A Primary Struggle of Children with Narcissistic Parents



At some point, in order to grow up, all children must
mentally confront their idealized parent.
For most children, this means coming to the realization
that the adult who has raised them from birth is not perfect.
A child of a narcissist, though, will struggle to grow up for this
very reason.

Because, for a child of a narcissist, mentally confronting
the idealized parent does not mean coming to an understanding of the
parent’s imperfections.
No. For for the child of a narcissist, coming to an understanding of the parent
means uncovering the fact that the parent never, ever loved the child- for
no narcissist can ever truly love.

For too many children, this is too much to confront, so the child of the narcissist
stays forever locked in the fantasy the parent created and never grows up-
in order to maintain the illusion that the narcissistic parent really does “love”.

As most of you know, I stepparent two great kids (now teenagers!). It is interesting to witness the transformational stages of teenagers. One of the components of this is the “rejection” (perhaps too strong of a word?) of the parent, in order the teenager can get enough space to continue their individuation. This is completely normal and needs to happen.

Children of narcissists have a very, very difficult time doing this. As I write above, when children of narcissists reach teenage years and begin to look at parental figures with critical eyes- they can’t do it. For to really look at a narcissistic parent with the evaluating/critical eye of a teenager (if you have raised teenagers, you know exactly what I mean about their “evaluating/critical eyes”!!) reveals more than the teenager can handle.

Teenagers with healthy parents will look at their parents and begin to evaluate such things as “I can’t stand how Mom dresses. Dad is always so annoying when we have company, etc” But, these are superficial items. The core of “I am loved” is not brought into question. Not so for a child of a narcissist. If a child of a narcissist begins to really “see” the narcissistic parent, the bottom of the world falls out beneath the child, for they will come to the realization the parent does not love him or her, because the narcissistic parent can love no one but self.

The child of a narcissist can not go through this developmental stage common to most teenagers. They stand on the other side of the doorway, unable to step through. It also goes without saying that a child of a narcissist, having lived the dynamic for a decade and more, is VERY, VERY aware that to become critical or judgmental of the narcissistic parent in any way result in immediate banishment from the “kingdom” or “queendom”. Thus, their compliance with the fantasy is assured.


18 thoughts on “A Primary Struggle of Children with Narcissistic Parents

  1. Yup. I believe that my mother was probably a narcissist. Her “love” was very conditional and she used it to, as you say, ensure compliance with whatever it was she thought I should be doing. She created a lot of guilt around family relationships and behaviour. Her rages were epic. My family of origin was very dysfunctional and it’s taken me a long time to figure that out because on the surface, we appeared to be quite generic.

    Good post – you’ve nailed it.

    • Thanks for your support Lynette. It is so difficult to grow up with such “crazy” messages!! It can take us a life time to unravel them. you are a testament, though, that awareness always triumphs craziness.

  2. This gives me an amazing insight into my oldest 2 children. I see this so clearly in them now that I read this. It also makes so much clearer the decision to my 2nd daughter to cut all ties with her biological father when she was in high school. The oldest is (unfortunately) still playing his game. * A side note: the ability to question has come early to my 4th (youngest). At 11, she’s already sure we dress poorly, embarrass her with our old people talk and behavior, and I’m sure she must wonder how we’ve managed to run the house this long without her trying to take over! 🙂

    • I am so glad the words provided some awareness for you. It’s so hard on a child to have a parent who can not love. I have to say, the end of your response had me laughing out loud. I could so picture this. You clearly are already failing her at the age of 11 🙂 Keep sharing your beautiful spirit.

  3. I was in my 30’s before I allowed myself to realize that she never truly loved me. It was big. And painful. I still have the feeling of a “naughty” child when I’m in her presence (which is rare) because I’m not in line with her. Guilt. I ignore it.

    • Yep. It is big and painful to realize a parent can not love you. it’s world shattering and that is why my heart goes out to any one who has to come to this awareness. Blessings….

  4. as you are aware, I have a narcissistic sib…been dealing with that
    I want to say that your posts, comments and insights on how children deal with a narcissistic parent has been very helpful to me and a friend, who’s granddaughter’s mother is narcissistic. The child, 7 years old, has a healthy loving family with her dad and extended family and knows and can verbalizes that her mother isn’t there for her. Tough for children.
    I’ve shared many of your posts (this one as well) with my friend and she has gained much knowledge from your experience, insights and wisdom.

  5. Thanks for your article 🙂 I was born into a narcissistic family, and I had a huge angst about separating myself from them, as I was trained to do everything for them, and received nothing back, except for criticism and ‘rage’ when I was not there for them! One can get used to abuse and power games, if one knows no differently! It was a major breakthrough for me, to realise that they ‘never loved me’, when I had major feet operations and took 4 years to learn to walk again, and none of them were there to support me in any way, not even a phone call! That wake up call was necessary, as I am an empath, psychic and hypersensitive, which inclines me to feel for others, and voluntary give because I feel their pain, yet I had to learn to put myself first, set healthy boundaries, and discern the difference between those who want to help and will take responsibility for making positive changes in their lives, from those that want a free hand out ( which are the majority)!

    • I am so sorry I missed this insightful comment earlier. I really, really love what you wrote at the end. It is a gift (developed over time) for us to discern the differences you describe. Thank you so much.

  6. I’m a stepmom to an 11 yr old who’s being raised by her narcissist mother. It’s been a very pai ful journey to watch her grow up and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fear what the future brings for us. The alienation is taking hold now and it’s going to get worse as the teen years are approaching. I enjoy your work though, thank you for sharing…it’s such a painful path.

    • I am sorry you have to go through this, yet I take heart in having a “traveling” companion in this situation. I, too, worry about the mark a bio narcissistic mother leaves upon children. I can relate to the sense of alienation this dynamic brings. I wish you all the best.

  7. This just resonated with me on a scary level – Especially the very end!

    “It also goes without saying that a child of a narcissist, having lived the dynamic for a decade and more, is VERY, VERY aware that to become critical or judgmental of the narcissistic parent in any way result in immediate banishment from the “kingdom” or “queendom”. Thus, their compliance with the fantasy is assured.”

    It couldn’t be more true! Living a complete lie through the relationship. I guarantee you this is very common in broken homes of addicts.

    • thank you for your wonderful response and bringing up the issue of addiction. You are so very right. Complete compliance of the lie is expected of everyone- and that is the part this is so painful- to live is to live a lie in this situation.

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