Break the toxic cycle: Are you co-parenting with a narcissist?

Written by Angela Atkinson

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a toxic narcissist, you know how painful and traumatic it can be for an adult. Imagine how it would feel if you were a child – and if it were all you knew.

You probably are already aware that narcissistic parents refuse to respect or even acknowledge their children’s desires.

If you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, for example, you may watch him or her promise your kids the world, in order to get what he/she wants from them, and then refuse to honor the promises. He may even directly blame the kids for his refusal, such as inventing a reason to punish them.

The kids of a narcissist are often forced to miss out on events like birthday parties, little league games or other activities that are important to them in order to accommodate the narcissistic parent’s wishes.

And before long, if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, your children will learn that what they want is just not important.

When Your Mom or Dad is a Narcissist: What the Kids Deal With

The child of the narcissist is raised in that little spot that’s somewhere between a rock and a hard place. She’s constantly walking on eggshells in a futile effort to prevent the narcissist’s explosive rage.

For a child of a narcissist, the intense rage alternating with the guilt and occasional public display of affection are combined with trying to do whatever the narc parent wishes to appease him. Unfortunately, it never works that way and the child will always ultimately fail to meet his standards of perfection.

This leads to the child constantly being told she’s a complete failure. She grows up without the ability to make her own choices, and she may become socially awkward, having trouble with setting boundaries.

Worse, the child of a narcissist will often fall to a line of successive abusers, as she has no notion of normal behavior and of what to expect from relationships.

She will believe that her feelings of being taken advantage of are her own fault. She will think she’s oversensitive (that’s what the narcissist tells her when she has a legitimate concern). She also feels that she somehow deserves the abuse and so has no option but to tolerate it, as everyone would do the same to her.

No good parent wants her child to experience these things. So how can you be sure you’re co-parenting with a narcissist? Check out these signs and see if you might recognize someone you know or love.

22 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent

  1. Extremely selfish and self-centered. Capable of permanently harming his own children to get what he wants.
  2. When his children fail to live up to his expectations, he severely punishes them.
  3. Incapable of empathy, so will rain down toxic criticism and disapproval on children, even when they are good. That’s partially because the kids have their own feelings and personalities (which are separate and different from the narcissist’s), so they are never good enough.
  4. Wants total control over his/her family. Expects children to become copies of himself, which he considers the measure of perfection.
  5. Often causes kids to grow up with severe guilt and incredibly low self-esteem. May even cause them to become narcisists themselves.
  6. Maintains two separate “identities” – one to the “outside world,” which includes even extended family, and another to those who live within the circle of influence (or the home).
  7. Appears to outsiders to be a great listener, generous with time and money, charming, etc. But within those inside the home, a narc parent will be dismissive, ignoring and/or directly cruel. May also play mind games.
  8. Seems to require attention and dislikes it when anyone else is “taking attention away” from them and/or their desires.
  9. Covert narcs will seek attention with very subtle moves, often glaring at her targets across the room or kicking them under the table to get them to stop hogging the spotlight. Overt narcs will be more obvious with their attention-seeking behaviors – sometimes even openly interrupting or causing a scene when it’s not all about them.
  10. Takes behaviors and misbehaviors of children as personal compliments and attacks on his or her Self – because as far as a narc parent is concerned, her children are simple extensions of herself. Is often over-dramatic and is heard saying things like “I can’t believe you would do this to me…” when disciplining children for normal childhood mistakes.
  11. Sees his children, as well as everyone else, not as people who have own personalities, needs and feelings. but as merely objects that exist only to serve his purposes.
  12. Gaslights children and spouse, intentionally undermining their senses of self and invading boundaries. This may manifest with subtle criticism, or it may be more direct.
    1. For example, a narc mother whose daughter made the cheerleading squad might try to live virtually through the daughter, especially if she herself wanted to be a cheerleader and never made the squad.
    2. She could do this by being incredibly controlling and overbearing, requiring her daughter to practice excessively and building discipline into cheerleading fails.
    3. Alternatively, she might go the other direction and cast doubt on her. (“You only made the team because they felt sorry for you.”) Or, she might predict failure on the endeavor – but cloaked in concern. (“Are you sure you want to do this? What if you break your neck?”)
  13. Believes that spouse and children don’t deserve to choose their own boundaries and will actively challenge and overstep them.
  14. Behaves as though children and spouse are possessions which don’t have valid thoughts and opinions.
  15. Becomes indignant and/or denies it if you ask them to discuss these behaviors.
    1. For example, if your narc mother knows that you love to cook, she may pretend she doesn’t when you mention something about it. But if you confront her and remind her how you won that cooking contest you entered last year, she instantly reminds you that she’s always telling people that you’re a great cook.
  16. May actually tell people about your accomplishments, but only to make herself look good and to get attention.
  17. Envies the good things that others have, but won’t admit to wanting those things and won’t attempt to get them. But if anyone else does something to improve their circumstances, may call them selfish and entitled.
    1. For example, if the narc mother of an adult learned that her daughter bought her first brand new car, she’d shake her head and murmur something about the dangers of new car ownership and how much insurance must be costing by now, rather than simply saying “wow, congrats honey!” or something else that is in any way appropriate.
  18. Never likes people “for real,” even though she may have a huge social circle. There are few people she will speak very well of, and she’s not really emotionally close to anyone. The people who they do seem to like are often their admirers and/or those who don’t ask much of them.
  19. Vain, but maybe not how you’d expect. For example. while she may not be openly flashy or stylish, a narc mother is very concerned about what people think. So, if she had to choose between “keeping up appearances” or protecting her kids? She’d definitely go with the former.
  20. Can’t deal with other people’s strong emotions. May instantly bristle when someone, even her child, comes to her with an emotional problem – or any strong emotion at all. Behaves as though the emotions of others are a burden and may even try to make them all about her and/or steal the “spotlight” of any issue.
    1. For example, if her child is getting a risky surgery, she will focus more on how it’s affecting her, rather than the child – and will suck up as much attention and pity as possible in the process.
    2. Will make it all about how upsetting this is to her, rather than the fact that her child’s life is at risk. (Will still, of course, appear to be the perfect parent with an appropriate amount of concern to all of the “outsiders” in her life.)
  21. Expects people to wait on him/her – and expects not to reciprocate. May make statements such as “I work for a living, after all” or “Must be nice to sit around here and do nothing while I work my ass off for you!”

Are you co-parenting with a narcissist? What are your best tips to cope? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section, below. Let’s discuss it.


  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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