Because I have a niece who loved the Nickelodeon show Sam and Cat, I’m familiar with the funny teen series that ran from just 2013-2014. Ariana Grande played the cute, gullible, and easily-influenced Cat Valentine while Jeanette McCurdy acted out the sassy, sarcastic, rebellious teenager Sam Pucket.
So when I learned that McCurdy was releasing her memoir, I was a bit taken aback at the title: I’m Glad My Mom Died. Like many, I thought the teen star called the book that as a joke because of her signature dark humor.
Turns out McCurdy was dead serious.
In the memoir, McCurdy writes of being groomed and forced into Hollywood by her narcissistic mother, and the trauma she faced as a result. This included eating only 1000, sometimes 500 calories a day so that she could keep her looking young even past puberty.
While McCurdy’s story might seem extreme, narcissistic parents tend to have many common traits.
Here are seven signs that emphasize having been raised by a narcissist.
1) Navigating relationships is really hard for you
One reader said that as an adult, she still doubts her own account of the past.
“My mother belittled my clothes, my academic achievements, and made me out to be a monster,” she wrote to the newspaper. “When she tried to hit me and I blocked the blow, she cried, claiming that doing so hurt her arm.”
The reader says that her mother tried to rent out her room from under her and make her move to the attic. “I never want to deal with her again, she was a volatile vindictive figure all my life and I feel safer without her.”
But she says the shadow still hangs over her. “I doubt my own account of things and feel like I’m the problem whenever I have difficulty with people because of having been treated like a pariah by the person who is meant to be the biggest security of your life.”
Even if you’re estranged from a narcissistic parent or have personal boundaries in place with them, your childhood experience can have a huge impact on your romantic relationships in the present, says Dr. Sarah Schewitz from Couples Learn.
“Many of these issues stem from two factors: trauma and attachment style,” says Dr. Schewitz.
“Children with parents who were emotionally distant, abusive, or inconsistent with their support—such as the children of narcissists—may develop an anxious or avoidant attachment style.”
People with this insecure attachment style may struggle with forming healthy relationships. They can also find it especially hard to trust others.
2) You live with a nagging feeling that you’re not good enough
Having a narcissistic parent can create a sense of anxiety, feelings of not being good enough, as well as a lack of identity, says Dr. Ramani Durvasula.
“This can leave people afraid they will continue the patterns of their childhoods, especially when they have kids themselves,” she says.
In their professional life, they might suffer from Imposter Syndrome because they have an embedded memory of childhood about not getting good enough grades and making it on a sports team.
“Growing up, their talents and skills may have been downplayed, ignored, or co-opted by the narcissistic parent who will have felt threatened by their child’s skills,” says the team at The Awareness Centre.
So even when as adults they’re successful in their field, they may feel that they don’t deserve it and this can give rise to imposter syndrome.
3) You find it difficult to express your emotions
Because narcissistic parents are towering forces in their children’s lives, it can be extremely difficult for their children to express how they feel.
They were most likely always afraid of the parent’s reaction. In time, they learned to distance themselves from their own needs and feelings as a way to protect themselves.
The children of narcissistic parents often find it difficult to form healthy relationships and set boundaries, and express their needs and emotions,
says Board Registered Interventionist and counselor Heather Hayes.
“The impact can extend into adulthood, necessitating therapy and self-awareness to heal and foster healthier connections.”
4) You value validation from other people over your own opinion
Because children of narcissistic parents rarely—if ever—receive the approval and validation they so desperately need in childhood, they may develop a dependency in adulthood to constantly seek reassurance from others, says Pamela Li from Parenting for Brain.
“Narcissistic parents use their children to fulfill their unsatisfied needs for admiration, praise, recognition, and achievement, driving the child to constantly search for approval from them,” Li says.
So when as an adult, they have an inner critic that keeps telling them that they aren’t worthy.
Try to prioritize your own needs as a way of validating yourself, says Sharon Martin at Psych Central. Also “acknowledge your strengths, success, progress and efforts.”
Accept your limitations, flaws, and mistakes, and make sure to treat yourself with kindness.
5) You’re prone to perfectionism and can’t take a compliment
Children of narcissistic parents often grow up to be perfectionists, says Bryan Leopold from Overcome With Us.
“They‘ve been taught that only the best is good enough and that anything less is a failure. As a result, they’re often hard on themselves and have a difficult time accepting compliments.”
Unlearn that line of thinking. Your narcissistic parent was dealing with their own demons and expecting perfection from you was probably a way for them to have some semblance of control—something they didn’t have growing up in their own dysfunctional family.
Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes, says the team at Oregon Counseling.
Challenge that parental voice in your head whenever you hear it. Remind yourself that mistakes are opportunities for you to learn, grow, and do better. It’s not the end of the world.
As for compliments: they are one of life’s delights. Give yourself the gift of delighting in them.
6) You seem to self-sabotage as soon as things are going right
Children of narcissists can carry over self-sabotaging behaviors well into adulthood, says therapist Sarah Graham.
Self-sabotage can be anything from procrastination, emotional eating, substance misuse, and having self-critical thoughts, all of which can paralyze us and prevent us from reaching our full potential, she says.
Don’t let your past ruin your potential.
Therapist Tanya J. Peterson at Choosing Therapy says there are a number of changes you can make if you feel this is what you are doing.
Try to be self-aware of what you’re doing. A good idea is to write your observations in a journal, Peterson says. “As you develop insight about yourself, you can become more intentional about where you need to make changes.”
Then make small changes. “Positive change beats self-defeating action, but remember that habits are most important effectively changed in small steps,” she says.
“Think in terms of making incremental change. Replace one thought or behavior daily and give yourself time to change a habit.”
7) You are scared to stand up for yourself
One Quora user shared that growing up in a narcissistic household made her terrified of confrontations and that she always took the path of least resistance when it came to her personal interactions.
“I went on dates I had very little interest in because I couldn’t say no,” she says. “I got roped into various projects that my mother was involved in because she made me feel bad about refusing. If I chose to do something I preferred instead, I was labeled selfish and it was brought up again and again, for years afterwards.”
This path of “least resistance” can translate for many people into adulthood. It can look like not standing up to a berating boss who puts a lot of pressure on you to take on more than you should.
It can also look like no speaking up for yourself when your partner makes plans and decisions without your input.
You survived your narcissistic childhood; and now as an adult with autonomy, you can thrive
Another anonymous reader who grew up under the care of a narcissistic parent replied to The Irish Times talks about coming to the realization that she was worthy of love and a good life.
“My mother was constantly irritated with me throughout my childhood,”’she says. “She dug her fingernails into my skin, threw objects at me, cut me with a bread knife, and when I would go, upset to my father, he would get me to apologize to her for upsetting her.”
She grew up believing that she didn’t deserve love.
“But through the support of gorgeous friendships, a loving husband and his extended family and plenty of good physiotherapy, I now understand that I am worth loving.”