40 Red-Flag Signs Your Relationship Might Be Toxic

40 Red-Flag Signs Your Relationship Might Be Toxic

Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships is both confusing and debilitating for the victim of the narcissist. But what is interesting is that nearly everyone who has experienced it can relate to certain issues that come up. In fact, you might be surprised to learn how often we hear the same questions, again and again.

For people who are surviving narcissistic abuse, some of the most common questions I hear from my coaching clients are the following. 

Questions like these are asked so often that you might be shocked. But I get it because I’ve been there personally – as have all of our narcissistic abuse recovery coaches and counselors here at QueenBeing.  In fact, that’s exactly why we do what we do! We’re here to provide the validation a survivor seeks to help with moving forward. The truth is that getting out of toxic relationships often feels impossible without some validation that the relationship is indeed as bad as you think it is. 

Without a psychologist’s diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, we may wonder if we’re misunderstanding things. Because we can’t personally diagnose the abusive person, we doubt ourselves and we wonder if there’s something we could be doing to cause the problems in our relationships.

The thing is that, quite frankly, a label does not matter. What matters is how you are treated in the relationship – and how you feel when you spend time with that person. 

Toxic is toxic.

The struggle to even know if your relationship is toxic is totally normal with emotional abuse. Many of the mistreatments and abuse can be covert and almost impossible to describe. Check out this list of signs that your relationship may be toxic if you need support and validation. Hopefully, this will help you see some common ways people know things are unhealthy and can help you make the decision that is right for your healing and life.  

Some signs of a toxic relationship:

  1. You walk on eggshells.
  2. You are confused by any conflict because it feels like your reality is being twisted (gaslighting).
  3. You are required to check-in and it feels like your every move is monitored. You have anxiety if you do not check-in or check-in late. 
  4. You feel sad when your partner jokes with you because the jokes feel like hidden criticism or emotional attacks. This is especially true for those who normally find joking to be a fun way to enjoy communication with others.
  5. You apologize when you have done nothing wrong.
  6. You fear “hot and cold” moods so you are trying all the time to keep the peace or fix things.
  7. You are hyper-vigilant over your partner’s mood.
  8. You feel like your partner never sees the good in you and that they belittle your achievements. 
  9. You feel like sex is an obligation or even happens against your will. They threaten to leave you if you do not have sex.
  10. They continually withhold sex and you feel dirty or ashamed for wanting it. 
  11. You feel like there is no connection during sex; you are dissociating.
  12. Stress in the relationship causes you to space out or dissociate easily.
  13. You make excuses for your partner’s behaviors or you rationalize the abuse.
  14. Holidays or vacations are stressful to plan because you fear the fun will be sabotaged by your partner.
  15. You notice your insecurities are used against you.
  16. You are desperately trying to “make things like they used to be” and make it like it was in the beginning.
  17. You are soothing and reassuring the abuser after mistreatment happens to you.
  18. You can not talk about issues within the relationship.
  19. You can not safely talk about issues your partner may have that you feel hurt you or the relationship.
  20. You feel shame about yourself for qualities you have that your partner once used to like. 
  21. You feel like communication is shut down and you feel unheard.
  22. You are treated nicer in public than you are at home. The abuse is hidden.
  23. You are begging or pleading for them to end silent treatments.
  24. You are told that you are too sensitive, even if you were just treated horribly.
  25. Your feelings are minimized, belittled, ignored, or negated.
  26. You are feeling jealous when you normally are not a jealous person.
  27. You feel like you are being compared to others.
  28. You are cut off and isolated.
  29. You are constantly protecting your partner’s ego.
  30. You feel the majority of responsibility for making the relationship work out.
  31. You feel like you are the abuser and are told you are when you know what is being said you did not do. The things they do they accuse you of.
  32. You have anxiety.
  33. You have body pain. 
  34. You feel like you are not enough and can not satisfy your partner in the relationship.
  35. Everything feels like a competition with them.
  36. Things you enjoy you do not like doing with your partner around.
  37. You are afraid of making any decisions alone.
  38. You can’t identify your boundaries.
  39. You can not pursue your dreams. You have lost touch with your own ambitions and dreams for your life.
  40. You have lost your sense of self. You don’t really know who you are anymore.

Videos: More Signs You’re Dealing with Narcissistic Abuse in a Toxic Relationship

How to Spot a Narcissist (Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship)

12 Signs You Love a Toxic Narcissist

Get personal support in your narcissistic abuse recovery.

Ever Worry You Might Be the Narcissist in Your Relationship?

Ever Worry You Might Be the Narcissist in Your Relationship?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a malignant narcissist or someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, you might have wondered on more than one occasion whether you are the narcissist in the relationship. Thanks to the gaslighting and manipulation involved in the relationship, a toxic partner, friend, or family member may have convinced you tha you are, in fact, the one who is toxic and that they are the innocent victim. So, how do you know if you’re the narcissist – or not?  What if You’re the Narcissist? (See video on YouTube or read below).

What’s the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Narcissism?

Would you be offended if I told you that you have at least a little bit of narcissism in your personality? It’s actually the truth! See, every single one of us has some amount of narcissism.

At its most basic level, narcissism is simple self-interest, so just the fact that you woke up this morning, maybe got dressed and fed yourself? That is an indication of narcissism. Getting your hair done or wearing outfits that you love can be considered narcissistic. Thinking you’re attractive, or smart, or in any way a good person? Also narcissism. But there’s a difference between someone who cares about themselves and someone who is what we call a “malignant” narcissist.

So, let’s talk about that. One of the biggest things that people ask me when they first find my videos, articles, books or podcasts is, “but isn’t EVERYONE a narcissist?” And my answer is always yes. But…there’s more to it than that. See, there is such a thing as “healthy narcissism,” and then there’s what we call “malignant” or “toxic narcissism.”

Healthy Narcissism vs Unhealthy Narcissism

Whether it’s due to our culture, our technology, our parents, or some other cause, a larger percentage of narcissists seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Some people are even calling it an epidemic. And of course, in the past couple of years, tons of new so-called experts have come out of the woodwork, MOST of them doing the work because they have found someone like me and healed, so they’re trying to give back. There are some who aren’t so genuine in their efforts, but we won’t give them any more focus than they deserve.

Is there a narcissism epidemic?

As news and gossip around certain well-known narcissist-types swirl through the media and our minds these days, you’ve got to wonder if maybe there is a narcissism epidemic, right? In any case, there seems to be evidence of an increase in narcissism in our society, and there are those who would argue that there is a certain amount of narcissism that is healthy for most people.

Would you be totally shocked that I agree with “them,” that there is a certain amount of narcissism that is necessary to survive and certainly thrive in the world these days? It’s true. But a healthy amount of narcissism looks a lot more like a dedication to one’s own happiness and success – along with the ability to empathize with and generally care for other people and their feelings.

How do you know what’s healthy when it comes to narcissism?

What does healthy narcissism really look like? Well, it starts with self-esteem. It looks like loving (or at least being okay with) yourself and understanding that you have value without the need for excessive outside validation. It means that you don’t need people around you to be “less than” you in order to feel validated.

It’s being able to be genuinely happy for another person’s success and able to admit it if you feel a little jealous of it. It’s using those feelings to push you to inspiration and success, rather than to feel insecure and threatened by it.

And this next part is especially important. Healthy narcissism must coexist with healthy empathy skills. That is exactly the difference between a toxic narcissist (or sociopath, or person with narcissistic personality disorder/NPD) and a healthy person with a healthy amount of narcissism.

In fact, I personally feel that compassionate empathy – or the lack thereof – is the tipping point between relatively healthy narcissism and malignant narcissism.

When does it turn into malignant or toxic narcissism?

Officially, a malignant narcissist is a person who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) along with other antisocial features, paranoid traits, and ego-driven aggression. They may also exhibit an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement.

But here’s the part that’s really important here – it’s the empathy thing. When we say “narcissists have no empathy,” we don’t necessarily mean that they’re not capable of figuring out what you’re feeling. What we mean is that narcissists don’t FEEL empathy in the same way as most people do. They have no compassion, no remorse and they don’t feel regret – unless they regret a choice they made because it negatively affected them directly.

What I mean is that a narcissist cannot feel genuine empathy, and often, unless it benefits them directly, they don’t even pretend to understand how you feel.  Of course, when it suits them, they are more than happy to use the ability to read people in order to manipulate them. In fact, even in the cases where they appear to understand emotion, it’s only to their benefit that they use that ability – only when and if it’s required to get what they want from you. THAT is “cognitive empathy.”

And there’s a big difference between the kind of empathy a narcissist displays and actual empathy. To clarify, in general, real empathy is the ability to sense, understand, and feel the emotions of someone else, even if you haven’t had an identical experience. Now, real empathy might be cognitive, emotional, and/or compassionate.

But either way, real empathy means, on some level, you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You can feel what they are feeling even if you cannot relate to what they are going through directly because you can sort of imagine how they must feel. You feel compassion for them and you care about their feelings because of this – and then you act accordingly.

False empathy is sadly used as a manipulation tactic by narcissists when they want something from you. As emotionally delayed as they are, narcissists are usually relatively intellectually inclined. They can “think about” what someone else is feeling, but it doesn’t affect their emotional state directly, nor does it play a part in how they treat the other person.

Malignant Narcissists Do Not Recognize Boundaries

Narcissists by nature are wired to do whatever is necessary to get what they want, and they do this in varying degrees of intensity, often pushing their victims to the point of emotional exhaustion, isolation, depression, and even various forms of PTSD – and then there are the physical symptoms involved with emotional and psychological abuse.

Considering who these people are and how much they seem to need from the people closest to them, you won’t be surprised to know that they are quite often attracted to their polar opposites, for obvious reasons. While a toxic narcissist will create excessive “rules” for you and will enforce them even to their own detriment at times, they will refuse to accept your own boundaries, and often, if you do have the nerve to try to express those boundaries to the narcissist directly, they will actually intentionally cross them, just because you asked them not to do so.

It is one more way they show you they’re in control. This may start off small at the beginning of your relationship. For example, let’s say you have a new friend who might be a toxic narcissist. You tell them early in the relationship that you really prefer they call you before they drop by. They do at first, but over time, there are little drop-ins that you don’t expect. They’re just dropping off that thing they borrowed from you that one time, what’s the big deal? Or they just happened to be in the neighborhood, but they forgot to call. Do you mind making them a little something to eat?

Then, before you know it, they’ve got their own key and they stop by anytime it pleases them. And they complain if your house isn’t company-ready. Yep. They will slowly push your boundaries bit-by-bit until they completely obliterate them.

Why do we accept this?

We tolerate this kind of abuse for a few different reasons – and you might be surprised to learn why. But here’s the thing. Often, when we end up in toxic relationships with narcissists, we also may have been raised by them – or at least, deeply affected in childhood by some form of abuse or trauma.

Many times, that does come from a disapproving or controlling parent – or a directly abusive one. Or, in some cases, our parents may have just been really neglectful of our emotional and/or physical needs. Let’s talk about why the narcissist chose you and how this is connected to the suffering you’re facing in this toxic relationship.

What do narcissists look for in a partner or friend?

Narcissists seek out empathic, highly intuitive people for a reason – we care about how people feel and we are driven to action by their intense emotional outbursts. This is because growing up, someone taught us that in order to receive love, we needed to keep them happy by doing SOMETHING – we either had to live up to their particular standards for us (and often, those were impossible standards), or we had to stay out of their way, or we had to do whatever they told us to do, or whatever your parent’s particular needs and demands were.

We learned that love was not unconditional, even where it should’ve been, and we learned that our value wasn’t in our individual selves so much as it was in our ability to serve the toxic person in our lives. So, we became people pleasers and we learned that loving someone meant to do anything we could to make or keep them happy, regardless of the personal cost to ourselves and our mental or physical health.

There is also the issues that go along with trauma bonding that complicate things and may lead to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).

And let’s not forget how easy it can be to love bomb us – as people-pleasers, we are wired to want people to like us, and to seek the best in everyone. We are willing to put up with being treated like we don’t matter, and we are trained to literally put other people before our own HEALTH even – just to make them happy and to feel like they love us – even though that is clearly not the truth. See how that might make for an ideal source of narcissistic supply?

Narcissists Make You Feel Unlovable

In case you didn’t catch it – and just to remind you – the people who taught you that you weren’t lovable unless you served them and met all of their demands – they were wrong. Actual love doesn’t require you to give to the point of physical illness, or to put your own mental health on the back burner, or to ALWAYS give in and do what the other person wants, even when it’s against your moral, ethical, or personal beliefs. Real love doesn’t require you to give until you’re completely drained and never get anything in return. While a “real love” relationship might sometimes look like 40/60 or 70/30 in certain situations, the “average” ratio of give and take should be close to 50/50.

Bottom Line on the difference between healthy and unhealthy narcissism? Healthy narcissism is self-focus, self-confidence, self-interest, and personal drive, but these qualities must coexist with a healthy concern for others and the ability to genuinely empathize with them.

Unhealthy, malignant narcissism and NPD involve the lack of emotional and compassionate empathy and concern for others, combined with an unhealthy amount of self-focus. And of course, this kind of narcissistic person is secretly quite insecure and very troubled, in some cases – but you may never know that unless you look beyond the smoke and mirrors.

Question of the Day: Do you know a malignant narcissist who displays unhealthy empathy? How have they affected you and your life? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, and share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

You Might Also Enjoy These Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Resources:

Narcissism Self-Assessments

Videos On How to Identify and Deal With a Malignant Narcissist

Narcissists And Selective Memory

Narcissists And Selective Memory

(Prefer to watch or listen instead of reading? Here’s a video!) Is it selective memory? Or maybe it’s narcissistic selective amnesia? Is there any such thing?

Have you ever dealt with a narcissist who seems to conveniently forget things that are important to you, but who never seems to forget that time 10 years ago when you stepped on their toe or said something that hurt their feelings? Someone who would be very forgetful when they promised you they’d do something that mattered, but who would never forget if you even looked at them cross-eyed? How did that feel to you?

Maybe you worried that they were losing their memory or started Googling stuff like “early-onset dementia” or “convenient memory loss.” Or, if you are still in a relationship with a narcissist, whether they are a parent, spouse, partner, friend, or coworker, and you are noticing that their memory seems to be going south, then you might be wondering about this right now, at this moment.

If your toxic relationships look anything like mine did, you might find this to be especially poignant when you think back to incidents where the narcissist said they’d take care of something, but pretended to forget that they made such a promise.

Later, they’d end up blaming you for being irresponsible. For instance, the narcissist in your life may have told you that they were going to take care of the grocery shopping on Wednesday. But then when you go to cook dinner on Wednesday night, they’re offended when you ask what happened with the groceries. At that moment, rather than taking responsibility and acknowledging that they forgot or chose not to do the shopping for whatever reason, they might accuse you of forgetting to do the shopping. And when you remind them that they said they were going to take care of the shopping, they get angry and deny having said that.

Despite the fact that you know for sure they said it, they will insist that you’re mistaken, and narcissistic rage will ensue as they give you a good “dressing down,” reminding you how scatter-brained and flaky you tend to be. By the time this emotionally draining exchange is over, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d just done the shopping yourself – and you never ask them to do it again.

Of course, if we’re being honest, this was the narcissist’s desire all along – to avoid the responsibility of bringing home the proverbial bacon and then frying it up in a pan part – but as always, they’ll expect you to serve it up to them with a smile if and when they want it, regardless of your own state of wellbeing and ability to drop whatever you’re doing and take care of their many demands in any given moment.

But I digress. Now, here is the question you have really been wanting to ask.

Do Narcissists Really Have Memory Problems?

Yes, and no. It’s complicated – and there are a couple of different possibilities here. Let me explain.

First, it’s important to remember that, as much as they make us doubt it, narcissists are technically human. And all humans seem to have a certain amount of bias as well as selectiveness in both their perceptions and their memories.

For example, you know about confirmation bias, right? That is where someone will only notice or remember things that confirm what they already believe. And we all know how nostalgia can lead to a convenient “forgetting” of the bad parts of life – for example, when a woman has a baby, we don’t focus on the gross, painful parts of giving birth, but we do focus on how amazing it was that we managed to have a baby. The truth is that, in this case, humanity might be in serious danger of extinction if it was any other way.

Even survivors of narcissistic abuse will find themselves dealing with what might be called nostalgia-based selective memory – but we call it “abuse amnesia.” That is what happens when we are away from the abuser in our lives for a while and we start to forget all the bad parts of being in a relationship with them. It’s when “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” on a toxic level. You literally sort of “forget” all of the bad stuff and begin to romanticize the reality of your toxic relationship. This is dangerous as it leads to reuniting with your abuser. Too many of us end up going back to the very people who made our lives feel miserable – simply because some part of us wants to believe them when they swear they’ve changed – and because on some level, we really sort of “forget” the depth of how they actually treated us in the relationship.

This is truly just how the human brain functions. Our memories function sort of like little databases, keeping records in realtime over the course of our lives. As our brain manages our physical bodies, it also grabs a few main details of each situation we deal with every day, or at least those situations that seem to matter to us in the moment – good or bad. It discards the stuff that doesn’t feel or seem important to us – and if we tap into that memory later to figure out what happened, our brains attempt to sort of reconstruct that situation, based on only those saved details.

C-PTSD and Selective Memory

If you’ve been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, then you might be experiencing C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), which is a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. This disorder can take years to treat and many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms or misdiagnose it. They may even victim-blame if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist. Unfortunately, it can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities.

With that being said, one of the most often-reported symptoms is short-term memory loss, along with longer-term loss in some especially traumatic cases where people might sort of blackout painful incidents of verbal or emotional abuse suffered at the hands of a narcissist.  This is a result of the way our brains function under the stress of being in a relationship with a narcissist.

This is partially related to the trauma, which has a tendency to cause us to sort of live instinctively – as in, a constant state of fight-or-flight and/or freeze mode. And you know when it’s really hard for the human brain to form and retain new memories, right?

When you’re in fight-or-flight and/or freeze mode. Yup.

So, in other words: YES, the narcissist has a selective memory or “selective amnesia.” And often, they use the premise of it as a way to gaslight you.

When Narcissists Use Selective Memory in Gaslighting

So, when it comes to a narcissist who hurts us emotionally, we obviously consider this important and significant. This is part of our survival instinct. It makes sense.

But when you consider that narcissists tend to have incredibly volatile emotions along with a lack of emotional and compassionate empathy – not to mention that when they are feeling upset or angry or embarrassed – or when they’re feeling anything other than being fully in control of the situation, and then you add in the fact that they don’t see you as real, relevant or important as they are…well, their “selective” memory might be understandable, in a way. Right?

Of course, with narcissists, nothing is so simple. And in many cases, if we’re being honest, it isn’t really about a naturally-occurring personality defect. In fact, for most narcissists, selective memory is used as a manipulation tactic, at least some of the time. It is one of the many ways they gaslight you – as in manipulating you by psychological means into questioning your own sanity.

They might claim they don’t remember doing something that hurt you so they can get out of taking responsibility, for example. Or, (and this is more common in my experience), they might even sort of attack you for EXPECTING them to remember – and they might even try to use this to justify their abuse (or to deny it completely).

The fact of the matter is that narcissists only care about what they want and what they need. And sadly, when it comes to you, they are mostly only concerned with the narcissistic supply you provide them.

The Conveniently Forgetful Narcissist

The truth is that, while human memory is fallible and while narcissists are technically human, most of the time, unless they are diagnosed with dementia or another memory-affecting disease, the narcissist’s memory is as good as anyone else’s.

In other words, narcissists will remember what they choose to remember.

They might selectively remember how much you love something. Here’s a hypothetical example to explain it a little more clearly. Let’s say that at one time, you told the narcissist you love white roses but that you’re allergic to yellow daisies to the point that it could endanger your life.

They will remember that when it is convenient for them – and forget when they feel like it.

So, during love bombing, you’ll get all kinds of white roses. And then, when they are in the devalue phase, where they’re noticing everything wrong with you and picking you apart, they will forget you like flowers at all. Or they’ll fill the house with yellow daisies and get mad at you when your throat closes up and you have to rush to the emergency room. They’ll say you are just being dramatic.

And once that incident is over and they decide they want some more of the narcissistic supply they can provide you, they might want to suck you back into the relationship with a good, solid hoover maneuver. That’s when they will suddenly recall that you love white roses, and they’ll expect you to be ever-so-grateful that they “thought about you” and that they brought you these beautiful roses. And, you might even fall for it, because they will seem so sincere and like they really mean it.

But don’t let your soft heart fool you here, my friend. The fact is that those white roses you love so much are being used as a tool to reel you in once again. That is the only reason they decide to remember that single fact about you in any given moment (and it is the same reason they forget when it is convenient for them).

Especially during the devalue and discard phases, the narcissist might suddenly recall something embarrassing that you did years ago at a party or among friends, and they might intentionally humiliate you with the story. And you can bet that they will certainly never manage to forget that one time you had let them down 20 years ago – but they won’t recall that you failed to do whatever they expected because you were in the hospital having surgery – they’ll just remember that you forgot to pay the water bill or that you didn’t make their lunch for work that day. Seriously.

Let me be clear here. The narcissist remembers and forgets things that matter to you at different times because they instinctively recognize that you will have emotional reactions to them in either case. In other words, they use this “selective memory” thing as a way to control and manipulate you.

Ultimately, while the narcissist most certainly can and does occasionally have moments of forgetfulness or things that really slip their minds, in many cases, it can be a smokescreen for the gaslighting techniques they use to control you and manipulate you into doing what they want.

Question of the day: Do you know a narcissist who used selective memory as a gaslighting and manipulation tactic? Do you believe that they are just having the same issues as other humans? What do you think? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, and share your experiences in the comments section below this video – and let’s talk about it!

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Self-Identifying as an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parents

Self-Identifying as an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parents

Did you grow up feeling like you didn’t matter, or like you weren’t good enough? Did one of your parents teach you that you weren’t as important as they were, or did they control every move you made? Or maybe your parent was more of a lazy, hands-off type who didn’t seem to care what you did – or who only paid attention to you when it was convenient for them.

If any of that sounds familiar to you, have you ever wondered if you might be the adult child of a narcissistic parent? If you are, chances are you don’t have the best memories about at least certain parts of your childhood. But the good news is that you don’t have to allow the effects of your abusive, gaslighting parents to control your life anymore. Even better, there is plenty of help and support available for adult children of narcissistic parents.

Signs You Were Raised by a Narcissistic Parent

.Were you raised by a narcissistic parent? If you were, then you might already know how significantly it can impact your adult life and your relationships. If you’re not sure it can help to take a look at the signs you were raised by a toxic parent.

Signs of a Narcissistic Parent in Infancy and Early Childhood

In early childhood, narcissistic parents can be more difficult to detect, as the children won’t have as much of their own, separate opinions yet.  Even more confusing, narcissistic parents tend to go to one extreme or the other – either they are highly engaged and controlling, or not. For example:

  • Narcissistic parents are often extremely possessive of their kids. If not possessive, then they are completely dismissive of children.
  • They see kids as extensions of themselves, and they use the kids as accessories when they’re small. Or, they see them as extensions of themselves which means they don’t matter as they’re not as “real” or “important” as other people. They are often not even able to imagine that their child might be a “whole person” in any given moment.
  • They act like taking care of their babies is above and beyond their responsibility as a parent. They may have wanted or expected praise for completing basic parental responsibilities.  Alternatively, they ignored their responsibilities and pushed them off on to the other parent or even a grandparent, babysitter, or, in some cases, a sibling.
  • They may have been fans of the helicopter parenting style. If not helicopter parents, they’d have been very hands-off.

Signs of a Narcissistic Parent in the Tween and Teen Years

Of course, since we know that narcissists rarely change, we know that going into the tween and teen years, the toxic parent will want to retain control, if that is their weapon of choice, or they will increasingly ignore and neglect their kids if they’re a “hands-off” type.

And the older a child gets, the more separate they naturally become from their parents. It is a healthy and normal part of a child’s development and journey into adulthood. They form their own opinions, thoughts, feelings, and styles. They may see the world differently than their parents, and they may talk back or openly rebel against even the most easy-going parent. But when it comes to kids being raised by a narcissist, this time will look a little different.

Just like during infancy and early childhood, you’ll see a lot of extremes. For example: 

  • The kids will actively either be people-pleaser types, actively trying to please the parent, or in some cases, they’ll sort of “become the adult” who is responsible for taking care of the parent as if they’re responsible for their emotional and even physical wellbeing – or they may actively and directly defy the parents and lean into that whole “black sheep” role.
  • The kids will either struggle with boundaries and be regularly walked all over, or they’ll be so firmly anti-authority that they’ll be the one doing the walking all over someone else.
  • In many cases, the kids will feel responsible for everyone’s problems and mistakes. Narcissistic parents almost never take responsibility and often blame one or more of their kids for their issues.
  • In families where there is more than one child, the narcissistic parent will often assign various roles to each child, such as scapegoat, the golden child, and the lost child. These roles will be interchangeable over the years, depending on which child happens to be in the toxic parent’s good graces at the time.
  • Parents often become oddly jealous of or feel threatened by their children, especially those of the same sex as the parent.
  • The parents may feel that their kids’ sole purpose is to fulfill their own wishes or dreams and often live vicariously through them.
  • The children of narcissistic parents often feel like they’re unimportant and don’t matter. They feel not good enough and often accept whatever affection they can find – which is why they also often end up in toxic relationships as adults.

Are you the adult child of a narcissist parent?

Does any of that sound familiar to you? If so, you might be the adult child of a narcissistic parent. And the real question is how did your parents treat you growing up? And how do you view them now when you think back on it? Children of gaslighting parents will have a lot of emotional trouble and psychological effects from the way they were treated, including having and struggling with a lot of different triggers, low self-esteem, and more.  Many people are shocked when they finally learn the dark truth of how narcissists really treat their families.

Shocking: Effects Narcissistic Parents Have on Your Adult Life

If you are the adult child of a narcissistic parent, then you’ll relate to some of the surprising effects that their parenting had on you. Let’s look at them now.

1. Narcissist Parents Teach You to Blame Yourself

Children of toxic, narcissistic parents are often told (and tend to believe) that they (or their birth, or something they’ve done or not done) are the reason that things have gone wrong in their parents’ lives. If you are a child of a narcissistic parent, as soon as you exercise your independence, your parent might have constantly made you doubt yourself by subtly (or not so subtly) tearing down your efforts, your attempts to do new things, and even your personal self in the process.

Since you were told over and over again everything was your fault, you may have believed you were the problem and the source of your narcissistic parents’ unhappiness. This might have led you to become extra hard on yourself – and this is where self-loathing comes in when you make mistakes.

All any child really wants is the love and approval of their parents. And the games your parents may have played made you think that if you did well, then they would love you. Especially if you were the scapegoat. Of course, if you were the golden child, you were terrified of losing your parents’ approval. In either case, you never quite felt like you measured up – and this is just one of the many toxic effects being raised by a narcissistic parent can manifest.

2. Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents May Develop Insecure Attachment Styles

The toxic family – also known as a dysfunctional family – is often lead by a narcissist and/or an enabler. In addition to the fact that narcissistic parents may cause their children to be subject to trauma bonding. Similar to Stockholm Syndrome, this is a condition that causes abuse victims to develop a psychological dependence on their abusers as a survival strategy during abuse. Of course, trauma bonding makes recovering from any toxic relationship significantly more difficult.

All of this leads us to attachment theory, which describes how the dynamics of interpersonal relationships affect us on so many levels. Your attachment style is brought on by your relationship with your mother or another primary caregiver. Studies tell us that narcissistic parenting often causes insecure attachment styles.

In some cases, you can feel numb on a consistent basis, having on some level completely abandoned your ability to emotionally attach to anyone. In cases of extreme neglect early in infancy, this can be even more serious, often resulting in reactive attachment disorder (RAD).

This would have made you a loner that keeps walls around so you never form interpersonal relationships. Do you have trouble trusting others? You were made to believe that others don’t like you as soon as they meet you. Or you believe that no one is trustworthy. Therefore, you grow into someone who builds ‘walls’ around so that others don’t get close. You would end up alone and have a hard time building any type of friendship or connection.

Here’s additional information on narcissistic parents and how the way they treated you during infancy and early childhood could literally, for the rest of your life, affect you, your psychology, and your relationships.

3. Adult Children of Narcissists Might Become Narcissists or Codependents

This does not always happen, of course, but often, the adult children of narcissistic parents will go to one extreme or the other in personality as well – they’ll be either a narcissist themselves, or they’ll be codependents who may feel doomed to serve narcissists for their entire lives.

In either case, there is a pretty good chance that, unless you’re careful, you might sort of “pick up” certain narcissistic tendencies (also called narcissistic fleas) as you navigate your adult relationships, and later your children. This would unfortunately keep that toxic family legacy intact, and the cycle would continue.

It’s important to understand how narcissists are created – here’s a clear explanation of the psychology of how a narcissist develops. 

4. Adult Children of Narcissists Might Marry a Narcissist

If you’re not a narcissist yourself, chances are that being raised by a narcissistic parent could lead to you ending up being involved with a narcissist in a relationship as an adult.  In fact, if you’re being honest, you may have seen the effects of narcissistic parenting in someone else in your life,  and you might understand how a narcissistic parent could create narcissistic children. Often, the “people-pleaser” child will end up with a narcissistic partner.

If you’re anything like me, you may have gone the other way by becoming so concerned with making people happy that you forget about making yourself happy. You just really want people to love you, so in your efforts to avoid any stress and drama, you become incredibly selfless. You make it your mission to avoid conflict and you might appear to be overly nurturing and caring for others. And often, you’ll be the person who supports everyone around you but who gets very little support from anyone else. You tolerate this because you just want to be loved and not “alone” and abandoned as you felt you might be growing up.

All of this is of course due to having this subconscious longing for someone – literally almost anyone – to give you the love and care that you deserved, but never received as a child. See, there are just a few people in our lives who are SUPPOSED to love us unconditionally, and when those people never show up for you, you very often feel like you are intrinsically unlovable. You may manifest this in a number of ways.

For example, you might end up having a large family yourself. If your parent was the “hands-off” type, you might have felt very lonely growing up, so this could lead you to become so involved and supportive of your kids that you fail to put yourself on your priority list at all.  Or, if your parents were helicoptering, controlling types, you may become so “laid back” and permissive that you fail to discipline your children correctly. It’s a fine line you have to walk.

In either case, you grew up being made to believe your needs and wants didn’t matter. Or, you do this because you deeply crave the experience of having the love and warmth that you never had. Here is additional information on how growing up with a narcissistic parent can cause you to engage with narcissists in relationships as an adult.

(Side note: there are a few situations in which the parents are not to blame for their adult child’s narcissistic behaviors – you can learn more about acquired situational narcissism here.)

5. Adult Children of Narcissists May Develop C-PTSD

Do you ever find yourself having invasive thoughts and flashbacks of the psychological, emotional, or physical abuse you experienced growing up? Do you ever find yourself feeling positively numb, like you’re not even a real person?  Sadly, the adult children of narcissistic parents often end up developing complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. As life goes on, you may also find that you end up caring for – or at least dealing with – an aging parent who demonstrates narcissistic tendencies. If that’s the case, you might be dealing with a collapsed, aging narcissist. This, clearly, can add to the triggering and other issues related to C-PTSD and certainly will stifle your ability to heal and move forward.

C-PTSD can take years to heal from, and treatment may be difficult to obtain as many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms and often tend to misdiagnose it. Therapists and other medical professionals may even victim-blame you and believe your abuser, if you go to therapy together, especially if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist.

There are so many different ways we can be affected by C-PTSD as adult children of narcissists. Here’s a handy playlist that will walk you through the complications, signs, and some self-help options for your healing after being raised by a toxic parent. 

Unfortunately, C-PTSD can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities. On the plus side, if you’re willing to do your homework, there are plenty of trauma-informed coaching and counseling professionals as well as traditional therapists who are qualified to help you heal from your toxic childhood.

If you’re struggling to get over your abusive, traumatic childhood, you’re not alone – but you do have some healing to do. Start by getting these abusers out of your head so you can focus on the business of healing and evolving.

 

Additional Resources for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents and Toxic Families

Take Back Your Life – Premium eBook Free Through Nov. 25, 2020

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*Disclaimer: This ebook was written for educational purposes only and does not in any way render medical or clinical advice, legal advice, or medical or clinical services. If you feel that you have a medical problem, you should seek the advice of your physician or health care practitioner. 

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About the book:
You’re at a party and you notice your husband getting a bit too close to another woman. After the party, you confront him. He tells you to stop being so insecure and controlling; that he’s his own man and if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have acted like that in the first place. After arguing all night, you end up begging for forgiveness and apologize for the trouble.

Maybe it’s your mom – she’s picking on you like it’s a sport. She’s worried about what you’re wearing, what you’re eating – who you’re hanging out with – but it’s unhealthy. Instead of fighting back, you just suck it up and take it – maybe you’re too sensitive, or perhaps you really are crazy after all. Who can’t take a bit of criticism, anyway?

Maybe this stuff doesn’t happen in your life, but for many, it’s an everyday reality. If you think it could never be you, think again! Some of the most intelligent and capable people are living in painfully toxic relationships with narcissists, and they’re plagued by regular bouts of gaslighting, an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that can be crueler than more obvious forms of abuse because it sort of sneaks up on you.

Because of its insidious nature, gaslighting is one form of emotional abuse that is hard to recognize and even more challenging to break free from. Part of that is because the narcissist exploits one of our greatest fears – the fear of being alone. What are you waiting for? This is the book that can change your life!

What’s Inside?

This book offers a comprehensive plan for dealing with gaslighting and other forms of narcissistic abuse. Inside you’ll find all kinds of tools to help you snuff out gaslighting and toxic emotional abuse, including the following.

  • Start on the Road to Emotional Abuse Recovery
  • The 10 Most Important Things You Need to Know if You’re in a Toxic Relationship With a Narcissist
  • 3 Top Life Hacks for Dealing With Narcissists
  • 3 Best Practices for Dealing With Negative People in Your Life
  • Narcissists in Relationships: Where Gaslighting Begins
  • Common Qualities Among the Partners of Narcissists
  • The 3 Stages of Gaslighting
  • How can you tell if you’re being gaslighted?
  • Surviving Narcissistic Rage and Narcissistic Injury: Diffusing a Raging Narcissist
  • Overcoming Your Narcissist: Top 10 Strategies
  • Staying in Control: Crucial Tactics for Managing Panic Attacks and Anxiety
  • 8 Step Action Plan for Recovering From Narcissistic Manipulation and Abuse
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! I feel like she knows my life, reached in and pulled me out pain! You have to consume this book. Angie hits life right on the head! Here's what she solves for you: how to get out of the pain you are in, that flows from relationships (old or new) that hurt. You undoubtedly have had these toxic people she describes in your life. Maybe you never quite understood why you felt odd, bad or worse in these relationships, so you've got to read her clear, heartfelt guidance on how to figure out what was happening to you. Whether you have been raised by a narcissist or have one as a "friend," neighbor, coworker, or romantic partner: follow Angie's example and tackle the taking back of your own life. She tells you how. I consumed every word, and I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest!

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This book was a quick read but filled with excellent tips and suggestions for what to be aware of when living with narcissistic abuse . Many self help tips I found useful. Would like more emphasis on breaking free from toxicity, though.

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The Narcissist Underestimates You

The Narcissist Underestimates You


(Prefer to listen or watch instead of read? See the video with additional info).

Let me tell you something. This may or may not surprise you, but I absolutely LOVE it when people underestimate me. I know it seems counterintuitive – and I didn’t always feel this way. For a lot of my life, I felt offended and upset by people who chronically underestimated me. But one day, I recognized a powerful fact: if someone underestimates you, it actually offers you a rather significant advantage. If they think you’re not capable of something and you do it anyway, there is far less resistance involved, if that makes sense. And, if you’re anything like me, you might even take a bit of pleasure (not to mention some much-needed motivation) in proving them wrong.

With that being said, you and I both know that probably the most likely person in your life to underestimate you is the narcissist in your life. In fact, if you ask me, their consistent need to underestimate us is one of their biggest weaknesses. Not only does underestimating us leave them vulnerable in certain ways, but it also gives them a certain amount of overconfidence in themselves.

For example, the narcissist might assume you’re less intelligent than they are, and this assumption might lead to them making obvious attempts to deceive you. If you’re smart, you’ll play along and see the truth without their knowledge. Is this wrong?

Could it be unethical to allow them to underestimate you and not tell them you see right through them? While some people will disagree with me, I’d say absolutely not – and here’s why.

Why Narcissists Underestimate You

Narcissists underestimate you for many reasons – the most frustrating being that they don’t truly see you for who and what you are. Seriously. So let’s talk about that.

The one thing to always remember when it comes to a narcissist is that they are only looking out for one thing from you – what you can do for them, or the narcissistic supply that you can offer.

When you’re in a relationship of any type with a narcissist, you become a source of narcissistic supply. Whether they are a partner or spouse, a family member, friend, or coworker, narcissists aren’t capable of really, genuinely caring about you and who you are. They are not able to form healthy bonds with you, in part because they completely lack true empathy. This leads them to see you as a target or an object instead of a whole person. At best, they’ll see you as an extension of themselves.

As such, they see you as “less of a person” than they see themselves and they believe that they can treat any way that they want. That means they can cheat on you, lie to you, gaslight you, manipulate and abuse you in any way or form – without remorse. They don’t feel bad about it and they never admit to what they’re doing unless it somehow benefits them to do so. And, if you’re ever lucky enough to get an apology from a narcissist, you’ve got to know that they have some ulterior motive. They want something from you or they’re doing it to get a certain result – not because they’re actually sorry.

So, in other words, narcissists are likely to underestimate you because they, themselves are limited people. It’s almost ironic when you think about how narcissists project their own limitations on to you. They are notoriously over-confident (on the outside, anyway) and are known to overestimate their own intelligence and abilities in general. However, deep down, some part of them secretly doubts who they claim to be – and often, this is an accurate doubt as that same deep down part of them knows they’re putting on a show. They will assume the same about you and everyone else. And let’s not forget the whole “black and white thinking” thing that narcissists have going on. Since there are no “gray areas” for a narcissist, they assume that your reaction (or lack thereof) to their little games, not to mention their blatant gaslighting and other forms of manipulation, must mean you have your own limitations. And of course, you do – we all have limitations. But they underestimate you by overestimating your limitations. This is exacerbated because the narcissist sees you as less than them and see themselves as better than you.

How Narcissists Underestimate You

Narcissists Underestimate Your Intelligence

This is probably the most common way narcissists underestimate you. They think they can pull the wool over your eyes and that you’ll believe whatever they say or pretend because you’re not smart enough to see through it. Contrary to popular belief, though, narcissists aren’t actually likely to end up with someone who is anything less than intelligent. They are so focused on how other people see them that they’re highly likely to choose someone who is intelligent, attractive, and who makes them look good. But after the idealization or love bombing phase ends, the narcissist sort of “forgets” this part. Rather than focusing on the good qualities you have, as they did during idealization, when they get to the devalue phase, they’ll be focused only on what they deem your bad qualities – or what they see as being “wrong with you.”

Narcissists Underestimate Your Strength

Narcissists need to see you as weak, at least once they get past that idealization phase of the relationship. They need to think of you as dependent and incapable of surviving without them in some way. This is, in part, a form of psychological projection, because despite the fact that they may be supporting you in some way (financially, for example), the narcissist needs your supply to feel normal. And if you were to suddenly display your true strength and stop feeding the endless hole that is their ego, the narcissist would kind of lose it! They would, in most cases, quickly scramble for alternate sources of narcissistic supply (if they haven’t already got them in place). Without it the narcissist is weak and feels lost. Here’s the thing, though. You and I both know that being in a relationship of any kind with a narcissist takes more strength than most people know. Don’t let them fool you into thinking you’re anything but powerful.

Narcissists Underestimate Your Ability to See Right Through Them

When you catch a narcissist in a lie, they will automatically assume they can keep up the charade. This is true even when you can provide them with clear-cut evidence of the lie. Even then, the narcissist will dismiss you and the evidence that you provide.

Examples of Narcissists Underestimating People

A good example of this comes from that Shaggy song called “It Wasn’t Me.”

The song tells the story of a guy who goes knocking on his friend’s door looking for advice. The apparent issue he’s struggling with is that his girlfriend caught him in the act with another woman. His so-called friend advises him to deny what happened and say it wasn’t him. When he explains to the friend that she physically saw him in the act, the friend tells him to keep denying the facts. At the end of the song, the guy decides to admit the truth and apologize – which proves that he’s not a narcissist.

But his friend might be one. Because, in my opinion, the advice he’s offering is literally telling him to gaslight the woman – literally to deny that she saw what she saw. This is of course blatant gaslighting.

Another way to look at it? The kid who sneaks into the cookie jar and consumes an unauthorized cookie or two. When they’re confronted by their mother, they deny having eaten the cookies, despite the fact that the evidence is all over their face – literally. Obviously, mom knows what happened, despite their insistence that they didn’t do it.

The same goes for a narcissist who is lying to you. They can get a little sloppy because they are underestimating you. They aren’t thinking about the fact that you know them, and that, if we’re being honest, their mannerisms, body language, lack of eye contact, and so on totally gives them away. Even when they’ve relied on your intuition in the past, they will forget that part, or continue to underestimate you because they’re overestimating themselves.

Your Empathy is Your Super-Power

Whether we like to admit it or not, before we’re fully awake to what the narcissist is, they can be really skilled at manipulating you. This along with your natural human fear of abandonment, combined with the inevitable trauma bond you’ll experience in any toxic or abusive relationship,  leads the narcissist to think they can control you and continue to consume the supply you provide them indefinitely.

But the one thing that they fail to get is that because you have a superpower that they didn’t count on: empathy, emotional and compassionate empathy. While narcissists are capable of cognitive empathy (as in, they can understand on an intellectual level how someone might feel in any given situation), they do not have emotional or compassionate empathy. So while for you, it is automatic to sort of “get” how someone feels, for the narcissist, it is not. They have to stop and think about it – and often, especially when they’re trying to actively lie to you or pull the wool over your eyes in any way, they’re not thinking about how you might feel.

And because they underestimate you, they don’t understand that your ability to read people, your knowledge of them personally, all combined with your own intelligence and natural intuition will tell you that they are lying.

Why You Should Keep Letting the Narcissist Underestimate You

My advice on this situation will be unpopular, but I say do not bother trying to prove yourself to a toxic narcissist. In fact, if I were you, I’d LEAN INTO IT! That’s right. Go ahead and let the narcissist continue to underestimate you. Let them think they have control. This will give you an advantage if and when you are forced to deal with them, in every situation. As they say, being underestimated is one of the biggest competitive advantages you can have. And it truly is.

Remember too that the narcissist will also underestimate that your ability and power to heal. They will underestimate that you have the power to learn about and understand what is happening between the two of you, as well as the fact that you can look at yourself honestly and figure out what causes you to end up in relationships with people like them. This is way outside of the narcissist’s own ability, as they cannot acknowledge or admit that they might lack in any particular area.

Here is the thing. The narcissist’s lack of self-awareness, along with their grandiose delusions, lead to their ridiculously fragmented sense of who they are – and this false self that needs to believe it is superior to everyone else, including but not limited to you, is actually the narcissist’s greatest weakness.

For you, this means the narcissist will never see it coming when you decide to take your life back. They won’t know what to do if you leave, and they’ll never expect you to follow through and go no contact or low contact.

Keep Shining, Just Like You Always Do

You know what I want for you, right? I want you to keep on shining as you do. Imagine looking up into the sky and catching a glimpse of the sun through the clouds when you least expect it. You’re blinded for a moment, and you can’t see much outside of light (and maybe a few spots) for a few seconds, right?

Well, I want you to consider yourself the sun here – and the clouds, the narcissist’s delusion. Once the clouds clear, you’ll be seen in all your full glory. But even though the clouds might obstruct your light temporarily, your light can still shine brightly from behind them. And when those clouds do clear, you’ll gain clarity – and you’ll know for sure that you are in fact the light. You with me?

Question of the day: Have you ever been underestimated by a narcissist, and if so, what happened and how did you deal with it? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it! 

Need help with recovering from narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship? You might like to check out our new narcissistic abuse recovery small group coaching program – you’ll get personalized coaching at a significantly reduced rate, plus have the option to connect in a private with a small group of like-minded survivors for added support. Learn more or sign up here. 

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