When one or more of your parents is a narcissist, it can be extremely difficult to overcome their manipulation and lack of love. Here is my personal experience, and that of a coaching others through this, how you can deal with a narcissist parent in your life.
The first step in dealing with a narcissist parent is sorting out their lies and manipulative behavior from the facts of your childhood. As an adult, it is essential to develop appropriate and detached boundaries between you. Finally, take the time to introspect work toward recovery from the psychological trauma.
If you think (or know) that your parent was a narcissist, or you know some that is, it is essential that you take steps and get help as appropriate to overcome their affects in your their. Children of narcissists generally suffer from lasting trauma, although it usually not obvious to the child at first. Here are the steps that people with narcissistic parents should take to overcome the trauma.
Recognize the Narcissistic Behaviors of Their Parents
The first hurdle is even recognizing the elements of your parent’s behavior that are part of their narcissistic condition.
Narcissists are very good at covering their tracks, and making it look like they are normal to the rest of the world. They will do anything to give strangers a positive opinion of them and their family, since narcissists will view their children as part of their ego trip.
One very common way that narcissistic parents control their children through “triangulation”, where they enlist the third parties to convince you that they way they act is normal or common.
As a child, it can be very hard to know what is real. Your narcissistic parent will probably be very well liked by your friends, friend’s parent’s, and neighbors. Narcissistic parents will place blame for their failings as parents on their children, and leverage this image of themselves to convince their children that they are indeed at fault. Often, subtly or not so subtly calling on third parties to back up their story.
Although most children of narcissists notice the distinct lack of love and psychological manipulation of their parents at some level, it is very hard for a child to overcome the dysfunctional version of reality handed to them.
For a more complete list of narcissistic tactics and behaviors:
Disentangle Narcissistic Lies from Reality of Their Childhood
Most children of narcissists that I’ve worked with have had a very difficult time differentiating what really happened in their childhood from the lies and exaggerations that narcissistic parents invent.
One of the most prominent traits of narcissistic parents is that they compulsively invent a world around them where they are the hero, and are prefect in every way. And, anyone that doesn’t agree is an adversary that torments the poor helpless narcissist.
For their children, usually this leaves one of two roles in which their parents could cast them —
- The perfect child of the perfect parent, infallible in every way
- The ungrateful failure of a child that won’t accept everything great the narcissist have given them
Narcissist are also adept at finding and grooming family members and friends that agree with their narrative, so often children are getting a made up story from many members of their family at the same time, which conflicts with their own memory of past events.
With my own clients, I recommend that they use methods of memory regression and “script” uncovering to bring these falsehoods from their past to light. The story we tell ourselves about ourselves is key, and needs to be straightened out right away.
Reconcile with Alienated Siblings and Family Members
Narcissistic parents will very commonly exert control over their children and family by manufacturing conflict between siblings and family members.
If you have siblings, you will almost always find that one of the children is the “golden child” who could do no wrong, while another of the children is ungrateful and lazy.
They will also place extended family in these camps, potentially switching them between the two in order to maximize conflict and as a means of manipulating their behavior.
As a member of family group infected by narcissistic family traits, it is absolutely essential that you take steps to help reconcile these manufactured conflicts. While there is no guarantee that you can heal the divide, at the very least reaching out in an appropriate and responsible manner goes a long way in healing the divide within yourself.
Recognize Continual Manipulation and Tactics Used by Their Parents
Narcissistic manipulation will not end after you leave childhood. By this time of life you are likely to feel —
- Unsure of yourself
- Never good enough
- Afraid to speak up confidently
- Incapable of giving or receiving love
Narcissistic parents will capitalize on these traits through displays of conditional love in order to keep you invested in them and their illusions of grandeur. Conditional love can take the form of —
- Switching unexpectedly between hot and cold behavior
- Shunning or giving the cold shoulder
- Blowing over seemingly nothing at all
- Accusations and guilt trips
- Public shaming
It is absolutely essential that children of narcissists develop a recognition and write down a list of exactly how their parents continue to manipulate them, so they can be ready to handle the behavior. Often, children of narcissist have extreme difficulty recognizing all the element of narcissistic abuse, because they have grown up thinking it is normal.
For more behaviors of a narcissist, check out this article
Develop Appropriate Boundaries with the Narcissists
While children of narcissists can hope the best for their parents, it is never our right to demand our parents change. Narcissistic parents act compulsively and without reason. There is no way we can force them to treat us with respect or give us love.
As you begin to take steps to overcoming the domineering control exerted by narcissistic parents, they will push to get you back the way they like you. Over time, their techniques will probably escalate in severity and evolve until they find just the right way to get you back in the fold.
With proper guidance, children of narcissists should develop a set of no-gos and boundaries in their relationship with their parents. While this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting them of, it does mean that there will be a specific set of behaviors that you will not accept from them, and a specific set of actions that you will take when they violate these boundaries.
This serves both to help educate your narcissistic parent(s) on how to coexist with you in a healthy manner, but also works a safety valve when you are in danger of succumbing to their abuse and losing your sense of perspective.
Build Up a Support Network to Buffer Their Narcissistic Parents
Another important step for children of narcissists is to build a support network of people who understand what it means to have a parent with narcissistic personality disorder. This could be —
- The other parent, siblings, or extended family
- Romantic partners
- Support groups
- Life coach or health care professionals
If you don’t know someone with experience or training in overcoming a narcissistic parent, I recommend that you reach out to one of our coaches at Overcoming Toxic People, or get further support resources:
Be especially careful of people who know the narcissist directly, as early on in your recovery, they can be used as a means of “triangulation” and further manipulation from the narcissist. Likewise, they may also have trauma that they need to work through before they can have a truly objective perspective on events.
Inventory Your Own Unmet Needs and Traumas
Narcissistic parents are never capable of providing children with all the emotional resources that they need to fully develop as adults. Often, this is because they were not given proper guidance as child —
With every client that I work with, I recommend that they use journaling and meditation techniques to assess themselves on the five “A’s” that are the five areas where we need love and support from our parents in to develop in to a fully happy self-sufficient adult.
More information on this method can be found in the book:
Take Steps Toward Ending the Cycle of Abuse
Narcissistic parents are more likely to promote narcissism and other personality disorders in their own children. Unfortunately, many narcissists were children of dysfunctional parents themselves.
In my coaching, I teach practical methods to break the chain of abuse by building up your own positive qualities and behaviors. Many people want to know how they can avoid repeating the failings of their parents with their own children. Techniques for doing this include —
- Consciously choosing to take a position of responsibility
- Exercises for developing gratitude
- “Conversations with your past and future self” method
- The “Soul Mirror” method
- Daily goal setting and reflection
Support Others through Their Trauma
Lastly, everyone who has experienced the trauma of having a narcissistic parent will both benefit and give back by helping others with the same trauma.
Giving back goes a long way to cement the gains you have made in overcoming your narcissistic parent. Knowing that we have a role to play in other people’s recovery gives us the mental strength and fortitude to overcome almost any challenge we may encounter in the future. Likewise it gives us a sense of purpose and perspective, as we are able to see elements of our own stories in the stories of those we help.
Overcoming Toxic People overs coaching, courses, and book recommendations for people who need help overcoming narcissistic parent. Also, reach out if you are interested in learning to help others. See our resources page below —