Are You the Child of Narcissistic Parents?

Do you question if your the child of a narcissistic parent

By Micky Aldridge from Finland (Question Mark Cloud) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s your first memory of your parent’s narcissism? When you were a child, you didn’t know that your mom, dad, or both, were narcissists. Even today, you may remain unsure your parent is a narcissist, but your suspicions won’t go away.

That’s the insidious thing about suspecting your parent is a narcissist—you tend to think you are the crazy one. That’s because every now and then your parent does something that seems kind and seemingly selfless for you. That single act is enough to make you question yourself and think that maybe your parent is only a bit self-absorbed, and not a narcissist at all.

I know how you feel. My wife suggested to me that my mother is a narcissist. Something clicked when she described the characteristics of someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. But, until recently, I still questioned labeling my mom a narcissist. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Narcissists are deeply self-absorbed, have grandiose fantasies about their deserved place in the world, and are obsessed with power, fame, and how they appear to others. They always have to be the center of attention. They continually talk about their accomplishments, and they change the topic of conversation to themselves without fail.

If you grew up with your narcissistic parent—some send their kids to live with others or ship them off to boarding school—you don’t remember being cuddled, hugged goodnight, or even having your hair tousled affectionately.

You may have faced a constant barrage of criticism. Your parent may have screamed again and again about how much they sacrificed for you and your lack of gratitude for those sacrifices. At other times she raged at you, told you she wished you were never born, and expected you to take care of her feelings.

If you still think your parent might be a narcissist, but the paragraphs above are not enough to convince you, think back to that first memory of your parents where something seems…off. I’m betting it’s one of your first memories.

Here’s my memory. It involves both of my parents—each of who is a narcissist—and my narcissistic great grandfather.

The Lesson That Still Lives With Me

I am four at the time of my memory. I’m playing at the coffee table in the living room with my great grandfather sitting nearby.

He sits stiffly, sure of his place in the family hierarchy. Ancient, he stares at me with a lined face from beneath a full head of yellowed hair. He scowls as he observes me. I am something to be tolerated, like that smelly lapdog your spouse loves. He is the family patriarch—a man who demands respect, admiration, and fear.

I stop playing for a moment and ask my mother a question. My great grandfather takes the thick cigar from his mouth.

“What?” he barks.

“I’m not talking to you,” I say innocently.

The room explodes. Hot, red anger floods my great grandfather’s weathered features. My mother starts shouting, “Shut your mouth Chase! Who do you think you’re talking to?” I’m stunned into silence as she yanks my arm and drags me across the carpet.

“You never talk like that to anybody. Especially your grandfather!” she shouts in my ear.

My dad rushes into the room and snatches me off the floor. I’m scared and wailing now. Dad carries me under one arm against his hip, stomping like an ogre down towards my room. The door slams behind us. I’m still screaming, confused about what I did wrong.

My father jerks my pants and underwear down around my ankles. He takes his belt off. I can see the rage on his face through my tears before he turns my back towards him and bends me over. The leather slaps my bare ass. My father shouts over my screams to never tell anyone again that I’m not talking to them.

And you know what? It has been over four decades and I have never said “I’m not talking to you” to anyone. Not even once. Not even out of rebellion. The lesson was beaten into me so hard that I’m unsure if I’m physically capable of saying that to someone.

The Legacy of Narcissism

My great grandfather died soon after that night. But narcissism’s poison ran through the blood of both my parents. And as my sister grew, she became a narcissist too.

Narcissists leave legacies. We—you and me—we’re the lucky ones that fate blessed and allowed to escape living such a horrible existence. But maybe you need more evidence to decide if you are narcissism’s child, too.

Other Signs that You May Have Grown Up With a Narcissistic Parent

Here’s another sign. Narcissists pretend their families are perfect. So if you remember your parents bragging to others about how flawless your family was while rage and chaos ruled your home, you probably grew up in a narcissist’s house.

Do you have memories where your mother or father is being overly critical, raging, or demeaning of you? Did you really deserve your parents’ derision or did they frequently go ballistic on you?

If you only have a single memory like this, your parent probably just had a bad day. But if there’s a pattern of such behavior combined with other signs, you may have grown up in a narcissistic household.

Were you responsible for meeting your parent’s emotional needs? Do you ever find that you “catch” other people’s emotions and can’t break free of them? These are experiences similar to others who were raised by a narcissist.

One final sign: Narcissists often produce narcissistic children. Do you have a sibling who matches the information in this post? Was that sibling treated like a golden child while you were scapegoated for everything wrong in the family and couldn’t seem to do anything right? If so, the legacy of narcissism might have continued into your generation.

If you’re unsure whether you too are narcissism’s child, or even if you’re quite certain, review the diagnostic criteria from the DSM IV. (The DSM is the book, currently in version V, used by mental health professionals to diagnose someone with a mental health disorder.)

Version V of the book is out now. And those professionals defining personality disorders removed (mistakenly in my opinion) narcissistic personality disorder as a distinct personality disorder. But the facts is, the criteria from version four fit every narcissist I’ve met—or lived with—so those criteria are presented below.

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following: 

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) 

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love 

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) 

(4) requires excessive admiration 

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations 

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends 

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others 

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her 

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Does any of this describe your parent? If so, check back soon. We’ll delve deeper into narcissism’s effects on adult children of narcissistic parents and what you can do to heal. I’ll also reveal experiences that may resemble yours and share how I cope with my parents today. In a few days I’ll add a subscription form to the site so you can get posts delivered to your email.

And one more thing you should do if you’re just discovering that you too are narcissism’s child. Make an appointment with a mental health professional, either a psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker. You don’t have to take the first one you contact. Ask about their experience treating adult children of narcissists. You deserve a competent individual to guide you down the long road of healing.

This is important. If you’re just discovering that you are the adult child of a narcissist, you may have the urge to confront your parents. Please wait until you learn more about narcissism. Your parent won’t see your point, won’t apologize and won’t try to make even the smallest thing better. In a future post I’ll go into why that is.

I wish you peace and the knowledge that there’s nothing wrong with you, but there’s something wrong with what has been done to you.

What’s your first memory of your parent’s narcissism? Tell us in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Are You the Child of Narcissistic Parents?

  1. First memory of my father’s Narcissism?

    First memory of him ever, really. In one, he’s putting a basque hat on my head and demanding I share his interest in Gallician culture, but in hindsight, he was using language that was pretty much teaching me to act arrogant/like him.He would also mock me by talking at me in french like I was supposed to understand – by itself, that could be innocious. Less so for that time he was showing me a painting of the virgin mary & telling me stories about her.
    I just grabbed a random toy that I was pretending was a can of fairy dust, and claimed it could do cooler magic – At the time I had not grasped how this was different from the picture books my parents would read to me.

    Instead of realizing that I was a toddler and did not understand such abstract things as religion yet, he yelled at me exesively and repeatedly, he got offended, like I was an adult or he was a fellow toddler, he put me on timeout, forbid me from having desert and actually left the house to buy a big new toy robot for my brother (I loved action figures & sci-fi themed toys as a child) and nothing for me. It was so petty, and I didn’t understand why he was punishing me. I expected something like a fun argument about which cartoon character is stronger.

    He was like that all my childhood, very petty & childish and being offended at a little girl’s big mouth. When I was 14 and in the midsts of puberty, I once said “Go rot!”. He kept guilt-tripping me about it for years, like it justified every tirade of abuse he felt like spewing at me.

    By contrast, my first memories of my Mom involve an idyllic scene of her explaining to me what a tulip is, and singing to me.

    • Kendrix,

      Very powerful images. They show the narcissist’s inability to empathize with other people. I’m sorry that you had to go through that.

      Guilt tripping is very common with narcissists. It is one of the primary ways they manipulate people.

      May you heal all the wounds of your childhood,

  2. I am just discovering about being a child of a narcissist. I have done a lot of healing in general through the years, but now I am discovering ACON really hits the things I experienced on the head!

    I vividly remember driving in the car with my mother when I was 12. I asked her what I was like as a baby. She told me I was ‘an elbows’ baby and didn’t like to be snuggled so it was my fault she stopped hugging me or snuggling with me when I was 18 months old. I vividly remember thinking I must have been a horrible baby to push my mother away from me so much that she stopped showing me affection. (I have no memories of hugs or any sign of affection from my mother)

    My father sexually molested me as a child. When I was 11, someone broke into our house when I was there alone and tried to rape me. I screamed loudly enough that a neighbor ran over and scared the perpetrator away. The first thing my father asked me was, “What did you do to make him do that to you?”

    Both my parents chose to have no more contact with me. My father disowned me when I confronted him about the sexual abuse. My mother disowned me when I asked her not to attend my daughter’s wedding due to her behavior and the stress of the situation. So there is no contact with either of them as a punishment to me. I am the victim and the scapegoat yet again. I am relieved for the freedom and yet profoundly sad that I had parents like this.

    • Ruth,
      I’m so sorry for the experiences you had growing up. All kids need to be nurtured and held. It is horrible that your mother neglected this responsibility and then blamed you for it. I too as a baby was not held and find touch to be painful. This has negatively impacted my marriage.

      I’m glad you have no more contact with your father. He should be incarcerated for his crimes against you.

      I don’t blame you for being sad about your childhood. But be glad and proud that you survived it. And you survived it by not becoming a narcissist yourself. A monumental accomplishment.

      You went through more hell then most children of narcissistic parents. My wish for you is to heal these wounds and find your true self. If your parents contact you, please keep the boundaries up. They don’t deserve contact with one so good as you.

      I wish you peace and happiness.

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