Growing up, I was always “under my mother’s thumb,” as in, she was, as far as she was concerned, in control of every aspect of my life: my activities, thoughts, feelings, ideas – everything. And this didn’t end when I grew up and moved out. In fact, it continued until I was 35 years old.
I learned that her feelings, thoughts, and ideas were more important and more “real” than mine. She taught me that I needed to keep her happy and that I wasn’t ever good enough because I couldn’t be, say or do whatever it was she thought I should. It never seemed to matter how hard I tried, either. Even as a dang adult.
But that day, everything changed. See, I had recognized that she had betrayed me, in an unforgivable way that I could never have imagined. It woke me up and fast.
Something Broke Inside Me
The very moment I realized what she had done, I almost physically felt something break inside of me – that seemingly indestructible cord of obligation that had always been there and had always caused me to bend to her will – it broke.
In one single moment, I lost the ability to care how she felt. And more than that, I lost the fear of her. She had always intimated that if I stopped doing what she wanted, or refused her too many times, she would abandon me, and then I’d have no one. I lived in that fear for 35 years.
I could never have imagined (nor would I have believed) that she would stoop so low to hurt me. I cannot even come up with the right words to describe the way I felt – it was almost like the time I was running in the dark as a kid and tripped over a branch, knocking the wind out of myself. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.
Soul-Twisting, Ugly Rage
But then, I got mad. Well, not just mad. After years of being a people-pleasing, self-hating codependent, I was filled with blistering, blinding rage.
You know, the kind of soul-twisting, screaming, ugly rage that comes up from deep inside and nearly forces you to take swift action. The kind that causes you to get crystal-clear on what you want and what you deserve real quick. I was filled with what I now know is justified rage. I was indignant. And in that very instant, I was done. I went no contact and I have not looked back.
But it wasn’t so simple. My mother wasn’t done yet. She had been in control for 35 years and she wasn’t about to give it up without a fight. First, she got very angry. Then, she told a lot of lies about me and spread malicious gossip to everyone in the extended family, as well as to some of her friends.
And later, she’d end up publishing my name in her little work newsletter, asking people to pray for me and my “mental health issues.” After that, I heard through the grapevine that she was playing the victim, telling everyone how she had absolutely no idea why I wasn’t talking to her “after all she had done for me.”
“She’s always looking for attention!”
She minimized and invalidated me and justified her feelings by saying things like, “She’s always looking for attention.”
In fact, I was doing the opposite: I was looking for peace. I wanted nothing else from her. But a few months after I went full no contact, I heard that she planned to send my brother over to my house during the holidays to straighten me out. The plan, according to the grapevine, was that he would just show up without calling. I nipped that one in the bud.
But why did she play all these little mind games? I suspect it was for one simple reason: because she was no longer able to control me. See, narcissists don’t like to lose control over any source of narcissistic supply. And when they do, they have some fairly predictable ways of reacting. Nearly every manipulative thing a narcissist does can be broken down into a pattern if you look for it.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A TikTok creator swears that you can have a successful, healthy relationship with a narcissist if you keep trying.
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.
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.
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
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.
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
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.
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 and admiration from the people around her?
Does she clearly think she is more important than others, even if she pretends otherwise?
Might she tend to over-exaggerate her accomplishments and/or talents?
Does she often talk about how she used to be famous, 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 of 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.
Female narcissists might also appear quite altruistic, but they only do this to get attention, not to help anyone. Grandiose and covert narcissists project themselves differently, but they are both just as manipulative and dangerous and lack emotional and compassionate empathy.
All narcissists thrive on narcissistic supply that they get from others who they use, manipulate, and abuse. In so many ways, female narcissists are just like those mean girls 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.
What happens to these female narcissists when they age?
What do you think happens to them when their appearances change and they 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 when the world of the aging female narcissist begins to crash down on her, she’s at risk of collapsing. How can you identify a narcissistic collapse in an aging female?
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.
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.
In the end, regardless of the reason for the narcissistic collapse, the narcissist blames everything and everyone EXCEPT herself. 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 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 and 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 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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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