Most of us have called a person or two a narcissist in our lives, and while many people have narcissistic traits, only about 5% of people could actually be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. If you or someone you know was unlucky enough to be raised by a narcissist, here are some common traits of people with narcissistic parents you may have noticed.
Struggling with Self-Worth
“Good parenting requires empathy, compassion, and the willingness to make some of your needs secondary—essentially, many of the traits that you wouldn’t find in a narcissist,” writes psychologist Ramani Durvasula. Children raised by narcissistic parents often have a feeling of not being good enough because their parents never showed them they were.
Hard Time with Boundaries
Especially for those with the engulfing subset of narcissism, where the line is blurred between where the parent ends and their child begins, setting boundaries can be increasingly difficult. As their child ages, they can have a fear of the independence that comes with it. “To compensate for this fear, your parent might do many things for you. For example, they might still pay your bills or make your doctor’s appointments. They may send out resumes on your behalf or offer to let you stay at their house rent-free,” says Pareen Sehat MC, RCC.
Narcissistic parents may not have allowed their children to say no to them They may have set unrealistic expectations, feeling their child is an extension or representation of them. They may have even ignored their children if they weren’t what they deemed to be perfect. Later in life, these children grow up to always want the people around them to be happy, even if it’s at their own demise.
Trust and Intimacy Issues
Blackmail and manipulation are key to the repertoire of narcissists. Their kids may feel that all love is fake or comes with a price. Needless to say, trust and emotional intimacy may not come easy in adulthood. This can manifest as a fear of being vulnerable and can cause one to sabotage relationships.
Pattern of Co-Dependent or Abusive Relationships
We emulate what we see as children, and though most children of narcissists don’t grow up to become one, they do tend to attract them, which also continues the cycle of abuse. They often become co-dependent for fear of being alone or accepting abusive relationships with an uneven power dynamic because that’s all they know.
According to TherapywithAB, “Children of narcissistic parents did not typically learn to form an authentic sense of self; what they did learn was, ‘How do I please this person?’. Behaviors that quelled the chaos and provided some type of calm and predictability were appealing to children of narcissistic parents, i.e., doing well in athletics, getting straight A’s, being submissive, and even praising the parent. Adults with this inner child wound will continue this pattern in their adult relationships—finding out exactly how to please others and overextending/manipulating a situation or relationship to do so. In constantly pleasing others, we lose sight of our authentic selves.”
Difficulty Expressing Emotions
Narcissistic parents often dismiss or invalidate their children’s emotions, leading to difficulties recognizing and expressing emotions in adulthood. The lack of a genuine emotional connection with their parent can cause a deep-seated fear of vulnerability. It may also lead them to not understand other people’s emotions and become dismissive themselves.
CPTSD, Anxiety, and Depression
The constant stress and emotional abuse from narcissistic parents often lead to struggles with anxiety and depression in adulthood. Unpredictable behavior can lead to chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), which can manifest as pattern avoidance, hypervigilance, and chronic worry and panic attacks.
Struggling with Identity and Self-Image
Narcissistic parents often fail to validate their children’s individuality, leading to struggles with identity and self-image in adulthood. Feelings of confusion and lack of clarity about who one is and what their true interests and values are are commonplace with children of narcissists.
Mood Swings and Outbursts
Constant emotional turmoil can lead to reckless behavior to cope with overwhelming emotions. According to TherapywithAB, anger is a common emotion for adults who experienced unfair treatment and invalidating environments during childhood.
Children of narcissistic parents are often blamed for the shortcomings and failures of their parents. They can have a constant feeling of guilt or blame themselves for things outside of their control, which can lead to a pattern of self-sabotage. “The scapegoats’ vulnerabilities are often also their most powerful strengths. They may become highly empathetic, having been trained to put others’ needs first,” says author Julie L Hall.
Self-Care Is Not a Priority
Self-care is put on the back burner because their needs were never a priority to their parents. This could manifest in their physical health, appearance, mental health, or taking care of what they need or want.
Often, overachievers have a pattern of chronic stress and burnout. This stems from the need to overcompensate for what they—or their parents—perceive as inadequacies. Mixed with their need to people please, it can also lead them to over-fill their schedules for fear of letting people down.
Constant criticism from their parents causes many adult children to isolate in adulthood. Social anxiety stems from low self-esteem issues their parents created. Loneliness also accompanies isolation, but not enough to face the harsh world.
Struggling with Assertiveness
Adults who struggle with assertiveness, are passive, and cannot express their needs have often dealt with a narcissist invalidating their needs as a child. Because emotionally sensitive children who long for love can’t simply walk out the door and find a new family, they often nurture hope by sacrificing their self-esteem.
Tendency to Attract Narcissists
We seek what’s familiar, even if our comfort zone is not remotely comfortable. When their love compass was calibrated by a narcissistic parent, people tend to attract narcissists in romantic relationships. These are the friends who constantly need to leave someone but are never able to get away or repeat the same patterns with each relationship.
Dismissed or ignored by their parents, these adults may seem to have lost their voice. They can come off as stoic, as they were never taught to express their emotions. If they do express their feelings, they may feel as if they are being a burden or that no one will care. They can feel distant and disconnected, even in their closest relationships.
Have a hard time with criticism
Harsh criticism was their reality as a child, so as an adult, any criticism is internalized. They may constantly feel inadequate and are often their own harshest critics. You may notice these people will lash out or shut down when criticized.
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