7 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent: Understanding the Traits

Updated August 10, 2021
Mother and daughter looking to each other after quarrel

Every child desires unconditional love and nurturing from their parents, but if you have a narcissistic mother or father, they may always criticize you, and you don't feel emotionally safe around them. Knowing the signs of a narcissistic parent is a step toward understanding your circumstances, and learning what you can do to cope.

7 Narcissistic Parent Signs

Exhibiting some traits of narcissism is normal on occasion, however, in order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a person needs to lack empathy, require frequent admiration, and have a very high sense of grandiosity a majority of the time with a majority of people.

People with NPD have very low self-esteem on a subconscious level. As a result, they develop these characteristics as a way to compensate for their low self-esteem. If they are narcissistic, your parent demonstrates these attributes with the following actions:

They Heavily Criticize You

A parent with NPD finds every opportunity they can to criticize you. If you get all B's on your report card, they say you need to have all A's. If you earn all A's, they will focus on something else "inadequate" you do, such as spending time reading instead of cleaning. In other words, no matter what good you do, there will always be some way in which you do not measure up in their eyes.

Those with NPD have such low self-esteem that they always have to be criticizing others in order to elevate themselves. Or, they project their flaws onto you as a way of denying their own inadequacies. Unfortunately, family members bear the burden of this behavior because they are closest to the person.

They Neglect Your Needs

A narcissistic parent is often oblivious to your needs. Because they don't pay enough attention to you and lack the ability to truly love, they will often shirk responsibility such as not getting you all the right school supplies or, not taking you shopping for clothing, even when you are wearing old or torn clothes.

Because narcissists are so self-absorbed, they are not able to see anyone's needs but their own. Their low self-esteem often comes from having a narcissistic parent themselves, or growing up with much hardship such as extreme poverty or physical abuse. Such experiences lead them to lack empathy and focus only on their own needs that were not met in their childhood.

They Demand Your Respect

A parent with NPD demands your respect, which might be reflected in an authoritarian parenting style. They will not attempt to understand your perspective or have your best interests at heart. Instead, they enforce unrealistically strict rules and believe they should be respected just because you are their child

Because someone with NPD, especially with severe NPD, is not able to love and doesn't have the ability to have healthy relationships, they don't know how to earn your respect through authoritative parenting. Subconsciously, if they have really low self-esteem, they overcompensate by demanding people's respect because they think that is the only way they can get it.

They Manipulate and Control You

A person with NPD likes to exert a lot of power and control. Since they are not able to take responsibility and communicate in a healthy manner, they do so by using guilt trips. They might, for example, say "If I hadn't paid all that money for braces, you would not have straight teeth" rather than just doing it because their child needs it.

Someone with NPD is so selfish that they resent having to spend money on anyone other than themselves, even if it is family. Because they had a lack of control in their childhood, they seek power and control over others. Therefore, they constantly remind you that they spent a lot of money on you as a way for you to continue to feel beholden to them.

father disciplining his daughter at home

They Constantly Blame You

A narcissistic parent almost always blames others for problems, rather than taking any responsibility. If something in the house breaks, they will say it is your fault rather than just accepting that inconveniences happen and that as the parent, they need to resolve the issue.

Because narcissists have incredibly low self-esteem deep down, they overcompensate for it by acting like they are never at fault. Moreover, because they are so selfish, they resent having financial obligations to anything or anyone except themselves.

They Reject Who You Are

A narcissist tends to see their child as an extension of themselves rather than as their own individual person. For instance, if they are a successful engineer, they will demand that you major in engineering in college, even if your interest is in the liberal arts.

A person with NPD is very ego-driven and they want others to operate on their terms. Because they constantly seek validation and admiration, you following their career path is a form of validation for them. It is hard for them to see their child be successful by making choices that differ from theirs.

They Express Anger Outwardly and Often

A parent with an NPD often yells at others in the household. This is part of their attempt to demand respect and exert control. And, any little thing can set them off; spilled food can lead them to yell that you are incompetent and need to be more careful.

Those with NPD regard themselves very, very, highly and believe that they are perfect, in turn frequently yelling in order to criticize and demand the control they believe they deserve.

Mother consoles daughter during therapy session

Coping With Having a Narcissistic Parent

Dealing with such treatment from a parent on a regular basis is exhausting and can lead to depression and low self-esteem. Anyone trying to co-parent with a narcissist may also suffer the same effects. Using the right coping strategies can help minimize your frustration.

In addition, since your parent hasn't provided you nurturing guidance, you should try to surround yourself with people you can have in your corner. You can do this by:

  • Seeking a mentor (school counselor, manager at work, teacher, clergy) who can validate your efforts and potential and provide helpful guidance toward your goals. The research has shown that having such role models outside your family can foster resilience.
  • Seeking therapy to get emotional support, process your experience, and work toward personal growth.
  • Being your own supporter by knowing that you are worthy of love, and are not to blame for your parent's issues.
  • Continuing to persist with your interests and goals.
  • Reaching out to a friend whom you trust and who can listen and spend quality time with you.

Your relationship with your narcissistic parent may feel normal to you because that is what you grew up with, or what you are in the process of growing up with currently. Getting input from someone else can help validate your experience as unhealthy, and encourage you to grow into becoming your best self.

Take Control and Thrive

You are not alone. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 50 percent of adolescents experience emotional abuse from their parents. However, many also continue on to live their best lives. By believing in yourself and cultivating your own support system, you can too.

7 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent: Understanding the Traits