7 signs you grew up with a covert narcissistic parent

Have you ever felt like you were walking on eggshells around your parents?

Were constantly trying to earn their love and approval, but to no avail?

If so, you may have grown up with a covert narcissistic parent.

This isn’t something we often talk about. In fact, many people still hold the belief that our parents are supposed to be our heroes, our champions, the people who guide us through life with unconditional love and unwavering support.

But what if this wasn’t your reality?

Covert narcissism is a subtle form of narcissism that often goes unnoticed until much later in life. Growing up with a parent who has these traits can be confusing, challenging, and have lasting impacts well into our lives.

In this article, we will delve into the signs that indicate you may have had a covert narcissistic parent.

Understanding this dynamic can help shed light on some confusing childhood memories and potentially guide you towards personal healing.

Let’s dive in.

1) Your accomplishments were always about them

As a child, did you ever feel like your achievements were somehow twisted into being about your parent?

Maybe you won a spelling bee, and your parent was quick to tell everyone how they quizzed you every night and therefore, your victory was essentially theirs.

This is a common tactic used by covert narcissists.

They tend to bask in the reflected glory of their children’s accomplishments, using them as an opportunity to boost their own egos and make themselves look good, rather than celebrating their child’s hard work and success.

This can often leave you feeling like your achievements are not truly yours – they’re just another way for your narcissistic parent to shine.

2) You often felt ignored or overlooked

Growing up, I always felt like I was in the background.

My needs, interests, and feelings seemed to take a backseat to my parent’s desires and demands.

For instance, I remember being ecstatic about making the school volleyball team. But when I shared the news at home, my parent shrugged it off, saying they were busy with work and didn’t have time to attend games.

They never asked about my practices or showed interest in my new passion.

Looking back, this lack of attention wasn’t because they were genuinely preoccupied. It was a classic manifestation of covert narcissism.

Often, a covert narcissistic parent will ignore or dismiss their child’s needs if they don’t align with their own interests or if they don’t serve to boost their self-image.

3) Emotional manipulation was a constant

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my parent giving me the silent treatment.

I must have been around nine or ten at the time. I’d forgotten to do one of my chores, and instead of discussing it, they simply refused to speak to me for days.

This was their go-to method of punishment—silent treatments, guilt trips, and emotional manipulations. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized this wasn’t normal behavior.

Covert narcissistic parents often use emotional manipulation as a tool to control their children’s behavior and maintain a hold over them.

They might make you feel guilty for small missteps or use your emotions against you to get what they want. These continuous manipulative behaviors can lead to feelings of confusion and self-doubt in the child.

4) You were always expected to meet their high standards

As a child, I remember feeling like I had to be perfect to earn my parent’s love and approval. They had incredibly high standards and expectations, and even the smallest mistakes or failures were met with harsh criticism.

It wasn’t just about school grades or extracurricular activities. It extended to my behavior, my social circle, even my appearance. Every aspect of my life was scrutinized, and nothing ever seemed good enough.

Covert narcissistic parents often project their own insecurities and unfulfilled aspirations onto their children. They set unrealistic expectations and are quick to express disappointment when these aren’t met, leaving their child frequently feeling inadequate or like they’re falling short.

5) Your parent often played the victim

It’s an unfortunate reality that covert narcissistic parents often portray themselves as the victim in various situations. They have a knack for twisting circumstances to appear as if they’ve been wronged, even when they’re at fault.

Take my dad, for example. If they were late to pick me up from school, they’d blame it on traffic, their boss, or even me for not reminding them. It was never their responsibility or mistake.

Interestingly, psychologists refer to this as “playing the victim card,” a common tactic among those with covert narcissistic tendencies. It allows them to shift blame and avoid accountability, all while gaining sympathy and attention from others.

This pattern can be incredibly confusing for children who grow up in such environments.

6) You often felt emotionally drained

I remember dreading family dinners because they’d often turn into monologues about my parent’s achievements, problems or criticisms about my behavior. My feelings or input rarely mattered, and I’d leave the table feeling unheard and invalidated.

Looking back, I realize now that interactions with my parent were often exhausting. Even a simple conversation seemed to suck the energy out of me, leaving me feeling drained and uneasy.

This continuous emotional drain is a common experience for those who grow up with covert narcissistic parents. The constant need to cater to the parent’s ego, coupled with a lack of emotional reciprocity, can leave you feeling depleted and emotionally unfulfilled.

7) You might struggle with self-esteem and boundary issues

One of the lasting impacts of growing up with a covert narcissistic parent is the struggle with self-esteem and boundary issues.

I found this to be true in my own life.

For years, I battled feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, always doubting my worth and capabilities. I also had trouble setting boundaries in relationships, often letting others take advantage or overstep without protest.

A covert narcissistic parent can instill these insecurities and issues in their children through their manipulative behaviors and constant invalidation.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge these struggles as a step towards healing and developing healthier self-perceptions and relationships.

Embracing the journey of healing

Recognizing that you were raised by a covert narcissistic parent can be a tough pill to swallow. It might bring up a lot of mixed emotions – anger, sadness, confusion.

But remember, acknowledging this truth is the first step towards healing. While the past cannot be changed, your future is in your hands.

The patterns you learned in your childhood do not have to dictate your adult life. With self-awareness, therapy, and support, it’s entirely possible to break free from these old patterns and develop healthier ways of relating.

Be patient with yourself during this process. Healing is not linear – there will be highs and lows, progress and setbacks. But each step forward, no matter how small, is a victory worth celebrating.

In the words of Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

You have the power to choose who you want to be and how you want to live your life.

Picture of Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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