“Why do you have to make everything about yourself? I have feelings too!”
“If you loved me, you’d spend time with me instead of your friends/significant other.”
“You’re really leaving the house looking like that? I wouldn’t let people see me that way.”
Do any of these phrases found familiar? If you’ve heard these phrases or similar variations from one or both of your parents or primary caregivers, you may have been raised by an adult(s) with narcissistic traits, or potentially narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
When You Experience Narcissistic Family Members
So much of who we are is a cumulation of experiences within our family dynamics. Your upbringing can affect your relationships, mental health, sense of self, and many other areas of life. Children of narcissistic parents unfortunately tend to suffer from abuse and neglect. The abuse can manifest as physical, emotional, sexual, and/or verbal harm.
Children are vulnerable and depend on their caregivers for every aspect of care. The ideal parent child relationship is one that is compassionate, safe, and secure. A key trait of narcissism is having a lack of empathy – when a parent is unable to empathize with their child, they can’t properly meet the child’s physical and emotional needs.
Additionally, many narcissistic parents view their children as an extension of themselves. They may only attune to their children’s needs when it benefits them or makes them look good. For example, a parent who is typically unsupportive might suddenly support their child’s weight loss efforts because they feel their child’s appearance reflects positively on them.
The painful impacts of narcissistic abuse typically don’t end when the child becomes an adult and leaves the home. In fact, many survivors of parental narcissistic abuse don’t realize until adulthood that what they experienced was abuse and the catalyst for emotional and relational challenges.
6 Signs You Were Raised by a Narcissistic Parent
Upholding unrealistic expectations of love and affection
Children of narcissists often have high expectations placed on them by their parent(s). Nothing they do ever feels good enough. A child may be scolded for not hugging their parent enough, not saying “I love you” enough, and not spending enough time with them. During childhood, it’s the caregivers’ job to model affection and healthy boundaries. It is not the child’s responsibility to cater to the emotional needs of the person(s) raising them. However, in narcissistic family relationships, the child learns that they need to keep the narcissistic parent(s) happy to avoid abuse.
In adult relationships, an adult who grew up within narcissistic family dynamics might believe every relationship comes with high expectations. This belief can result in overcompensating with people pleasing behaviors out of fear of experiencing the same consequences they remember from childhood. This often-unconscious reaction is actually a fawn response to trauma and is common for survivors of narcissistic abuse.
Your boundaries are too loose or too rigid
When you are raised by a narcissist, your relationship to boundaries might feel complicated in adulthood. As a child, your boundaries were likely infringed on regularly. You might struggle feeling safe to set boundaries with others, or on the other side of the coin, you might set airtight boundaries with no flexibility.
Boundaries keep relationships safe and functional. Boundaries typically don’t exist in narcissistically abusive relationships, so many adult children of narcissistic parents learn how to set boundaries for the first time within their adult relationships. Some survivors worry they will be discarded if they enforce boundaries, while others are understandably terrified of re-experiencing abuse, resulting in rigid boundaries.
Without proper modeling, beginning to learn how to set boundaries is like being told to drive a car without ever taking any classes. It would likely be scary, feel foreign, and you might worry that your actions could hurt other people. With education and practice, boundaries can become easier to set within your relationships, especially when people show you they can respect your needs.
Dating is difficult
Dating can be challenging, even for those who grew up in secure family dynamics. For adult survivors of childhood narcissistic abuse, dating can feel like a minefield. It’s not uncommon for adults who have experiences with narcissistic parents to seek out those same abusive behaviors their parents demonstrated. This doesn’t occur because they enjoy being abused, but because our brains are attracted to what feels familiar, even if that familiarity is linked with trauma.
Others might struggle with relationships because intimacy doesn’t feel safe to them. They might notice patterns of pushing people away when they really start to fall for someone so as not to get too close. They might really want to be loved and seen for who they are but struggle to feel safe enough to break down the protective wall around them.
You notice narcissistic traits in yourself
To be clear, just because someone was raised by a parent(s) with narcissistic traits doesn’t mean the child will mirror those traits into adulthood or develop NPD. However, many people adopt variations of traits, mannerisms, and beliefs they are exposed to in childhood.
For example, vanity is a common trait of narcissism. It’s not uncommon for narcissistic mothers to place high importance around appearance. A mother may go to great lengths to always make her herself and her life, including her family, look perfect to the outside world. A child who witnesses a parent’s perpetual perfectionism may become an adult who needs everything to seem perfect, perhaps to a point where they might seem vain.
Not everyone who was raised by narcissistic parents will display traits of narcissism, but if they do, it’s always something that can be worked on with a mental health professional, if you feel it’s impacting your life negatively.
You have a loud inner critic
Do you often feel like everything you do is wrong, not good enough, or a failure? Those who grow up around narcissistic parents are often berated with insults or apathy around their hobbies, choices, and achievements. This can look like a child receiving harsh critique that their grades aren’t good enough, that they aren’t more popular in school, that they aren’t talented enough, or good at sports. Alternatively, a narcissistic parent might show zero interest in their child’s life, which can make a child feel unimportant and harm their self-esteem.
If you have a judgmental and harsh inner critic, it’s possible the voice of your narcissistic parent(s) has taken up shop. It can be really difficult to unlearn the ways you were treated and talked to. With the help of a good therapist, you can learn to identify and reframe the negative thoughts and replace them with more empathic ones.
It’s hard for you to identify your feelings
For those who group up in narcissistic family dynamics, it often feels like there isn’t room to feel their feelings. As an adult, it can become difficult to identify how you’re feeling as you’ve likely learned to detach from your feelings to protect yourself. In adult relationships, it may be hard to explain your feelings to your partner or tell them what you need from them emotionally because that wasn’t an option when you were younger.
If You Grew Up With a Narcissistic Parent
If you were raised by narcissistic parents and are struggling with the aftermath, there is no need to feel guilty seeking help to heal. You are not alone. You can break the cycle and start a path towards healing. You can work to strengthen your boundaries, limit or go no-contact, and you can always create your own chosen family of people who have proven they will love and support you.