What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance as well as an intense preoccupation with themselves.

Read more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

What Are The Symptoms Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

The symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include the following:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance (may be shown as an exaggeration of abilities and talents, expectation that he or she will be seen as superior to all others).
  • Is obsessed with him- or herself.
  • Goals are almost always selfish and self-motivated.
  • Has troubles with healthy, normal relationships.
  • Becomes furious if criticized.
  • Has fantasies of unbound success, power, intelligence, love, and beauty.
  • Believes that he or she is unique and special, and therefore should only hang out with other special, high-status people.
  • Requires extreme admiration for everything.
  • Feels entitled - has unreasonable expectations of special treatment.
  • Takes advantage of others to further his or her own needs.
  • Has zero empathy - cannot (or will not) recognize the feelings of others.
  • May be envious of others or believe that others are envious of him or her.
  • Behaves arrogantly, haughtily.

Children of Narcissists:

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who have children open their children up to a WORLD of damage and child abuse. Generally, Narcissistic Parents are possessively close to their children when they are small - their children are a source of self-esteem.

When their children grow to become more independent, the narcissistic parent may feel jealous or envious of the child.

While there are many ways in which a Narcissistic Parent abuses his or her child, there are times that a Narcissistic Parent is kind. This makes the abuse harder to handle for children of Narcissistic Parents - the child knows that the underlying tension means that one wrong move means that things will go wrong and the Narcissistic Parent may fly into a Narcissistic Rage.

Children of Narcissistic Parents must adhere to the agenda of the the Narcissistic Parent for their lives to be stable. Asserting their feelings, their rights, or their thoughts can lead to much bigger problems. These children of Narcissistic Parents learn that their feelings are invalid, unimportant, and inconsequential. They often stifle all feelings to keep the peace in the house.

When a Narcissistic Parent is kind, the child learns that this kindness comes with an agenda, with strings attached. Generally, the strings include guilt or a feeling of being beholden to their Narcissistic Parent, "If I do this for you, you OWE me," is a common behavior of Narcissistic Parents. The child is exposed to conditional - or love that requires criteria - love.

Narcissistic Parent Glossary And Terms:

Narcissistic Attachment: is the belief that the child of a narcissist exists only for the benefit of the parent, such as a particular status.

Parentification: is the expectation that a child must care for his/her parent, siblings, and household as a surrogate parent. This causes the child to lose out on any type of normal childhood.

Infantilization: using brainwashing tactics to ensure a child stays young and dependent upon the Narcissistic Parent.

Triangulation: a tactic used by narcissistic parents to change the balance of power in a family system. For example, rather than allowing two siblings to work together, the Narcissistic Parent insists that he or she be the go-between. This controls the way the information flows, the way it is interpreted, and adds nuances to the conversation. It's also a way to feed Narcissistic Supply.

Narcissistic Supply: is a term used to designate the manner in which narcissists require, feed on attention. The best sorts of attention are approval, adoration, and admiration, but other sources of attention - like fear - are acceptable to a Narcissist. Children, small children, of narcissists are used as an ongoing source of this attention.

Gaslighting: a way in which Narcissistic Parents (and other abusers) use lies - intentional or not - to make their child question his or her own reality. A child may end up feeling as though he or she is crazy. An example would be, insisting that the sky is actually green, until the child believes it. Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of emotional and psychological abuse.

Read more about psychological manipulations.

Read more about emotional abuse.

Narcissistic Rage: Narcissists despise any challenge or insult, and when that happens, a Narcissist can fly into a rage - spewing insults and becoming physical and aggressive with their children.

What Are The Types of Narcissistic Parents?

Narcissistic Parents fall into two different categories. Engulfing parents and ignoring parents. Both of these types of Narcissistic Parents are incredibly damaging to their children.

1) Engulfing Parents: are Narcissistic Parents who see no boundaries between themselves and their children. Children are seen as extension of the parent - not as another person. For babies and toddlers, this is okay - small children don't often see themselves as separate from their parents anyway.

An engulfing parent uses tactics like Parentification, Infantilization, and Triangulation (see glossary above) to keep the child close. This type of narcissistic parent will ignore all boundaries as a child ages, seeing no problem asking overly personal questions, reading the child's emails and personal stories.

2) Ignoring Parents: are Narcissistic Parents who don't actually care much about their children. Unlike Engulfing Parents, an Ignoring Parent sees the boundary between themselves and their child, and has no interest in their child.

This can be extremely confusing and bewildering as the child grows to feel unloved, uncared for, hindering future relationships for this child. Often, an Ignoring Parent doesn't even bother helping a child with physical cleanliness, teaching hygiene, or helping with school work.

Sibling Dynamics In Narcissistic Parent Households:

If there are several children in a Narcissistic Household, the dynamic may be one of the Golden Child versus the Scapegoat, which can cause major friction and rightful jealousy between the children.

The Golden Child, seen as an extension of the Narcissistic Parent, can do no wrong, and even the most minor of achievements are cause for celebration, admiration, and rewards.

The Scapegoat Child is to blame for all of the family woes. While the Golden Child can do no wrong, the Scapegoat Child can do no right. All achievements are dismissed.

Clearly, this imbalance causes problems between the children, and offers the Narcissistic Parent the opportunity to Triangulate, as the Narcissistic Parent acts as a go-between between the children.

Traits of Narcissistic Parents:

While these traits may not match all Narcissistic Parents, what follows are some common traits of Narcissistic Parents:

1) A Narcissistic Parent has difficulty understanding the emotions of empathy and how to create meaningful connections. As the personal needs of Narcissistic Parents dominate, these parents have little room for the needs of anyone else. It makes it almost impossible for these Narcissistic Parents to relate to the feelings and meet the physical and emotional needs of their children.

2) A Narcissistic Parent owns the successes of his or her children. In a Narcissistic Parents mind, he or she has been sacrificing everything for his or her child - the child must retaliate by performing at or above expectations. These childhood achievements are then owned by the Narcissistic Parent as their own, "he's a great soccer player - it's my genetics. I was always athletic, too."

3) Narcissistic Parents must be in control. No matter what. A Narcissistic Parent controls his or her children by dictating how these children should feel, should act, and the decisions to be made. This can lead to adult children of Narcissistic Parents being unsure of what they, themselves, like and want out of life. These Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents never learn to be autonomous and make his or her own decisions.

4) Narcissistic Parents emotionally blackmail their children. A Narcissistic Parent often is indulgent, kind, and sweet if a child is behaving in the way their Narcissistic Parent wants. However, the moment a child is disobedient, a Narcissistic Parent becomes enraged and cruel. This show of "I love you, go away," creates insecurity and dependency among children of Narcissistic Parents.

How Do Narcissistic Parents Control Their Children?

There are a few ways that a Narcissistic Parent controls his or her young children. These control mechanisms include:

1) Codependent Control: "I need you. I can't live without you." This prevents children of Narcissistic Parents from having any autonomy, from living their own lives.

Read more about codependency.

2) Guilt-Driven Control: "I've given my life for you. I've sacrificed it all." This method of control creates a feeling of obligation in children; that they "owe" their Narcissistic Parents and must behave in a certain way to make their parents happy.

Read more about guilt.

3) Love Withdrawal Control: "You're worthy of my love ONLY BECAUSE you behave the way I expect you to." So long as their children are behaving properly, a Narcissistic Parent will be loving. That love disappears the moment a child doesn't meet expectations.

4) Goal-Oriented Control: "We have to work together to achieve a goal." These goals are generally the goals, dreams, and fantasies of a Narcissistic Parent. A Narcissistic Parent lives vicariously through his or her children.

5) Explicit Control: "Obey me or I'll punish you." Children of Narcissistic Parents must do as they're told or risk shame, guilt, anger, or even physical abuse.

6) Emotional Incest Control: "You're my one true love, The One, the most important person to me." An opposite-sex parent makes his or her child fulfill the unmet needs of the Narcissistic Parent.

How Do Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children?

Narcissistic Parents have many subtle - and some not-so-subtle- ways in which they abuse their children. These types of abuse include the following:

  • Compulsively lying to children
  • Ignores and/or overwhelms the children
  • Neglects needs of the child
  • Makes child feel as though he/she does not matter
  • Puts parental needs far above those of the children
  • Mold children to an "ideal" image
  • Promotes and fosters a dependent relationship between parent and child
  • Distorts the concept of "love"
  • Manipulation for pleasure
  • Says one thing one day, something else the next
  • Untrustworthy
  • Uses the child's vulnerabilities to exploit the child
  • Subtly and not-subtly insults children
  • Ignores personal boundaries 
  • Treats others as objects, not people
  • Makes child feel as though he or she is insane

What Happens To The Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents?

Growing up with all emotional needs unmet, becoming a "mini-adult," being the product of so much emotional abuse takes a tremendous toll on a child of a Narcissistic Parent. If the Narcissistic Parent does not stop the abuse or the child does not receive adequate help, one of two scenarios happens to adult children of Narcissistic Parents.

1) The child grows to have narcissistic traits, and becomes a Narcissistic Parent to his/her own children. This perpetuates the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse.

2) The child becomes a "covert" or "inverted" narcissist who remains codependent and may actually seek out abusive relationships with other narcissists.

I'm The Adult Child of A Narcissistic Parent...What Now?

Healing from such a traumatic childhood is absolutely a daunting task. Having your own emotional needs unmet for so long may make the notion of recovery seemingly impossible. It's not. Here are some guidelines for recovery for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents:

  • Begin working through the grieving process - allow yourself to grieve the parent you never had.

Read more about grief and grieving.

  • Acknowledge that you've never learned how to properly deal with feelings, and begin to start working through these feelings.
  • Work toward loving that little child inside you in the ways your Narcissistic Parent never did.
  • Stop hoping that your Narcissistic Parent will change - he or she will not change.
  • Remind yourself every day that you need to take care of yourself - those needs for self-care are incredibly important.
  • Remember - you matter too. A lot.
  • You do not need to harm yourself or hate yourself. You're a great person, worthy of love and devotion.

Read more about self-injury.

Read more about self-loathing.

  • Stop being afraid of your Narcissistic Parent - you are an adult, you survived hell, and you need to reclaim your life as your own. Start by erasing that fear.
  • Get rid of that feeling of not fitting in or belonging. It was put there by your Narcissistic Parent and it's got to go.
  • We are none of us alone - that means you, too!
  • Find and connect with other Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents.
  • Find a therapist who specializes in treating Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents.
  • You're probably still afraid of "getting into trouble" thanks to the way your Narcissistic Parent treated you. You're an adult now, and you don't answer to anyone but yourself.
  • Release some of that anger. Smash some plates. Scream. Hit a pillow. Anything to let the anger of being an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parent out.
  • Learn to be autonomous - start by making small decisions for yourself, and learn that you - yes YOU - are in charge of your own life.
  • You are more than worthy. No matter what your Narcissistic Parent told you, you are more than worthy.
  • Guilt. Ah, guilt. The best friend and worst enemy of an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parents. This may be the hardest of all the feelings to fight against, but you must. When that guilt is gnawing away at you, tell it to piss off. 

Read more about guilt.

  • You do not need to feel guilty if you decide not to stay in touch with your Narcissistic Parent - it may be for your own good.
  • Remember that your needs are important. Don't be afraid to make them know and ask for what you need.

Do I Stay In Contact With My Narcissistic Parent?

Separating yourself from the sort of codependency that's common from Narcissistic Parents may seem daunting. Sure, they were emotionally (or physically)(or both) abusive, but your Narcissistic Parent is STILL your parent.

As an Adult Child of a Narcissistic Parent, you have two options:

1) Total Estrangement - no contact, nothing, with your Narcissistic Parent.

2) Measured Contact - contact, but limited interaction with Narcissistic Parent.

If you choose to keep measured contact with your Narcissistic Parent, be very sure to follow some strict, clear guidelines:

  • Create very clear boundaries. Don't reward your parent for crossing them. Be clear, but firm. If they show up unannounced, explain nicely that you are too busy to visit with them.
  • Shield your own children from their Narcissistic Grandparent. They do not need to be exposed to their toxic behaviors.
  • Rather than explain that you do not want to hear their advice, echo and mirror whatever the Narcissistic Parent says. Do whatever you'd planned to do anyway.
  • Go through a third party as your Narcissistic Parent ages - do not allow them to rely upon you and you alone as they need care.
  • Provide information on a "need to know" basis only. Just because your Narcissistic Parent tells you everything doesn't mean you must reciprocate.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Personality Disorders

Child Abuse

Psychological Manipulation

Parentification

Codependency

Additional Resources For Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents:

Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: information, terms, forums, and guides for healing for daughters of narcissistic mothers.

Voicelessness - essays and articles about growing up with narcissistic parents, written by a psychologist.

Trapped in the Mirror - book that discusses the problems faced by adult children of narcissists.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Website of an author who had a narcissistic parent. Resources include a "narcissism survey" and other articles.