I didn’t think narcissistic parents were a real thing, until I found the term recently and it all clicked. Growing up, I would set aside my own desires to keep my parents content. I felt bad when we had any conflicts – these were the people who raised me after all. Who was I to go against them? I had a bad fight with my dad over my career path, which left me with rage, tears and even more self-doubt.
What happens after?
In my case, I decided to go to Reddit. I found similar stories where people’s parents disapprove of their income, demean their career, and devalue their self-worth. I came across a comment that directed readers to the “raised by narcissists” forum.
I don’t think my parents are narcissists.
Curious, I clicked the link.
I couldn’t find an exact explanation, so I typed in, “What are narcissist parents?” in the Reddit search bar. I found a post asking about the signs of a narcissistic parent, which linked to another page called, “Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers.” Great resources to check out by the way!
A lot of these points on the list made sense. Some of them even seemed normal to me.
So what are narcissistic parents?
Preston Ni, a professor in professional communications defines a narcissistic parent as “someone who lives through, is possessive of and engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring.” Narcissistic parents use their child as an extension of themselves. They dominate, control, and make their child’s feelings invalid. These parents don’t acknowledge their children’s independence. They take their children’s accomplishments as their own or minimize them. The child often consoles the parents rather than the other way around, making the child emotionally and mentally exhausted.
2 Types of Narcissistic Parents
The engulfing parent sees the child as an extension of themselves and disregards their privacy. The ignoring parent takes little interest in their child. They may be unaffectionate and is only concerned when the child is causing trouble.
I’ve experienced both sides of this treatment from my mom and dad. My mom still sees me as a child and pushes back when I show any independence as an adult. My dad and I have a strictly parent-child relationship. I never feel that he takes interest in me as a person. He’s only concerned that I meet his standards of a successful life. My siblings and I, all agree that we lack physical affection (hugs, kisses) and emotional support (positive encouragement, saying “I love you”) from them.
Early Weekend by PascalCampion on Deviantart
What are the traits of narcissistic parents?
They compare you to others
Parents may use comparison as a way to motivate their child, but it’s really just a way to show a parent’s dissatisfaction. Comparison can also expand to a parent having a favourite child – a child who they place on a pedestal and who receives all the love while the rest don’t compare. This often creates strained relationships between siblings and parents.
In my high school, there was a girl who won most of the awards for achieving the highest grade in several subjects. She totally deserved it, because she worked hard! But my parents asked me why I couldn’t be more like her. This comment would rip me to shreds, and I had no other explanation than “I’m not her?”
Although, I’m sure many kids hear this after awards night, the idea of comparing your child just doesn’t sit right with me. I think many parents do this and fail to realize that it doesn’t contribute positively to their child’s self-esteem. It baffles me how my parents still remember her name now, over my closest friends’ names.
They deny your feelings
Narcissistic parents shed any blame off themselves. This causes the child to feel bad about their negative feelings towards their parents. This is often a damaging cycle because these parents manipulate the child into sympathizing for their situation. Then the child has to bury their dissatisfaction. It also lowers a child’s confidence both inside and outside of family life.
I’ve had several disagreements with my mom, and they somehow ended up with her saying, “After all I’ve done! I raised you, I fed you, did your chores. It’s always MY fault.” As if she was the victim every time, and I couldn’t have a problem with her.
They cross personal boundaries
Narcissistic parents view their children as an extension of themselves. They see the child as something they own rather than an independent individual. This often results in crossing personal boundaries. Sometimes my parents don’t ask for my permission to throw away or take some of my possessions. It can be upsetting because there’s a lack of communication and respect for the child’s belongings.
They make hurtful comments/jokes & claim you’re oversensitive
Narcissistic parents don’t realize their child has feelings, or they have difficulty seeing things from other perspectives. Growing up, my parents made little jabs at me. When I was younger, they joked that I was adopted, or I was an alien. During the summer I would tan and my mom would make fun of me for having dark skin and question if I was even Filipino – there’s a whole destructive culture on how Asians value lighter skin being more beautiful. If I expressed any displeasure, they would justify their comments as a joke.
Understanding our Narcissistic Parents’ Perspective
After going through this list, I believe my parents are narcissistic. As much as I want to blame my parents for my shattered confidence, I think it’s worth seeing things from your parents’ perspective. They are often people who grew up in similar situations and are reacting accordingly. Mike Leary answers why narcissistic parents act the way they do:
“So you know they were starved emotionally as children. They served your grandparents. It was backwards. They learned to perform for conditional love. They then believed that was the proper way to get children to behave and perform to the parent’s expectations.”
From Leary’s quote, he makes it clear that this behaviour was learned. It continues into a vicious cycle where you now have to earn your parent’s love. Not saying that what they’re doing to you is valid, but knowing where they’ve learned this behaviour can help with the moving on process. It can even help your own parenting if you decide to have children in the future.
Like I mentioned above, a lot of the narcissistic behaviours I listed seemed like normal parent-child interactions to me. It can be difficult as the child to tell if your parents are narcissistic, or if they’re performing normal parenting interactions. If several of my experiences or these characteristics resonate with you, then know that you’re not alone, and your feelings are valid! Goop, a lifestyle website, gives a clean overview of narcissism and a few ways to break the cycle. I think it’s important to seek out professional help if your parents are taking a toll on your mental health.
“There is a breeze coming through the window” by PascalCampion on Deviantart
Personally, I don’t have any solutions to deal with narcissistic parents because I’m still navigating my relationship with mine. I feel like I owe a lot to them. Sometimes our relationship is okay for weeks and months, but some days can be really bad. So I’m still figuring out the right path for me.
Have you experienced any of these narcissistic behaviours from your parents? How did you deal with them? Please let me know in a comment and stay strong!