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 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 narcissistic 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 from 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 or badly treated by him. He will often say that he wants the best for the child and sacrificed his 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 father is a good parent. Even though the child experiences verbal, emotional, physical or even sexual abuse.

2. He’s always in control

According to bandbacktogether.com, a narcissistic parent dictates what the child should think, feel and how he should act. He seems to have the child’s life planned out even before the child gets to know about his likes and dislikes.

3. He is not able to be ‘introspective’

A narcissistic parent lacks the ability to be introspective and analyze his own thoughts and actions. Due to the false self, the parent is not able to reach himself and his true feelings.

4. He puts people down

The need to appear perfect, flawless and invincible makes the narcissistic parent think is superior to others. He will then put down others who are less fortunate than him, who have a lot of challenges in their life or are considered ‘weak’.

5. He’s inconsistent in his 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. He projects a lot

According to narcissisticlife.com, a parent with a personality disorder will project their negative emotions onto others. For example, if the parent is angry, he 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. He is the martyr who sacrifices his life for his 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. He knows what’s best for his children

Because there is no separation between the parent and the child, the narcissistic parent thinks that what he wants and needs, the child will want and need, too.

He would say that he knows what’s best for his own children because he raised them, he 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 his children. He is not capable to really know his children due to his narcissistic views, so, how can he have the knowledge of what’s best for them? No one knows what’s best for another person except that person.

9. He owns the success of his children

One article at bandbacktogether.com talks about how the parent feels that his child’s success belongs to him. The narcissistic parent feels he sacrificed many things for the child and the child needs to behave according to his expectations. Therefore, when the child receives praises or awards, he’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. He’s defensive and rejects criticism

When you criticize a narcissistic parent, he’ll flip out because he will experience what psychologists call a ‘narcissistic injury‘. This means that, if you say something critical about him, you can shatter the perfect, false self he built from an early age. It is advised that you don’t challenge the narcissistic parent by making him see where he is doing wrong. Agreeing with him will work for both parts.

Knowing that you can’t communicate in a decent way with you narcissistic parent will help you realize that there is no point in expressing yourself to him. You don’t have to make yourself heard in front of him and that’s OK.

11. He likes drama

A narcissist’s emotional state is always fearful. His 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. He never takes responsibility for his own actions

At the core, a narcissistic parent has a deep sense of shame that makes him put on the mask of perfection. Thus, he can’t be blamed for things that he actually did: even if he hits his child, he will rephrase this act as good discipline.  A narcissistic parent is never wrong, thus, trying to make him feel responsible for what he did is a chore. You can have better chances getting in touch with president Obama on the phone and chatting about the weather, than making your narcissistic parent feel responsible for his actions.

13. He lives his life through his 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. He favoritizes

According to www.thenarcissisticlife.com, a narcissistic parent favoritizes. He will have a child who is the favorite child, called ‘golden child’ who can do no wrong. The other child will take the blame for everything that happens in the family, also called ‘scapegoat’.

15. He 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 from the bike.

She will demand 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. He violates emotional boundaries

If you ask your parent to not call you during the evening when you’re busy writing or resting after the work day, he will continue to call. Why? You asking him something undermines his power and sense of control he has over you. You cannot ask him to treat you like a human being with feelings, thoughts and a life different from him.

He lives life through you, through your thoughts and your emotions. He is enmeshed with you, thus, boundaries for him 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. He has children to gain attention, praise, recognition or to have someone who’ll take care of him when he’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. He ‘parentifies’

He expects his children to behave like a parent, to take care of him 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. He never talks about his feelings because he has denied their existence

A narcissistic parent hasn’t grown emotionally to the point where he can understand his feelings and is able to work through them. He’s in a child-like state where he doesn’t know what feelings are, thus, he’s unable to talk about them or communicate his true self to others.

20. He lacks 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’ll need. The lack of empathy will protect the narcissist from connecting with others and feeling their emotions.

As a child or teenager 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 he didn’t get from his own parents. Protecting the early life trauma is the narcissistic parent’s responsibility. And it shows in the way he treats his offspring.

If you know other traits of narcissistic parents, please share them in the comment section bellow. Thank you for reading and make sure to subscribe to my newsletter!

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sualk61/5132078234/

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Written by Marlena Bontas
I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction with an MA in Social Psychology. My favorite subjects to write about are mental health, wellness, society, culture and art. I relax with a cup of coffee or while listening to music.