Like it or not, as adults we are still very much a product of our upbringing. So what if you were raised by narcissists without realizing it?
The emotional issues from your childhood most definitely will seep into adulthood, no matter how subtle they are. Read on to find out if you were raised by narcissists, and what you can do to heal your wounds.
Table of Contents
- Signs you were raised by narcissists:
- 1. Low self-esteem
- 2. Isolation
- 3. Abandonment issues
- 4. Self-consciousness
- 5. Inferiority complex
- 6. Depression and anxiety
- 7. Inability to speak up
- 8. Self-destruction
- 9. Extreme sensitivity
- 10. Lack of boundaries
- 11. Codependency in relationships
- 12. Weak sense of self
- 13. Chronic guilt/shame
- 14. Over-competitiveness
- If you recognize yourself in most of these traits…
- A narcissistic parent
- Two types of narcissistic parents
- Can a narcissist be a good parent?
- Why is being raised by a narcissist so damaging to a child?
- How to break free from a narcissist parent
- Breaking the cycle for good
Signs you were raised by narcissists:
When you have been raised by narcissists, the effects are never truly in full swing until you become an adult. Only then do you begin to realize the repercussions.
Many of our emotional inabilities stem from being raised in such an imbalanced way. Here are 14 recognizable signs that you suffer from these consequences:
1. Low self-esteem
Children of narcissists were constantly shamed as children. Because of their parent’s unattainable expectations, they felt that they were never good enough. And because the parents are narcissists, it is pretty much impossible to satisfy them. These feelings of low-esteem carry on to adulthood and make the child emotionally weak,
Due to low self-esteem, some children of narcissists become too afraid of failure that they become even afraid of trying.
So instead, they isolate themselves from opportunities and people that might make them feel “less”. Narcissistic parents are incapable of giving their children a sense of security, which makes for a child who easily feels alienated and rejected.
3. Abandonment issues
Narcissists almost never give their children validation. But when they do, it so rarely happens that their children don’t know how to handle it.
In some cases, children will hold on to this validation so much that they become overbearing. As adults, they have extreme abandonment issues and have trouble maintaining healthy relationships with others.
Narcissists raise their children with an eagle eye whenever it suits them. This means that when they do choose to notice their children, they are often too critical.
As adults, their children become extremely self-conscious about everything they do – the way they talk, look, and every outward effort they give to the world around them. They rarely got encouraging words as children, so they don’t have healthy self-confidence as adults.
5. Inferiority complex
Narcissistic parents often compare their children to other, better children. As a result, these children feel that they’re simply not good enough.
In other words, they grow up with an inferiority complex.
Here’s one piece of counter-intuitive advice if you’ve been made to feel this way by a narcissist parent: get angry about it.
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Do you feel guilty for being angry? Do you try to repress your anger so it goes away?
If so, it’s understandable. We’ve been conditioned to hide our anger all our lives. In fact, the whole personal development industry is built around not being angry and instead always “think positively”.
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6. Depression and anxiety
All of these feelings of abandonment and inadequacy can lead to one thing – depression. Oftentimes, these characteristics alienate and prohibit someone to build and maintain a meaningful relationship with themselves and other people.
It can be difficult to learn how to love oneself. Children of narcissists experience anxiety and depression even as children. And they only intensify as they mature.
7. Inability to speak up
Narcissistic parents often silence their kids when they try to speak out or assert their opinions.
Because of this, their children grow up with an inability to voice their own opinions. It actually becomes a fear to speak up.
Motivational speaker, Kathy Caprino, wrote about growing up with a narcissistic family member, saying:
“Another experience of narcissism I had was with a family member, and I learned throughout my life that I couldn’t speak up if it meant I didn’t agree with this person. If I challenged the individual, love would be withheld, and that is very threatening and scary experience for a child. We’ll do almost anything as children in order to be loved.”
The reasons for your inability to speak up could only be two things: your lack of confidence or your desire to simply keep the peace.
Either way, this behavior can be caused by a narcissistic parent raising you.
When a child is raised by a narcissist, their childhood turns into a telenovela of an unhealthy and destructive environment.
And because this is their version of “normal” at an early age, they naturally attract it into adulthood.
They unconsciously gravitate to toxic situations and relationships. Oftentimes when they experience healthy relationships, they start craving for the instability of a toxic one that they self-sabotage it.
9. Extreme sensitivity
Being raised by a narcissist makes a child hypersensitive to whatever is happening around them. As young children, this is essential to survival because they always need to gauge their parent’s moods.
As adults, they become sensitive to other people’s feelings. In relationships, this becomes problematic because they are extremely sensitive even for the littlest things. It also makes them uncontrollably emotional and easily manipulated by others.
10. Lack of boundaries
The most toxic thing children inherit from their narcissistic parents is the complete inability to establish boundaries.
As such, they can be easily abused and used by their bosses, colleagues, significant others. They constantly try to please, which means they sacrifice so much of themselves just to get validation from others.
Even the simplest mistakes at work or in relationships make them beat themselves up. This is the reason why they always struggle with their careers and their personal relationships with others.
11. Codependency in relationships
According to psychotherapist Ross Rosenburg:
“Codependency anorexia often results in the codependent parent unfairly and inappropriately seeking to meet their emotional, social and personal needs through their children.
“This form of enmeshment is often referred to as emotional incest, which is harmful to a child’s psychological development.”
As a result, the narcissistic’s child grows up lacking in self-esteem and a strong sense of self-worth – two things that are crucial in their ability to have healthy relationships.
Couple that with their co-dependency with their parents while growing up, and you’ll see it manifest in their adult relationships as well.
12. Weak sense of self
A strong sense of self is crucial in navigating everyday life. It stops us from comparing ourselves to others. It gives us confidence in our abilities. Most importantly, it shapes a strong identity.
Both engulfing and ignoring narcissistic parents fail to help their children with developing their own identities. As a result, they don’t know who they are and what they want.
Sometimes, this may even develop into borderline personality disorders.
13. Chronic guilt/shame
In her article, Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, relationship and codependency expert Darlene Lancer wrote about the toxic shame narcissistic parents cause to their children, saying:
“She rarely, if ever, feels accepted for just being herself. She must choose between sacrificing herself and losing her mother’s love–a pattern of self-denial and accommodation is replayed as codependency in adult relationships.
“Her real self is rejected, first by her mother, and then by herself. The consequence is internalized, toxic shame, based on the belief that her real self is unlovable.”
Not feeling good enough, or worthy enough of love makes a person ashamed or guilty. In time, this becomes chronic and debilitating.
An engulfing narcissistic’s unreasonable expectations of their children make them over-competitive.
In some cases, this may be a good thing. Being competitive is a strong indicator of success. However, over-competitiveness is another thing.
When you’re overly competitive, you derive your self-worth solely from your achievements. This kind of behavior is even validated by your narcissistic parent.
As a result, you have a need to always prove yourself. And when you fail, you take it to heart.
If you recognize yourself in most of these traits…
Then it’s time to do something about it. The first step is in becoming aware of your problems. Your childhood might have been difficult and might have caused most of the negative things in your adult life, but they can only define you if you choose to.
It is never easy to try to heal from being raised by a narcissist.
In fact, it is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome because it is so ingrained in you since childhood. You will have to go against everything that you’ve known. You have to overcome your most natural impulses.
However, you can get over it. You can choose to not let your past experience stop you from a healthy future.
So, now we know the effects a narcissistic parent might have had on you, but let’s dig a little deeper and find out how this cycle can be broken by first understanding how a narcissistic parent operates:
A narcissistic parent
According to Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is
“a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
So, how would you recognize if your parent or parents are narcissists or covert narcissists?
Let me ask you a couple of questions first.
Were your parents/guardians:
- unreasonably and extremely possessive of you?
- prone to engaging in marginalized competition with you?
- afraid or worried about your independence?
- always casting you inside their shadows?
- always having unreasonable expectations you can’t ever seem to reach?
If the answers to these questions are yes then you were probably raised by narcissists.
In hindsight, there is one easily recognizable sign — if you’ve ever felt that they couldn’t love you for who you are.
But you can argue that most parents are protective. In fact, a lot of parents pressure us to perform our best because they want us to succeed. And most parents show us off when we’ve done something to make them proud.
All of these things don’t necessarily mean they are narcissistic tendencies.
What distinguishes a narcissistic parent is their ever-existing tendency to deny their children their own identity. It’s their “conditional” love that makes them narcissists, and their need to take away their child’s sense of “self.”
Two types of narcissistic parents
1. Ignoring narcissists
Some narcissistic parents are completely self-absorbed that they end up neglecting their offspring. Ignoring narcissistic parents are the ones who show very little interest in their children’s lives. They perceive their children as a threat and therefore deliberately chooses not to put an effort into their betterment and upbringing.
2. Engulfing narcissists
Completely opposite from ignoring narcissists, engulfing narcissistic parents shoe obsessive involvement in their children’s lives. They see their offspring as an extension of their own selves. In doing so, they force their own identity on their children and become frustrated when they deviate from it. These kinds of parents don’t have boundaries and have difficulty separating themselves from their children.
Can a narcissist be a good parent?
Narcissists who become parents react in two ways – ignoring or engulfing narcissistic parents. But is there an exception to the rule? Can a narcissist be a good parent?
With both types of behaviors, you can see a key aspect – disconnection. Even the engulfing narcissistic parent is emotionally unavailable, lacks warmth, and is always detached.
We spoke to psychologist Dr. Nakpangi Thomas, NCC, LPC, TITC-CT, who specializes in narcissism. Her view of whether a narcissist can be a good parent reveals a sad truth for those who’ve been raised by such parents:
Unfortunately, narcissists are not wired to be “good” parents. Their child is only an extension of them to be controlled. The child’s accomplishments are not their own because the narcissistic parent will find a way of making the accomplishment about them. Hence, overshadowing the child. The child’s feelings are not important in comparison to the parent. They will put their child down to make themselves feel better. None of these behaviors demonstrate good parenting.
This gives us a better idea as to why narcissistic parents emotionally hurt their children, but let’s dig a little deeper:
Why is being raised by a narcissist so damaging to a child?
You might wonder why the effects of being raised by a narcissistic parent are so long-lasting and difficult to overcome. It’s because the abuse started from childhood. Often children raised by narcissists require more emotional stability.
The first five years of life are the most important. These are the years when children learn appropriate behavior, how to empathize, set boundaries, and all social skills that stay with them for life.
Dr. Thomas explains that the feelings experienced by a child of narcissistic parents can strip away all sense of self-esteem and confidence:
Children of narcissistic parents generally experience humiliation and shame and grow up having poor self-esteem. Oftentimes, these children become adults that are high achievers or self-saboteurs, or both. Children hurt by this type of parent will need trauma recovery.
But that’s not all, as we’ve already covered above, anxiety and depression can play a prevalent role in your life as an adult as a result of your parents:
The child learns that their goals and needs are not important. Their focus is on pleasing the parent to stay in their good graces. This may lead to anxiety as the child strives to be the perfect child – living up to the narcissist’s unrealistic desires. Depression may occur as a result of the child not meeting the parent’s expectations.
For children – the parent’s behavior is unpredictable. They are unsure what will please the parent; thus, causing feelings of being on edge. The child will feel responsible for the parent’s happiness. They will also learn that their parent’s kindness comes with conditions leaving the child feeling beholden to the parent
If you’re reading this and thinking, “wow, you’ve described my entire upbringing”, your next thought might be, “so what can I do to overcome these effects of my parents?”
Read on to find out how…
How to break free from a narcissist parent
Do your relationships with your parents help you to grow and evolve in life? Are you respected as an equal?
Or do they want you to be a sheep, subservient to their wishes and desires?
I know that it can be difficult to break free from negative and abusive relationships.
However, if there are people trying to manipulate you — even if they don’t intend to — it’s essential to learn how to stand up for yourself.
Because you do have a choice to end this cycle of pain and misery.
As Dr.Thomas explains:
“Very often, adult children of narcissistic parents display a great ability to show compassion and love for others, can form loving relationships, and learn to love and care for themselves. It is possible to recover from growing up with a narcissistic parent.
“But completely breaking free from your narcissist parent can be challenging; it is more like riding a wave. Building your self-esteem and confidence is key to your survival. A narcissistic parent will often test and cross your boundaries simply to prove that they can. They may show up uninvited to your home, break family rules to get you angry, or play favorites with your children.
“You must set firm boundaries and enforce consequences when they are crossed. It may feel like you are disciplining a child- because you are- but be firm and clear as to why you are putting your foot down. You may even need to give them a timeout by asking them to leave if they do not follow the rules. If this does not work, going no contact is the only way to break free from a narcissistic parent.”
The importance of boundary setting can’t be overlooked – it’s your key to maintaining a relationship with your parents while protecting your emotional and mental wellbeing.
Breaking the cycle for good
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And the truth is:
All you need is the courage (and it will take a lot) to really go deep in yourself and assess just how damaging your upbringing is. And when you know the extent of your trauma, you can take the necessary steps to heal from them.
You are only as strong as you allow yourself to be. Believe that you are.
“Adult children of narcissistic parents have the right to progress, grow, and thrive in their lives. They have the right to love and honor their selves. They have the right to psychological freedom and inner peace.
“As long as they allow their narcissistic parents to keep a toxic hold on them, none of those rights will be attainable.”
– Randi G. Fine, author of Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Guide to Healing and Recovery