but can also manifest in public settings, leading to potentially embarrassing situations for the child.

angry mother

This grandiosity and superiority can create a confusing and challenging environment for children.

They are perpetually overshadowed by their parent’s exaggerated greatness, leading to feelings of inadequacy or invisibility.

The constant comparison can distort their understanding of success and worthiness, making them believe that they must achieve extraordinary feats to be considered valuable.

Moreover, the narcissistic parent’s need to maintain their superior status can result in a lack of genuine praise or recognition for the child’s accomplishments.

This can lead to a chronic lack of self-esteem in the child, who comes to believe that their efforts are never good enough. In some cases, the child may also internalize their parent’s grandiosity, leading to unrealistic expectations of themselves and others.

4. Manipulation and Control

Manipulation and control are central tenets in the playbook of a narcissistic parent.

They are master manipulators, using a range of tactics to maintain their power and influence over their children. These tactics can include the use of guilt, fear, obligation, or even affection and praise as tools for control.

Emotional Blackmail

Narcissistic parents will frequently resort to emotional blackmail, making their children feel guilty for not meeting their expectations or for prioritizing their own needs.

They may instill fear by threatening to withdraw love, support, or approval if the child does not comply with their wishes.

Similarly, they can create a sense of obligation, making the child feel indebted to them for their upbringing or sacrifices.


One particularly insidious form of manipulation employed by narcissistic parents is gaslighting.

This involves distorting or denying reality to create confusion and self-doubt in the child.

They will dismiss the child’s memories or perceptions, insisting that events did not happen as the child remembers, or that the child is being overly sensitive or misinterpreting situations.

Over time, this can lead to the child questioning their own judgement and reality.

Weaponizing Affection

In some cases, narcissistic parents may also use affection or praise as a means of control.

They will shower the child with love and compliments when the child behaves according to their wishes, and withdraw these when the child asserts independence or disobeys.

This inconsistent reinforcement creates an unstable emotional environment and fosters a constant need for approval in the child.

narcissistic father

5. Lack of Empathy

Empathy is often conspicuously absent in narcissistic parents.

Their inability to empathize is not just a mere oversight. It is a defining characteristic that profoundly impacts their interactions with their children.

Narcissistic parents are totally preoccupied with their own feelings and experiences, leaving little room for considering those of others, including their own children.

This lack of empathy can manifest in various ways.

Narcissistic parents will dismiss their child’s feelings as trivial, irrelevant, or inconvenient, especially if these feelings do not align with their own or pose a challenge to their self-centered worldview.

They could also belittle or ridicule the child’s emotions, or simply ignore them altogether.

In some cases, they may even use the child’s emotions against them, manipulating their feelings to gain control or to serve their own purposes.

For instance, they might exploit a child’s guilt or fear to obtain compliance, or twist a child’s love and affection into a tool for manipulation.

conditional love

6. Conditional Love

One of the most harmful aspects of being raised by a narcissistic parent is the experience of conditional love.

This type of love is contingent on the child’s behavior, performance, or compliance with the parent’s wishes.

It is an unstable form of affection that can be granted or withdrawn at the parent’s discretion, creating an unpredictable and anxiety-inducing environment for the child.

Narcissistic parents often set high, sometimes unattainable, expectations for their children.

These expectations can span a range of areas, from academic performance and sports achievements to physical appearance and social popularity.

The child is often praised and rewarded when they meet these expectations, but criticized, ignored, or even punished when they fall short.

Moreover, narcissistic parents may manipulate their love and approval to control their children’s behavior.

They may lavish affection when their children comply with their demands or reflect positively on them, and withhold it when they assert their independence or challenge the parent’s authority.

conditional love

7. Violation of Boundaries

Boundaries are a critical part of any healthy relationship, serving as invisible lines that separate individuals and respect their autonomy.

However, narcissistic parents often overlook these boundaries, viewing their children not as independent beings with their own needs and rights, but as extensions of themselves.

This violation of boundaries can manifest in various ways, all of which undermine the child’s sense of self and personal space.

No Privacy

One common way narcissistic parents violate boundaries is by invading their children’s privacy.

They may read their child’s diary, monitor their online activity, or intrude on their personal conversations without permission.

They feel entitled to know every detail of their child’s life and justify this intrusion as parental concern or responsibility.

Emotional Enmeshment

Another boundary violation involves dismissing or overriding the child’s feelings.

Narcissistic parents will belittle their child’s emotions, telling them they’re overreacting or being too sensitive.

By invalidating the child’s feelings, they undermine the child’s emotional reality and self-trust.

Moreover, narcissistic parents may demand an inappropriate level of emotional involvement from their children.

They might expect the child to cater to their emotional needs, confide in them about adult issues, or serve as their emotional crutch.

This role reversal, known as parentification, places an unfair burden on the child and disrupts their emotional development.

The Impact of Narcissistic Parents on Their Children

The Impact of Narcissistic Parents on Their Children

Narcissistic parents place their needs and desires above those of their children. They are primarily focused on maintaining their image of perfection and superiority, which comes at the expense of acknowledging and nurturing their child’s individuality.

This skewed dynamic can lead to a host of issues, including low self-esteem, difficulty forming healthy relationships, and a deep-seated fear of failure in the children affected.

Here are some of the ways that narcissistic parenting can affect children:

children of narcissistic parents - low self esteem

1. Low Self-Esteem

Self-esteem, the subjective evaluation of one’s self-worth, is a vital component of psychological well-being.

However, children raised by narcissistic parents frequently grapple with feelings of low self-esteem.

This struggle often stems from their parents’ unrealistic expectations, incessant criticism, and conditional love, leading to a pervasive sense that they are never good enough.

Narcissistic parents often project their own ambitions and desires onto their children, setting exceptionally high standards for them to meet.

When these expectations are not met, the child faces harsh criticism or withdrawal of affection, reinforcing the belief that their worth is tied to their performance or compliance.

Furthermore, narcissistic parents often engage in constant comparison, either with their own achievements or with those of other children.

This can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, as the child feels continually overshadowed and underappreciated.

They may also be subject to belittling comments or dismissive attitudes, which further undermine their self-confidence.

The impact of this low self-esteem can be far-reaching, extending into various aspects of the individual’s life well into adulthood.

It can affect their personal relationships, as they may struggle with trust issues, fear of rejection, or a tendency to enter into unbalanced or abusive partnerships.

In their careers, they might face difficulties asserting themselves, taking on leadership roles, or seeking deserved recognition.

Their mental health can also suffer, with increased risks of anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.

The Impact of Narcissistic Parents on Their Children

2. Difficulty Trusting Others

Trust is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship.

However, children of narcissistic parents often face challenges in this area due to the unpredictable and manipulative behavior exhibited by their parents.

These experiences can lead to deep-seated trust issues, making it difficult for them to form secure and meaningful relationships later in life.

Narcissistic parents invariably prioritize their own needs over those of their children, without any regard for the feelings or well-being of their child.

Additionally, narcissistic parents frequently break promises or fail to follow through on commitments.

They may promise rewards for good behavior, only to withdraw them arbitrarily, or make commitments that they have no intention of keeping.

This inconsistency between words and actions can create a sense of instability and unpredictability, eroding the child’s ability to trust.

These early experiences can significantly impact the child’s future relationships.

They find it difficult to trust others, fearing betrayal or abandonment.

They might also struggle with vulnerability, as opening up to others and expressing their feelings was likely met with dismissal or manipulation in their childhood.

This can result in a pattern of guardedness or avoidance in relationships, preventing the formation of deep, secure bonds.

children of narcissistic parents

3. Fear of Abandonment

Narcissistic parents often use threats of abandonment or withdrawal of love as a means to control their children.

This behavior can instill a deep-seated fear of abandonment in their children, leading to lasting feelings of insecurity and anxiety in their adult relationships.

Narcissistic parents condition their love on the child’s behavior or performance.

When the child fails to meet their unrealistic expectations or disagrees with them, the parent reacts by threatening to withdraw their love or even abandon the child.

This conditional affection creates an unstable emotional environment where the child constantly fears losing their parent’s love.

Additionally, narcissistic parents often emotionally abandon their children by neglecting their emotional needs, dismissing their feelings, or prioritizing their own interests.

This emotional abandonment can be as damaging, if not more so, than physical abandonment, as it can leave the child feeling unseen and unheard.

As adults, these children carry this fear of abandonment into their relationships.

They may become excessively clingy or needy, constantly seeking reassurance from their partners.

Alternatively, they might avoid getting too close to others out of fear of being abandoned again.

This fear can cause significant anxiety and insecurity, hindering the development of healthy, secure relationships.

children of narcissistic parents

4. Problems with Boundaries

Healthy personal boundaries are essential for maintaining respect and understanding in relationships.

However, children of narcissistic parents often grow up without a clear understanding of these boundaries, as their parents used to regularly invade their personal space or dismiss their feelings.

As adults, these individuals may struggle to establish and enforce healthy boundaries in their relationships.

They find it difficult to assert their needs, express their feelings, or say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands.

They may also tolerate inappropriate behavior from others, as they have been conditioned to believe that their needs and feelings are secondary.

This lack of boundaries can lead to imbalanced relationships, where they constantly give more than they receive.

They often become overly accommodating, sacrificing their own well-being to please others. This can result in feelings of resentment, exhaustion, and a sense of being taken advantage of.

sons of narcissistic fathers

5. Constant Need for Validation

The need for validation is a fundamental human desire, but for individuals who have grown up with narcissistic parents, this need can become amplified.

Having experienced a childhood where approval and affection were inconsistently given or often withheld, these individuals find themselves in a perpetual quest for external validation.

This can make them highly sensitive to criticism and rejection, and lead them to go to great lengths to please others.

As adults, these individuals may continue to seek validation from others, as they’ve been conditioned to believe their self-worth is tied to external approval.

They might become people-pleasers, perpetually striving to meet others’ expectations at the expense of their own needs and happiness.

They may also be overly sensitive to criticism, interpreting it as a rejection of their worth rather than constructive feedback.

This constant need for validation can also make them vulnerable to toxic relationships, as they may tolerate mistreatment or disrespect in their quest for approval.

6. Difficulty Expressing Emotions

Emotional expression is a fundamental aspect of human communication and relationships.

However, children of narcissistic parents often face challenges in expressing their emotions due to the dismissive or invalidating responses they received from their parents.

As adults, they often struggle to express their emotions in a healthy and constructive manner.

They find it difficult to identify and articulate their feelings, leading to confusion and frustration.

They may also fear expressing their emotions, worrying that doing so will lead to rejection or ridicule.

This can result in emotional outbursts or withdrawal, further complicating their interpersonal relationships.

breaking free from narcissistic parents

How to Break Free From Narcissistic Parents

Breaking free from the legacy of narcissistic parents is not an easy task, but it is possible.

Here are some steps to help you on your journey towards healing:

Acknowledge the Problem

The journey towards healing from the impact of narcissistic parents often begins with the crucial first step: recognizing and acknowledging the problem.

This can be a challenging task, as narcissistic parents are adept at manipulating situations to cast themselves in a blameless light.

They create a façade of perfection, making it difficult for their children to identify and acknowledge the dysfunctional dynamics within their family.

Recognizing the problem involves understanding what narcissism is and how it manifests in parental behavior.

It requires a critical examination of one’s upbringing and the courage to question the narratives that narcissistic parents have instilled.

This includes acknowledging the pain, confusion, and emotional neglect that stem from living with narcissistic parents.

Acknowledging the problem also means validating one’s own experiences and emotions.

It involves understanding that it’s okay to feel hurt, angry, or betrayed by one’s parents’ actions, and that these feelings are a natural response to their manipulative and dismissive behavior.

While this step can be emotionally challenging, it is a critical part of the healing journey.

It paves the way for individuals to seek professional help, engage in self-reflective practices, and begin the process of setting boundaries and reclaiming their self-worth.

children of narcissistic parents therapy

Seek Professional Help

Navigating the aftermath of narcissistic parenting can be a daunting task.

The emotional scars and complex dynamics left behind can often be overwhelming to deal with alone.

This is where professional help comes into play.

A Safe Place to Process

Therapists and counselors can provide invaluable guidance and support to individuals on this challenging journey.

Experienced therapists can offer a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to explore their past, understand their feelings, and navigate their path towards healing.

They can provide insights into narcissistic behavior patterns, helping individuals recognize and make sense of their experiences.

This understanding can be crucial in breaking the cycle of narcissistic abuse and preventing its recurrence in future relationships.

Effective Coping Strategies

Moreover, therapists can teach effective coping strategies and tools to manage the emotional fallout of narcissistic abuse.

These might include techniques for managing anxiety and stress, strategies for setting boundaries, and exercises to improve self-esteem and self-worth.

They can also guide individuals in developing healthier relational patterns and improving their communication skills.

Psychiatric Help if Necessary

Furthermore, if the aftermath of narcissistic parenting has led to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatrist can provide appropriate treatment, including medication if necessary.

Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a proactive step towards healing and regaining control over one’s life.

setting boundaries

Set Boundaries

One of the most common characteristics of narcissistic parents is their tendency to infringe upon personal boundaries, often leading to feelings of violation and disrespect.

Establishing boundaries with narcissistic parents involves clearly identifying what behavior you will and will not accept.

It requires introspection to understand your needs, values, and limits.

Once these boundaries are identified, it’s crucial to communicate them directly and succinctly to your parents.

Beating around the bush can lead to misunderstandings, providing opportunities for your boundaries to be breached.

Enforce Your Boundaries

Enforcing these boundaries is equally important as setting them.

If a boundary is violated, it’s vital to carry out the consequences you’ve outlined.

For instance, if a parent continues to make hurtful comments despite being asked not to, you might choose to limit contact or communication with them.

Navigating this process can be challenging, as narcissistic parents are likely to react with anger, guilt-tripping, or further manipulation.

It’s important not to respond negatively or engage in arguments.

Instead, consistently reinforce your boundaries and remind yourself that your well-being is a priority.

Stand Up For Yourself

Setting boundaries also means standing up for yourself.

Do not allow disrespectful or hurtful treatment.

Do not provide justifications or explanations for your boundaries. You have the right to establish and protect your boundaries without having to explain or justify them.

Go Low Contact or No Contact

In some cases, limiting contact with narcissistic parents can be a beneficial strategy.

This might include reducing the frequency of visits or calls, or in extreme cases, considering going no-contact.

However, such decisions should be made carefully, taking into account your emotional well-being and the potential implications.

take care of yourself - children of narcissistic parents

Practice Self-Care

Children of narcissistic parents often grow up prioritizing their parents’ needs over their own.

This pattern of self-neglect often persists into adulthood, making it difficult for individuals to recognize and meet their own needs.

As such, practicing self-care becomes a crucial component of the healing process.

Nurture Your Body and Soul

Self-care involves engaging in activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

It means taking time out of your day to do things that bring you joy, peace, and satisfaction.

This could include hobbies such as reading, gardening, painting, or any other activity that allows you to express yourself and experience happiness.


Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are also an important part of self-care.

These might include practices like mindfulness meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.

Such techniques can help reduce stress, improve focus, and promote a sense of inner calm.

They provide a space for introspection, allowing you to connect with your emotions and cultivate self-awareness.


Physical Health

Maintaining physical health is another key aspect of self-care.

Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and regular medical check-ups all contribute to overall well-being.

Exercise, in particular, can be a powerful mood booster, helping to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Emotional Health

Self-care also includes acknowledging and validating your feelings.

It’s okay to feel hurt, angry, or betrayed by your parents’ actions.

Expressing these feelings, either through journaling, art, or talking to a trusted friend or therapist, can be therapeutic and healing.

Rest and Rejuvenation

Lastly, self-care involves setting aside time for rest and rejuvenation.

This could mean taking naps, enjoying a relaxing bath, or simply spending some quiet time alone.

Remember, it’s okay to say no to demands on your time and energy if you need to rest.

sleep is important

Foster Healthy Relationships

Growing up with narcissistic parents can significantly skew one’s understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship.

Such an upbringing often results in a distorted perception of love, respect, and mutual understanding.

However, surrounding oneself with positive, supportive people can help counteract this and pave the way for healthier interpersonal relationships.

Empathy and Active Listening

Building healthy relationships begins with fostering empathy and active listening.

By paying close attention to others when they speak and trying to understand their perspective, you cultivate a sense of mutual respect and trust.

This practice promotes open communication, a fundamental aspect of any healthy relationship.

children of narcissistic parents - active listening

Mutual Care

Healthy relationships are also characterized by mutual care.

It is important to take care of your own needs, but equally essential to consider the needs of others.

This balance ensures that both parties feel valued and respected.

Being dependable and following through on commitments is another way to build trust and show respect for others.

Committing Time to the Relationship

Prioritizing one-on-one time is also key factor in maintaining strong relationships.

Whether it’s a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member, dedicating quality time allows you to strengthen your bond and understand each other better.

Engaging in shared activities or exploring new ones together can further enhance your connection.


Respect and established boundaries are pivotal in fostering healthy relationships.

Everyone has the right to personal space and should feel comfortable expressing their limits.

Understanding and respecting these boundaries is crucial for maintaining a sense of safety and trust in a relationship.

Fostering Good Communication

Having open conversations and practicing effective communication skills are essential elements of any good relationship.

If something bothers you, it’s healthier to express it rather than hold it in.

Simultaneously, it’s also important to show appreciation, to be affectionate, and to apologize when you’re wrong.

Be Open to New People

Keeping your social circle open to new individuals can also contribute to fostering healthier relationships.

Meeting new people can provide fresh perspectives, help you learn more about yourself and others, and potentially lead to meaningful connections.

Pursue Personal Growth

Your experiences with narcissistic parents, while undoubtedly challenging, can also serve as a powerful catalyst for personal growth.

Emotional Intelligence

Focus on developing emotional intelligence.

This encompasses recognizing and managing your own emotions, as well as empathizing with others’ feelings.

Emotional intelligence can help you respond rather than react to challenging situations, reducing the likelihood of falling back into old patterns of behavior.

Develop Resilience

Developing resilience is another crucial aspect of personal growth.

Resilience enables you to bounce back from adversity and maintain your mental health amidst challenges.

Building resilience may involve cultivating a positive outlook, practicing stress management techniques, or establishing a strong support network.

self love

Work on Self-Love

Finally, personal growth includes fostering self-love and self-respect.

Remember, you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, and it’s okay to distance yourself from those who don’t treat you that way.

Celebrate your strengths, embrace your flaws, and strive to be the best version of yourself.

Final Thoughts on Breaking Free From Narcissistic Parents

Breaking free from the influence of narcissistic parents is a journey that involves self-care, fostering healthy relationships, and pursuing personal growth.

It’s about reclaiming your autonomy, establishing boundaries, and learning to prioritize your needs.

While the path may be challenging, it’s also an opportunity for profound transformation and healing.

Remember, you have the strength within you to overcome these challenges and create a fulfilling life that reflects your values and aspirations.

The first step is understanding; the next steps involve action, growth, and ultimately, freedom.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissism

Frequently Asked Questions About Narcissistic Parents

What are some signs of a narcissistic parent?

Narcissistic parents often exhibit behaviors such as excessive control, lack of empathy, manipulation, and a constant need for admiration. They may also belittle their children’s achievements and use guilt or fear to maintain control.

How does having a narcissistic parent affect a child?

Children of narcissistic parents often struggle with low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and difficulty forming healthy relationships. They may also develop anxiety or depression, and have a higher risk of becoming narcissists themselves.

How can I cope with a narcissistic parent?

Coping strategies may include setting boundaries, seeking therapy, educating yourself about narcissism, and cultivating a strong support network. It’s also important to remember that you’re not responsible for your parent’s narcissism and that it’s okay to prioritize your own mental health.

Is it okay to cut off contact with a narcissistic parent?

In some cases, limiting or cutting off contact may be the best course of action for your mental and emotional wellbeing. This is a personal decision and one that should be made with careful consideration and, if possible, professional guidance.

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