Understanding the Children of a Narcissist

by | Couples Therapy, Family Therapy, Individual Therapy, Narcissism, Team Posts, Trauma

Children who grow up with a narcissistic parent often suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and self-doubt. They may also experience self-blame, indecision, and have a tendency to please others. These children can struggle with emotional intimacy and may develop codependent relationships. Recognizing these issues is important for seeking help and building healthier relationships. This blog post will explore the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent on children into adulthood.

Who are the children of a narcissist?

Children of narcissists are children who grow up with parents who have narcissistic traits. These children often have low self-esteem and feel they can never be good enough for themselves or their parents. The children of a narcissist may also become codependent people-pleasers as adults because they tried to appease their narcissistic parent. 

Traits of children of a narcissistic personality disorder parent

Some of the most common characteristics of children of a narcissist can include:

Low or fragile self-esteem

Children of narcissists typically experience having low self-esteem throughout their childhood and sometimes into their adulthood. They have low esteem because they grew up with parents who never thought they were good enough or loved them unconditionally. As they get older, they may selectively attend to instances where they feel that they failed or did not meet their expectations because of their narcissistic parents. The narcissistic parent may even tell their child that they are not crucial to the parent, which can cause long-term pain and damage for the child as an adult.

Codependency in relationships

Children of narcissists often end up in relationships with people who have narcissistic traits. These children feel like they can never be good enough for their partner or themselves, so they become codependent on the other person to make them happy and validate their self-worth. They might present themselves as clingy and constantly need attention. 

People-pleasing behavior

Children of a narcissist may also find themselves being overly accommodating of other people in their lives, especially romantic partners. They may feel like they can never say “no” to anything that the person wants them to do or be because of feelings of guilt and obligation towards others.

Difficulty being alone

Another common trait for children of a narcissist is difficulty when it comes to spending time by themselves. These children are used to being around others and always having a partner, so when they have time by themselves, it can be an uncomfortable feeling for them.

Drug addiction

Children of narcissists are often at risk for drug addiction and alcoholism because they have so much emotional pain. They may feel that the only way they can deal with this is by self-medicating and numbing their feelings, which leads them down a path towards substance abuse problems.

Relationship issues

Adult children of narcissists often have relationship problems with romantic partners. They may feel like they can never be good enough or meet the other person’s expectations, which causes a lot of stress in their adult relationships and resentment for both partners. 


Children who grow up with narcissistic parents often become very manipulative as adults because they learn narcissistic traits from their parents. They may find themselves lying to get what they want or making empty promises for someone else to do something for them.

Domestic violence

Children of narcissists may also find themselves in abusive relationships as adults because they have low self-esteem and feel like the other person always has more power over them. They are often afraid to leave these relationships, leading to feelings of fear and anxiety for their safety.

Codependent behavior

Sometimes children of narcissists feel like they can never say “no” or stand up for themselves in the face of danger. This is because their parents might have not let them feel like they could say no. Or their parents might have never let them do anything on their own without criticism. 

Inadequacy feelings

Children who grow up with narcissistic parents often have many feelings of inadequacy or self doubt as an adult, leading to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These feelings come from not receiving unconditional love while growing up with a narcissistic parent who never thought anything they did was good enough or important for them in any way.

Self-harm and mutilation

Children of narcissists may also self-harm or mutilate themselves because they have so much emotional pain inside and not enough resources to deal with it properly. This can result from neglectful parents, like not being fed properly or cared for when sick and physical abuse in some cases.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are another common problem for children of narcissists. These children often feel like they can never be thin enough or meet their parents’ expectations, which causes a lot of stress and leads to them obsessing over food to cope with these feelings. It is a way to establish some control since they usually do not feel control over their lives. 

Addiction to perfectionism, control, etc.

Another common trait for children of narcissistic parents is an addiction to perfectionism. These kids are used doing everything perfectly so that they can meet their parent’s expectations. These need for perfectionism can cause a lot of anxiety in their lives. Perfectionism is not realistic, but the unrealistic demands of the parent made the child strive for such standards.

Anxious/insecure attachment

Children of narcissists often have an insecure attachment to their parents, leading to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. They feel a lot of fear in most relationships because they learned from watching their parents how not to do things, which makes them afraid of being out of control or losing themselves. They may have a hard time in other relationships because of their relationship with their parents. 

Chronic self-blame

Because children of narcissists learned at a young age that they were never good enough for their parents, even if it was something as small as not making the bed correctly or failing to complete homework on time, these kids often have chronic self-blame going into adulthood. This is because they are always thinking about what could have been done better.

Developing fears

Children of narcissists often develop fears. They may fear that they are not loved or cared by anyone. They may feel anxious about messing up or how future events will play out. They may also fear being abandoned and left all alone, which can lead to anxiety and depressive disorders because children who grow up with narcissistic parents never feel like anything is good enough for them in any way. 

The effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent can last well into adulthood as children grow older when they do not receive enough emotional support or validation from their parents.

These traits are often found in the children of a narcissist because it is what their narcissistic parent taught them. Children who grow up around toxic behaviors tend to learn them themselves (which leads back to living vicariously through the child), making these behaviors hard to break without support and help from family members or professionals.

Signs that you are being raised by self-absorbed parents, or narcissistic parents

If you are being raised by a parent or parents who has/have narcissistic traits, there may be signs that there is something wrong. A few of the most common behaviors you can look for that narcissistic parent’s display are:

  • Excessive boasting about themselves and their accomplishments
  • Inflated sense of self-importance
  • Hypersensitive to criticism (even when it isn’t constructive)
  • Belittling others in front of friends or family members
  • Not seeing your point-of-view as valid even though everyone else does
  • Needing constant attention from other people, especially children
  • Inability to show empathy towards others, including children’s needs
  • Wanting everything to revolve around them instead of focusing on the balance between work and home life
  • Being unable to discuss issues constructively (takes things personally) 
  • Expecting things from children that they never would do for themselves, such as working, cooking dinner, etc.
  • Believing there is only one way to accomplish something, and if it doesn’t happen their way, the work needs more effort or is not good enough.
  • Inflexibility when trying to communicate with them

Self-absorbed narcisstic mothers and narcissistic fathers tend to be inflexible and have zero tolerance for any behavior that is not what they would do in a situation. They expect their children to be compliant and submissive. A self-absorbed parent has no issue with using children as an accessory to show off or for personal gain, even if it means sacrificing their child’s emotional well-being.

Narcissistic parents’ fear of abandonment will show through their behavior that they expect children to give them attention and praise. They constantly need validation from outside sources, especially if it’s coming from someone younger than them or dependent on them.

Many parents are unaware of how much of an effect narcissistic parenting can have on children until they become teenagers and develop their own opinions. At that point, it becomes more difficult for a narcissist to control the child because they are starting to get ideas of their own that may not agree with what the parent thinks.

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse that is often misunderstood. Many people believe that narcissism only affects adults, but narcissistic behaviors can be seen in children. It’s not until later on when these kids are older, they realize what was going on behind their backs. It becomes more apparent to them because they compare their own lives with others who have more loving parents. One way of healing the abuse that you suffered from one or more parent(s) is through EMDR

Children must be taught the difference between right and wrong to preserve their self-esteem as they grow older, so they do not end up like their parents.

How to deal with a narcissistic parent

If you are a child of narcissistic parents, there are ways to deal with them. A few helpful tips that may help include:

  • Educate yourself on what narcissism is and how it can affect children, especially if raised by one or both parents who have/have these traits
  • Stay away from conversations about people in your family unless they bring up the topic first, so you do not end up defending yourself.
  • Be open-minded about your communication style with the narcissistic parent because trying to get through will only make things worse for you in the long run.
  • Reach out for support from other people such as friends, clergy members, counselors, etc. This way, you won’t be alone during this challenging time (if you feel the need to discuss it with them)

Adult Children of a narcissist

When a child of narcissistic parents becomes an adult, they may struggle with some or all of the traits passed on to them by their narcissistic parent. This makes it hard for the adult children who have been raised this way to become adults themselves without guidance and support from family members and professionals.

As adults, our efforts must be heard when we finally reach out because no one should be living like that, especially if other people in your life are willing to help you through these challenging times. If counseling isn’t necessary, then going back home can also help, but only if the environment has changed (which means giving up control over everything, including what everyone does.).

What is it like being a child of a narcissist?

If you are a child of a narcissistic parent, there is no way to sugarcoat it. It can be hard at times, but with the proper support and help, things can get more accessible for you as long as they understand that their behaviors (no matter how well-meaning they may seem) affect those around them in negative ways.

If you are still struggling, reach out to family members who understand it since they have been through the same thing or professionals such as counselors and clergy. They can help guide you on the right path towards recovery to move forward from the experienced pain. 

How narcissistic parents affect children’s development

When narcissistic parents raise a child, they are affected in many ways, such as:

Under-developed social skills – because the narcissistic parents tend to do everything for them instead of learning how to handle things independently from an early age. This can lead to problems with friendships and relationships once they become adults themselves or stay at home when moving out (until marriage.)

Low self-esteem – due to being told that what they did was not good enough, which can affect them while trying new things throughout life, including school, working towards bigger goals like getting married or starting a family, etc.

Inability to think independently without influence from someone else because the narcissistic parents expect children who look up to them to take their opinions seriously and without question, which can conflict with what other people say.

These are just a few of the many things that children who have narcissistic parents have been raised to experience because they lack guidance from someone else (like another family member or professional) on how to handle these situations.

Children of narcissistic mothers

Sons and daughters of narcissistic mothers can experience a lot as they grow up. If you are one, it is imperative to be aware that your mother may be a narcissist, and while that may seem insulting to you, you need to know this to develop yourself as an adult.

This is because someone a narcissist has raised may struggle with self-esteem, unhealthy relationships, and other issues later on in life. If this sounds like you or if it does not, but you think something else could be going on, such as depression, then reach out to an adult child of narcissistic mothers support group (or others) for guidance, suggestions, and help.

Children of narcissistic fathers

Children of narcissistic fathers are affected in many ways, so they need to know that their father may be a narcissist and understand what this means.

This can help you develop your own personal identity, find healthy relationships, have good self-esteem (or work on developing one), etc. if any of this sounds like you, reach out to an adult child of a narcissistic fathers’ support group (or others) for guidance and help.

Children of malignant narcissists

In many cases, malignant narcissists have traits such as being anti-social or having sociopathic tendencies, which can make them dangerous to others, especially if they are put into positions where their influence will affect other people, like in politics or law enforcement.

This type of personality can lead to violence within families (especially towards children) who do not necessarily go along with what these individuals want from them, so this should be taken seriously no matter how well-meaning the narcissistic parents may be to others.

The best way for children of these individuals is to get away from them and seek support from friends, family members (preferably those who the same people did not raise), or professionals such as clergy or counselors where they can talk about how their lives have been affected because of this.

Children of covert narcissists

A covert narcissist has many of the same traits as a malignant narcissist, except their behavior tends to be less aggressive and more indirect, which can make having conversations with them difficult if you are not used to dealing with these kinds of people.

If you have been affected by this, it may be helpful for you to communicate your thoughts in writing so they cannot twist what was said around you or find loopholes that allow them to get away without taking responsibility for anything. This way, any misunderstandings will be prevented from getting out of hand, potentially hurting how others see them (and possibly lowering their social standing).

What to do if you have adopted children of narcissistic parents

If you have adopted children of narcissistic parents, this is a good time to reflect on what has happened and why it was important for them to be placed with you.

The reasons may vary depending on the child, but in many cases (especially if they are older), their parents did not want them anymore, which means there should be no guilt on your part for doing what was best for them.

However, if you think something else is going on, like a narcissistic parent trying to spitefully hurt their other child by giving away the “scraps” (which has happened), it may be important to have conversations with both of these people separately to find out more about why they are acting this way because in some cases, it can feel like they have taken advantage of you and your family.

If the child was placed with you due to being neglected, abused, or abandoned by their original parents, then trying to get them back is not advisable unless they are in danger of being put back into the same (or similar) situation.

This is a good time to set boundaries with them and clarify that this was only supposed to be for a short period, so if you feel like these children have become too attached. Keep in mind that their parents may not change soon, which means it is better to let them go and find other ways of coping with the situation.

What you should never do as a parent who has adopted children of narcissistic parents

As someone who takes in children (especially if they are older) that have experienced what it is like living under malignant or covert narcissist, there are several things you should never do, which include:

  • Allow them to disrespect you or your other family members, even if they act out from their past experiences. This can make matters worse later on and lead to a new set of problems when they grow up and continue the same behavior with others because it is how they have learned (and gotten away) with treating others as they have been treated.
  • Allow them to try and be manipulative to get what they want, which means if you think something is going on, stay aware of the signs that could indicate this person has a fixation with power (and/or control) because it will not only prevent these children from learning how to respect others, but it could also keep them from having successful relationships in the future.
  • Allow them to take advantage of you financially or otherwise (e.g., lying for their benefit). This is an excellent time to set boundaries and make sure they understand that what happens while they are living with your family stays with your family unless there is imminent danger of any sort.
  • Give up on them, even when it seems like you are the only one willing to do what is best for them (even if they don’t see it this way). These children need more love and support than others which means keeping an open mind about their ideas and opinions no matter how much a challenge.

Steps to take for healing from having parents that have narcissistic tendencies

If you have been through a traumatic event with narcissistic parents, it is vital to be aware that recovery can take up much of your time and energy. It will not happen overnight because this kind of childhood trauma has the potential to do severe psychological damage over an extended period. Depending on what type of relationship you had with your parent

If you are the child of a narcissistic parent, it is crucial to know where this behavior came from (e.g., growing up with abusive or neglectful parents).

This can be a difficult and painful process, but there are many ways that you can begin to heal by doing things like:

Talking about your feelings – It may sound silly, but opening up to someone you trust can be a good way of dealing with your feelings, including anger, sadness, and resentment.

Finding support – Having people in your life who understand what you are going through is important because there is less chance of feeling alone (which could lead to more pain).

It is really helpful to find support with a therapist who can help you understand your experiences living with a narcissist and heal any wounds you may suffer because of the narcissistic abuse. If you are feeling really stuck in the abuse you suffered and experience a lot of distress because of it, you may benefit from EMDR therapy. 

Finding ways of coping – Whether it’s going for walks, journaling about how you feel, reading books related to self-help/healing, etc., it is essential to find ways of coping with your feelings which can lead to recovery.

Taking care of yourself – You may have been neglected or abused in the past, but that does not mean you are doomed for a future filled with bad habits and patterns! This means taking the time each day (or week) to treat yourself like anyone else you care about and ensuring that your needs are being met.

Healing from having narcissistic parents is a long path, but it is possible to get past the struggles.


Adult children of a narcissistic parent can learn a lot from reading books on how to deal with these issues as well as watching videos online that provide helpful tips for coping, such as looking at the positives in situations instead of focusing only on the negatives, which is something adults who narcissists have raised tend to do.

You can do many things to help yourself heal, but the most important thing is finding someone who understands what you have gone through and will not judge your past choices. If you are looking for a trauma therapist, or child therapy in Philadelphia, PA, contact us today. The sooner you heal from trauma, the better your life will become!

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