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Traits of Narcissistic Parents and Finding a Way Out


We often hear the term “narcissistic parents,” but what does it mean for their children? Imagine growing up in a home where the one person who should be your pillar of support instead becomes a source of confusion and emotional turmoil. How does this shape who you become? As a psychologist focusing on family dynamics, I’ve uncovered some recurring toxic traits in narcissistic parents and offer advice on how to cope.

1. Public Cheerleaders, Private Critics

The school talent show is a classic example. Your parent cheers the loudest when you perform but dissects every little mistake on the drive back home. In public, they seem like the ultimate supportive parent, making you wonder if you’re wrong to feel hurt by their criticism.

Real-Life Scenario: Take Emily, for example. She won a regional science fair, and her mom was all smiles for the camera. But once they were alone, her mom asked why she didn’t win the ‘Best in Show.’ “A few more hours on your project, and you could have,” her mom added.

How to Handle: If you’re a friend or teacher to a child with such a parent, offer balanced feedback and assure the child that everyone has room for improvement. It’s okay to not be perfect.

2. Masters of Mistrust

Narcissistic parents often use information as a currency for control. They might tell one child secrets about another family member to create division.

Real-Life Scenario: Consider Jack, whose father told him his sister lied about where she was going one weekend. The secret made him feel momentarily special but sowed seeds of mistrust between him and his sister.

How to Handle: Teach children that a family should be a team, not a group of people pitted against each other.

3. The Sibling Rivalry Fuelers

Showing favoritism is another common trait. One child becomes the golden child while the other(s) feel they can never measure up.

Real-Life Scenario: Lucy excels in academics, while her brother Mark is more artistically inclined. Their dad constantly praises Lucy’s report cards, making Mark feel inferior.

How to Handle: Encourage each child’s unique skills and interests, helping them to understand that they don’t need to compete for love or attention.

4. Children as Mini-Me’

For narcissistic parents, children are extensions of themselves. They can’t separate their needs from their children’s, pushing them to follow a set path.

Real-Life Scenario: Alan loved playing the guitar, but his mother insisted he focus on basketball because she was a former athlete.

How to Handle: Offer children the chance to explore their own interests, separate from what their parents might want for them.

5. The Emotional Dictators

Healthy parents mirror their children’s emotions; narcissistic parents expect the reverse.

Real-Life Scenario: When seven-year-old Sarah was sad about losing her pet, her dad scolded her for ruining his good mood.

How to Handle: Teach children that their feelings are valid and that it’s okay to express them.

6. Shame as a Weapon

The most subtle but damaging aspect is how these parents shame their children for having needs or preferences.

Real-Life Scenario: When Tom said he wanted to join the theater club, his mom mocked, “Do you even know anything about acting?”

How to Handle: Remind children that it’s natural to have desires and ambitions, and it’s not selfish to express them.

Breaking the Chain of Narcissism

If you’re a trusted adult or a victim of narcissistic parenting, it’s crucial to create a safe emotional space. Make it a haven for genuine feelings, mutual respect, and individuality. By taking this approach, you not only guard against the damaging effects but also foster a healthier environment for everyone involved. Remember, the cycle of narcissism can be broken, one conscious choice at a time.

Written by
Nina LeBeau

Nina is a certified mediator with a background in psychology. She covers a wide range of topics from emotional well-being to stress management for the entire family.