Narcissists are like the sun—they make everyone orbit around them. But what happens when someone pathologically vain and egotistical also happens to be your mom or dad? This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen unpacks 6 signs you were raised by a narcissist.
Belief #4: “I can’t have needs because that would be narcissistic.”
If you were raised by a narcissist, you may be so allergic to entitled narcissism by now that you swing the pendulum to the other extreme. You may sublimate your needs to others to confirm that you are as different from your narcissistic parent as humanly possible. But in trying to be the antithesis of a steamroller, you end up getting steamrolled in relationships and at work.
To further complicate things, you’re so used to being under someone’s thumb that you may gravitate to relationships where you find yourself under a partner’s thumb. You know deep down it’s not quite right, but it feels comfortable and familiar, and you’re not quite sure how to change that.
Belief #5: “Hey, they were right—I am superior.”
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes kids decide if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. A narcissistic parent might have taught you that your family is superior—better, smarter, richer, more attractive—and after a lifetime of hearing it, you start to believe it.
Other kids may choose to collude with the grandiosity because it’s better than getting clobbered by a parent’s superiority complex. It’s an understandable survival tactic, but it comes at a cost. Because a narcissist’s supposed superiority is based on status, wealth, or material trappings, you may cultivate an image of wealth, but feel somehow that your life is impoverished.
It’s easy to see narcissistic parents as monsters, but it might help to consider how they got that way.
Belief #6: “Love is conditional. I am loved when I do what people want.”
Did your parent get mad when you skinned your knee because it was an inconvenience? Did they withdraw love when you brought home a less-than-stellar achievement? Did you carefully choose your words and actions out of guilt? Or to maintain their approval?
Narcissistic parents demonstrate to their kids that love is conditional. But what happens when you grow up thinking love is a reward for successfully jumping through hoops? A 2017 study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences examined over 300 teenage kids. Those whose parents doled out love on a conditional basis were much more likely to be self-critical perfectionists; that is, they held excessively high personal standards and criticized themselves mercilessly when those standards weren’t met (or exhausted themselves in the process).
Perfectionism may drive you to achieve, but it leaves you unable to feel satisfied with success and funnels too much energy into avoiding criticism, which you can’t control anyway. All in all, conditional love drives self-critical perfectionism, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety.
A final note
It’s easy to see narcissistic parents as monsters, but it might help to consider how they got that way. One study found that parental invalidation predicted narcissism, even more so than other bad parenting behaviors like rejection, coldness, or overprotection. Out of more than 400 participants, those who were the least narcissistic were also those who reported the lowest levels of invalidation.
The point isn’t to shift the blame to your grandparents, but to feel some compassion for your parents. Compassion isn’t a free pass, but it may help to loosen your own anger or resentment a bit.
In the meantime, if you recognized yourself or your family in this episode, give yourself the gifts of time, space, and a good therapist. Going to college, moving out, or otherwise buying yourself some distance can give you the perspective and space you need to discover and grow into yourself. And a qualified therapist you like and respect can help you unravel the beliefs sewn by your narcissistic parent and create new, healthier ways of seeing yourself and your place in it.
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.