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

Narcissism And Attachment Theory – What Is The Connection?

Narcissism And Attachment Theory – What Is The Connection?


Prefer to watch/listen? See video on YouTube.
If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. At least that was the case for me. For years, I lived with a kind of anxiety that made me almost physically sick at the idea of disappointing or upsetting someone. I couldn’t stand the idea that anyone didn’t like me or felt like something was not acceptable about me. This is probably because, growing up, I believed that my value was dependent on the way my mother felt about me. This would continue well into my adult life, and if I’m being honest, that was a pretty dangerous place to base my self-worth since my mother was not super fond of the person I’d turn out to be, to put it mildly.

I wonder if you can relate. Have you found yourself dealing with a narcissist or toxic person who actively tore down your self-esteem or devalued you in some way? Did you find yourself struggling with anxiety and feeling not good enough? Rejected even? If so, you’re going to want to stick around, because today, I’m going to explain to you exactly why you feel this way, and how it relates to your relationships with narcissists. See, there a theory that could explain narcissists and the way they behave in relationships, as well as how you fit into all of this. It’s called attachment theory.

What is attachment theory?

Let’s start with a brief overview of attachment theory. Attachment is defined as a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. Attachment theory basically helps us understand that our relationships with our mothers can affect us and our lifelong development (and even our relationships with others) in profound ways.

In psychology, attachment theory as we know it today first originated in 1958, when child psychiatrist John Bolby recognized the importance of a child’s relationship with their mother. It turns out, he realized, that our emotional, social, and cognitive development are directly affected by our attachment to our mothers.

Along with fellow researcher James Robertson, Bolby found that children who were separated from their mothers experienced extreme distress, which led to anxiety. This, they assumed, could have been related to the idea that their mothers fed and cared for them, but they noticed that the separation anxiety would not diminish even when the kids were fed and cared for by other caregivers.

Before this, other researchers had underestimated the bond between a child and its mother and had assumed that it was the feeding of the infant that bonded a mother and child.

Bowlby was the first to propose that attachment could be an evolutionary thing – the child’s caregiver obviously is the person who provides safety, security and food. So, he reckoned, being attached to the mother would increase a baby’s chance of survival. Makes sense right?

What are the four attachment styles?

There are four primary attachment styles, including secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant, though many sub-types have also been identified. For today, we’re going to focus just on the four main attachment styles, which, for the record sort of explain why families tend to see generations of healthy – or unhealthy – relationships and why it’s so important for those of us who have grown up with toxic parents need to intentionally change our own lives so that our kids, if we have them, can do better than we did in the future.

Secure Attachment Style

A secure attachment style is probably the most desirable – it’s where you feel comfortable and connected to the person, and where you trust them and the integrity of the relationship. You feel secure in the relationship.

People who have this style of attachment had healthy relationships with their parents and also felt secure enough in those relationships to explore the world and other people in it. They felt loved and supported in childhood. This helped them to grow up feeling safe in to grow and involve themselves a variety of situations and activities, knowing they could always still get support and love from their parents. And their parents were likely also securely attached to their own parents, so this healthy pattern would continue through to the next generation.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style

If you’ve ever met a hopeless romantic, you may have met someone with the anxious-preoccupied attachment style. This person desperately wants to be connected to others, and craves the emotional intimacy that comes along with it. The only problem is that this person also tends to want to jump ahead in the game, even if their partner isn’t ready for it. So, they’re likely to say, “I love you” too quickly and to push ahead even when the red flags are everywhere.

They need constant approval and reassurance from their partner, and they feel anxious if they don’t it. They doubt their self-worth, probably because they need others to validate them – and when their clingy behavior pushes away their partners, they feel like they were right all along – they might really be worthless. They have a positive opinion of their peers, but not so much of themselves.

Their parents may have intermittently met their needs – they were loved and cared for, but not on a consistent, predictable basis. Interestingly, this kind of person develops when their parent seems to need the child to meet their own emotional needs. Their mother might have been the type to think to herself, “Well, if I have a baby, then I’ll have someone to love me.” Once again, you can see how this would carry on throughout the generations.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

This is where you might find your narcissist. Someone with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style appears to be emotionally independent and is often likely to be afraid to commit to a single person in a long-term relationship.

This person would have had parents who were either not around a lot, or who were negligent in their care in other ways. They may have been ignored or undervalued in childhood. They felt rejected, not good enough or unwanted. One or both parents might have been completely absent for this person. Their needs may have been partially served, but not fully. For example, they may have received enough food and were bathed regularly, but they weren’t held often enough.

They may have been rejected by peers as they got older and may have lived their lives feeling not good enough entirely. This would leave them afraid to trust people and, as a result, likely to be really dismissive of others. They tend to cover up their insecurity with a sort of false sense of self-confidence. But when someone is dismissive-avoidant and manages to find a secure, loving relationship and works through their own issues, they can manage healthy relationships. Unfortunately for most narcissists, they don’t develop the emotional maturity to do that and stay stuck here.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

This person might always date the “wrong” people for them, and on the flip side, they might also end up rejecting those who would be good for them. They might find themselves feeling “normal” in unhealthy relationships where they feel the need to earn the other person’s approval and feel scared or threatened when something seems “too good to be true,” or when things are going toward a bigger commitment such as marriage.

Their attachment style might lead them to actually sabotage a really good relationship, maybe because they are afraid it will end and leave them feeling devastated.  They struggle with jealousy and distrust in relationships, even when it isn’t warranted. This person grew up with parents who made it clear they were unwanted or maybe that they were not acceptable as they were.

They are a walking conundrum – they desperately want emotional intimacy, but they also push it away. They want to be in a committed relationship with the right person, but actively seek out the opposite or avoid relationships completely out of fear of rejection. Psychologists say that this kind of attachment style is sort of a combination of the dismissive-avoidant and the anxious-preoccupied attachment style and that it is a result of dealing with a lot of trauma or loss in childhood.

Like the dismissive-avoidant, their parents may have been unable to fully meet their needs in infancy – they might have been fed enough and always wearing a clean diaper, but they might not have been held or interacted with enough, for example. They may have really difficult relationships with their parents or they may even become completely estranged from them in adulthood. Their parents may have been alcoholics or addicts – or narcissists – and they may have been physically and/or emotionally abused.

Which Attachment Style is Yours?

You might have any of these attachment styles and end up dealing with a narcissist, but those of us who end up in longer-term relationships with a toxic person are most likely to fall into either the anxious-preoccupied or the fearful-avoidant attachment style categories.

If you have an anxious attachment style, you’ll find yourself completely bowled over by a narcissist. That is because you might tend to have high anxiety responses to their behavior. Think about it.

If you have the anxious-attachment style, then you have a tendency to be sort of emotionally hungry. You might find yourself holding on to the idea of being deeply bonded with someone else, even when it’s just a fantasy and not reality in your relationships. What I mean is that you might sort of self-invent a bond that your partner isn’t feeling at the same time. That is due to the history of how you were not nurtured enough as you probably had at least one parent who did not give you the love and nurturing you need. You’ve dealt with a lot of turbulence in your life and felt unloved and unwanted, so you might have a tendency to latch on and hold on for dear life.

Narcissists see this and sense this, which is why you are vulnerable to them. They know how anxious you become and that alone gives them the narcissistic supply they need – which is why they see you as the perfect prey. Since narcissists are known to have the avoidant attachment style, they can be abusive and will always find faults with you. They will place blame on you as well because since anyone with the avoidant attachment style will not take responsibility at all. The more they do this, the more you become anxiety-ridden that your bond with them will disappear and the vicious cycle keeps going.

Which Attachment Style Does the Narcissist Represent?

As I mentioned earlier, while technically a narcissist might classify themselves under any of these categories, they are most typically identified as the dismissive-avoidant attachment style. That is why they maintain a certain distance when it comes to their relationships and why they make you feel like you’re unwanted or unneeded – even if they do clearly depend on you completely for narcissistic supply, among other things.

The dismissive-avoidant style leads to being overly self-reliant and downplaying the importance of relationships. However, they are quite vulnerable when there is a big crisis as they don’t handle crises well. They may have a super-inflated opinion of themselves and be very critical and suspicious of others, making their relationships miserable for their partners.

This is where you’re likely to find the overt narcissist, anyway. But the covert narcissist can fall into the avoidant-fearful style – which seems counterintuitive since their victims can also fall into this category.

The Wild-Card Attachment Style: Fearful-Avoidant

Many people who could be classified as codependent might fall into the fearful-avoidant attachment style. As adults, fearful-avoidant types might become overly dependent on their relationships. While they may have had similar experiences in childhood, the difference in whether they become a narcissist or a more empathic kind of codependent depends on how they deal with their childhood experience.

In either case, those who could be classified as fearful-avoidant are terrified of rejection, and they are constantly dealing with inner conflict. They sometimes thrive on drama and they nearly always suffer from low self-esteem. They show anxiety when it comes to relationships as well, whether they’re super-clingy or constantly avoiding intimacy.

So how could codependent, people-pleasers potentially fall in the same category as a covert narcissist? Well, it is the codependency factor – both narcissists and their victims could be considered codependent. At its most basic level, codependency represents someone who has sort of “lost themselves,” or never found it in the first place.

The ‘Lost Self’ Disorder

In other words, a codependent person has no connection to their innate self. Rather, probably due to being raised by toxic parents, they have learned to base their lives – as in, their thinking and their behavior – around someone or something else outside of themselves. This could be a person, or a process or even a substance.

For narcissists, the lack of connection to their true self can lead to a connection with a made-up or ideal self- the mask we often discuss. In contrast, a people-pleaser might find their identity in the approval of others instead, or at least find value in themselves this way.

Interestingly, narcissists in general are also thought to be emotionally immature. Like I’ve said before, they are emotional toddlers. See, when an infant is cared for by its mother, it does not think about the mother’s needs at all. Most people begin to develop this awareness of the needs or feelings of others on a really basic by the age of two or three. Narcissists never develop it fully – so in some cases, even people who had really attentive parents can become narcissists, especially when their parents did not actively teach empathy.

So what does all of this mean? Are you doomed to a life of miserable relationships if you do not have the secure attachment style?

Hope for Narcissistic Abuse Victims: Earned Secure Attachment

Good news! There’s hope for you yet. I’ve been telling you for years that it is possible to heal from narcissistic abuse and to create the life you want. And studies confirm this, telling us that with intentional healing and focus on creating the life you want, you can actually develop something called “Earned Secure Attachment.”

At its most basic level, it means you can sort of build a new attachment style that is healthier and better for you on every level. This just means that you’ve done the work and managed to deal with and heal from any dysfunctional parenting you had growing up. Even better, you can do this at any age. It’s about taking the time to understand where you came from and working to sort of rewrite your story in the process. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can do this, take a look at the video I’m going to leave for you right here.

Question of the Day: Have you looked into attachment theory before? Where do you think you fall into these categories, and where do you see the narcissist in your life among them? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it!

 

 

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