How narcissistic parenting affects their children

  • The child will not feel like they are seen or heard because they will only be permitted to do what the parent(s) want to do.They never take the child’s wants or preferences into consideration.  This can be anything from taking a family of under tens on a wine tasting “family holiday” or expecting the child to sit quietly in their parent’s office for a whole day without anything to do or following a parent around a golf course for hours on end.  The narcissistic parent will not think of finding alternatives for their child because they simply do not think of their child.
  • The child’s feelings will never be acknowledged, that child will learn from an early age that their feelings do not matter and will be ridiculed, met with anger or punished in a cold blooded way so, they will learn to hide their feelings from their parent, either by physically hiding or stifling tears.
  • The child will never be able to please or impress their parent no matter what they do, which creates self-doubt because nothing the child does will ever be enough. The parent is more interested in how the child makes them look rather than what the child feels or wants.  This makes the child feel invalid, a burden and empty inside, in reality the narcissist is projecting their own sense of emptiness on to the child.  They don’t want to boost the confidence of their child because confident, happy children are much harder to control than self-doubting fearful ones.  The narcissist always has to “win” and they do not want their child to do “better than” them.
  • If the child goes to their narcissistic parent for support the parent will emotionally push them away and will possibly give them a “thing”, “object” rather than listen to their child’s needs. They will also physically push them away to literally keep them at arms- length. What the child needs is to be seen and heard by their parent but their parent will categorically refuse to acknowledge the feelings or their child.
  • Children are hardwired to “love” their primary care givers, especially when they are very young and will try very hard to please them. However, they will see that their friend’s parents love them, dogs show more affection and concern for their puppies, total strangers will show take care of them if they see potential danger where their parents won’t, so they take it personally and begin to think that it is their fault and that they are fundamentally unlovable.
  • If the child tries to show any form of independence, the parent will immediately crush their child by sneering, ridicule, rage or just ignoring them/talking over them. This is done to kill any concept of “self” in the child and to remind the child that there is only one way of thinking or doing and that is the parent’s way, the parent’s way is a movable feast and can change within the space of a day or even an hour.  This creates confusion for the child because there is no stability or connection to their parent(s).
  • Because the child’s opinions, observations and feelings are never acknowledged they will not learn to identify or trust their gut feelings or intuition and will constantly second guess themselves and look for validation from others. This is a very dangerous situation to create because it leaves the child wide open to abuse.
  • The child will be taught that how they make their parent’s look is much more important than how they feel. They will also be taught not to look “better than” their parents and if the parents feel threatened by a child they will set them up to fail saying “I just want what is best for you” or “I know best you are just a child”.
  • The child will become hyper vigilant to the moods and expectations of their parents and will act accordingly putting any genuine feelings or emotions aside to accommodate their parents.
  • Parents will constantly compete with their children, especially their same sex child. A mother can be jealous of her daughter merely because the daughter is younger and more attractive than she is.  Compliments to her daughter will be seen as a threat as it should have been for the mother, the daughter “stole” it from her and this will breed contempt, which in turn causes feelings of shame and confusion in the daughter.
  • Narcissistic parents will interfere in all of their children’s relationships from family of origin, extended family, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives and basically everyone. They know no boundaries what so ever and will frequently try to insert themselves into the middle of their children’s relationships so that they can control the narrative.
  • The children will be expected to keep up the family image through secrets and lies and the family will be referred to as “we” a closed unit rather be encouraged to develop their own sense of self. They will be told “we like/dislike …”, if the child disagrees (and the “we like” can be something as mundane as bananas) they are simply told “yes you do!”.
  • The child will see by example of the narcissistic parent to take advantage of and manipulate others.
  • They will see that cheating, lying and stealing from others to get what you want “is how the world works” and will learn that these are acceptable core values. They will applaud sneaky behaviour in their children (at least the golden child) by saying “s/he will go far in the world” and patting them on the back.
  • The child will learn not to trust others because they cannot trust their parent(s), the thing is that if a child has two narcissistic parents they will only select one as being untrustworthy because having two narcissistic parents would make that child feel extremely unsafe and insecure and they need to believe that they have one safe place to go (even if all the evidence tells them that they don’t).
  • The child will learn to take on far too much responsibility from a very young age, they are parentified in that they are expected to take care of the parent rather than the other way around.
  • Because the child is not permitted to have a “normal” childhood their emotional development will be stunted unless they can find a support outside their family of origin. This could be a teacher, neighbour or a member of their extended family, if they do not find someone outside their family they will feel invalidated and empty inside.
  • Narcissistic parents are extremely critical and judgmental.However, they are highly sensitive to criticism themselves and any criticism will be met with rage or punishment.
  • Children are hardwired to attach to their primary care givers, all animals are, so when they see other people or animals have loving relationships with their parents and their parents don’t love them, they turn it in on themselves and form the belief that they are unlovable.
  • The child will become very passive in the family context because they are made to believe that if they don’t to exactly as they are told they will be severely punished. They are not allowed to say “no” to parental directives (which makes them very obedient and vulnerable to strangers/predators) and this in turn makes them very passive because they feel like they don’t have a voice.  They feel threatened when they express themselves and this is not only expressing needs/wants or opinions it can also stifle their desire to sing/dance or laugh out loud for fear of the repercussions.
  • The narcissistic parent will have ridiculous notions of their potential for fame and success and will frequently blame the children for preventing them from realizing their fantasies “if you hadn’t been born I could have been” (!).
  • For a child to survive in this highly toxic family they have to believe in the rhetoric or at least pretend to.
  • The child will have a seriously distorted view of what love is and this can (and probably will) set them up for very unhealthy relationships in adulthood. This family model will teach them to perceive other people’s dysfunctional ways as normal and will not have learnt appropriate boundaries for other relationships.
  • They will learn that they have to earn “love” and that just being them is not good enough. Since they will not have a strong sense of self it is very common for them to fall into other abusive relationships because they don’t know what they want, will not have learnt self-care and will be at risk of taking care of others and neglect their own needs.
  • The child will be taught that enjoying their own achievements (however small) is selfish and self-indulgent.
  • The child will need to do a lot of emotional work to heal from this extremely toxic “home” environment, right into adulthood.They will literally have to reboot their hard drive to get through all of the lies and manipulation they have been subjected too and re-parent themselves.  They will also have to learn that unless they are talking to someone who understands narcissistic abuse they will be thought to be self-pitying and told to “just get over it”.


Narcissistic parents and their children’s relationships


Narcissistic parents will interfere with all of their children’s relationships.  Those will include:

  • Relationships between siblings (triangulation) and setting one off spring against another.
  • Friendships must be with people that the narcissist does not feel threatened by in any way, so they will disallow friendships that they do not feel that they can completely control. With young children, they will simply refuse to let certain friends of their children over to play.  This could be because the friend of their child is too confident and “sets a bad example” for their own child.  Or because the narcissistic parent is threatened by the parents of the other child. They could be too rich, too popular, too poor, too intellectual or accomplished in some field.
  • As the child gets older they will control friendships by making their own child feel like they make “bad” friendship choices if they do not feel completely in control of the relationship. They will do this by sneering, belittling and overtly mocking their friendship choices.  They will also make that friend feel unwelcome in the family home by ignoring the friend or by being overtly rude to that person.
  • When their teenage children start to have romantic interests they will go into over drive. A narcissistic mother will be overly invested in the sex life of her daughter (especially the scapegoat), repeatedly yelling at them about the perils of getting pregnant and the dire consequences for them if they do, or they can like the drama of teenage romance and want to know every single detail, demanding that their daughter or son over share with them.
  • Children (even adult children) are hard wired to want to belong to their family of origin, so usually they will try to select friends, lovers or partners that will be accepted into their family, as they know that this is the only way that they themselves will be accepted. So, in a way children of narcissistic parents do not choose their own friends/partners it often becomes “a family decision” which leaves that “child” wide open to abusive relationships because the narcissistic parent is not thinking about how that person will behave towards their child, they are only thinking about what that person can offer the narcissist.  Even if they see that the person is being abusive to their child it will not matter to the narcissist so long as that person is charming to them, brings status, celebrity or money or anything that they perceive will make the “look good”.  The narcissistic parent will very often try to be more “important” in their children’s relationships than the child itself.  Or in the case of opposite sex parents will try to be more important to their child than their husband or wife, marginalising the influence that the wife or husband has on their own family decisions.  This can be done by bullying, ignoring the needs and wants of the spouse or by threatening to withhold financial support.  Frequently favouritising more compliant siblings to show how beneficial it is to do the parent’s bidding.

Children of narcissistic parents

If you are a child of narcissistic parents growing up was never loving, supportive, fun, relaxing or safe.  Since narcissists are completely self-obsessed they have absolutely no problem destroying the lives of their children emotionally and socially, they simply use them for their own entertainment or because doing things for their children such as driving them to sports practice or taking them on outings is just too much trouble. After all what is in it for them?  They can control their children more easily if they refuse to accommodate their needs and desires in any way so the answer is always “no”, and after a while the children don’t even bother asking.  If you are born into a family like this the abuse doesn’t stop in adulthood, if anything the disorder of the parent(s) becomes more pronounced in old age.

Many adults are afraid of and avoid their feelings and the feelings of others because they were not validated as a child.  Either they were completely ignored, so expressions of fear, insecurity or sadness were not acknowledged, comforted and could have been punished.  Even expressions of happiness, joy and excitement can also cause irritation/rage in a narcissist parent.  Because these children were not “allowed” to express their own feelings, they have no idea how to process them or recognise them in others.

A narcissist parent will also invalidate/devalue a child if s/he goes to them with the desire to express a feeling or emotion.  This sort of rejection of a child’s emotion may be done by telling the child five reasons why they should not feel a certain way, or tell the child that they misinterpreted the situation – even if the parent wasn’t there. So they might say “I am sure that they didn’t mean it like that” (how can they be sureif they were not present), or they might just be too busy to listen to the little problems that their child has and say something like “not now”, to a child “not now” means “not ever, when a child is rejected like this it is deeply hurtful and so it is highly unlikely that they will return and risk getting rejected again.  We all hate rejection but it is very traumatic for a child, especially from their primary carer. When a child is rejected over small problems, they will learn that it is not safe to go to their primary carer with larger problems, which to a child feels like abandonment.

The effect of this invalidation or denial of a child’s feelings will carry through into adulthood. The adult child will feel that they are not entitled to own their own emotions as in the past they risked upsetting one or both of their parents and the adult child will certainly be self-doubting and very unsure of their own feelings.  This will mean that the child will not develop a healthy model of love as the “love” they experienced as a child will have been conditional on pleasing their parent(s).  Frequently the children of narcissist parents do not have more than the most basic emotional vocabulary to express themselves as they will have received a very limited scope of emotions from their own parent(s) and so they perpetuate the cycle of emotional neglect/abuse.

The child will get into the habit of hiding their feelings both from others and from themselves, since it is less painful for the child to hide their feelings (numb out/disconnect or detach from themselves) rather than to feel and be either denied or punished for what they feel.

A thing that a lot of children of narcissistic parents don’t realise is that NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN OR CANNOT FEEL, it is a total violation of boundaries and a sign of a very unhealthy relationship, for the simple reason that the parent is not relating or accepting the feelings of their child in any way.

A narcissistic parent might get annoyed with a child for feeling sad, worried or insecure, because s/he is anxious not to be portrayed as anything other than a perfect parent and having to deal with the emotions of a child are a burden and it means they are not playing out the assigned role given to them, which more often than not is take care of the parents needs and suppress their own.

The aim of the narcissistic parent is to beat the child (either emotionally or physically) into a state of total submission at which stage the parent will replace the child’s feelings with their own needs and thoughts.  The child of the narcissistic parent will not be given any option other to comply because the alternative will manifest itself in the form of threats of abandonment, ridicule (your emotions are not good enough), sneering (your emotions are not valid), some sort of humiliation, physical punishment or a passive aggressive reaction.

Another aim of the narcissistic parent is to rob the child’s sense of personal identity or of being an individual that can operate independently within the family structure. This gives a very clear message to the child, which is to say “you are only lovable if you comply with my needs and wants” (my love for you is conditional on how well you perform in accordance with my needs and wants, if you do not comply you will be punished or ignored).  This type punishment will start from a very young age, usually when the infant begins to walk and explore the world on their own and test some boundaries.  A very young baby is bound to their mother for their comfort and survival.  A baby placed on the hip of the narcissistic mother is perfect, she will see it as a symbol of her perfect mothering skills, a demonstration of how involved she is with her young.  It will pose no threat to her superiority or control, the life of the child depends on her exclusively as the baby knows instinctively. It is only when that child tries to self-express and become an individual that the problems arise, these problems will grow in intensity as the child gets older and tries to break free of the suffocating restrictions of their family of origin.

Children of narcissistic parents will therefore have a tendency to climb up into their head space as it is safer there.  The parent cannot attack “thoughts” and the child will have put the mute button on them and will try to work things out logically, rationally and silently instead.  However, unexpressed feelings have a way of oozing out in some other form, it might be a mutation of the original emotion and therefore are difficult for the child to own. Especially later on in life when they emerge as emotional flash backs, the distorted emotions are evoked but not identified.

If you ask a child of a narcissistic parent how they feel about something they will probably say “I think” rather than “I feel”.  Others might say “you feel frustrated when they do that” rather than “I feel”, which is indicative of detachment from their own feelings.

There are also physical signs of the emotional neglect of narcissistic parents such as children/adults self-caressing to comfort themselves in moments of stress since they were denied the security of a loving parent.  The child of a narcissistic parent will find it hard to self-soothe or form strong attachments to others.  Or conversely they might form very speedy and inappropriate attachments to relative strangers as a plan B in case their parents followed through on their perpetual threat of abandonment.  This leaves the adult child of a narcissist wide open to further abuse of the predatorial type.

Parents are supposed to teach love, self-love, self-acceptance and compassion.  This cannot happen if the parents do not provide a role model for their children.  This model is parent to child as well has adult to adult.  Children mimic their parent’s behaviour, much more than they listen to their words.

Children of narcissistic parents have a particularly difficult time because they will have to have lived with parents who were constantly in competition with them, and as a result, the parent being the more powerful in the relationship, constantly used that power dynamic to bolster themselves at the cost of their child’s confidence and self-esteem.  From childhood the narcissistic parent was cold, indifferent, secretive, extremely critical and categorically refused to acknowledge any achievement that their child made.  Narcissistic parents deeply resent any demands on them made by their children and would easily punish them if they did so.  Narcissists live for themselves and do not care about the emotional well-being of their child, they will only take care of the physical well-being if they think that it is on “display” (public image).  The unloved children of a narcissistic will be much more vulnerable to getting into future relationships with narcissists both as partners and friends because the narcissist will instinctively know that the child of a narcissist is very open to being manipulated/bullied and narcissists look for people like that because they are much easier to control and therefore less “work”.

Narcissists see their children as a means provide emotional security for themselves and the role allocated to them is not to make demands, for those demands will be denied, when the demands are denied the narcissistic parent will make it very clear that the “fault” lies with the child. Those demands could be anything from wanting to go to play in a football match to being physically sick.  The children of narcissist parents are often so traumatised that they will vomit from anxiety, this level of anxiety creates the fight or flight response from the abuse of the parent, but in this case the child has nowhere to go and vomiting is the release that the mind/body reaction of the child will come up with.  This can evoke several reactions from the parent, such as to laugh at the child for being silly, to get angry with the child for “making her feel she should do something”, or getting angry with the child for making a show of themselves (and therefore the parent).

A narcissistic parent will for example test two children to see what their children can do for them, once the roles have been allocated s/he will be determined to force them to keep playing that role, until s/he deems fit to make a change.  That role could be “mummy’s baby boy”, so it is not uncommon to see a 17-year old son of a narcissist to sit on “mummy’s knee”.  This type of infantilising is designed to keep children orbiting around their parents so that the parents can maintain control.   Paradoxically, this infantilized child can also be given the role of “mummy’s little man” or “Mummy’s best friend”, in this projected role the child is supposed to take care of the emotional needs of their mother (and sometimes some of the physical ones too), this is very inappropriate behaviour and is a form of child abuse.

All types of abuse come from fear, fear of being physically or emotionally hurt.  Narcissistic parents will continuously drop subtle and not so subtle hints of what might happen if there is any subordination, constantly preying of fear to keep their children “in their place”.  Narcissist create instability, unpredictability, and behave irrationally but rarely use traceable abuse.  They break your trust with yourself by telling you who you are, what is what, how things should be and denying anything that does not fit their narrative of the day.  This creates doubts about family and friends, the stability and the benevolence of others. The narcissist will understand that the trust of a child is something that they can take for granted since society tells us that our parents love us, this creates cognitive dissonance in the child, but usually the child will opt to follow the cultural norm because no one wants to believe that our primary carers don’t care, and in some cases hate their children.  So the child tries harder to please as it is too painful to admit to the reality and they will be more willing to follow the cultural myth (all parents love and want what is best for their children) and so they shut down and make excuses for behaviour that provide evidence to the contrary.  It is very likely that you will need an awful lot of evidence before you are willing to accept that your parents do not have your best interests at heart and are completely indifferent to your needs.

A narcissistic parent will not connect with their child(ren), but will constantly act as an observer.  So, a parent will ask about one of their off spring about another, and will say something like “how is your sister” (even though they are all living in the same house), they will not go directly to daughter and ask “how are you?”.  They do this because they don’t want any emotional reaction from their child, they are just harvesting information to manipulate their child.  This approach further distorts the already dysfunctional family unit because the sister does not get to say what she wants to say or not want to say to the narcissist parent, but her sibling gets an opportunity to put a “spin” on what is said as it might work to his or her benefit or they might not know, but will make something up to satisfy the parent. (Narcissistic parents although extremely secretive themselves, can get very aggressive if they think that information is being withheld).

An infant born into narcissistic family dynamic will receive absolutely no empathy from their parents.  What is even more upsetting for the child is that they will more than likely be punished for being emotional or sensitive in response to the abuse and trauma that they are subjected to.  The result of which that in the first five years of the child’s life they will have been given an extremely toxic self-image by their parents.  The toxic parents will have selected their most sensitive child at a very early stage in their life to be the scapegoat and by the time that child is a toddler it will be made the target for all of the family woes.

The scapegoat child is very often labelled as the black sheep of the family.  This term is often used by parents to suggest that the child is “difficult” this however is a euphemism for the child refusing to conform to or normalise the emotional abuse.  The child’s needs and emotions will be ignored on purpose to shame, diminish and to break the spirit of the child, so that they eventually are too scared to ask for help in any shape or form at all.  All of the children of narcissists will be expected to put the needs of their parents first and are expected to worship them too (there will be no evidence that the parent is worthy of worship, but it is a refrain that will be repeated time and time again – eventually brainwashing the child into thinking that it is true).  The scapegoat child is expected to put on a veneer of normality and inclusion within the family to the outside world, which is of course absolutely false as the scapegoat child will never be let feel that they belong.  The narcissistic parents will cast the other toxic siblings in the role of supporting the position of the scapegoating the child who they perceive to be their most “difficult/unworthy” child.  Also perceived as the most threatening to them.

If any sibling (even a golden child) dares to support the scapegoated child, they put their own position with in the family system at risk if the toxic parent notices what they are doing.  Most toxic sibling rivalry is created by toxic parents, they do this by having obvious favourites, talking ill of each child behind their back, attributing vicious comments they made – to siblings, encouraging bullying and physical and emotional abuse between siblings, this is all done as a complex web of sabotage of their own children to garner control and to be at the centre of attention in the family where all of the children are constantly on high alert and looking at their parents for cues for when the next bit of abuse is coming.  For the most part siblings of narcissistic families do not realise that they have been manipulated in this way and will continue in their roles into adulthood.

Children born into narcissistic families tend to have several personality types.  The rebelwho tries to seek justice and stop the abuse whenever they can and points out the injustices and manipulation (this level of indignation about injustice can be quite immature, some young children feel the intensity of injustice, it is really important to them, it is before they realise that “life isn’t fair” and it makes them feel really indignant – most bedtime stories let them down).  It is for this reason they are made to be the scapegoat because narcissists are never wrong so the child that points out wrong doing will automatically be punished. That child can expect to be bullied all through their life by family members and will often be cut out of wills after dedicating their lives trying to take care of the impossible emotional needs of the parents and trying to show them right from wrong and how to be kinder and more loving.  The narcissist might well mimic the behaviour of this child taking credit for their acts of kindness but it is an act and there is nothing authentic about it.  There will be a lot of envy on behalf of the parent(s) of this child because they will see how non family members relate to him/her and they will punish them for being more popular than them (everything is a game with narcissists and they always have to win).

The lost child knows that there is something inherently wrong with the family dynamic but is not sure what it is.  They avoid confrontation at all costs and try to win the favour of their narcissistic parents.  So they ignore the abuse of the scapegoat and will very often join in as it will please the parent(s), these children have little or no empathy and are devoid of authentic emotion.  They frequently have very stiff posture and find future relationships hard to manage.

The golden childhas an extreme sense of entitlement and is motivated by greed.  They will sell their souls to get what they want, because they twist and contort themselves to facilitate the parent(s) by doing or saying whatever it takes to make sure that they remain the favourite. They might well be very disrespectful of their parent(s) behind their back but will be as sweet as honey and stroke the ego of their parent(s) to their face.  These children take no responsibility for what they say or do and that could be absolutely anything if it means that they are seen in a favourable light.  They have learnt how to work the narcissistic system and are at once extremely secretive and opinionated at the same time.  The golden child will often exhibit characteristics of or be a full blown narcissist themselves.

If you have grown up in a narcissistic family you will have probably encountered the most sadistic, cruel and abusive people that you will ever meet.  It is extremely alarming when you realise that characteristics such as sadism and cruelty exist in your own family of origin and are not something that “other people” whether it be in history or far off lands experience.  If you go no contact with your narcissistic parent(s) (especially if you are the scapegoat) you can be confident that they will go on a smear campaign and will send the flying monkeys after you to try to hoover you back in so that they can continue to get pleasure from bullying you. They will also let you know that you will never really “belong” to the narcissist’s family you will only be welcome in your role as scapegoat.

A narcissistic parent will not support their child in anything that they do.  If they have a fight at school with another child, they will support the other child.  If their child is being bullied, they will maintain that they must have done something to deserve it.  If their child is sick they will tell them it is psychosomatic or will just ignore the fact that they are unwell (including broken bones and high temperatures). Later on in life if the child divorces they will either take the side of the ex-spouse, or sneer at you for getting it wrong saying “I told you so” even if they acted like they adored the spouse. They refuse to support their own children because they think that it makes them look “better than” and gets them more attention if they openly support the others.  Since they feel like they own their children, it really doesn’t matter to them what the negative impact will be on their children.

So how does all of this behaviour effect the child(ren)?

  • The child will feel devalued
  • Unloved
  • Their reality will never be validated
  • They will feel that their feelings are a burden on the parent and therefore unacceptable
  • The “love” of their parent(s) will be based on how well they perform for that parent in terms of taking care of their needs and image.
  • The child will grow up not knowing how they feel about anything because their feelings/emotions will have always been denied
  • The child will have low self-esteem and crippling self-doubt
  • They will have no healthy love model to follow and love will feel like a sentence of confinement rather than something positive and nurturing
  • They will have been taught that it is not okay to express themselves at the risk of out shining their parent, so they will try to keep their head down and not draw attention
  • Social anxiety will be fostered so that the narcissistic parent can maintain control of their child
  • The child will look outside themselves for external validation
  • The child will grow up feeling “not good enough”, “I can’t do that, I will make a fool of myself for trying”
  • The child will let themselves be chosen by future partners/friend (predators) because they are not worthy of joining in an equal relationship
  • They will take care of others to the detriment of their own self care




Talking to children



Most parents know that talking to their children is vital for their emotional and intellectual development, however, there are very different ways of talking to your children.  They basically fall into 3 groups:

Talking to them

Talking at them

Having a conversation with them

The favourite way of the narcissist is talking “at” their child.  This way they do not invite an interaction or give space for their child to hold an opinion that in any way contradicts their own or to express any individuality/independence.  We know that narcissists are very competitive and so they will often use language that is too complex for the stage of development of their child.  This is so that they can feel “better” than their child by confusing them with age inappropriate language.

An MIT study has shown that children from wealthy families hear far more words than those from poor families.  However, it is not the amount of words that a child hears that is important it is how they hear them that matters.  What matters is “conversation” speak a little and listen a lot, this has been proven to be crucial factor in their ability later on in life for inter human relationships and their ability to socialize make friends and create firm and fulfilling relationships.

The number of words that a parent had didn’t seem to matter at all to the brain development of a child, it was how those words were delivered that was crucial. It was the back and forth delivery that mattered, when a child is allowed to converse with their parents, that child feels heard and this has a huge impact on how their brain develops so as a result it also has an impact on how the child feels about themselves – self-esteem, confidence both personally and socially.  The more a child feels listened to, the more confident in themselves they are.  This has a huge impact on a child in later life as it has a massive impact on their happiness and success.

But that is not where it ends, because having a back and forward chat with your child also helps them to understand what other people are trying to say, which is very different from just listening and as such helps to develop their empathy and in return will help them to develop healthy relationship all through their lives.  This is not just an inter human relationship because it also relates to their relationship with inanimate things which translate into addictions of one sort or another whether it be drugs, shopping, working or fitness.  They are all counter intuitive for healthy inter personal behaviours, if a child does not feel that they are heard for who they or and they do not have a voice they will look for solace somewhere else, somewhere “less dangerous” where they feel “legitimate”.

This is an example of how and why a narcissist parent starves their child of freedom of expression and the consequences of such a loveless “parent”.




Unhealthy parenting

Healthy parenting

Parenting starts before babies are even born, with regard to diet, having healthy life style and generally taking care of their unborn.  Once a baby is born they need loads of love and affection, they need to be talked to, to be listened to, to be mirrored, to have healthy boundaries and can be assertive in stating them and above all they need to feel safe, for this they need to have their emotional and physical needs met.

A child needs to feel safe when they are expressing their feelings and secure in the knowledge that they will not be punished for doing so, this enables them to develop intimacy and healthy relationships in the future outside the family unit.

Giving a child a roof over its head and food on the table is the absolute bare minimum that a healthy parent strives to provide

When the children are still young they can be taught different developmental stages of behaviour such as helping with taking care of themselves, encouraging exploration, social interaction, friendship and kindness, letting them make simple choices, explaining why you discipline, help them solve problems for themselves and teaching them how to share.

As they get older they can be set goals, can be taught the difference between right and wrong, to give them the tools to make decisions when the parents are not around, and to celebrate good behaviours.  No matter what the developmental stage of a child they always need love, affection and attention (to be listened to and to be heard).

The primary task of parenting is to raise healthy, happy independent children who are confident, have a healthy self-esteem and who have the coping skill that are necessary for surviving in this chaotic world.  For this to happen the child needs to know that they are loved, cherished and wanted, that what they want is listened to and that they can express their wants and needs without being ignored or criticised for having them.

A child will listen very carefully to what their parents say so the language that is used is very important.  There is a HUGE difference to a child if s/he hears “you idiot, you made a mess of that” or “that didn’t work so well, why don’t you/we try it this way”, the first way is violent, destructive and negative whereas the second way is constructive, honest and helpful.  The residual effect on how the child will feel about himself and her abilities are enormous.  Same action – one destructive reaction, the other a positive encouraging response, message to the child is poles apart, their efforts need to be valued instead of teaching them to try to avoid failure.   A parent needs to have high expectations of their child so that they strive to thrive, rather than quit to avoid failure.

Children will do what their parents do, not what they say.  They will listen to the language used as above, but a stronger example for the child will be the behaviour, actions and reactions of their parents, they mimic the behaviour that they see around them, so it is important for the child to provide a good role model.

This means that discipline begins with the adults not with the child.  You can talk until you are blue in the face, but if your actions belie your words they child will follow your actions.  That is why it is called a role model.

What narcissist parenting looks like

The short answer to “what narcissistic parenting looks like” to a child is that it is absolutely terrifying, confusing and abusive.  It will almost certainly cause lifelong trauma in the child and because the narcissist doesn’t care, adult children of narcissists will rarely if ever get closure on the issue of their childhood.

On the face of it it is a mystery why a narcissist would want to have a child at all since they are completely self-absorbed and genuinely do not have any interest in others.  So why would they want to be a parent when a child will have so many needs, practical, emotional and financial and requires so much of their parent’s time and energy?

Narcissists do not have children because they want to nurture, guide and encourage their baby into being a well-balanced adult, they have children for two reasons.  The first is because that is what they think society tells them to do (and image is everything), they will use their child as a social prop.  The narcissistic mother will hold her baby on her hip but she will not bond with her or mirror her in any way and will get angry with the baby when s/he cries out in distress because his or her emotional/physical needs are not being met.  A healthy response to a baby who cries all the time might be concern, frustration or feelings of inadequacy, the narcissist’s reaction will be anger and rage with the baby, somewhere inside her head will be a voice saying “s/he is doing this to annoy me”.  Secondly, as a parent they will automatically have all of the power in the “relationship” and an enforced ready-made “audience” that will be completely focused on them.  Children are ideal for a narcissist because they can mould and discipline them to how they want them to be from a very young age. The child of a narcissist will learn that they exist purely to facilitate the needs and desires of the parent, and that this is a one-way contract (albeit one that they didn’t agree to enter into).  Their parent(s) are not interested in taking care of their child and their child will be taught that they are not to make demands on the parent(s) as they will almost certainly be punished for it.

Their child will learn that they must take on the role that has been assigned to them by the narcissistic parent, that could be golden child, scapegoat or somewhere in between (see section on narcissistic mother).  The siblings between them will try to maintain any given allocated roles, so as not to incur the wrath of the narcissistic parent(s).

It is for this reason that there is very little point in talking to siblings about a toxic parent, as they will rush to the parent’s defence out of fear of being punished or having to face the truth about the family dynamic.  If both parents are narcissistic that child could be playing two roles at once (for example golden child to one and scapegoat to the other) it is very stressful for a child to try to keep both parents “happy” as they constantly have to check in with their parent to see if they are “doing it right”, should the child deviate from their role they will be punished, ridiculed, sneered at or ignored completely.  This dynamic is extremely confusing for a child as a behaviour that is applauded one day might get punished the next day even by the same parent as the narcissist will change the rules on a whim, the child in the company of both parents might be trying to play both roles simultaneously which very often means trying to be as invisible as possible.

The child also learns that the “love” that they get from their parent is absolutely dependent on how well they serve their needs, the consequence of this is that they child will constantly be in a state of high alert (often living off their nerves) and will be very reactive, they will try to anticipate what the parent wants before it is expressed.  The narcissistic parent is either unaware of the trauma that they are causing, or if they do notice that their child is trembling (or even vomiting) with fear they don’t care and will laugh at their child for being “too sensitive”.

The child also knows that one of the roles that has been given to all offspring is to protect the image of the parent/family at all costs.  If someone outside the family should mention that the parent behaves in an inappropriate way, the child will leap to their defence just as they have been programmed to from a very young age.

Unfortunately, this will be the adult child’s model for “love”, they actually feel uncomfortable around someone who could provide a healthy and loving relationship because they have been brought up knowing that the amount of “love” that they get is directly linked to how well they serve others and they are actually unworthy of healthy love.  This creates even more difficulty for the adult child as they will tend to gravitate towards people who treat them the same way that their parents treated them, they will also be prey for other narcissists who will instinctively know that these adult children will be easy to manipulate and the unhealthy pattern may well be repeated in future relationships with friends and lovers.  This can be prevented from happening again by getting educated on narcissism, knowing your boundaries and learning when to say NO.

The children of narcissists will almost always feel unlovable since they were not loved as children.  They will have a fear that if they meet someone kind and gentle who genuinely loves them or appears to, that they will be exposed further into the relationship as the unlovable “horrible” person that they were always told they were by their parent(s), and as every child of a narcissist knows “mummy/daddy always knows best” as it is repeated ad nauseaum throughout their childhood.

If the child or adult child tries to set healthy boundaries, the narcissistic parent will over ride their child either by explicitly ignoring their request, or by getting angry, upset, sulking or by physically forcing the young child to do what they want.  The narcissist will not take any responsibility for any of the negative comments/actions that they make to their children.  They constantly put their child down or insist that are only doing what is best for the child, even though they are mindlessly pursuing their own needs.

The narcissist parent will try to pull every conversation that they have to be about them or something that they can pontificate about.  They will talk louder to drown out other conversations that might take place at a dinner table or tell their child to “stop showing off” if their child is singing, dancing or getting prizes at school.  If the narcissist cannot control their child in public (because they are wise enough to know not to berate their off spring in public as they would at home), that child will be punished at a later date.  They will be told that they “made completely fool of yourself” or that they made a terrible social faux pas and some punishment other than the verbal humiliation will almost certainly ensue.  This could be in the form of limiting the child’s contact with the outside world which is completely under their control (so that they don’t embarrass themselves again).  This type of ridicule and cruel criticism of someone who is enjoying the company of others can lead to the development of social anxiety later on for fear of making an idiot of themselves but more importantly to the child upsetting their parent(s).  This means that the child is only really happy in formal social situations such as theatre, cinema or even funerals where the roles are clearly defined, safe and there is no impromptu interaction if they do not want it.

The narcissist parents feel that they are entitled to invade every aspect of the child’s life.  They will give a running commentary on everything that they know about in their child’s lives from friendships, school subjects, all out of school activities, boyfriends/girlfriends, marriages, how to bring up children and will control the relationships between the family members and will try to enforce their opinion where ever they can so that they feel powerful.  In a way, they are that powerful because they brainwash their children from when they are born.

One of the side effects of this sort of tyrannical invasion is that the child(ren) can become pathologically secretive and will not feel comfortable about telling their parents anything that is going on in their lives.  Narcissists are what has been referred to as emotional vampires, they will control and manipulate the emotions of their children from the beginning, as the child gets older and expresses more independent opinions the narcissist just rebuffs harder using rage, sadism, criticism and negative feedback to get control.

Both narcissistic parents have common attributes.  The most difficult one to accept is the fact that narcissist parents do not love their young.  They only “love” them for what they can give them and that “love” is absolutely conditional.

Society will not let us say “bad” things about our parents, because of course all parents love their children.  This is not the case when a parent has a narcissistic personality disorder and it is why as an adult child of narcissists that you may have very many confusing issues which are difficult to understand where they came from.  Both narcissist parents will say that they love their child, but it is not true.  If you think that you are the child of a narcissistic parent you need to examine their behaviour, past and present and ignore the content of what they say.  The most notable aspect of narcissist parents is that they categorically refuse to see their children as anything other than their possessions or pets.

This is a very unhealthy and dysfunctional scenario.  The child doesn’t know any better and so will accept it as the norm, but it is a hugely inappropriate burden to put on a child since that child is

  • An innocent
  • Has no experience of life
  • Is trying to work stuff out for themselves because they are not being nurtured or guided, but are being neglected and deprived of parental care and are frequently put in a position where they are expected to take care of the parent(s)
  • Has all the responsibility but absolutely no power or control

Paradoxically narcissist parents never truly see their child as an adult (when they have grown up) and will continue to act out in exactly the same way that they did when they were a child even if they are married, have children, an important job etc.  The strange thing is that a narcissistic parent will frequently talk at their children as though they were adults, but once they become adults they talk at them as though they were a child.

Since narcissistic parents do not see their children as independent individuals they will often use “we” (first person plural) as a way to say what they think.  This is an indication of the fact that they see the family as “their” unit, rather than a collection of individuals, and to inform their children that there is one way to look at things, that is their way and it is non-negotiable (even though what the parent says they think will change constantly).  If they child disagrees with a narcissistic parent, especially in public, it will be met with rage (though not overt) and will almost certainly be punished at a later date.

Some very common traits of narcissistic parents:

  • The will constantly give unsolicited advice. This advice can range from what their child should study to who their friends should be.  They will decide what script best suits their image of themselves and they will expect their child to comply.  Their comments will be peppered with expressions such as “you really should”, “you are making a fool of yourself by”, “if I were you”, “no, I insist that you do it my way, you are only a child, what do you know”.  It is worth making note that at no time will a narcissistic parent sit you down and ask their child what they want for themselves or how they are getting on in life.  They are simply not interested.
  • They will however, constantly intrude on the child’s privacy and barge in unannounced “to see what you are up to”, “see if you are okay”. This is not curiosity about their welfare, this is information harvesting so that they have information “on you”, that they can use it against you at some later time as a control tool, they have absolutely no qualms about doing this because they are “their” children.  This invasion comes in the form of opening post, checking phones, reading emails, rummaging through bedrooms, walking into bathrooms without knocking and generally trying to track their child as extensively as possible.
  • They can either show complete indifference or over react when you bring them a problem. A good example of this is being sick.  They could say your fine you don’t even have a temperature even though you might have appendicitis.  Or else they can go into over drive with all the associated histrionics “Oh I am so worried”, and jump right in to the middle of the situation and make it all about them, wearing faux expressions of weariness and concern, seeking out the head doctors and nurses and demanding their attention.
  • Narcissistic parents can very often act helpless “oh what do you want me to do?” “I would love to help you but I don’t know how”, when a parent says things like that to a child, the child will try to step into the gap and assume an age inappropriate amount of responsibility.
  • The narcissist parent will be at once very secretive about themselves but at the same time share too much information with their children, such as marital difficulties, they will do this to try to get the children take sides. A parent might tell their child about sexual experiences that they have had or generally treat their children like they are all just (same age) friends hanging out together.
  • The narcissist parent while are very guarded about themselves in public will talk about their children in a completely uncensored way with absolutely no discretion, loyalty, honesty or support for their child. If they don’t know anything about their child (because they are not interested or the child has learnt to become very secretive) they will just make stuff up.
  • To make themselves feel strong a narcissist parent will often tell their children that they are weak and inferior to them in everything that they do (or even anything they might attempt to do in the future). They will always remind say that they are superior and that always must be acknowledged.
  • They will often be know-alls “I know everything worth knowing and if I don’t know it (which would rarely be admitted to) it is not worth knowing.” If a discussion starts about something that they know nothing about, they will just change the subject of do something to bring the attention back on to them.
  • If someone upsets them the child had better actively take their side (otherwise there will be recriminations), if someone upsets the child they will happily take the side of a complete stranger that they have never even met saying “you must have done something to deserve it”.
  • They can get very angry sometimes but will not say why, they will just let their child know that they will punish them for their anger later. Their anger might be triggered by someone being critical of them, since they cannot tolerate criticism they will blame/project and punish their child for this slight (even though the child was not there)
  • Their child must agree with everything they say, although they can mock, sneer, invalidate and criticise the things that their child says.
  • They will share things about their child in public that their child would prefer to be kept private, if their child says anything even slightly negative about them – they will be punished.
  • They can falsely accuse their child of things that they never did or said, if they defend themselves it will make the narcissistic parent a liar and they will be punished for that.
  • They demand respect, but do not have to show their child respect and won’t at any time.
  • They will never apologise to their child but the child must always be ready to apologise to them (even if it is not their fault).

Do you have narcissistic parents?  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I trust my parents?
  • Do I feel loved and cherished by my parents?
  • Do I feel like I have been a burden/disappointment to my parents?
  • If I got in to difficulty of some sort would I go to them for support or advice?
  • Are there things that I/we as children were not allowed to do that “normal” families did not have a problem with such as sport, going to parties, getting a part time job and going on school trips (and not for any financial or practical reasons)
  • If you won a prize (at school or some other sort of competition) would you be inclined to share it with your parents or keep it a secret?
  • Do you feel responsible for your parents in general?
  • Do you feel like you had a large part to play in their happiness?
  • Did you feel like your family home was your collective home or were you a guest there and being let stay there was dependent on your behaviour?
  • Apart from the most basic things, do you know much about your parent’s family of origin?
  • Do you believe what they tell you about their own history and achievements?
  • Would have gone to your parents if you were being bullied, felt sick, frightened or were hurting in some way?
  • Do you feel better or worse (more vulnerable) after you have shared information about yourself with your parents?
  • Do you feel comfortable in your parent’s company?
  • Are your parents polite to you?
  • Do your parents talk to you or talk at you?
  • Can your parents celebrate your achievements or important life events such as birthdays, marriages promotions or the birth of your children?
  • Are you close to your siblings?
  • Do your parents pitch one sibling off against another?
  • Can you talk openly with your parents about your ideas, dreams and values without fear of being ridiculed or invalidated?
  • Have your parents ever told you that “you are not good enough” when you shared an aspiration/dream with them, even though they might know absolutely nothing about the subject
  • Have they told you “you are not qualified” for something when you suggest that you are going to apply for a job.
  • If you are qualified in a profession, do they ever solicit your professional advice or do they still treat you as a child and seek advice somewhere else?

If you agree with even a handful of the above questions you have probably been raised by narcissist(s).  It is not disloyal to admit it, it is healthy for you to acknowledge it so that you can move forward into a healthier and happier life.


Narcissistic Fathers

It is fair to say that most narcissistic fathers have less impact on their children than narcissistic mothers do.  That may well be changing, but certainly in the past this was the case, purely because in general the mother spent more time with her young children than her male partner did.  However, it is fairly well accepted that children take their role model and get their self-esteem from their same sex parent.

Narcissistic fathers are very similar to their female counter parts.  They disregard boundaries and only provide their children with conditional love.  That condition depends on their performance and that “performance” has to be perfect to project an image of who he thinks that he is.  He objectifies his children and his self-image will change depending on the company he is in, so it could be 2 or 3 different images in one day and the child will be expected to change with every character change that he makes.  It is an impossible situation because the child has to be on high alert at all times so that they can mimic their father’s behaviour and they will be let know if they do not perform the way the father expects them to, either by name calling, being ignored or a warning glance that alerts the child that they will be punished later for non-compliance

Narcissistic fathers will also withhold affection and control their children (and often wife) by threatening to abandon them or with anger and aggression.  This creates a very insecure family unit which is very often a repetition of patterns of behaviour played out in past generations.  The husband can go from being a brutal and tyrannical father to a bossy, arrogant over bearing husband into the charming man next door, the pious church goer and volunteer for worthy causes, to a needy victim playing father looking for emotional support from his children all within the space of a day.  There is a myth that girls marry the personality type of their fathers and boys marry their mothers, but they can marry their same sex parent too as the type of “love” that they are given by a narcissist feels “normal”.

The daughters of narcissistic fathers do not feel valued by him except for what they could give him in terms of narcissistic supply.  Sometimes narcissistic fathers will flirt with their daughters to try to woo more admiration out of them.  They can be full of compliments and praise when she is young but turn cold and critical once she gets older and stops being “daddy’s baby girl” and tries to get some independence.  This breaking away causes narcissistic injury and is met with steely hostility.  Once a father turns on his daughter in this way, nothing is ever good enough for them.  They can sneer and deride their daughter or try to entice them back into the “loop” which would take away their limited sense of an independent self, either way it is something that will follow the daughter through to adulthood and influence her choice of partner which will be peppered by feelings of not being good enough for someone who is kind to her, feel vulnerable  and insecure that they will be dumped as she was by her father when she tried to be herself, or she could develop a selfless co-dependent relationship where she serves the needs of a narcissists and puts aside who she really is.   This might feel “safe” but it most certainly is not a healthy relationship.

The sons of narcissistic fathers usually suffer more from emotional abuse than their daughters do.  The father is usually very competitive with his sons and will often either put down their own sons to buoy up their own sense of superiority or simply ignore them completely.  Sometimes they oscillate between the two, the sons often just admit defeat as this competition is very often in sport, where they do not stand a chance (because the narcissistic father will not let his son beat him, even if it means physically or emotionally hurting his child, humiliating him or making him cry).  Like with a narcissistic mother a son will never feel good enough for his father, because if he “beats” him at something his father will shame him and if he doesn’t he will be sneered at.

As with narcissistic mothers, both boys and girls of narcissistic fathers need to be seen and be validated.  That will never happen because narcissists are incapable of loving or admitting that anyone is an equal to them and the more they belittle their sons the more superior they feel.  Some children of narcissists become narcissists themselves because they are so traumatised by early childhood experiences that their emotional development gets arrested.  Perhaps they follow their father’s model to try to attract his attention, maybe they just get wounded and that is as far as they dare to go or they might learn from the father’s role model how to use and manipulate people.

Having a narcissistic father is horrible for all of the family.  Including his “golden child”, the golden child is often seen as the privileged one.  However, it is an excellent way to divide and conquer children, favouritism begets animosity and if children are hostile between each other (even if it is just a sense of “that’s not fair”) they are much easier to control, as they will not know what makes the favourite and as long as this insecurity exists between each other they will not gang up on the parents.

If a golden child embraces their enhanced position of privilege they will be resented, ostracised and bullied by their siblings, if they don’t they will be despised by both the fawning parent and the other siblings because they are still the chosen child and they are trying to reject it.   They will still be mistrusted because they are allowed special privileges that the other children are not allowed and yet they are either trying to reject it or they will feel ridiculously entitled and do what they can to maintain their privilege.  Everything within a narcissistic family is always very unstable.  The father who focuses on the “golden child” will not care too much about his other children, these children will try very hard to get the attention of their father, but they will only get his attention when he wants something from them and is often mean, cruel and cold towards them.

So here are the main traits of narcissistic fathers?

  • Has a ridiculous sense of entitlement
  • Has a need for perpetual admiration.
  • Often has inappropriate emotional reactions to situations
  • Expects his children to take responsibility for his “sense” of happiness.
  • Constantly puts is children down and insists that he knows what is best for everyone all of the time.
  • Claims that he knows everything “I know everything that is worth knowing” and is superior to others.
  • Will tell his children who they are, even if he mostly ignores them has absolutely no interest in them and never asks them any questions about themselves.
  • Does not notice the devastating impact of his negative comments and behaviour on his children.
  • Nothing is ever his fault, someone else is always to blame.
  • Every conversation is about himself, where he is the hero/victim, the one who saved the day.
  • Expects to dominate conversation at meal time and will sulk if he is ignored.
  • Is over involved in his own hobbies and expects his family to sit on the side line as he indulges himself.
  • Teases or tickles young children to the point of making them cry but remains indifferent to their pain.
  • Never makes mistakes.
  • Always has an attitude of “anything you can do I can do better”
  • Will use his power as an adult and a parent to “prove” he is better than his children.
  • Expects to be admired and respected and gets angry if he thinks that he is not getting sufficient amounts of either.
  • Will flirt or be excessively charming to get admiration both within and outside the family unit when it serves his purpose.
  • Nothing upsets him like criticism.
  • Physically unaffectionate or would give or withdraw it when it suits him
  • Will not listen.
  • Tells children what to think and feel.
  • Relates absolutely everything around him, back to himself.
  • Has very low emotional intelligence.
  • Is manipulative and a liar
  • Constantly threatens to abandon his children.
  • Gets angry with his children if they express opinions other than his own.
  • Like the narcissistic mother, he will be extremely controlling but will not take responsibility for his actions.
  • Will try to glean “information” about his children from their siblings, rarely addressing them directly, so that everything that he knows is third party information and therefore probably altered, either intentionally or unintentionally (triangulation)

The narcissistic father is bossy, over bearing and can be cruel, pompous, arrogant and self-serving.  He is totally self-absorbed and gets angry or into a full blown rage if his demands are not met.  His behaviour is abusive and very damaging to his children the scars of which can be carried into adulthood.