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Growing Up With Narcissistic Parents: How To Deal, and Heal

growing up with narcissistic parents

Narcissism isn’t like a disease—it’s not like you have or you don’t. Everyone has some narcissistic qualities, and the expression of these qualities can peak at various points in life. Teenagers often display high levels of narcissism, but that often tapers off with further growth and development. But that’s not the case for everyone.

About 1 in 200 adults in America qualify as “textbook” narcissists. In other words, they are consistently higher than average on the spectrum of narcissistic personality traits. And a significant percentage of those people have children. And if you’re reading this, chances are you suspect you may be one of those adult children.

Individuals who grow up with a narcissistic parent face a unique set of challenges and emotional hurdles. They often carry the weight of their upbringing well into adulthood, grappling with the aftermath of their experiences. 

In this blog we’ll discuss the signs of a narcissistic parent, the effects of such an upbringing, what constitutes narcissistic parental alienation syndrome (PAS), how to deal with a narcissistic parent, and how to heal the trauma of a difficult upbringing.


The Signs of a Narcissistic Parent

Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and difficulty showing empathy for others, even their own children. Narcissistic parents often view their children as extensions of themselves, expecting them to live up to unrealistic expectations to feed their own ego. Signs of a narcissistic parent include:

  • Constant need for admiration: They require their children to shower them with compliments and recognition.
  • Lack of empathy: They show little to no regard for their children’s feelings or needs.
  • Manipulation: They use guilt, fear, or obligation to control their children’s actions and decisions.
  • Perfectionism: They set unattainable standards for their children, leading to a never-ending cycle of striving and failing.


children of narcissistic parents


Effects of Narcissistic Parenting

Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have a profound effect on the well-being of an individual. Children are impressionable and can intelligently adapt to most any situation. Unfortunately, what may be a brilliant adaptation for a child to navigate a narcissistic parent might be a poor adaptation for that child once they grow up and leave home. 

Trust issues are extremely common in children of narcissistic parents, as these individuals tend to expect manipulation, and may even seek it from their partners. They may find honest communication and vulnerability difficult as both have been used against them in the past, leading to intimacy issues of all kinds. An overactive need for approval is also common, as they suffer from low self-esteem and self-worth from years of feeling invisible or not good enough. Finally, children of narcissistic parents often inherit the perfectionism imposed upon them by their parents, leading to a cycle of chronic stress, anxiety, and struggling towards unattainable goals.


Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome

Narcissistic parental alienation syndrome occurs when a narcissistic parent manipulates their child into believing negative, often unfounded, perceptions of the other parent. This manipulation can result in the child’s unwarranted fear, disrespect, or hatred toward the alienated parent, significantly impacting the child’s emotional well-being and the parent-child relationship. This syndrome is particularly common in cases of difficult divorce, where the narcissistic parent uses the child as a weapon against their ex-partner. If you are the child of a divorced narcissist, it may be an important step on your healing journey to learn that the events of your childhood are not exactly as you’ve been told.


Healing from Narcissistic Parents

The journey to healing from the trauma of narcissistic parenting is complex but crucial for personal development and well-being. Here are some steps to begin the healing process:

  • Acknowledgment: Recognizing and accepting that your parent’s behavior is not a reflection of your worth is a vital first step.
  • Education: Understanding narcissism can help you contextualize your experiences and separate your identity from your parent’s expectations.
  • Therapy: Professional help can offer you the tools and support needed to navigate your feelings and begin the healing process. To schedule a free consultation, click here.
  • Boundaries: Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries is essential in protecting your emotional well-being from ongoing trauma.
  • Self-care: Prioritizing your mental, emotional, and physical health can help rebuild the self-esteem and self-worth eroded by narcissistic parenting. For more about building your self-esteem, check out this blog.
  • Building supportive relationships: Surrounding yourself with understanding and supportive people can provide the emotional nourishment you may have lacked.


A New Reality

Realizing you grew up with a narcissistic parent is an important first step. The journey from here will not always be linear—there may be ups and downs, better days and worse. Remember, the scars left by narcissistic parenting do not define you. With the right tools and support, you can overcome these challenges and build a fulfilling life, free from the shadows of your upbringing. The road to recovery may be long, but it is paved with the promise of self-discovery, resilience, and, ultimately, healing.




Robb Kornoelje is the owner of The Truism Center, a relationship enthusiast, and the creator of the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” This 30-day, fully online email course offers gentle guidance to identify behaviors causing trouble, find ease with emotions, and enhance self-awareness. With a focus on stress-free communication, the challenge encourages a stronger connection with others, nurturing compassion, and fostering forgiveness. Join Robb on this journey to improve the fabric of your relationships—one day at a time.