A childhood spent being raised by narcissistic parents that are self-absorbed, manipulative, and have little to no empathy can lead to serious struggles in adult life.
Narcissism is a broad term that describes not just a clinical diagnosis. It’s also a set of behaviors, attitudes, and language that involves a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, aggression toward others, and shallow emotions.
If this description already reminds you of one of your parents’ behavior, continue reading to check if your adult emotional issues are the result of parental narcissism.
What is Parental Narcissism?
As J.N. Leggio, Ph.D., states in his doctoral thesis, parental narcissism is considered an “excessive self-absorption where the needs of the parent take precedence over the needs of the children.” Narcissistic parents are oftentimes referred to as emotionally unavailable for their kids.
Parental narcissism implies a whole network of gestures, actions, and verbal expressions that suppress the child’s independence, individuality, and self-worth.
As children are not yet equipped with all the physical, emotional, and mental tools to face the world, they need a lot of support from adults. They especially need this support from their parents. That can mean an exercise of empathy and patience that people with narcissistic tendencies are not willing nor able to provide.
For a lot of narcissists who become parents, the child becomes a threat to their independence and self-esteem. The child will be belittled, ignored, or transformed into an extension of the parent.
Signs You Have Been a Victim of Parental Narcissism
1. You have a vague sense of self/identity.
As stated by Leggio in his thesis, adult children of narcissistic parents do not get to form a whole, stable identity of their own.
You may have low self-esteem, caused by living with the idea that you are not as important as your parent. You may also struggle with depression, as you find it hard to find individual meaning for your life.
A “faulty sense of self” can translate to feelings of severe confusion, a distorted body image, and difficulties relating to others.
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2. You may be submissive or people-pleasing in relationships.
Leggio also writes about the tendency of adult children of narcissistic parents to gloss over their own needs in order to please others.
This may be a result of being taught that you are not allowed to have problems or feelings of your own. Instead, you may learn that you should only be concerned with the parent’s wellbeing. You may have grown up into an adult who only values him or herself by the capacity to be what others requires you to be.
3. You tend to personalize external events or behaviors.
Nina W. Brown, in her book, Children of the Self-Absorbed, states that the tendency to take things personally is linked with having a childhood dominated by a narcissistic parent. This may be especially true when it involves self-image.
When there’s no solid identity and self-esteem depends on the exterior, any remark or small gesture can become a threat to your value. If you have been raised in a narcissistic household, receiving a critique could open a painful wound.
4. You may have, at times, narcissistic behaviors in relationships.
Based on the innate mechanism of imitation, which is the foundation of learning in early childhood, an adult that had narcissistic parents can display narcissistic behaviors in their own life.
The need to compensate for the neglect and feelings of insignificance can lead you to dishonesty, gaslighting, exploitive behaviors, and difficulty with emotional closeness in relationships.
If you can recognize this kind of behavior in yourself, you are definitely one step closer to healing.
5. You may engage in risky and self-destructive behaviors.
Leggio identifies risky behaviors as a sign of narcissistic abuse from a parent. He states that substance abuse or self-harming could be a result of growing up with a subtle sense that you are not wanted and your existence is a burden.
With a fragile sense of self, you may not value your physical or emotional integrity properly. As a result, you engage in rather dangerous activities.
Healing from an abusive narcissistic relationship is hard work and requires a lot of resources, but it is possible.
If you recognized one or more of these signs in your life consistently, you are on the road to recovery and specialized assistance could help you develop a sense of identity, purpose, and self-worth.
Brown, Nina, W. (2008). Children of the self-absorbed: a grown-up’s guide to getting over narcissistic parents. 2nd edition. New Harbinger Publications Inc.
Leggio, J., N. (2018). Mental health outcomes for adult children of narcissistic parents. Adler School of Professional Psychology, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Don’t forget to check out these resources on the website:
- Taking Your Life Back After a Relationship With a Narcissist (Free ebook)
- Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Dictionary
- Narcissistic Abuse Resources for Recovery
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