Narcissistic Mother Syndrome

Narcissistic Mother Syndrome

While most therapists, coaches, and creators in the narcissistic abuse recovery community mean well, they don’t always do their research before creating content. That’s why there are so many “pseudo-diagnoses” running through the community. One such pseudo-diagnosis is the recently dubbed “narcissistic mother syndrome.” Unfortunately, it has copycat bloggers and creators spreading false, though still potentially useful, information.

One of the members of our SPANily support groups asked me to look into this, so I did some digging. After a lot of research, I couldn’t find a legitimate diagnosis called “narcissistic mother syndrome,” so I checked in with my content partner and clinical advisor, Dr. Robin Bryman, a psychologist who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery, to double-check the facts.

What is Narcissistic Mother Syndrome?

According to Dr. Bryman, the term refers to a mother who has narcissistic personality disorder, briefly defined as a pattern of empathy-deficient, self-centered, egocentric behavior that causes problems in many areas of a person’s life.

Is narcissistic mother syndrome a recognized diagnosis in the psychological community?

Is narcissistic mother syndrome a “real” diagnosis? While psychologists realize that a mother or any person can be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, and while certain qualities are shared by people who happen to be mothers who have this personality disorder, according to Dr. Bryman, isn’t listed in the DSM-V. She adds that narcissistic mother syndrome is a “fall-out of other diagnoses.” In other words, it is not an officially recognized diagnosis.

What is narcissistic personality disorder? 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), in general, is a personality disorder that manifests in an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Learn more about NPD.

How are narcissistic mothers different from other pathological narcissists?

Narcissistic mothers, like most other pathological narcissists, share a single narcissist playbook. While you can’t necessarily pick them out in a crowd, there are certain shared qualities among narcissistic females, and some of these qualities are even specific to narcissistic mothers. For example:

  • Narcissistic mothers seem to have an inability to treat their child as a “whole person,” and instead see them as an extension of themselves.
  • Their inflated sense of entitlement and their exaggerated sense of self-importance can lead to irrational and abusive behavior when these so-called extensions don’t become whatever the narcissistic mother has decided they should be.
  • Narcissistic mothers tend to have a naturally controlling parenting style that is, to put it mildly, stifling to both children and adult children.
  • Narcissistic moms are also known to sometimes lack the ability to separate in a healthy way from their children as they become adults.
  • They have an exaggerated need for attention and praise.
  • A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, including her role in her children’s lives. For example, they may make their child’s wedding day all about them – or make their child miserable for expecting anything else.
  • She will seek admiration from others and feel dejected and offended if she doesn’t get it.
  • She is likely to believe she is above others and that her opinion is a fact. And if her children disagree with her, she will demonstrate narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury, or she will act as though they are just stupid or have inaccurate opinions.
  • She might appear to be a caregiver-type, allowing her to fly under the radar – but she would use her caregiving as a way to control and manipulate her children. This toxic mother embraces teaching her children to be helpless by not teaching them the basic life skills they need to function. She might also use her “concern” as a way to control her childrens’ every move (feigning worry and upset when she cannot reach them by phone, for example, or stopping by their homes unannounced because they didn’t pick up.)
  • Whether or not she is a caregiver type, a narcissistic mother will lack empathy, even and especially with her children.
  • She has no problem exploiting her children to her advantage (this exploitation will vary in nature and severity depending on how toxic the mother is or where she falls on the “spectrum” of narcissism.
  • Narcissistic mothers often put others down, including and sometimes especially their children.
  • She will be hypersensitive to any form of criticism, even when delivered kindly and constructively.
  • She will believe she deserves special treatment from everyone in her life, often including service people and law enforcement officials.
  • She also might have no idea that she’s causing any damage and might genuinely believe she’s only doing all of this “because she loves you.” For example, one narcissistic mother I knew severely beat her child and claimed it was due to her love for that child. She claimed that if she didn’t care, she wouldn’t want the child to “be better.”

Do you think your mother might be a narcissist? 

If you’re concerned that your mother might be a narcissist, I have a resource for you that can offer some clarity: try this Toxic Mother self-assessment.

Is it dangerous to spread incorrect information to narcissistic abuse survivors? 

I don’t believe that most coaches and creators are trying to hurt anyone by repeating whatever they hear or read around the internet. Still, as a former journalist, I like to share the facts as accurately as possible.

Some of the inaccuracies are simply due to creators making assumptions about terms they hear without researching. For instance, I recently saw someone define narcissistic injury as something a narcissist does to injure another person physically. But in reality, the term refers to a type of behavior a narcissist uses to manipulate their victims. You might know it as the “poor me” act.

Many survivors who start blogs and YouTube channels or Tiktok accounts are still in abusive relationships with narcissists – or just recently out of one. They are still very raw and still learning. As they do, they share their journey. This is great and it can help a survivor feel less alone. The problem is that it is during this time that they’re still trying to figure things out. They have just learned that they might have been dealing with a narcissist, and they’re reading and watching a lot of related content. But since they sound passionate and knowledgeable, new subscribers may not understand that they’re not an authority on the topic – so they may assume that their theories and feelings are facts.

However, while it can be harmless in many cases, false information can be hazardous for vulnerable survivors of narcissistic abuse.

For example:

  • A TikTok creator swears that you can have a successful, healthy relationship with a narcissist if you keep trying.
  • A YouTuber claimed that  narcissistic abuse isn’t “real.”
  • There’s one doctor who “treats” narcissists, but his results are questionable at best – and to maintain them, his patients must stick with him for life.

These statements could be dangerous because they might push a narcissistic abuse victim to stay with their abuser.  But, in general, most narcissistic abuse recovery coaches and creators do mean well.

For example, another pseudo-diagnosis spread like wildfire recently when someone coined the term “narcissistic abuse syndrome,” which refers to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). In other words, in most cases, the information that these creators are repeating might be helpful for survivors, and they might just be making it easier to find it by changing the names of these diagnoses.

Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support & Resources

If you feel you need additional help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery, look for a trauma-informed professional trained in helping people who are dealing with overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist.

You have to decide what to do from here – if you’re not sure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s free. Are you looking for more personal support? You might like to join one of our private small-group coaching sessions, or you might prefer to check out our one-on-one narcissistic abuse recovery counseling and coaching sessions. 

Resources & Support for Adult Children of Narcissists

More on Narcissistic Mothers

More Free, Helpful Information & Resources to Help 

Narcissistic Mothers and The Golden Child

Narcissistic Mothers and The Golden Child

The Golden Child of a Narcissist is Often a Victim Too!

When we think of the golden child, we often think of the one in the family that never got the abuse from a narcissistic parent. As a person used as the scapegoat, it may be difficult to see the effects abuse had on a golden child sibling.

Of course, there are many situations where unfortunately the golden child becomes a narcissist themselves, but there is another thing that happens for many who grew up in homes with a narcissistic parent and in particular a narcissistic mother. Those people who are empathic and caring stuck in the role of the golden child who then suffered because of it.

The pressure to be perfect, watching siblings be scapegoated or ignored, feeling guilt for being the chosen one are only a few examples of the effects of this form of narcissistic manipulation of children. Other issues like difficulty in adult relationships because of expectations created by a narcissistic parent can really make a challenging belief system not easily healed in people who grew up the golden child.

Manipulation and the Narcissistic Mother

Narcissists manipulate the people in their lives. This is a universal truth of narcissism. Narcissistic mothers seem to have a very pervasive and persuasive way of manipulating entire families to create a household that revolves around her ego, delusion, and selfish need for control. They tend to create a family (abuse) system that includes a scapegoat and golden child as well as sometimes a lost child.

By creating this system she can manipulate the entire family, as people fall into line under her directives. If you are told you are one thing as a child enough times you will believe it, especially when it comes from mom.

Breaking free from this as an adult can sometimes mean understanding all the roles narcissists use within the family structure because each role plays a part in supporting the narcissist’s delusion of self.

Revealing these truths to yourself hopefully will give you some understanding to know it is NOT you, it is what you were programmed to believe that is the issue. It is not YOUR fault, it is the manipulation of your innocence that was done to you by a narcissistic parent.

Additional Resources for Healing From Narcissistic Abuse

More Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

  • Best Books on Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
  • Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Glossary: This is a comprehensive guide to words and phrases (related to narcissism, NPD and related conditions, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery) that are commonly used in articles, videos, and narcissistic abuse recovery support groups. Defined here as specifically how they relate to narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery, these terms have been developed by psychologists, coaches, therapists, and survivors of narcissistic abuse who need a way to understand and overcome the abuse.
  • FAQ Help: Whenever you need help with something related to this site or you want to know how to find something, join a group or otherwise deal with an issue you’re having, visit our new FAQ Help page.
  • Self-Care for Survivors: This is a page that covers everything you need to know about self-care, from how to build your own self-care kit to how to sign up for self-care support, and more.
  • New Resources Page: This is a one-stop overview of narcissism, NPD, and narcissistic abuse recovery, offering a long list of resources that will be helpful for you.
  • Stalking Resources Center: If your narcissist is a stalker, the information and resources on this page will help you get and stay safe.
5 Signs Your Mother is a Narcissist

5 Signs Your Mother is a Narcissist

Were you raised by a narcissistic mother? If you’re like a lot of adult children of narcissistic mothers, you may have only recently realized that you were. See, just like you can be married to a narcissist for 20 years and not realize that you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship, many children raised by a narcissistic mother don’t realize what they’re experiencing until they become adults. They would, however, pick up that their mothers seem somehow different from their friends’ mothers. They might recognize that their mothers don’t seem to care about them and are extremely hard on them. Or, they’ll notice that their mothers make them feel invisible. Maybe they’ll recognize that they don’t feel important, or that their mother played them against their siblings. In some cases, they may even feel like they need to achieve whatever dream their mothers have for them (or wish to live vicariously through them.

Any of that sound familiar? If so, you might have been raised by a narcissistic mother.

5 Signs You Were Raised by a Narcissistic Mother

Not sure? Let’s go over 5 signs that do confirm that you were raised by a narcissistic mother.

1. Your Mom’s a Control Freak

If you were raised by a narcissistic mother, you might struggle to make decisions alone. That’s because you grew up with a mom who did what she could to control your every move. She controlled the direction you went in life, she controlled you to the point that you never wanted to even think of moving to another city once you were ready to spread your wings. She controlled everything you did. You may have felt resentful or you may have felt overly obligated, depending on her method of control.

2. Your Mom Makes Everything All About Her

You may have noticed that when you were struggling in school or had an issue with friends and tried talking to your mother about it, she would always somehow make it about her in one way or another. And as you’ve gotten older, she most likely continues to do this. For example, when you got married, she might have overshadowed your wedding with her own drama. Or, when you had kids, she may have forced her input into everything from their names to which school they’d attend. It’s always about her, all the time.

3. Your Mom Loses Her Temper and Blames You for Everything

Narcissistic mothers nearly always have a tendency to lose their temper easily. You already know this is an understatement if you grew up with a toxic female parent – and you would have dealt with that type of thing far too often for your taste. If anything went wrong, she found a way to make it your fault. And when you had the nerve to deny that you had caused the problem, your narcissistic mother would go ballistic on you, blaming you without even considering the possibility that you could be innocent. This would be especially true if she was actually the person to blame. For instance, if someone did not receive an important document that she sent, she might blame you for it – even if it makes no logical sense. She might say something like, “Well, maybe if you hadn’t distracted me while I was mailing the letter, it would’ve got where I tried to send it,” or something equally senseless. Narcissists in general are really bad at accepting responsibility for their own mistakes.

4. Your Mom Made You a Servant…Or Smothered You Into Helplessness

Your narcissistic mother was nothing if not extreme. And in this case, the extremes were clear: she either treated you like a servant, or she did literally everything for you and used that to make you feel obligated to her (not to mention helpless as an adult).  Which way she went would depend on her particular “brand” of narcissism. If she was more of a controlling, helicopter parent, she probably did everything for you (and lived vicariously through you). But if she were less focused on her role as “Mother” and more focused on … well, anything or anyone outside of that, then she was more likely to make you here personal servant. For example, you might have learned to make her favorite martini at a very young age.

5. Your Mom Compared You to Other Kids

“Why can’t you be more like (insert kid’s name here:?” Whether she was comparing you to a sibling or a friend, a narcissistic mother is always messing with your self-esteem and refusing to give you even the most basic form of validation. One of her favorite ways to do this is by comparing you to others. For example, if your brother always got better grades than you did, this would be thrown in your face often. You’d be called lazy and made to feel not good enough, at the very least – and that’s if you weren’t also excessively grounded or otherwise punished by your mother. And chances are that if you are the adult child of a narcissistic mother, you’ve been compared to others for your whole life. Your mother may even have sort of “adopted” other people your age who she openly preferred to you – literally making you feel somehow replaced.

Having a narcissistic mother will have a long-lasting impact on you. Not only does it leave you feeling lost, unloved, and unwanted, but the chances of finding a partner just like her increase significantly (and what I see often is that you end up with someone who seems to be the polar opposite of her, but who actually end up being a different type of narcissist.

In this video, I’ll give you more detail on what you can do if you are struggling to heal after dealing with a toxic mother.

Get Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Here

Is your mother a narcissist? If so, these resources will be helpful for you.

More on Toxic Mothers

More Resources for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse

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The Aging Female Collapsed Narcissist

The Aging Female Collapsed Narcissist

(Prefer to watch/listen instead of read? See video on YouTube)
Do you know a woman who seems to love being a perpetual victim? Someone who blames everyone else for her misery? Whether she’s your mother, your wife, an ex or a friend or relative, have you met a woman who seems to have sort of lost her ability to get what she wants? If you do, let me ask you a few questions.

First, is she of a certain age? And if so…does she seem to have an over-inflated sense of her own self-importance? Is she ridiculously entitled and does she require excessive and constant attention admiration from the people around her? Does she clearly think she is more important than others, even if she pretends otherwise? Might she have a tendency to over-exaggerate her accomplishments and/or her talents? Does she often talk about how she used to be famous or beautiful or rich?

Does she seem to think she might only be able to associate with people she deems special? Is it difficult to have a conversation with her that isn’t…well…about her? Does she tend to take advantage of people and their kindness? Is she the kind of woman who seems to want special treatment above everyone else, and does she forget or not seem to be able to care about how people feel? Is she conceited or stuck up or arrogant? Does she always need to be the best and have the best of everything?

And what happens if you dare to criticize her? Does she get upset or angry when she doesn’t get what she wants, or when people don’t treat her better than they treat everyone else? Does she seem to always have issues in her personal relationships and friendships?

And despite the fact that she tries really hard to seem perfect and infallible, do you ever secretly think she might secretly be insecure or that she might be dealing with a lot of shame about herself?

If so, you might be dealing with an aging female narcissist. In fact, she may have found that she’s not quite as capable of getting the kind of narcissistic supply that she’s used to. This can happen when the narcissist’s family and friends have just had enough and one-by-one, abandon them.
In some cases, the narcissist loses their ability to attract new supply because they get older and lose their looks, or because they become so self-involved that they forget how to do the whole love bombing thing – or any combination of these things. But a narcissist really NEEDS that supply to continue to exist, right? So what happens then? Do they become a real person, or do they just sort of lose it?

What is a Collapsed Narcissist?

When a narcissist is unable to obtain narcissistic supply, what can you expect? Some people call this a narcissistic crisis or a collapsed narcissist. Whatever the label, it’s a big problem – and often, not just for the narcissist, but also for the people around them.

For the record, let me define the collapsed narcissist: it’s what you get when a narcissist has stopped being able to obtain the proper amount and type narcissistic supply. And narcissistic supply is, in most cases, a person to help bolster the narcissist’s self-worth, self-esteem – value as a human being. In essence, a collapsed narcissist will feel like they’ve been denied the very supply they need to exist – their proverbial life’s blood.

This leads to narcissistic injury, and as the collapsed narcissist writhes helplessly in the pain of not getting what they believe they’re due (whether it’s meeting some big goal or simply getting the admiration and praise they feel they rightly deserve), their whole world feels like it’s falling down around them.

Psychology of the Collapsed Female Narcissist

When it comes to the collapsed female narcissist, they will quickly find themselves losing self-esteem and in so many ways, their self-image is nearly erased. They begin to self-devalue and self-doubt. They literally hate themselves to the point that they project this self-hate onto everyone else around them. So, since she figures that everyone “hates” her anyway, the female narcissist may as well hate them back. She sees no other option.

There is no more (or very little) social life for the collapsed narcissist. People, the narcissist reasons, are all fake and stupid anyway, so why should they bother to be kind to anyone? At this point, the female narcissist practically lives in constant attack mode, attempting to force people around her to provide the much-needed supply to which she was once accustomed. She becomes overly sensitive and full of rage and hate. She throws temper-tantrums that would rival a two-year-old and is outright intolerant, disrespectful, and often even violent in words and even actions to the people around her.

The previously-maintained facade of a nice/cool/easygoing/friendly kind of person falls away and the true face of the narcissist is revealed – rage, ugliness, and general disgust for humanity.
Female Narcissists and the False Self

Narcissists put up a facade or create a false self-image for the world. They need you to think that they are superior and they need to have the best of everything. Of course, covert narcissists put on a very different image of them having low self-esteem, which they really do, and they love to play the victim. They might also appear to be quite altruistic, but they only do this in order to get attention, not to actually help anyone. Grandiose and covert narcissists project themselves differently, but they both are just as manipulative, dangerous, and lack emotional and compassionate empathy.

All narcissists thrive on narcissistic supply which they get from others who they use, manipulate, and abuse. Female narcissists are, in so many ways, just like those mean girls that you hear about. They do what they can to make their appearance flawless, and narcissists who become mothers manipulate and control their children. Their kids quickly join the ranks of their main sources of supply. That is why children of narcissistic mothers don’t get to experience unconditional love growing up, and many of them were abused, physically, psychologically, or both.

But what happens to these female narcissists when they age? What do you think happens to them when their appearances change and end up getting wrinkles? What happens to them when their children leave the nest? And may even go no contact on them? And if she is divorced or widowed, how would she gain supply? You can see that is when the world of the aging female narcissist begins to crash down on her, she’s at risk of collapsing.

The Collapsed Female Narcissist in Action: What to Expect

While they are still unable to deal with any sort of blame, criticism, or perceived disrespect of themselves, they are actively projecting their own self-hate to the people in their lives – or maybe random targets such as people of different religions, races, or even political affiliations. This is when the gloves come off and the female narcissist blasts out her blatant bigotry and small-minded ways. You’ll see that anyone who is different from the narcissist is quickly minimized and put into a “not good enough” box (to put it very mildly).

This is also often when narcissists will go all-out to abuse their partners, whether physically, mentally, or otherwise. And yes, even female narcissists will abuse their partners and anyone else who comes into their inner circle. Some narcissists will excessively cheat, or gamble away their money. In some cases, it’s worse than that, but we won’t go into all of that today.

The loss of narcissistic supply triggers defensive behaviors, such as the whole “leaving my family and starting a whole new life,” behavior – in which the narcissist literally flees what he or she sees as the scenes of their failures and attempts to literally start over again. They may lose not only their primary source of supply – spouse or partner – but also their children, friends, and anyone else who used to offer supply.

This leads to the ultimate collapse and often, a mental breakdown from which they may never recover. If you look at the narcissistic personality as a sort of house built on stilts, imagine that the lack of narcissistic supply is a strong wind that causes the house to come crashing down.

The Choices of the Collapsed Female Narcissist

The female narcissist has two choices if she wants to move forward here. She can try to become a whole person and develop real coping skills (and in some cases, obtain a new source of narcissistic supply), or she can remain collapsed and poison everything else in her world in the process.

So back to the house metaphor – the narcissist could burn down all the houses around theirs in order to take revenge on everyone and everything else. What it all comes down to is that regardless of the reason for the narcissistic collapse, the narcissist blames everything and everyone EXCEPT her self. She must believe, ultimately, that she is a victim and that nothing is her fault.
Do you know an aging female narcissist?

If your mother was that narcissist and you decide to go no contact with her, you can bet that her world feels like it is ending. She same will go for any female narcissist you’ve dealt with – but when she is unable to find and secure a new, worthy source of supply, she will become openly mean to literally almost anyone she deals with, and she will believe she is in the right, every single time.

You might call her a Karen, if you were the sort of person to call out Karens.

Remember this. When a female narcissist is collapsing, she might feel like everything is falling down around her. Her world feels like it is nearly ending – and as she pathetically tries to hold on to the self she used to be, to hold on to her past, she will secretly loathe herself – but she will blame everyone but herself for this issue. She may not even recognize that she’s no longer the self she used to be. She may become more insecure than ever, and chances are that she will do her best to keep faking it. She might spend a lot of time in a plastic surgeon’s office, and she might find herself competing with other women in odd and uncomfortable ways.

The truth is that she hates herself for what she has become, even though aging is natural and part of life. I mean, don’t get me wrong – as someone who is 45 years old living in a society that values youth and shuts down women of a certain age – I understand why it can be difficult – especially for a woman who bases her entire value on external things and the ability to manipulate people to get what she wants.

The female narcissist would prefer that reality to be covered up – she wants to hide her current self so badly. As the female narcissist ages, her beauty begins to disappear, her kids are no longer around, and she is losing her sources of supply – those people who inadvertently were her “shield” to the world. And now that she’s no longer able to control people the way she used to, all of those terrible parts of herself she has been working so hard to hide are bubbling to the surface.

That means she will do lots of crying and will not make an effort to hide how pitiful she really is. Expect plenty of hoovering at this point as the collapsed narcissist will do what she can to get her kids back if they’ve gone no contact, not to mention other former sources of supply. You’ve got to remember: She is desperate right now as her world has crashed down.

A collapsed female narcissist can be even more dangerous and crueler than her younger counterpart, believe it or not, and be careful with her, because she will be the dangerous type who has nothing left to lose. It’s isn’t pretty, and while it would be really easy to feel sorry for her, don’t let her pitiful appearance fool you – she is more toxic than she appears.

Question of the Day: Do you know someone who might be a collapsed female narcissist? How did or do you deal with her? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

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

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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