Children of Narcissists


It’s Narcissist Friday!

Imagine being raised by a narcissist… 

Unfortunately, many people don’t have to imagine at all.  They have lived that life.  And many don’t understand what happened to them.

I have neither the time nor the expertise to write the kind of help the children of narcissists need.  However, I can tell you what happened and that may be a place to begin healing.  After you read this, you may want to follow up with books like “Children of the Self-Absorbed” by Nina Brown, or “The Mirror Effect” by Drew Pinsky (the final chapters of this book are quite helpful).  Then you may want to find someone to talk with, someone who understands narcissism.

So, what happened?  Step back for a moment and think about your parent(s), particularly the one(s) that fit the narcissistic characteristics we have discussed here.  Let’s pick on Mom.  Mom cares very deeply, on a true heart level . . .  about her own image.  What, you thought I might say “about you?”  No, that wouldn’t describe a narcissist.  She cares about what others think of her.  She got married for that reason.  When she got pregnant, she pictured herself as the center of attention and just knew that her baby would cause people to say “ooh” and “aah.”  She would be the envy of the neighborhood and the extended family.

So, the baby probably was never really seen as a separate person.  You were just an extension of her.  Praise given to you was hers.  Attention given to you was hers as well.  Because the narcissist has an inability to empathize with others, you got attention from her only when she was affected by you.  In other words, only when you brought her something positive or something negative.  The rest of the time you just were not that important.  Not exactly real. 

Think about this.  When you did something good, she felt praised and important.  When you did something bad, you were a threat to her image.  The same mother could tell you how special you were and treat you like a prince or princess—and then cuss you out or degrade you for some minor infraction.  You might have worn the most expensive clothes, because you were so special.  But when you got those clothes dirty, you were an ungrateful little wretch.  But you were only three and you didn’t understand.  You didn’t know whether you were special or disgusting, worthy of praise or a disgrace to the family. 

Children of narcissists grow up without foundations.  They never quite know where they stand with people.  Sometimes that becomes their primary concern in life, what people think of them, and they carry the narcissism into the next generation.  Sometimes, so weakened in personal resolve and value, they become supply/food for other narcissists. 

What do you do now?  First, understand that it was never about you.  You were used and abused.  Read the books I mentioned and seek out some help.  It will help.

There is so much that could be said about this.  I apologize for keeping it short, but it could be very long.  In my experience, when the father is a narcissist, look for religious legalism.  His image is reflected by the behavior of his family.  Bottom line: it isn’t about the kids.  The kids are just normal kids who grew up with narcissistic parents. 

There is a love that is beyond the love of parents, more foundational, more important.  That love is there for you.  It has never changed.  You are acceptable to Jesus.  He does love you.



Filed under Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

22 responses to “Children of Narcissists

  1. Mary

    I am most definitely an ACON (Adult Child of a Narcissist) – my father, in my case. I agree with what has been written here and as you say, it is very difficult to keep it short as it is a very complex issue. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realised what damage had been done in my childhood. I found myself out of touch with my feelings, unable to express anger, felt invisible, and had very low self esteem. I went on to (subconsciously) choose partners (a number of them in fact) who were like my father! I understand it now, as I read somewhere:
    “I think we all tend to attract people in our lives that evoke a dynamic we’re struggling with. Until an issue gets resolved and worked through, we tend to find those folks and repeat these patterns in the hope of finally healing from it. That just seems to be the nature of being human.”
    But being aware of it and seeing the red flags (narcissist warning!) – plus – vital – NOT ignoring them – has brought me through my N-childhood.
    This link helped me enormously:

    Thank you for taking up this subject – sadly it is needed…

    • Mary,
      Thanks for this comment. The trouble with putting a toe into this ocean is that a writer or counselor simply cannot address the variety of dynamics that come out of narcissistic relationships. So, I appreciate your insight from your personal story.
      I would echo a couple of things. Most people don’t understand what happened until well into their adult lives and they have already set certain patterns or made certain decisions that have lasting negative effects. Also, those who have interacted with narcissists can be (gently) of help to others. We can help them find the answers to their confusion about themselves and their relationships. I am particularly concerned about young girls getting into relationships with narcissistic guys. I can help by telling parents what to watch for, the earliest stages can provide those red flags (next week’s post!)
      And, thanks for the link. Good words!


      • Out from under

        I have 4 girls and their father falls in this category…we are in the process of divorce but they still must see him on a regular basis. What can I do to help them learn how to handle their emotions about all this?

      • This is a tough question because each girl will be different. If he is narcissistic, he is using them just as he uses everyone. In other words, he is manipulating, controlling, and charming all at once. He probably has them moving toward being convinced that he loves them and that you are the problem. In my experience, narcissists usually have a favorite child, one who is more open to his or her manipulation. That child may be the recipient of special favors while the others are tolerated or ignored. This is hard for all the kids.

        In general, I would say that a narcissist is sick, even broken. They don’t know how to love and don’t particularly care to learn. Eventually, children of narcissists discover this for themselves, but it takes some time. I would stress to them that they are not responsible for the sickness and cannot fix it, no matter how hard they try. I would also stress that they should not fight with him or try to heal your relationship. If he is nice, they can learn to enjoy it without being deceived by it. If he is not nice, they can learn that the problem is his, not theirs.

        In other words, I would tell the kids much the same as I would tell their mother.

        Please feel free to write to me directly. I care.

      • Sue

        Out from under,

        I am currently married to a recently diagnosed NPD (who also has antisocial tendencies). It is very difficult to raise children with healthy emotions and attitudes in this atmosphere, but it can be done.

        I found it interesting that Dave wrote about there being a favorite child, that is definitely true in our family. What scares me is that this child is well aware of it and manipulates him right back. I try to be the balance for my children.

        If you ever need someone just to share with, I am available. I’m not skilled in counseling and can’t advise you, but I can listen and sympathize and assure you that you are NOT crazy.


  2. Kay

    This sounds very painful. Maybe more examples of narcissistic people as this would grab (so to speak) folks’ hearts. Thank you.

    • I think you are right and that’s why I try to tell these things in the form of stories. They can’t describe every situation, but they can give clues. Maybe we can raise enough red flags for people to notice and be aware.

      • Mary

        A link to a list of so called RED FLAGS..

        I would also like to point out that this list mainly refers to OVERT narcissistic pers disorder.
        I have recently left a relationship with a COVERT narcissist where the abuse is much more “hidden” (yes, covert) and manipulative. Also displays of passive aggression are more common. Often one isn’t really aware that one is being “played” until after one has removed oneself from the man and the fog begins to lift. It is a painful awakening…..

  3. Mary

    Dave, you wrote: “I am particularly concerned about young girls getting into relationships with narcissistic guys. I can help by telling parents what to watch for, the earliest stages can provide those red flags.”
    This has been something that has been on my mind for many years, that there should be some sort of advice and information given to girls as early as their teens – yes, teaching on “What is a healthy relationship?”

    As a result of my narcissistic family background, I became what is termed a “Woman who loves too much”…there is a book with that title written by Robin Norwood. Here is a link to a list of characteristics which are classic amongst WWLTM ..whom, I must add, are very often targets for men with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (quite a toxic mix!):

    Click to access ram167.pdf

    I am thankful to be part of an internet forum (Daily Strength) with the name ‘Women who love too much’…and if you should need more examples of narcissists, you will meet over 1,000 experts there – yes, former partners of men with NPD. The damage that many have suffered is tragic…yes, many had parents with NPD.

    (Just one thing I wanted to point out there is a difference between people with narcissistic ways and those with narcissistic personality disorder)

    • Thanks, Mary! Yes, in several posts I have made the distinction between narcissistic characteristics and NPD. In fact, very few people will be diagnosed with NPD by careful counselors. Nina Brown talks about Destructive Narcissistic Pattern, which has been more helpful. Personally, I believe there is a continuum of behavior and attitude.

  4. Mary

    Must thank you! I searched Nina Brown on the net and by doing so came across a support group for adult children of N’s in the country where I live (in Europe)…and in this country’s language! Which is great as I have many non-English speaking friends who would benefit greatly by reading the stuff I find on NPD, etc. (which so far has all been in English!). Now I can recommend this support group to them.
    I wont say it was a coincidence, as I dont believe in those!
    God works in mysterious ways…….
    Thank you again!

  5. Sarah Taylor

    I’ve had a troubled relationship with my mom since my early teen years (I’m now 28). I recently discovered Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and it pretty closely matches my mom. She and I didn’t have much contact for several years (like five) and for the past two years haven’t had any, except on holidays/birthdays. Truth be told, I have very mixed feelings about the way our relationship is right now…it’s much easier on me to not have contact, but she’s very close with my sister (who I live with), and I still hear things she says about me, and it’s painful. I would like to restore the relationship, but my attempts have only made things worse. So here’s my question…

    Most sites I’ve read about NPD say there’s no recovering from it, really; once a narcissist, always a narcissist. They recommend low to no contact and releasing any expectation of change. I can understand why this is the conventional wisdom, and I think the contact bit is probably healthy, but I struggle with the expectation part. It strikes me as hopeless, and I want to have hope in the face of absurd odds, in all situations, including this one. I have yet to talk to anyone about this who agrees that hope is a good thing here, which I can somewhat understand, as in their minds, my wanting hope is the product of the conditioning of a parent whose tentacles around my heart and mind haven’t quite lost their grip.

    I don’t want to downplay that possibility, as I will be the first to admit that I still occasionally struggle with believing my mom has ever been wrong about anything–it feels like a betrayal of the deepest sort to believe anything negative about her, as that’s how she perceives my feeling hurt by her. I have some growing to do. However, I believe there’s also something to be said for not completely going the only route conventional wisdom offers. I want to be both wise and intensely full of hope, both for her and for our relationship, even though (if I’m honest) I barely feel most days that a relationship with her is something I desire; I have very little emotional connection to her at this point. I guess what I’m saying, though, is that I want to desire a relationship; I don’t want to become someone who feels justified in losing hope in God’s ability to transform the hardest relationship in my life. So I’m wondering what others’ experience and advice is in the hope department.

    • Sue

      There is always hope. If I didn’t believe that, I would have run away from my narcissist a long time ago.

      Just take care of yourself first and let God handle the rest.

    • Cecilia K

      I love that you want to stay hopeful, Sarah (and since this is almost three years since your post, I wonder if your hope has seen even a slight amount of improvement yet)! I understand the caution to release all hopes of a narcissist ever changing/recovering, probably with the intent of protecting your heart, but from a Christian viewpoint, we know that Nothing is impossible with God. We have not, because we ask not. Paul was a highly unlikely candidate to acknowledge Christ as Messiah and become one of His followers, much less His most famous apostle, and I often hear testimonies of miraculous heart changes still going on today, so I believe it IS possible for a narcissist to repent, however unlikely it is.

      I’m trying to remain hopeful that God will eventually open my ex-boyfriend’s eyes to his narcissistic behavior and the hurt that he has caused – not just to me, but most likely to many others as well.

  6. C

    I am a child of a narcissist, and my mother’s most recent behavior has driven me to look for information. The issue for me is where is the balance between honoring our parents as we are commanded to do, and knowing when enough is enough. My husband and I have spent over $50,000 in the last 5 years giving my mother support because she her husband lost their pension (he was suffering from dimensia brought on by diabetes –my mother “didn’t notice it” & “women in my generation left financial affairs to their husbands” –of course she’s been a single mother and self supporting all her life). Even though she says she is grateful, her behavior shows ingratitude, disrespect, and dissatisfaction. When the economy took a turn for the worse, my husband’s income was cut by %15 — the amount that went to renting her a separate apartment. So she ended up living with us for two years. She actively sought to ruin my son’s wedding, she has played on our sympathy to pay for trips, she sobbed loudly (and screams) in her room for an hour and a half at least once a week for the entire two years, she drinks heavily and falls frequently leaving bruises –I was beginning to worry my husband and I would be accused of elder abuse. This year I prepared in the spring to go to India on a mission trip. Her behavior was so terrible I haven’t still recovered from some of it (always in response to a limit I set with her –yes I’ve learned to set limits, but when you live with someone who keeps pushing, and pushing, and pushing…). Praise God her finances changed recently when her husband passed away(she didn’t take care of him, his son did. Even though she was healthy enough to do so, she was “too angry.” and “health didn’t permit”) and she was able to rent an apartment. The crisis that has lead me to look for more information is my father’s death this week. My parents have been divorced for over 50 years. I dreaded to call her when Dad passed away (a very peaceful gentle passing on to be with the Lord) and I was at peace with this when I called her. I must have had too much peace because she started off criticizing something I said. I hung up on her. I told her, via email, that I didn’t want to hear from her or see her for a while. I got a very aggressive, patronizing, angry, response from her basically saying that I have deep seated anger issues that I need to deal with…in other words its all my fault.
    So my question is what is my obligation to my mother? She isn’t a believer and has no understanding of our faith. My husband is a very discerning man and a big help to me, but any advice would be appreciated.

    • First, I took the liberty of changing your name simply to “C”. I worry a little about so much information connected to a name. I hope this was okay with you.

      Narcissists see others, even their own children, as tools, toys, or obstacles. You have experienced all of these in your relationship with your mother. Normal people have real difficulty understanding this kind of thinking. Your frustration is both normal and reasonable. What she is doing is not right and you do have to protect yourself and your family.

      But none of this is new to you. It is the way it has always been, with a few minor tweaks of course. The problem is hers and she is the one who brings it to her relationships. You must see this. When you do, you are able to see yourself as separate from her and are better able to do what is right.

      Back in early March I wrote a blog post on this. I have received several questions about our Christian responsibility to our parents, particularly when the parent is narcissistic. Here is a clip from that post. (You might want to go back in the archives and read the whole thing.) This is a statement I wrote for Christians to consider as a statement of their own.

      “I believe that I honor my parents when I become a healthy, functioning adult and when I am able to pass that health on to my children or to use that health to bless the people around me. It does not honor them for me to continue their brokenness through my life. Even if they don’t see the need for me to be a person separate from them, I still must be able to establish and maintain boundaries, own and value my feelings, make independent decisions, and learn to share myself as a real person with others. If, through their narcissism, my parents have dishonored themselves, I honor them best by finding a way to break the evil patterns in my life and in the lives of those who follow me.”

      Let me know what you think of this. You are always welcome to write to me directly. I am settled in my office again and better able to respond, so I am catching up. 🙂 Just write to dave at gracefortheheart dot com.

      • C

        Thank you so much for your response. I agree with your statement. I went to adult child of alcoholic meetings in the 80s and teach codependency classes, but obviously need some more work in the area of limit setting and reacting. I’ve realized that I am hard wired to fix her problems when she is unhappy (which of course is an impossible task). The last two years has been a journey in limit setting and realizing that she is never happy, and never satisfied, and it is not my job to fix her life. We had a period of about ten years when we had no contact (while my kids were growing up) because I set very clear boundaries about what I would and would not do, and I would not let my oldest daughter go to visit her. But trying to explain a rupture in a relationship with a parent to other Christians is very difficult. You are made to feel guilty if you don’t reconcile. I eventually wrote her a letter and we started communicating again. It is in the last five years, since she lost her pension and only has her social security to live on that she has been more of a problem. My family (husband and kids) is close and loving without being codependent. I have a happy marriage. There’s been a lot of healing in my life. And she is very jealous of this and of my kids. But I realized this week that I can’t continue to interact with my mother (I think the term is be her supply?) anymore. But I have this fear in me as well, sort of like a vacuum…Its hard to explain, sort of unsettled. I will read your article from March. Thank you so much for your help and response. And thank you for protecting my privacy.

  7. monica

    My Mother is a Narcissis to the point we where sexually abused by my father,yet she never left him. More worried about how she looked to her church friends. The ones who came out with the abuse she now calls crazy. My sister and I have cut ties knowing they are all very sick. Thank you for all the information….it helps!!

    • Hi Monica! Good to hear from you, although I am so sorry for the pain you have been through. As I read your note I was concerned that you were suggesting that your father’s abuse was because of your mother’s narcissism. I don’t think that’s what you meant. His choices were his own and his sin was his own. What he did was wrong and your mother was wrong to support him in any way. You are right when you say they are sick. I hope that you and your sister have found ways to bring healing and support in your own lives. I am praying for you.

  8. Ima

    Admiring the dedication you put into your website and detailed
    information you offer. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.

    Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding
    your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  9. Singing Eagle

    I have been connected to this helpful site for a while. My sister came across an article (below) that was so confirming that I felt the need to share with those who might get the best from it. It brings much confirmation as to why women of narcissistic mothers attract narc men. Thank you so much for creating this place to bring healing to others!! God’s blessings to you!!

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