What Happens To Children Brought Up In Narcissistic Families

Young children of a mother or father who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder are genuine victims of their parent and the disorder—as much as any child who lives through life with an addicted parent, or one guilty of physical or sexual abuse.


1.0 Narcissistic Parent Checklist: Signs of Being Raised by a NPD

2.0 How narcissistic parenting impacts the adult relationships of children of narcissists.

3.0 What happens to the narcissistic child?

4. 0 Adult children of narcissists face trauma induced health risks

5.0 Conclusion

The narcissistic parent abuses in an intensely subtle and devious fashion: they are guilty of severe emotional and mental abuse, and no one outside of the family would ever suspect anything wrong. These child victims quite often go unnoticed, untreated, and unassisted by other adults outside of the immediate family. This is due to the nature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

It’s clear that there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who were raised by at least one narcissist, and it wreaked havoc on their self-esteem, their feelings of well-being and safety, and their confidence and courage. Being raised by a narcissist gives rise to a belief throughout our lives that we are just not “good enough” despite everything we try and bending over backwards to please others.And it damages your boundaries, which are the invisible barriers between you and your outside systems that regulate the flow of information and input between you and these systems.

These damaged boundaries thwart your ability to communicate authentically and powerfully, and taint your own self-concept, which in turn damages your relationships and your capability to thrive personally and professionally in the world. Most adult children of narcissists never get the help they need to recover and heal, because they have no idea that what they’ve experienced as children is unhealthy and destructive.

1.0 Narcissistic Parent Checklist: Signs of Being Raised by a NPD

Children of NPD parents blame themselves. Instead of blaming the parent, a loving child might take on the responsibility for the negativity and sacrifice their self esteem.

They begin to believe it's their own fault their parent does not love them, or they hold out hope that by changing themselves, they might earn their parent's love.They feel invisible. These children may have no sense of themselves or what they want or need.

The parent's grandiosity eclipsed the child so completely that it resulted in a person who has no idea who they really are as an individual.They become so acclimated to narcissism they may either choose narcissistic relationships or avoid relationships entirely.

The neglect, abuse, rage, lack of empathy, and emotional games can be so overwhelming they can make a child grow to expect that kind of treatment in all their relationships, develop insecure attachments, or to distrust people and abandon emotional intimacy altogether.

Narcissism breeds codependency, care-taking, low self esteem, guilt, or more narcissism. These children often adapt by either erasing themselves, sacrificing their own needs, developing PTSD, or joining the 'winning' side and becoming narcissists themselves.

2.0 How narcissistic parenting impacts the adult relationships of children of narcissists

Because the narcissistic parent-child bond was so distorted and corrupt, the offspring as adults tend to gravitate toward drama-laden, roller-coaster relationships – especially with romantic partners. Because they didn’t grow up with the belief that they were intrinsically okay and good, it makes perfect sense that these individuals would gravitate toward stormy romantic partners later.

These adults would feel like a fish out of water in a relationship with someone who loved them consistently, and the experience would be so unfamiliar that it would cause major anxiety. Accordingly, these individuals tend to seek out partners who are emotionally unavailable, critical or withholding – just like Mommy and/or Daddy was in the past.

In short, the only kind of relationship the adult child of a narcissist really fits in with is one with a highly skewed dynamic: The child of the narcissist must cater to and keep their partner happy, even when that involves squashing her own needs and feelings.It’s not until the adult children of a narcissist get (a lot of) psychotherapy or have a life-changing experience that pulls them away them from the disturbed parent that these adult children can truly begin to heal – and then create better, more normal relationships that offer the give-and-take reciprocation most of us have and value in our relationships.

What’s interesting to note is the narcissistic parent’s reaction to witnessing healthy psychological change in their child.

Once the child or adult child of the narcissist starts to get psychologically healthier and begins to distance himself a bit from the parent, the narcissistic parent experiences a sort of existential panic. Often, it’s a psychotherapist, colleague or friend who plants the seeds of change, declaring to the child that the parent is toxic and emotionally abusive. Thrust into fight mode, the narcissistic parent feels furious and works to ostracise the individual suspected of inducing the change and pulling the child away from the parent’s tight grip.

Though it can initially be confusing to the adult child why the narcissistic parent verbally tears apart his closest confidants, the parent’s reaction ultimately shows the adult child what matters most to the narcissistic parent: his or her own emotional needs – not those of the adult child.

3. What happens to the narcissistic child?

The child of extreme narcissists is never seen for who he or she is, and is never appreciated just for him or herself. The extremely narcissistic parent can only enjoy and exploit their child for what the child does for them or how the child makes them look to others.

The "love" the extreme narcissist gives to their child is a pseudo-love that's shallow and conditional and doesn't come close to meeting the child's real needs. As a result, the child grows up with an empty space inside them that was supposed to have been filled with parental love and validation. As they're growing up, the child of the extreme narcissist can go in one of two directions. They can channel their low self-esteem and needs for love and approval into people-pleasing, trying to get others to accept and validate them. Or, they can compensate for their deep feelings of inadequacy by inflating their fragile ego and becoming grandiose. They can become as narcissistic as their parent was.

The children who grow up to be narcissists might achieve some measure of success, in that their inflated self-worth can lead them to attain certain goals, but they can never be truly happy. The emptiness within them will never be filled by following in their narcissistic parent's footsteps. They will never have real love in their lives and all their accomplishments will ultimately feel meaningless.

The paradox is that the children who grow up to be narcissists don't see that they have a problem. Their inflated ego denies the deep wound within them. They're unable to recognise the empty hole where self-love should be, so they can't conceive of real ways to fill this void. They're doomed to remain narcissists, pursuing external gratification and seeing others merely as a source of this gratification or an obstacle to it.

The child of the extreme narcissist who grows up to be a narcissist themselves is doomed, in the same way as their parent is, to a life of empty, exploitative relationships and the compulsive pursuit of external solutions - money, fame, power, influence - for their real inner needs for closeness, happiness and meaning.

The child of a narcissist who grows up to be a narcissist themselves might look like they're doing better, but they'll never live a good life. The child of the narcissist who grows up to be a people-pleaser is the much luckier one, as they have a real chance to change and to live a full and satisfying life with real love and real meaning.

4. 0 Adult children of narcissists face trauma induced health risks

When you experience a traumatic event, your body’s defences take effect and create a stress response, which may make you feel a variety of physical symptoms, behave differently and experience more intense emotions.

This fight or flight response, where your body produces chemicals which prepare your body for an emergency can lead to symptoms such as:

raised blood pressure

increased heart rate

increased sweating

reduced stomach activity (loss of appetite).

This is normal, as it’s your body’s evolutionary way of responding to an emergency, making it easier for you to fight or run away.

Directly after the event people may also experience shock and denial. This can give way over several hours or days to a range of other feelings such as sadness, anger and guilt. Many people feel better and recover gradually.


Studies have found that compared to those without PTSD, people with PTSD are more likely to experience a number of physical health problems including for example:


Heart-related problems and disease

Respiratory system-related problems and disease

Digestive problems and disease

Reproductive system-related problems



In his 2014 landmark work The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., captures the physical and emotional experience of the child in the narcissistic home:

“Trauma almost invariably involves not being seen, not being mirrored, and not being taken into account.” He continues, “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health.”

For children of narcissist parents, abuse and neglect settle in the body in lasting, often devastating ways. They are the walking wounded, emotionally and physically traumatised and at risk for further trauma. Dr. van der Kolk describes the body’s response to long-term stress:


All of my patients with a narcissist parent have health problems,” have said “Growing up in a narcissistic home places stress on the body that threatens our homeostasis—the hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal (HPA) axis,” Tenenberg explained.

The HPA axis regulates stress and many body processes, including digestion, immune response, emotion, and energy storage and release. Common problems: autoimmune disorders, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, leaky gut, cardiovascular issues, irritable bowel, and insomnia. “Often they are illnesses are not picked up or acknowledge,“That invalidation can reactivate trauma.”

Hope for ACoNs: Trauma Treatment

Although narcissistic abuse takes a toll on the body, there are ways to reduce or even overcome its effects. Dr. McBride developed a five-step recovery model that she uses with her clients and teaches to other professionals in her field.

emotional freedom therapy (EFT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), which are believed to help the body release long-held trauma.

Dr. van der Kolk also cites EMDR as well as a range of other trauma therapies such as yoga, writing, and theatre.

5.0 Conclusion

What can you do?

There are some things to consider if you were raised by a narcissist. First and foremost, seek therapy or counselling. It will help you discover how the world really is, how relationships should function, what is unconditional love, how to self-soothe and create better opportunities for yourself.

Secondly, do your research. The more you read and talk about narcissism with others, the clearer the subject will become. It is not an easy topic, I know. Start with blogs like daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com. Continue with books like ‘Will I ever be good enough?‘ by Karyl McBride, ‘Toxic parents‘ by Susan Forward or ‘Rethinking narcissism‘ by Dr. Craig Malkin.

If you’re dealing with the psychological consequences of being raised by narcissistic parents, I want to tell you that you’re not alone. Therapy will help you accept that you weren’t given the love that you deserved and move forward, towards healing. If therapy is not an option, consider reaching out to online support groups on the subject.

#narcissticabuse #dysfunctionalfamilies #survival #narcissisticpersonalitydisorder #relationships #introspection #narcissisticfamilies #emotionalabuse #NPD







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