Disclaimer: Hey, Psych2Goers! A friendly disclaimer, this article isn’t meant for diagnosing anyone or for the readers to self-diagnose or as a personal attack to anyone who exhibits narcissistic characteristics. It is meant to create awareness and spread information among the general public, so if you or someone you know may be struggling and want to improve their parent-child relationship, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from mental health professionals.
“You have opportunities I’ve never had. After you become a lawyer you can do as you please. Until then follow what I say!”
Psych2goers, have you heard your parents say the above words to you?
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), narcissistic personality disorder or pathological narcissism is indicated by the presence of at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief 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
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally exploitative behavior
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
- A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
What are the characteristics of a narcissistic parent? How can you distinguish between the regular parent-centric tendencies and chronic narcissistic parenting?
Maybe while chatting with your boyfriend, your father would not stop talking about his part time job as a stand-up comedian during his university days, or perhaps your mother had urged you to sign up for the aerobics class (when you absolutely despise exercise). Maybe you have heard the story of a mother who is very assertive when the children are exhibiting destructive behaviour. It is important to note that such traits do not necessarily mean that the parents are pathological narcissists.
Below are the 7 telltale signs that you are raised by narcissistic parents:
- Your parents live their selfish need through you
“How can you think of quitting now? What will the people think? I work so hard to make sure you enter medical school. Stop your whining, study hard like your friend, and you will be fine.”
Preston Ni M.S.B.A. (2016) stated that narcissistic parents often view their children as a way to serve their selfish needs and machinations. The individuality of the offspring is denied and the child simply becomes a mere extension and reflection of the parents. According to Melissa Burkley, Ph.D (2020), narcissistic parents love their offspring because of what the children can do for them and love their children’s achievements because of how they reflect well on them.
2. Your parents’ affections are conditional
Have you ever received showers of praise and affections when you come first place in school, but as soon as you do not get it, your parents tell you that you are a disappointment?
For narcissistic parents, love comes with conditions. It is hard to receive unconditional and stable love from such parents. These parents only support their children for high achievement instead of letting their children explore what they are interested in and genuinely like. Such children will only feel secure and worthwhile when they are recognized as the “best” (Greenberg, 2017).
3. Your parent feel they are superior to others
“Why do you hang out with the poor neighbour’s son? Stop playing in the playground with him. He is not good enough for you.”
Your mother said the above words to you, one day. She wanted you to stop interacting with your neighbour’s son who came from a poor household. However, you really like to play with him because he is very nice, unlike some of your friends from the wealthy family whom you feel are quite arrogant and like to show off their possessions.
A narcissistic parent always feels superior to other people and often finds pleasure in advertising their material possessions, accomplishments, contacts with the higher-ups, and/or trophy spouse and offspring. They think they are special and should only associate with other special or high-status people. They have no problem going out of their way to fish out flattery and ego-boosting admiration from other people. The key message is : “Hey, look at me, I have what you don’t have!”
4. Your parent is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and need of others
“Dad, today, after physical education class, I slipped in front of my friends while walking to my classroom. It’s so embarrassing!”
You tried to express dissatisfaction with what had happened in your school today, however, your father completely dismissed your story. Instead, he told you about how bad it was for him at work on that day.
Narcissists see situations and people through a selfish lens. Such parents merely think of how a certain situation personally affects them, and are unwilling to consider the feelings and thoughts of their children (Burkley, 2020).
5. Your parent compare you with your siblings or your peers
You receive a call from your mother, who reveals the good news that her best friend’s daughter (who is the same age as you) is getting engaged, “You know, Aunty Dee’s daughter, Emelda has just completed law school and got engaged. See, even she got engaged, what about you? What are you doing with your life?”
Narcissistic parents have a habit of engaging one child in a needless comparison with a more successful child or peers. Their goal is to undermine their children and make them feel inferior. What they want is for the scapegoated children to fight for their attention and approval (Arabi, 2019).
6. Your parents become furious when things don’t go their way
Have you ever found yourself tiptoeing around your parents’ temper? You feel like you are walking on eggshells.
Narcissistic parents are often blinded to their own faults, but always keen to point out the flaws in others. Harmless misunderstanding with their children is viewed as a personal attack. They view themselves as perfect, nothing can ever be their fault and they are always the victim.
7. Your parents guilt trip you with fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG)
One day, your narcissistic father tells you that he is old and time is running out to give him grandchildren.
“I’m happy being single, dad. Less drama, more time to focus on myself,” you said to your father.
However, he then lashes out in utmost fury, “So, you want me to die without seeing my grandchildren? Is this how you are repaying me for all I have done and sacrificed for you? What will people think, to see an unmarried woman at your age? It’s a complete disgrace!”
Narcissistic parents often use fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG) on their children to cause the feeling of guilt. They want their children to submit to their wishes, without considering what their children really feel and think (Arabi, 2019).
8. You struggle with healthy boundaries with others because there were no boundaries growing up
The doorbell rings. You open up the door and you let your male friend enter, since you have made a promise to have a study group with him that weekend morning. Suddenly, your mother descends the stairs towards the kitchen, with her skimpy clothing. You feel embarrassed and mad, since you have already told her earlier that your friend will be coming, and you will be using the dining table in the kitchen to study together.
In narcissistic parenting, there is refusal to acknowledge the child as separate from the parents as they view their child as an extension of themselves. This results in an enmeshed boundary with their children, in which the children’s boundaries overlap their parents’ boundaries in an unhealthy, parasitic manner. The parents believe that they have the autonomy to define, dictate, and dominate the children’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, and identity. Growing up with easily permeable and dysfunctional boundaries will hinder the children from developing healthy boundaries which are crucial for themselves to live well in the world (Stines, 2020).
9. You are never allowed to shine
You receive congratulations from your school’s principal for receiving a Valedictorian award for your high school graduation. Your mother who is attending the award ceremony suddenly chimes in, “It’s because I put my full focus on her achievements since she was young, and she gets it all from me.”
What is your thought on the above scenario? What do you notice?
Notice that in the above scenario, the mother makes it all about her. It is thanks to her that she has been shaping her daughter that way since young. It is thanks to her that her daughter received the Valedictorian award. She never associates the achievement with the daughter’s own hard work or never validates the teachers’ role in teaching her child. For narcissistic parents, they always steal the thunder and it always revolves around them.
10. You become co-dependent
According to Sherry Gaba, LCSW, growing up with narcissistic parents can lead to a sense of “loss of self” in the children. Narcissistic parents often depend on their children for validation to get their “narcissistic supply”. The narcissists also control all facets of the children’s life, thus hindering the children’s autonomy and a sense of independence. Due to this, the children become co-dependent. Co-dependent is defined as someone who feels accountable for another person’s feelings, problems, and behaviours to the expense of themselves. They are willing to abandon their own safety, emotional, mental, and physical well-being to take care of their parents.
If you find that the above points highly resonate with your relationship with your parents, it is highly recommended to seek therapy, especially if you are struggling with things like anxiety, depression, or trauma as a result. As for the narcissistic parents, it is very important for them to be highly motivated to improve themselves, in order for a change to take place.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Personality Disorders. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.
Arabi, S. (2019, April 20). 5 Manipulation Tactics Narcissistic Parents Use To Control Their Adult Children. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/recovering-narcissist/2019/04/5-manipulation-tactics-narcissistic-parents-use-to-control-their-adult-children#9.
Burkley, M. (2020, November 23). Is Your Mother a Narcissist? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-social-thinker/202011/is-your-mother-narcissist.
Dellner, A. (2021, January 20). 12 Signs You May Have Been Raised by a Narcissist. PureWow. https://www.purewow.com/family/signs-you-were-raised-by-a-narcissist.
Greenberg, E. (2017, May 28). How a Child Can Become a Narcissist. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-narcissism/201705/how-child-can-become-narcissist.
Ni, P. (2016, February 28). 10 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201602/10-signs-narcissistic-parent.