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Narcissism Part 7: The Narcissistic Parent


Narcissistic Parenting is especially toxic. A relationship by its very nature designed to be about the benefit of the child is used instead as a source of narcissistic supply by the parent. Let’s take a look at the various aspects of narcissism and how they affect the parent/child relationship.

The narcissist looks to others as a source of identity and worth.

As a parent, this person looks to their child(ren) to feed their own need to feel powerful or worthy or important or successful. Parenting isn’t about what’s good for the child. Parenting is about what supports the personal image/facade the parent needs to maintain.

When the child makes decisions that fail to support the narcissistic image, the parent reacts. “Discipline” is rarely about the development of the child, but rather about the need for the parent to punish the child back into alignment with the image.

Outbursts of anger, shame, withholding affection, guilt and other forms of punishment, control and manipulation are aimed at children who in any way disrupt the parent’s need to feel good about themselves. When any of these behaviors are confronted, the parent will either dismiss the concerns outright, offer a rigorous defense for how it was someone else’s fault not theirs, or so dramatically overreact with responsibility (“I KNOW. I’M JUST A TERRIBLE MOM/DAD!!!”) that the concerns offered are never truly addressed because the martyr reaction is so over the top that the person confronting learns to not confront in order to avoid the ridiculous, unproductive and often painful conversation that ensues.

The narcissist is only aware of their experience in a relationship and therefore has little or no awareness of the other person’s experience of them in the relationship.

As a parent, this person lives with little or no awareness of how they are affecting their children. As the child develops, they will learn, whether consciously or not, that mom/dad are un-confrontable. Anytime the child communicates their needs or experiences, the parent somehow turns it around and makes it about their own needs and experience.

Unconditional acceptance is not available. Empathy is not the response. When the child communicates about their pain, the response is designed to fix it quickly and move on, not for the sake of the child, but because such pain is incongruent with the narcissistic ideal and must be removed. Don’t talk about it. Sweep it under the rug. We must not consider the reality of how our family system is contributing to your experience. Your experience is invalid or minimally important. My experience is the one that matters. I will do all the confronting in this relationship. You will do all the adjusting in this relationship. Whether these words are overtly spoken or not, the message is clear.


I think that narcissistic parenting will ultimately lead one of two directions in the child’s future relationships once they leave home (unless healing occurs). They will either continually gravitate toward relationships with other narcissists with the subconscious hope that they will finally get a relationship with that kind of person right; or, they will become the narcissist others are drawn to. Narcissistic parenting creates a momentum of brokenness that perpetuates the problem through generations.

For more from our 10 part series on narcissism, check back next week or read previous posts:

Part 1 | Communicating Needs In A Relationship

Part 2 | Life With A Narcissist

Part 3 | Understanding Human Development

Part 4 | What Do I Do?

Part 5 | Why They Are Un-Confrontable

Part 6 | Why Intimacy Is Impossible

About Alan Smith

Alan is married to Nancy, and father to Lauren (16), Anna (14) and Teddy (9). He is the pastor of Freedom Ministries at Gateway Church in Southlake,Texas, and is the author of the new book "Unveiled, The Transforming Power of God’s Presence and Voice."
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