People who grew up with narcissistic parents usually have these 11 character traits

Living with narcissists is hard. Being raised by two of them is even harder.

The environment we grow up in—and especially our relationship with our parents—is one of the things that affect what kind of person we grow up to be.

Even the toughest, most resilient child can’t help but be worn down by the self-centered immaturity of narcissistic parents (NPs).

Want to know if you (or the people you know) grew up with narcissistic parents?

Then try to look for these 11 character traits.

1) They’re people-pleasers

Narcissistic parents always want to have their way. 

They rarely—if ever—take the moment to consider what their children want.

That’s because they think of their children as mere extensions of themselves—and that it’s their children’s duty to keep them happy.

This stays with those kids long after they’ve grown up and become adults. 

They’ve been raised to always value other people’s feelings, and to believe that they don’t deserve to assert themselves.

So as a result, they become people-pleasers—always weighing their own self-worth based on whether other people are happier with them around or not.

Do you know someone who always says “Yes ma’am, yes sir”?

Do they avoid doing things that would upset others (even if those things could make them happy)?

Then they probably have narcissistic parents.

2) They take a long time to make simple decisions

NPs can’t stand never being in control.

It doesn’t matter to them whether their children are 3, 30, or 60 years old—they believe that they’re entitled to have a “say” in their children’s lives!

They might get pissed if their children decided to go take a vacation without first informing them, or if they decided to go buy an unfamiliar brand of milk.

This is why people who were raised by NPs all need someone to make their decisions for them.

So even as adults—even when the NP is no longer around—they remain stunted.

They find it hard to decide on their own. And even when they do, they always have that voice in their heads that says “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?!”

3) They feel guilty when they prioritize themselves

NPs want to be the #1 priority.

This results in their children feeling like they simply can’t even prioritize themselves without feeling like they’re being massive a**holes.

So if you notice that someone you know struggles to ever put themselves first and is always eager to give up their wants so that other people will be happy, then they’re probably raised by narcissists.

They’d struggle to say “I want to study in Europe” despite the fact that they really, really want to because that would mean leaving their parents without a companion.

Or they’d let their best friend sleepover even if they want to be alone because they don’t feel like their happiness should matter more.

4) They’re hypervigilant

if you want to think clearly say goodbye to these toxic habits People who grew up with narcissistic parents usually have these 11 character traits

Living under a narcissist’s roof is all about being always afraid of making the wrong move.

Saying the wrong word, in the wrong tone, or at the wrong time is enough to set a narcissist off.

As ridiculous as it sounds to the rest of us, even something as innocent as “Good morning!” can push an NP into a hours-long meltdown.

Having to endure this kind of toxicity for years pushes the children of NPs into being extremely paranoid and hypervigilant…over everything!

They can’t relax because deep down inside there’s this fear that the wrong move—the smallest mistake—can turn everyone against them.

It doesn’t matter even if the NPs are long gone, or that they’re no longer surrounded by narcissists. 

Those wounds don’t just heal easily.

5) They’re quick to blame themselves when something goes wrong

Narcissists can never conceive of a word where they’re the bad guys.

As far as they’re concerned, the world revolves around them, and everyone else who DARES make their life even the least bit miserable is a villain.

So when something goes wrong, their default reaction is to shift the blame elsewhere.

And the thing with children is that they’re always quick to blame themselves when something goes wrong WITHOUT someone actually putting the blame on them.

They’ll be so used to taking the blame that even as adults, their first thought whenever people are unhappy is “what did I do wrong?”

They’re so convinced that their very existence is a burden that they simply can’t stand up to themselves.

6) They’re very driven (but for the wrong reasons)

As I mentioned earlier, NPs see their children as extensions of themself.

If their child is good at drawing, they’ll post about it on social media and then accept those congratulations as if they’re about THEM, and not their kid.

If their child looks especially beautiful or handsome, they’d show their kid off so that they can proudly say “they got it from me!”

NPs teach their children that they MUST excel, that they MUST be the best person in the room…for their parents’ sake.

Basically, “make your mama/ papa proud.”

And as adults this translates to a strong drive to excel. 

To go above and beyond with such fervor that it wouldn’t be wrong to say that they’re desperate.

They’re desperate to rise, to succeed, and they dread stagnating or failing. 

But it’s not because they can’t survive a fall or two, but because they feel like they’re worthless otherwise.

7) They feel useless when they’re not doing anything

Do you know someone who’s always restless—someone who simply can’t seem to sit still and do nothing without feeling nervous or feeling like they’re being a burden?

Then they’ve probably been raised by narcissists.

The reason is because one of the first things that narcissists set out to do—consciously or otherwise—is to ruin the self-worth of the people around them.

And their children, in particular, are often conditioned to see themselves as being utterly worthless unless they are being “useful” to the NP.

We all need rest. 

There’s nothing wrong with just spending a day or two doing nothing but sleeping, eating, watching TV, or playing games. Without that rest we’ll all burn out.

Unfortunately, people raised by narcissists end up burning themselves out precisely because they simply can’t let themselves get “lazy” for even a minute.

8) They’re suspicious when people treat them well

You’d be surprised that narcissists are one of the most generous people you’ll ever meet… as long as you’re being useful to them.

They reward people for being “loyal”, but go out of their way to punish them if they fail to meet their expectations.

And not only that!

They use their generosity (sometimes given unbidden) as an excuse to ask for favors later on. 

And of course, people simply can’t say no without feeling like a monster.

The sad thing is that those raised by narcissists will only ever know generosity in this context.

They struggle to comprehend that people can simply be generous without wanting anything in return, or that other people genuinely just want to see them happy.

So when they’re surrounded by people who treat them well, their first thought is “okay, but why are you doing this?”

9) They’re nurturers

how to practise empathy People who grew up with narcissistic parents usually have these 11 character traits

Since NPs often display immature behavior like throwing tantrums and sulking, role-reversal is inevitable.

This is called parentification. It’s where children, because of their environment, are forced to grow up way too fast so that they can fill the role of the caretaker.

NPs often don’t get along with others so they might often seek emotional support from their children.

And if they’re inconvenienced or suffering in any way, they’d get so impatient and act like a child.

The child would then play the role of the nurturing parent— saying “It’s okay mama” or “Stop drinking, papa. You have to be strong!.”

As adults, you can spot them as the ones who’d always set aside their needs so they can help others.

10) They gaslight themselves

Narcissists are often good manipulators…and one way they manipulate others is by gaslighting them.

If their children express negative feelings towards them, instead of saying sorry, they’d invalidate their feelings by saying “Do you really think I can do that?” or “You’re being paranoid!”

Prolonged exposure to gaslighting of course has tremendous effects on the way we think. It will lead to self-gaslighting.

It’s where you always doubt yourself and invalidate your own feelings, which is not only sad but also dangerous. It can leave you trapped in an abusive relationship, for example.

Do you know someone who feels strongly about something but then later tells themself that they’re just being “sensitive”?

They probably grew up with NPs.

11) They’re drawn to narcs

Imagine living under the roof with a narcissist for 18+ years.

Imagine being expected to always put your needs second, to be always afraid of saying the wrong thing and getting blamed for everything… while being told that you’re loved.

For those of us who grew up in healthier households, it might seem unbearable. And it is!

The only way that those raised by narcissists manage to survive is by accepting the way things are and convincing themselves that all of this is normal.

And unfortunately, people are drawn to whatever is familiar

So while they might not exactly like it, they’ll end up being drawn to narcissists anyways.

Final thoughts

All of these things I’ve listed are all signs that someone has been deeply wounded by narcissistic parents and that they have yet to heal—or if they have, that their healing isn’t complete.

It’s no way to live.

So if you know someone who might have been raised by narcissistic parents, the best thing you can do is to be there by their side. 

Try to understand their scars and show them another, healthier form of love.

And if you can, try to help them get therapy. They’ll need it. Scars that run that deep are almost impossible to heal without professional help.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.

0:00
0:00