A narcissistic parent is hard to spot due to the mask he puts out in public. Sam Vaknin, self-proclaimed narcissist and author of the book, ‘Malignant self-love‘, describes the narcissist as a traumatized person who suffers from abandonment issues, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He even goes as far as to suggest that the narcissism is a severe reaction to trauma, a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that mutated into a personality disorder.
The narcissistic parent has a mask, a facade that is not possible to penetrate by others. This appearance is often called the false self, a form of self that is fabricated by the narcissist in order to cover the real trauma that the narcissist hasn’t dealt with.
This mask makes the narcissistic parent something that he’s not: invincible, strong, superior to others, skillful and, in general, a great human being.
Others think that narcissistic parents are those who use their children to get something from life.
‘Even though narcissistic parents (or toxic parents as they are also called) often love their children and perhaps think that by pacing their children, they are paving the way for the children’s future success, their primary motive is the satisfaction of their own needs of external recognition. Not the needs of their children!’ says Birgitte Coste at www.positive-parenting-ally.com
The true face of a narcissistic parent is only revealed in front of his children or spouse. Children of these parents will often feel like mere extensions, which will make them distance themselves from the family that stiffens their development. Following are 20 traits of a narcissistic parent learned from my relationship with my mom, my therapy hours and the reading I’ve done on the subject.
1. Emotional manipulation
This is one of the most obvious traits of a narcissistic parent. If you feel used, ignored, shamed or blamed for things you didn’t do as a child, you probably had a toxic or parent around.
Guilt-is used to keep you in the dysfunctional relationship. If you feel guilty for not helping your mother to decorate her new home after she says ‘After all I’ve done for you, feeding you, making sure you have everything as a child, you can’t even do this little thing for me?’ realize that it’s not your fault. You’re emotionally abused and getting out of this dynamic would do you good.
Blame-a narcissistic parent can dump their shame and negative feelings onto others using blame.
This can cause the child to doubt himself and weaken his self-esteem.
Gaslighting-‘gaslight’ is a term inspired by the movie ‘Gaslight’ (1944). In the movie, the main character, Paula Alquist is brainwashed by her husband Gregory into thinking she did things she didn’t do. He would misplace her personal items or change the place of the objects in her house. In other terms, he would rearrange the environment and change her reality so that she would lose the ability to trust herself.
A narcissistic parent will convince a child that he is not abused by the parent. The narcissist will often say that she wants the best for the child and sacrificed her life so that the child has what he needs. By saying these positive things over and over, the child will start thinking that he is exaggerating and, that his mom is a good parent. Even though the child experiences verbal, emotional, physical or even sexual abuse.
2. She’s always in control
According to bandbacktogether.com, a narcissistic parent dictates what the child should think, feel and how he should act. She seems to have the child’s life planned out even before the child gets to know about his likes and dislikes.
3. She is not able to be ‘introspective’
A narcissistic parent lacks the ability to be introspective and analyze her own thoughts and actions. Due to the false self, the parent is not able to reach himself and her true feelings.
4. She puts people down
The need to appear perfect, flawless and invincible makes the narcissistic parent think is superior to others. She will then put down others who are less fortunate than her, who have a lot of challenges in their life or are considered ‘weak’.
5. The parent is inconsistent with her behavior
One article from decision-making-confidence.com talks about the narcissistic parent’s behavior and how inconsistent it is. These parents throw compliments and criticisms in inappropriate situations. For example, when the child is having a small victory at school or reaches a personal goal, the parent will either ignore or give a criticism instead of a praise. Also, compliments may be hand out without any reason.
6. The narcissist’s projections
According to narcissisticlife.com, a parent with a personality disorder will project their negative emotions onto others. For example, if the parent is angry, she can say ‘Go to your room and we can talk after you’ve done being hysterical’. The child will be confused especially if he didn’t react in any way.
7. She is the martyr who sacrificed her life for her children
It is common to hear from a narcissistic parent that he or she sacrificed their youth or their life to give the child whatever he needed. My mom would say that she took (food) from her mouth to give to us, thus, when she would think I treated her badly, she’d slip me the ‘guilt’ pill. Feeling guilty for making mom upset was a powerful state, one I didn’t wanna be in. Therefore, I would do whatever she wanted, pleasing her, saying ‘yes’ to her requests and comforting her each time she needed support.
It took me years of therapy to understand that my mom’s happiness is not my responsibility. Her failure to take care of herself emotionally came from the way she was raised, and how her own parents treated her.
8. She knows what’s best for her children
Because there is no separation between the parent and the child, the narcissistic parent thinks that what she wants and needs, the child will want and need, too.
She would say that she knows what’s best for her own children because she raised them, she is the one who has been there for them when they were small and helpless.
The irony here is that a narcissistic parent is not able to give attention and emotional support to her children. She is not capable to really know her children due to her narcissistic views, so, how can she have the knowledge of what’s best for them? No one knows what’s best for another person except that person.
9. She owns the success of her children
One article at bandbacktogether.com talks about how the parent feels that his child’s success belongs to him. The narcissistic parent feels that she sacrificed many things for the child and the child needs to behave according to her expectations. Therefore, when the child receives praises or awards, she’ll take credit for them. This reminds me of the movie ‘The joy luck club‘ where a narcissistic mother would flash her child’s magazine cover to strangers on the street, expecting praises for her, personally. It’s like she was saying ‘Look at how great I am! I raised a child who became a famous chess player.’
10. She’s defensive and rejects criticism
When you criticize a narcissistic parent, she’ll flip out because she will experience what psychologists call a ‘narcissistic injury‘. This means that, if you say something critical about her, you can shatter the perfect, false self she built from an early age. It is advised that you don’t challenge the narcissistic parent by making her see where she is doing wrong. Agreeing with her will work on both parts.
Knowing that you can’t communicate in a decent way with your narcissistic parent will help you realize that there is no point in expressing yourself to her. You don’t have to make yourself heard by your dysfunctional family.
11. She likes drama
A narcissist’s emotional state is always fearful. Her mindset is fear-based and, unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition.
Because of this fear-based thinking that can’t be changed, a narcissist wallows in negativity and will often seek negative emotions in other people.
The writers at thenarcissisticlife.com state that, the parents who love to feed on others’ pain are often called ’emotional vampires’. I always thought my mom loves to be around negative people and would do anything to provoke negative reactions in others. I wouldn’t understand why while living at home.
12. She never takes responsibility for her own actions
At the core, a narcissistic parent has a deep sense of shame that makes her put on the mask of perfection. Thus, she can’t be blamed for things that she actually did: even if she hits the child, she will rephrase this act as good discipline. A narcissistic parent is never wrong, thus, trying to make her feel responsible for what she did is a chore. You can have better chances getting in touch with president Obama on the phone than making your narcissistic parent feel responsible for something she did.
13. She lives through her children
My mother was often focused on my romantic relationships and would always push me to have that great ‘soul mate’ bonding that she never had. You might say that she was maybe concerned that I will choose the wrong kind of men and I’ll suffer and she doesn’t want me to suffer.
Hmm, no. When someone is indeed concerned about you, your feelings and your choices they ask how you feel and would even give a crying shoulder in those tough moments of heartbreak. Mom would usually criticize me and my choices when I was at my worst. If I failed to have the relationship she would be proud of me to have, she’ll have something negative to say about.
You don’t really have to be a trained psychotherapist to realize your parent is trying to live your life, too because her life was miserable. Watch out if your mom or dad is neglecting you, ignoring your feelings, or treating you like you are forced to serve them or give them something.
14. She has a favorite child
According to www.thenarcissisticlife.com, a narcissistic parent chooses a favorite child to focus on. This child is called the ‘golden child’ who can do no wrong. The other child of the family will take the blame for everything that happens, also called the ‘scapegoat’.
15. She invalidates the child’s feelings
A huge red flag of narcissism is emotional invalidation. For example, a child falls from his bike and injures his knees. He will come home desperate for mom’s support and attention but, instead of compassion, mom yells at the child asking why he was so irresponsible to fall off the bike.
She will demand an explanation and won’t attempt to calm the child down. My mom would do this very often. I would feel double bad-one for being in pain from the injury and second-because I’d feel hurt by my mom’s cold behavior.
16. She violates emotional boundaries
If you ask your parent to not call you during the evening when you’re busy working or resting after the work day, she will pretend to not hear you. Why? You asking her something undermines her power and sense of control she has over you. You cannot ask her to treat you like a human being with feelings, thoughts and a life independent of her.
She lives life through you, through your thoughts and your emotions. She is enmeshed with you, thus, boundaries for her don’t have any meaning. However, if you want to work at setting strong boundaries, check out my post ‘How to set boundaries and protect your beautiful self’. You can also continue with part two of the post entitled, ‘What to do when someone doesn’t respect your boundaries’.
I would also advise you to ask the help of a therapist so you can work on your boundaries. Having narcissistic parents can make one confused whether boundaries are important. The truth is, they are! They are actually the milestone of a healthy relationship. Without boundaries, you can’t have a meaningful relationship with a friend, partner or with that old the lady neighbor who loves to look at you through the peep-hole.
17. She has children to gain attention, praise, recognition or to have someone who’ll take care of her when she’s old
This is a tough one! One of my friends told me once that all she heard from her mother was that she had children so she won’t have to grow old alone and will be taken care of if she will get sick. Imagine this: a person who is making babies for the sole purpose of using them as nurses when they’re too old to fend for themselves. It can’t get more narcissistic than this!
All I heard from my mom was how I had to study to make something out of my life, so I don’t end up like her. She pushed me into getting far into my studies and then, she pushed me into having a job with a title. Then, I’d hear her bragging about my studies abroad to her relatives or friends. She never asked me what am I studying, is it difficult, do I like it or not. That wasn’t important to her.
18. She ‘parentifies’
The narcissistic parent expects her children to behave like a parent, to take care of her even at an early age. I’ve also heard that some narcissistic parents rely on their children for emotional support when they go through tough times.
They expect children to read their minds and work on the relationship with the parent like it was their responsibility. I’d often hear from my mom how her friend and her daughter get along so well and why am I being so difficult that I can’t bond with her the same way.
19. The parent never talks about her feelings because she has none
A narcissistic parent hasn’t grown emotionally to the point where she can understand her feelings and is able to work through them. She’s in a child-like state where she doesn’t really know what feelings are, thus, she’s unable to talk about them or communicate her needs to others.
20. There’s no empathy
The absence of empathy is common in narcissists, and, when it comes to narcissistic parents, this lack can do a lot of damage to the child’s self-esteem. When the child gets into trouble, hurts himself or is feeling sad, he won’t receive the support that he needs. The lack of empathy will protect the narcissist from connecting with others and feeling their emotions.
As a child, if I got a problem at school or was upset because of bad grades or bully teachers, my feelings would be ignored and the situation would never be discussed at home. One time, I was robbed in a bus by a gypsy and, instead of being asked how am I doing, I would receive only criticism and put-downs for not being able to defend myself and prevent the robbery.
All these traits belong to those parents who haven’t matured enough to get past their child-like behavior.
A narcissistic parent is ‘locked’ in this vulnerable state and uses others to get the things that she didn’t get from her own parents. Protecting the early life trauma is the narcissistic parent’s responsibility. And it shows in the way she treats her offspring.
If you know other traits of narcissistic parents, please share them in the comment section below. Thank you for reading and make sure to subscribe to my newsletter!
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