How to Know if You Have a Narcissistic Parent: The Telltale Signs

Have you ever felt like your parent cares more about themselves than you? Do they routinely take credit for your accomplishments or shift blame when things go wrong? If this sounds familiar, your parent may have narcissistic traits.

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a relentless need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. When present in parents, narcissism can have profound effects on their children.

Keep reading to learn the key signs of a narcissistic parent and how to cope if you suspect you have one. With insight and the right tools, you can break unhealthy patterns and forge your own path in life.

Do They Steal the Spotlight?

One of the hallmarks of narcissistic parents is their tendency to steal attention. Your achievements, major life events, even tragedies can all become opportunities for them to shine.

Some signs your parent craves the spotlight:

They Make Your Success All About Them

When you accomplish something, they take full credit. Your straight A’s, sports trophies, college acceptances – they’ll find a way to twist it back to their stellar parenting.

They may brag to family and friends about molding you into who you are today. But the praise you receive will be scarce. After all, they deserve the accolades, not you.

They Compete With You

Healthy parents want the best for their children and take joy in their success. Narcissistic parents view their kids as threats who could overtake them.

So they’ll subtly put you down or react with jealousy when you get ahead. Attention should always flow their way.

They Downplay or Sabotage Major Events

Big milestones like graduations, weddings, and childbirths represent times where the focus is off your narcissistic parent.

Rather than celebrate your moment, they may pick fights, make hurtful remarks, or threaten not to attend. Ruining your special day lets them regain control.

Do They Lack Empathy?

Narcissism prevents parents from connecting emotionally with others. Mustering true compassion or attempting to understand your perspective is beyond their capabilities.

Signs your parent has impaired empathy:

They’re Emotionally Absent

Expressing emotions makes narcissistic parents feel weak and vulnerable. Don’t expect heart-to-heart talks, affection, or words of reassurance from them.

They gloss over your feelings and may call you “too sensitive” or “dramatic” for having needs. Opening up is futile since they simply can’t relate.

They Don’t Respect Boundaries

Healthy parents acknowledge your autonomy. But narcissistic parents steamroll your boundaries by being overly involved and controlling.

Going through your room, snooping on calls, demanding passwords – these invasions of privacy serve to keep you under their thumb.

They Use Emotional Blackmail

Guilting, gaslighting, love bombing – narcissists have an arsenal of manipulation tactics. By pushing your emotional buttons, they force compliance.

Examples include guilt trips (“you don’t appreciate me after all I’ve done!”), intimidation (“you’ll regret defying me”) or the silent treatment.

You Feel Responsible for Their Feelings

Children of narcissists often feel burdened with catering to their parent’s needs. You tiptoe around their ever-shifting moods, knowing one misstep could unleash their wrath.

Walking on eggshells and putting their feelings first is a matter of survival. But it comes at an immense personal cost.

Do They Lack Accountability?

Narcissists pin blame on others and shirk responsibility when they fall short. Admitting flaws or being wrong is intolerable since it contradicts their inflated self-image.

Their refusal to own their actions looks like:

They Twist the Truth

When confronted about their behavior, they reframe events with lies, excuses, omissions and exaggerations.

You may know your recollection is accurate. But their version of reality leaves you second-guessing yourself.

They Project Fault onto You

Whatever they did wrong gets flung back as your fault. They make you feel responsible and even indebted to them:

“If you weren’t so difficult, I wouldn’t have lost my temper.”

“I sacrificed everything for you, and this is how you repay me?”

They Evade Apologies

Don’t expect meaningful apologies or changed behavior after they’ve let you down. At best, you’ll get a flippant “I’m sorry you felt that way” that deflects blame back to being your problem.

Sincere apologies require admitting imperfection, something narcissists will never do.

Do They Exploit You?

Lacking in empathy, narcissistic parents have no trouble using others for personal gain. Children especially make convenient targets.

Here are some ways they may exploit you:


Narcissistic parents pit siblings against each other to vie for their affection. By stirring up conflict, they maintain control.

Say your parent shares with your sister that you called her a terrible mother. This sabotage turns you two against each other while making your parent look innocent.


All dysfunction in the family gets dumped onto one “problem child.” The narcissistic parent perpetuates this false narrative about the scapegoat to divert attention from their own flaws.


Some narcissistic parents essentially role-reverse with their children. By relying on you for emotional support and other adult responsibilities, they force you to grow up prematurely.

Do They Lack Self-Awareness?

One of the hallmarks of pathological narcissism is an utter lack of self-awareness. Their grandiose view of themselves bars them from engaging in self-reflection.

Some signs your parent lacks self-awareness:

They Reject Feedback

Offering suggestions only enrages them. Even polite, well-intended input gets taken as personal attacks. Their fragility leaves no room for growth.

They Don’t Learn from Mistakes

Healthy people evolve by analyzing their missteps. Your narcissistic parent keeps repeating the same hurtful patterns, unable to comprehend their role in relationships unraveling.

Their Version of Reality Is Skewed

They rewrite history, exaggerate their talents, and overestimate their likability. It’s easier than acknowledging flaws others point out. Who cares what anyone else thinks when they’re already perfect?

How Does Having a Narcissistic Parent Impact Children?

The dysfunctional dynamics narcissistic parents impose can leave lasting scars. Let’s explore some of the potential effects:

Emotional Distress

Growing up walking on eggshells around an unpredictable parent can be traumatic. Anxiety, depression, anger issues, and emotional volatility are common in adult children of narcissists.

Difficulty Setting Boundaries

With personal boundaries violated early on, you may become a people-pleaser who fears rocking the boat. Or you gravitate towards manipulators like your parent.

Imposter Syndrome

When taught explicitly or through implication that you’re not good enough, you internalize a false sense of inadequacy. This manifests as imposter syndrome on the path to success.

Seeking External Validation

Deprived of praise and stability, the children of narcissists often develop an insatiable need for validation. You become hyperfocused on earning love, approval and status.

Trust Issues

Relationships feel precarious when the earliest ones you formed lacked security. Seeing ulterior motives in people’s actions or becoming overly self-reliant can protect you from hurt.


Some children of narcissists try attaining perfection to finally earn their parent’s approval. But since perfection doesn’t exist, they’re stuck chasing unachievable standards.

Signs You May Be Enabling Your Narcissistic Parent

When raised by a narcissist, their ways become so ingrained that you unconsciously perpetuate the dysfunction. Here are some signs you may be enabling your narcissistic parent:

  • Making excuses for their bad behavior
  • Allowing them to trample your boundaries
  • Giving them unconditional positive regard
  • Conforming to their expectations
  • Being overly self-reliant so they don’t have to provide emotional support
  • Taking responsibility for their feelings and outbursts
  • Never questioning their motives or opinions

Setting yourself on fire to keep them warm will only drain you. Protecting them from consequences prevents any impetus for change.

Tips for Coping With a Narcissistic Parent

If you see red flags of narcissism in your parent, these tips can help you cope:

Set FIRM Boundaries

Pushing back against their manipulation won’t be easy, but boundaries are vital. Start small by saying no to unreasonable requests. Build towards cutting contact if needed.

Seek Validation Elsewhere

Since your narcissistic parent chronically withholds validation, fill this need independently. Make friends who appreciate you, pursue passions that make you proud, reflect on past wins.

Manage Expectations

Accept that this person is limited in how much love, empathy and generosity they can offer. Then disengage from futile attempts to get blood from a stone.

Learn Their Triggers

Figure out what situations tend to ignite their wrath, whether criticism, the spotlight being off them, or your independence. Then plan around avoiding their triggers.

Paint Them in Shades of Gray

Seeing them as pure evil only breeds resentment. Acknowledging nuance fosters understanding. They’re still accountable, but may have inherited tendencies or past trauma influencing them.

Talk to a Therapist

Having an objective third-party help you process the emotional baggage can be invaluable. BetterHelp offers affordable online counseling.

Keep Your Distance

Minimizing contact is key for your sanity. Only engage on your own terms in ways that serve you. Limit visits, keep calls brief, mute their social media posts.

Grieve the Parent You Deserved

Making peace with never getting an apology or truly bonding can help you move forward. Letting go of these expectations allows you to be your own nurturing parent.

You Have the Power to Break the Cycle

Growing up with a narcissistic parent undoubtedly leaves its mark. Their manipulation, explosiveness, emotional distance and other toxic traits can squash our self-worth and rob us of security.

But with self-awareness comes a pivotal insight – your parent’s limitations are not a reflection of you. Their disorder prevented forming a nurturing parental bond, but this failure is on them, not you.

Rather than continuing the cycle of dysfunction with your own kids, you can forge a new path. The skills you’ve gained surviving narcissistic parenting – resilience, independence, compassion – become superpowers.

You alone hold the power to build self-esteem, set boundaries, and fill your inner reserves with unconditional love. And being the parent you needed is the greatest triumph over narcissistic wounding.

You’ve got this!