Narcissists carry much unfinished psychological pain, as evidenced by their exaggerated need for admiration, their illogical attitude of entitlement, their insistence upon controlling others, their pathological defensiveness, and by their penchant for arguing over minutia. They are troubled souls.

If you grew up with a narcissist, their pain was inevitably placed upon you. You were unable at the time to articulate it, but you were needing them to deal with their inner pain so they could offer messages of hope and affirmation.

Messages like:

  • You are valued and loved just as you are.
  • You are competent; let’s figure out together what that means.
  • I want you to feel free and as you age, I’ll teach you how to merge your free choices with responsible goals.
  • With me, you are safe. You can trust me.
  • When we have conflicts, we can manage them maturely.
  • Let’s practice good coping skills, I’ll model it for you.

Instead of offering such messages, though, narcissistic parents are so captivated by their own pain that it defines them and their parenting style. Ignoring logic or common sense, they transfer onto their children the tensions they have never resolved within.

There are a multitude of signs indicating this trend:

  • Narcissistic parents don’t respect a child’s uniqueness. They insist children are supposed to fit their scripted mold.
  • They must be known as the superior one. To them, that somehow proves they are worthy of honor.
  • They do not discuss opinions, beliefs, and perspectives…they just presume the child will fall in line.
  • In small matters, in large matters, they speak critically. Judgment is quite prominent.
  • In conversations, they tell but rarely listen.
  • Discipline is grounded in fear, shame, and guilt, not love.
  • Discipline is applied in anger, often abusively.
  • The narcissistic parents’ “at home” persona is quite inconsistent with their “out there” persona. In public, appearance is everything.
  • They remind children that their public behaviors are a reflection about the parent, and they’d better put on a good show.
  • Even as they require children to apologize, they make no apologies for their own improprieties.

Usually narcissistic parents follow one of two patterns: (1) being highly authoritarian or (2) being neglectful, disregarding the child at crucial moments. Often, they are a combination of those patterns. Either way, their influence upon children can last a lifetime. In their later years, those children can predictably struggle with exaggerated defensiveness, trust issues, ineffective anger, rebellion, or strains against another’s control.

But here is the good news. If you had a narcissistic parent, you can adjust. It will require much introspection and determination on your part, and you might find it beneficial to seek therapy, but it can happen. You are not required to carry your parents’ pain.

If you had a narcissistic parent who transferred pain onto you, ask yourself some key questions:

Do you have worth? It may not have been conveyed well, but the bottom line is that worth is your birthright. It is yours to claim.

What does it mean today to be free? You have the privilege to choose for yourself who you will be an what you will stand for. Lean into it.

As a free person, what traits and what priorities would you like to pursue? That’s something you get to decide.

When you are told it’s not okay to be what you are, how can you establish boundaries? You can determine to be open to others’ input, but you need not allow anyone to infringe upon your distinctives.

Can you shift your mannerisms while making no apologies for being you, and with the least amount of animosity? Let your decency speak for itself.

What will you pass on to those you are currently connected to and to those of the generation behind you? You can break the trend.

Narcissistic parents want to have the final word, but they have lost the right to impose or to define who you are. That right now belongs to you and you alone. You are not being disloyal when you follow your independent, adult initiatives. Instead, you are affirming yourself, something the narcissist did not do. Their pain is their pain, and you are no longer required to carry it. It should never have been place upon you in the first place.

You can watch the video version of this article by clicking here.

~Dr. Les Carter