Understanding the Impact of Narcissistic Parents on Adult Children

Being raised by a narcissistic parent can have devastating, long-term consequences for an individual well into adulthood. Narcissistic parents usually display traits like undue control, emotional abandonment, or neglect and it may be hard for those who are not directly affected by this behavior to comprehend its severity. Nevertheless, these actions create deep trauma which must be addressed to start the healing process; hence recognizing such signs is necessary to take steps to heal.

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is used to describe personality traits such as extreme self-centeredness, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and a lack of empathy for others. It can also manifest itself in more subtle ways, such as an over-emphasis on success, an inability to tolerate differences in opinion, and blaming others for poor behavior. In the extreme, someone who is very narcissistic may qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but not all people who exhibit these behaviors qualify for this disorder.

Signs of Narcissistic Parenting 

Narcissistic parents tend to be demanding and have unrealistic expectations of their children. They may also belittle and criticize their children regularly or make them feel inadequate or less than capable as a way to reinforce the idea that they, the parent, are superior.

Narcissistic parents often expect their children to be perfect and can be very critical if they do not meet these expectations. They may also try to control every decision their child makes or take credit for any success they have while shaming their child for any mistakes or failures.

Additionally, narcissistic parents may manipulate their child’s emotions to get what they want or use guilt-tripping tactics to control them and often use the withdrawal of love as a form of punishment.

The Impact of Narcissistic Parents on Adult Children

The impact that growing up with a narcissistic parent can have on adult children is significant; it can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, difficulty forming healthy relationships, depression, and anxiety.

Two of the biggest barriers to recovery that adult children of narcissists often face are letting go of behavior such as people-pleasing and self-sabotage.

Having developed these strategies as a way to cope with their narcissistic parent in childhood, many people find themselves still using them into adulthood.


Adult children of narcissists often struggle with people-pleasing. People-pleasing is often a strategy adopted to prevent upsetting the narcissistic parent and keep their approval, as failing to do so could result in extreme consequences.

People-pleasing involves taking active steps to please other people, usually by trying to fulfill their expectations or meet their demands. Examples of people-pleasing include constantly saying yes to requests, doing favors beyond what was expected, and going out of one’s way to make others happy. Without support and accountability, it can be difficult to break this habit.


Adult children of narcissists can often find themselves dealing with self-sabotaging behaviors because achieving something great was not allowed if it posed a threat to the narcissistic parent’s ego.

Being repeatedly demeaned and discouraged by their parent throughout childhood can lead someone to internalize that they are undeserving or unworthy of success– thus leaving them vulnerable to sabotaging their achievements out of fear that they don’t deserve or are capable of success.

This could involve procrastinating on important tasks, setting unattainable goals for themselves, or giving up when just short of reaching a goal. The need to protect the narcissistic parent by not doing well is so deeply ingrained in some adult children that it can be hard for them to unlearn these patterns even after leaving the environment in which it was cultivated.

Healing from the impacts of Narcissistic Parents

If you are an adult child of a narcissistic parent, you must first recognize the impact this has had on your life so that you can begin the healing process. Understanding why these behaviors occur can help adult children begin the process of healing and work towards creating a more fulling life.

Additionally, seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist who specializes in helping those affected by narcissism may provide additional guidance and support as you navigate your unique situation.

Are you looking for therapy in California or Illinois to help you heal from the impacts of a narcissistic parent?

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Hello, I’m Miriam. I’m a psychotherapist with an online practice in California and Illinois.

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