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How Can I Cope With a Narcissistic Parent?

Part of a well-adjusted childhood should include having a healthy, loving bond with your parents. The love, support, and encouragement that a child receives during their formative years become the foundation for the way they relate to themselves and others in the future. The deep pain of being denied their basic emotional needs may impact a child’s beliefs, behaviors, and self-esteem well into adulthood. Unfortunately, many children are denied emotional security from the people they should be able to trust.


What is Narcissism?


Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a psychological disorder that is characterized by patterns of grandiosity, fantasies of unlimited power, self-proclaimed importance, and the need for admiration. Individuals with NPD may show signs of impulsivity, volatility, attention-seeking behaviors, low self-esteem, and have a history of unstable interpersonal relationships. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies NPD as a Cluster B personality disorder, meaning that individuals may display dramatic, emotional, and erratic behaviors. 


How Can I Tell if My Parent is Narcissistic?


While not every parent who shows symptoms of NPD has the full-blown disorder, having even some narcissistic tendencies can still cause significant damage. Signs that you may have a narcissistic parent include:


  • Conversations constantly need to be about them (what they are doing, their current and past accomplishments, compliments they received, etc.)
  • Consistent bragging and self-aggrandizing
  • They don’t take responsibility for problems that stem from their behavior, instead pointing the blame elsewhere
  • They are well-liked by others in public, but behind closed doors are negative, controlling, and may speak harshly about the people that admire them
  • They rarely or never acknowledge your achievements
  • They make you feel bad for not doing more or enough for them
  • They are unforgiving, and throw past behaviors in your face
  • Their presence makes you feel anxious, and they often make you feel bad about yourself
  • They lack empathy for you even when you are faced with hardship


Although realizing that your parent is narcissistic can be a tough pill to swallow, it can also help you understand that much of the damage that you have suffered wasn’t your fault. It is never too late to put your wellbeing first by setting boundaries between yourself and your toxic parent. Now is the time to process your feelings and start the healing process for yourself. Here are a few ways to start along your healing path:


Educate Yourself About Narcissism


Informing yourself about NPD can be invaluable. Read, join forums, watch documentaries, and scour the internet for useful resources. The more you educate yourself and find groups who are supportive and understanding, the more you will understand everything that you have gone through. Educating yourself will give you the tools you will need to move beyond the toxic influence of your parent.


Accept That Your Narcissist Parent Will Not Change


Although it may be difficult to accept, chances are that your parent will never change. There is help out there for narcissistic individuals, and if they choose to seek it, it is possible that they will change. However, do not assume that they will suddenly see the light and begin working to change themselves. Narcissists rarely improve, and at times when they do agree to seek help or become nicer, it’s possible that it’s only a means of manipulating you. 


Assert Your Boundaries


A narcissistic parent may often cross your boundaries simply to prove that they can. This is a common control tactic. Narcissists see other people, especially their children, as extensions of themselves that they have the right to control and manipulate. They objectify their children instead of respecting them as individual people. It is of utmost importance that you set firm boundaries and enforce consequences when your parent crosses the line. Be upfront with how you expect to be treated and what will occur when they choose to treat you otherwise. Be consistent, and remember your worth.


Be Prepared for Gaslighting


It is highly common for narcissists to employ the tactic of gaslighting, or make others feel like they are delusional or being irrational. They may claim that your memory of past events is completely inaccurate or that you are making things up, especially if you attempt to confront them about their behavior. Narcissists will act as if they are concerned for your mental wellbeing when this is in fact a well-known narcissistic behavior of manipulation.


Healing from Your Abuse


Don’t sugarcoat it: the distress caused by a narcissistic parent constitutes emotional abuse. Many people spend their lives recovering from the damage that was inflicted upon them by the person that was meant to care for them most. Healing these wounds can be a long and complex process. Getting professional help to reverse dysfunctional thoughts and address psychological wounds can help you process and move past your trauma.


Living life with a narcissistic parent is unhealthy and can damage your mental wellbeing. You should not have to fight to be noticed or jump through hoops for someone’s unconditional love, especially if it’s your parent. It is important to set and maintain boundaries to help protect your own stability. Setting boundaries can even help your parent, as it decreases your likelihood of enabling them any longer. Through professional help, you will learn to work through trauma and regain control. If you or your loved one are looking for resources and assistance in dealing with a toxic or narcissistic family member, reach out to RECO Intensive. We provide a wide array of services for mental health and personal wellness, tailored to your individual needs. The sooner you start your healing process, the sooner you’ll be able to embrace your life with a clear mind and an open heart. Call (561) 464-6533 to learn more.

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