Narcissism can have far-reaching effects on children raised in that environment. Participating in therapy may help families cope and repair those relationships.

An adult woman having a difficult conversation with her narcissistic father. Share on Pinterest
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Narcissism involves a personality disorder or traits that can affect someone’s self-image and how they interact with and treat others.

Narcissistic parents are parents whose narcissistic traits or narcissistic personality disorder can affect how they parent their children. Children of narcissistic parents may often have mental health effects from this treatment, even into adulthood.

This article takes a deeper dive into some of the common traits of narcissistic parents, the effects narcissistic parenting may have on children, and some coping skills for healing.

Narcissism may present as an overinflated image of oneself and an inclination to use manipulation tactics for personal gain. People with narcissistic traits may often have low empathy and appear selfish yet hypersensitive and overly dependent on others.

Narcissism can appear in parents as personality traits or symptoms of a mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). When a parent has NPD, their behaviors can significantly affect their children’s mental health.

While no one example exists of a narcissistic parent, some potential signs of narcissism in parents include:

  • living vicariously through their child and treating their child as an extension of themselves
  • withholding love, compassion, empathy, or understanding from their children or family members
  • becoming extremely jealous and possessive when a child’s interest or attention is elsewhere
  • using bullying techniques to maintain control, like teasing, criticizing, manipulating, and gaslighting
  • being emotionally inflexible and reactive while not allowing their child to display their emotions
  • refusing to place boundaries or respect any boundaries that their child creates for them
  • blaming their children or family members when things go wrong and refusing to take responsibility
  • neglecting or abusing their child, either emotionally, verbally, or physically, sometimes intentionally

Children may have difficulty protecting themselves from parents who engage in narcissistic behaviors, and experiencing narcissistic parenting may often lead to long-term mental health effects.

Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of the effects of narcissistic parenting, here are some of the possible signs that a narcissistic parent may have raised you.

You find it difficult to take care of your own needs

Narcissistic parents may often place themselves first in their relationships with children and family, which can teach young children that their own needs aren’t important.

Children of narcissistic parents may experience high levels of guilt, self-doubt, and low self-esteem or have difficulty making decisions in their own lives.

You find it difficult to create healthy boundaries

Children of narcissistic parents may find it difficult to create boundaries with others because their parents don’t respect the boundaries the children set up.

When people with narcissistic parents create boundaries with other people, it can be uncomfortable and lead to feelings of guilt and shame.

You constantly try people-pleasing

Children of narcissistic parents may often grow up learning that the only way to gain love and affection from their parents is by doing whatever it takes to please them.

As adults, this can lead to insecure attachment styles, codependency with partners, and unhealthy or even harmful romantic relationships.

You show narcissistic traits toward others

Parents may be a child’s first role models, and children raised by narcissistic parents may grow to believe that the way their parents treat them is how they should treat others.

Children and adults with narcissistic parents may find themselves with similar traits, like selfishness, hypersensitivity, or intense competitiveness.

You experience symptoms of mental health conditions

A 2012 study suggested that children of parents with narcissistic traits or NPD may be more likely to develop behavioral or emotional conditions, even early in life.

People with narcissistic parents may develop conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).

It’s not uncommon for only one parent in a relationship to exhibit narcissistic traits while the other parent serves as the protector. If you’re the parent of a child with another narcissistic parent, you can protect your child in a few ways:

  • Become the safe parent that your child can turn to whenever they need.
  • Create personal boundaries with the parent that your child can follow.
  • Set examples of healthy behaviors that your child can also engage in.
  • Communicate openly and validate your child’s feelings and concerns.
  • Minimize contact with the other parent if you’re separated and co-parenting.
  • Keep documentation and take action if neglect or abuse occurs.

Healing from narcissistic parenting sometimes — but not always — means repairing the relationship with the parent. And while it’s not always an easy path, here are a few steps you can take as you work on healing:

  • Acknowledge the reality: One of the most important steps in the healing process is understanding that many people with narcissistic traits or NPD may lack the desire to change or face barriers to change. So, repairing your relationship with them may take some radical acceptance on your part.
  • Set personal boundaries: People with narcissistic traits or NPD may refuse to respect their children’s boundaries, even in adulthood. Allowing a narcissistic parent back into your life means setting and keeping whatever boundaries you need to stay safe and healthy.
  • Get professional help: Repairing a relationship with a narcissistic parent isn’t easy, and often, a lot of emotional history exists to process. Support can come from yourself, a support system, or a trained mental health professional.

Family therapy can be a great option if people involved are ready to talk honestly and start the road to repairing parent and child relationships. You can use a search tool to find mental health professionals in your area to help with this process.

Narcissistic parents may often engage in self-centered and selfish behaviors that may significantly affect their children early on and later in life. In fact, research suggests that children of narcissistic parents may be more likely to develop emotional and behavioral conditions eventually.

Whether you’re the child of a narcissistic parent or the parent of a child with another narcissistic parent, resources are available that can help you navigate this relationship. Consider connecting with a mental health professional for more support.