Are You a Victim? The Telltale Traits of Narcissistic Parents


All parents want the best for their children. They strive to nurture them, teach them valuable life lessons, and help prepare them for independence. However, some parents take a more self-centred approach that can be emotionally damaging. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you may be dealing with lingering issues as a result. The signs of narcissistic parenting can be subtle yet deeply impactful. In this article, I will explore some common traits of narcissistic parents and how you might determine if you were a victim of their selfish behaviours. My goal is to provide understanding and help you work through difficult experiences from your childhood.

Narcissistic parents lack empathy for their children’s needs, wants, and feelings. The relationship becomes less about nurturing the child and more about fulfilling the parent’s own ego. While not all behaviours result from a clinical diagnosis, the signs can still negatively impact a person’s development and self-esteem. If much of the below resonates with your upbringing, it may help to speak with a counsellor. Processing painful childhood events is an important part of healing. You did not deserve to be treated that way, and recognising the truth is the first step towards self-acceptance and building healthier relationships.

Prioritising Appearances Above All Else

A common tactic of narcissistic parents is presenting the perfect image to outsiders while the reality at home is quite different. They care deeply about how their family and parenting is perceived by others. Any sign of imperfection that could damage this facade is not tolerated. As a child, you likely felt intense pressure to constantly uphold this image through your words, behaviours, and achievements. Admitting problems, asking for help, or showing vulnerability were not options.

Your role became being a smiley, polite, well-behaved reflection of your parents rather than your authentic self. They wanted “the perfect child” to brag about to friends and neighbours. Individual needs were sacrificed for the sake of meeting external standards and expectations. Any misstep that embarrassed the parent or challenged the flawless story they told was punished severely. Speaking negatively about the family in any way was strictly forbidden.

Looking back, you may realise how little room there was just to be a normal kid who sometimes misbehaves or struggles. Perfection was demanded above all else. This need to control appearances likely took a psychological toll and made you feel like you had to constantly walk on eggshells to please an impossible standard.

Insensitive Put-Downs and Insults

Verbal abuse is never okay, yet narcissistic parents often use hurtful words as a tool to diminish their children and assert control. Compliments were nonexistent while insults, mocking, and criticism seemed endless. Any innocent mistakes or failures brought down a torrent of mean-spirited remarks meant to inflict pain.

Trivial issues were blown completely out of proportion just to humiliate and demean. Typical kid behaviour that didn’t negatively impact others was still treated as the worst possible offence imaginable. Subtle put-downs disguised as “jokes” were also a way to constantly chip away at self-esteem. You grew up constantly anxious or on edge, never fully secure that your parents wouldn’t suddenly lash out with a hurtful comment or mocking nickname.

It’s understandable to have regrets, but try not to dwell on past words said out of immaturity or anger. While the wounds linger, you do not deserve to keep beating yourself up over perceived failures from childhood according to impossible standards. You were just a kid doing your best in a tough situation. Recognizing your inherent worth has nothing to do with what anyone else says. Work on replacing those negative inner messages with compassionate self-talk.

Grooming Children to Feel Grateful and Obligated

Children need unconditional love and acceptance from their parents. However, narcissistic parents often turn the natural love and care required of them into another tool to control and manipulate. Rather than acting out of pure devotion to their offspring, the child becomes another prop in their selfish game. They try to make the child feel eternally grateful for even the smallest acts of parenting through subtle and not-so-subtle conditioning.

As a result, love becomes transactional – it’s given only when the child perfectly fulfils every demand and whim without question. Any slight disobedience or difference of opinion could result in the silent treatment, or worse yet, threats to rescind all “favours” like access to college funds or a place to live. You grew up constantly owing a debt that could never fully be repaid no matter how hard you tried to gain approval.

But parenting is not a favour – it is a responsibility that caregivers willingly choose by bringing a life into the world. While guidance and rules are natural, unconditional love shouldn’t be bartered away or dangled as some impossible-to-reach privilege. Remind yourself that none of that manipulation negates your inherent worth or right to live freely as your authentic self. You don’t owe anyone your whole identity or future happiness just to soothe their insatiable ego. It’s never too late to start truly nurturing yourself with compassion.

Envy of Your Successes and Independence

Sadly, for some narcissistic parents, their own children become rivals rather than cherished beings. As you grew older and more capable, certain milestones, like first relationships, jobs, grades or hobbies were met with disdain instead of the usual praise and support. Your independence and blossoming talents somehow threatened their sense of superiority. They actually grew jealous or resentful of your successes, happiness or emerging personality traits not reflected in themselves.

Rather than celebrating alongside you, they had to subtly undermine achievements by belittling efforts or claiming the credit for themselves. Any positive developments became opportunities to assert dominance through criticism or new rules intended to curb burgeoning freedoms. Whereas most parents see their kids thriving as a reflection of their role, narcissistic ones see it as a personal competition or loss of control. Their insecurities clouded what should have been proud moments of watching you learn and grow into your potential.

Remember that you have so much wonderfulness to offer the world regardless of anyone’s approval. Keep believing in yourself even when others try to diminish the light within. While their envy still stings, don’t let it taint happiness over who you are becoming or what you create with your talents. You are not defined by someone else’s insecurity or need to one-up. Stay focused on nurturing your path.

Exploiting Children for Attention and Praise

Some narcissistic parents sadly view their kids more as accessories to flaunt than individuals to respectfully nurture. Minor achievements were blown out of proportion on social media to stroke parental egos through likes and compliments from others. While praise is healthy, the focus seemed to be attracting attention to themselves through your milestones rather than celebrating you privately as a family.

Every detail of your personal life became public information for all to see, with little care given if it embarrassed you or compromised privacy as you matured. Your wants and feelings took a backseat to whatever crafted the perfect image. These types of parents live vicariously through their children and subtly, or not so subtly, push high-achieving images rather than fostering well-rounded development at each stage.

But every being deserves privacy and the space to simply experience childhood freely without constantly performing for virtual claps. Recognise that your worth has nothing to do with social validation or surface level praise. Keep nurturing your true interests and personality away from performing-monkey pressures. While their actions still sting, don’t let it stop you exploring life on your own terms with people who see you as a whole human rather than a prop.

Lack of Emotional Support and Empathy

All children will experience failure, sadness or difficulties as they mature. During these moments is when they need comforting most from their parents. However, narcissistic ones are emotionally unavailable and unequipped to provide real warmth, understanding or guidance through hard times. While demanding perfection, they offer little cushion when inevitable stumbles happen as part of the learning process.

Minor emotions were dismissed with eye-rolls or punishments instead of compassion. Any slight imperfection somehow reflected horribly upon them as parents. More serious issues went underground out of fear of further stigma or lack of solace. You grew up feeling deeply alone with problems while craving someone in your corner. But emotional needs took a backseat to dominating control and fragile egos.

Try not to feel ashamed over past issues or thinking something was wrong with you for having needs. Every being deserves empathy – it’s a basic human right. While their rejection still stings, know that you have so much strength and light within to self-soothe through difficulties. Professional help and caring people can fill supportive roles too. On your tough days, spend extra time nurturing inner compassion rather than harsh self-criticism. You’ve got this – keep believing in the wonderful human you are becoming despite their limitations.

Covert and Overt Favouritism

Narcissistic parents show blatant favouritism towards children who boost their ego the most through obedience and talents aligned with personal interests. The chosen one faced little rules while implicitly learning toxic behaviours to stay in the spotlight. However, their obvious preference often came at the expense of other siblings through subtle digs, comparisons and second-class treatment. If you weren’t the favourite, it likely chipped away at your sense of belonging in the family unit.


What are some other common traits of narcissistic parents?

Other signs include an extreme sense of entitlement, lack of accountability, need to be the centre of attention at all times, obsession with appearances and status, exploitation/use of others to achieve their own ends, envy and jealousy of others’ successes/happiness. They also tend to be overly critical, hypocritical and dishonest.

How can you tell if the behaviours are due to narcissism or just flaws all parents have?

Narcissistic patterns are typically more extreme, consistent and have long-lasting negative impacts. Healthy parents may occasionally lack empathy due to a bad day but overall try their best. Narcissists show a repeating disregard for a child’s wellbeing and use manipulation to meet their own needs above all else.

What are some effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent?

Common issues include low self-esteem, confidence issues, feelings of worthlessness, people-pleasing tendencies, difficulty establishing boundaries, distrust of others, anxiety/depression and problems with intimacy in relationships. Adult children may also struggle to parent in a healthy way due to their toxic childhood experiences.

Is there any way to have a relationship with a narcissistic parent as an adult?

It’s possible with strict boundaries and low contact focused on your own wellbeing rather than trying to change them. Don’t expect empathy, admit wrongdoing or work on personal growth. Make it clear any abuse will result in cutting off contact again. Focus on surrounding yourself with validating people rather than their approval.

How can someone recover from narcissistic parenting?

Healing takes time but is very possible. Seek therapy, do inner child work like journaling, engage in hobbies/activities just for yourself, and choose to fully accept and validate yourself unconditionally rather than through others. Surround yourself with a thoughtful support system, set boundaries clearly and practise daily self-care and affirmations.

What should someone do if they suspect their own parenting behaviours mirror those of their narcissistic parents?

Seek professional help right away through therapy. Do not pass on toxic patterns to children out of not addressing personal issues. With awareness and effort, the cycle can be broken. Work on actively listening to children, separating your self-worth from theirs, providing unconditional love through words and actions, and putting their needs first rather than your ego. Change takes commitment but is worth it for healthy development.


In conclusion, growing up with a narcissistic parent can undoubtedly lead to struggles, but it does not have to define your entire life story or self-worth. While the path to healing is ongoing, simply gaining an objective understanding of the behaviours that harmed you is such an important first step. Reflecting on how their actions said more about their own limitations than your inherent goodness and potential provides empowerment.

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