“It’s a toxic way to raise your children”
Good parenting requires empathy, compassion, and a willingness to make some of your needs secondary—essentially, many traits you wouldn’t find in a narcissist.
But as a psychologist who studies the impacts of narcissism in family relationships, I have noticed that many narcissistic traits, such as grandiosity, superiority, and entitlement, are on the rise.
Narcissistic parenting isn’t about bragging on social media or forcing rigorous extracurricular activities on your kids. It goes much deeper and is one of the most toxic ways to raise your children. Narcissistic parents find it difficult to allow their children to become their own person or to have their own needs met.
You may know a narcissistic parent without realizing it. Here are the common signs:
1. They see their child as a source of validation.
Narcissists often show off their children loudly when they score the game-winning goal or get the big part in the school play. You might see them constantly bragging online or bringing up their child’s beauty or talent in conversation.
Unless something involves their child’s accomplishments, the parent is verified, detached, and disinterested in their child. They usually shame their child’s need for connection or validation and instead view them as a tool to meet those needs for themselves.
2. They are emotionally reactive, but shame their child’s emotions.
Narcissists are often angry and aggressive when they feel disappointed or frustrated. If they believe their child is critical or defiant, they may lash out. These reactions can manifest as screaming, sudden outbursts of rage or, in the most severe cases, physical violence.
Meanwhile, the emotions of others can make narcissists uncomfortable and they may look down on them. They can shame their child for not sharing their emotions at all with phrases like, “Get over it, it wasn’t that bad” or “Stop crying and toughen up.”
3. They always put their own needs first.
Sometimes adults have to put real-world issues first — maybe a late shift can’t be avoided or household chores will take up an entire afternoon. But narcissistic parents expect their children to make sacrifices in order to be able to do or have what they want.
For example, if the parent loves sailing, their children should go sailing every weekend. Or if the parent has a stand-up tennis match, they’ll never miss it, even for something big like a graduation ceremony.
4. They have bad boundaries.
Narcissistic parents can be quite intrusive. When they don’t feel like it, they don’t interact with the child. But when they want the child to validate them, they may think they can interrupt their child and ask him to do what he wants to do.
They may ask probing questions or criticize their child in ways that also seem intrusive, such as comments about weight, appearance, or other attributes that make the child embarrassed.
5. They play favorites.
Narcissistic parents maintain their power by triangulating or playing sideburns. They may have a golden child whom they compliment excessively, for example by speaking badly of another child in the family.
This can make children feel uncomfortable, disloyal and psychologically dangerous. They may believe they must accompany or impress the narcissistic parent to avoid their wrath and maintain a good reputation in the family unit.
6. They blame it on their children.
Narcissists need to feel perfect, so they shirk responsibility for their own missteps and blame their children. They can be cruel when they feel criticized and their comments are often scathing.
Common refrains from narcissistic parents might be something like, “It’s your fault I’m so tired” or, “I could have had a great career if I hadn’t had to deal with you.”
Over time, children of narcissistic parents internalize these comments and begin to blame themselves, believing, “When I have needs, I make everyone feel or perform worse.”
7. They expect the child to be the caregiver.
At a relatively young age, the message from a narcissistic parent is that their child needs to be taken care of.
This often extends into adulthood, where the narcissistic parent can be quite manipulative. A common line might be, “I fed and clothed you, so now you owe me.” Many narcissists expect their children to provide care and support later in life.