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How to Deal with Adult Narcissistic Children

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Narcissism is one of the most insidious personality disorders in existence.

It’s often difficult to recognize, especially in your own children. You might feel as if there’s something just a little off about their behavior but finding that you’ve raised a narcissist is difficult to accept.

It raises all sorts of feelings for you as the parent. Where did you go wrong? What could you have done better?

It’s vital to remember that there is no definitive science which points to you as the cause of your child’s narcissistic tendencies or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

There are several theories which may explain how these traits develop, and one maintains that having a parent who is narcissistic can lead to some children developing the disorder themselves. But, due to there being such a divide amongst the psychological community, it may be a while before this theory gains more momentum.

But until then, what could be the cause? How do you recognize it, and more importantly, how can you deal with it?

How to Know if You’re the Parent of Adult Narcissistic Children

There are a few signs of narcissistic behavior that parents should watch out for:

  • Inflated ego: The narcissist has a huge ego.  Narcissistic adult children demand that you do what they want, try to control you, and push every boundary. Every time you give them what they want, they demand something else.  They say your job is to make them happy.
  • Need for validation: A narcissist needs constant admiration. Often, they need praise for simple tasks, like making an appearance at your birthday party. You may find yourself giving your narcissistic adult child an inordinate amount of praise over something that’s a normal and expected part of family life.
  • A sense of entitlement: The narcissist feels entitled to things they should have to work for. For example, they may demand ridiculous things like financial support well into adulthood. Or, tasks they should be doing themselves, but you find yourself performing…such as doing their laundry and folding their clothes, filling out their job applications, calling into work sick for them, or fixing their breakfast or lunch to take to work.
  • Exploitation: A narcissist acts without conscience, thinking only of themselves. They lie, trick and steal to get what they want. This exploitation can be glaringly obvious or very subtle, so be on the lookout if you feel used. This may manifest as their throwing temper tantrums, blackmailing you by withholding their love or your grandchildren, trying to entice you with sweetness and affection when they want something, and blaming their behavior on you.
  • Distorted thinking: A narcissist occupies a fantastical world where he or she is the greatest and most important person in the universe. In order to maintain the fantasy, narcissists lie. They often deny things that are obvious. They may make up fantastical tales to support the fantasy.
  • Unpleasant personality: Contempt and belittlement are the narcissists’ tools of choice. When they feel threatened by success, they get mean. Watch out for those who are constantly putting down other peoples’ accomplishments. You may find your narcissistic adult child talking badly about their friends behind their backs, but pretending to care for them when these same friends come around.

How Normal Toddlers Grow to Become Adult Narcissistic Children

Narcissism is a condition that forms early on and manifests more clearly in adults. However, doctors are reluctant to diagnose and treat the disorder in people under 18. That’s because it can be tricky to discern whether the behaviors listed above are the result of narcissism or normal childhood selfishness.

So how did this happen? There are a number of probable causes for narcissistic behavior:

  • Genetics: Inherited genetics are believed in some cases to be the reason for the development of narcissism, which oftentimes forms in childhood. That’s why it’s so important not to have children with anybody who shows signs of narcissism in the first place. They could pass this disorder on to the kids.
  • Neurobiology: There have been some studies on patients with diagnosed NPD which show that neurobiology may play a role in narcissism. A narcissist’s brain simply may not work the same way as yours. They process others’ feelings, yet feel no empathy.
  • Environment: Certain familial environments seem to nurture this disorder. They include living with a narcissistic parent in an absence of love and affection, or in a highly competitive environment. Neglect, abuse and even excessive idolization of a child can contribute.  Most children who grow up with a narcissistic parent in the household typically either become narcissists or codependents as adults.

How to Manage Your Relationship with Adult Narcissistic Children

Dealing with a narcissistic adult child is a lose-lose situation.

When you face off with your adult child, you only want to help them. But you can’t. Narcissism develops during childhood. Once your child is no longer a child, it’s often too late to treat the disorder.

The narcissism grows to be a part of their personality. It’s an extension of themselves. Therapists say that some people with narcissism don’t even know they have it. These people have no desire to get “better”. They don’t see that there’s anything wrong with them in the first place.

Changing Your Point of View

Narcissists have managed to delude themselves into thinking that they are perfect, and so have no real desire to change. You won’t help them become better people. You’ll only be able to help them reach selfish goals, often at your own expense. That’s not really helping anyone.

So how do you get out of this lose-lose situation and make it a win-win?

By taking away the hyphen. It is not a double-sided situation, with your outcome on one hand and the outcome for your child on another. The outcome for you is what you must think of. Your adult child’s outcome is his or her own responsibility now, not yours.

Stop seeing things from your adult child’s point of view, because your child’s point of view is selfish and irrational.

Acceptance

As hard as it is, stop fighting. Acceptance of your child’s behavior doesn’t mean that you go along with it, giving in to their demands. Quite the opposite. It means accepting that your child will never change while standing up to their exploitative behavior.

Recognize that you love them dearly. Accept that they do not and cannot love you back. Realize that no matter what you do for them, it will never be enough. This will save you a lifetime of heartache and is the only way to protect yourself.

If you keep trying to change the relationship, your child will keep fighting you. Likewise, if you continue giving in to their demands and allowing them to use you, you’ll never find happiness.  

Let them know that this is the way you feel. Don’t listen to their arguments, and don’t believe their proclamations about changing.

Isolation

Oftentimes, the only surefire method in dealing with a narcissistic adult child is cutting off all contact. It’s incredibly difficult to do this, especially when it comes to your children.

Delete and block your child’s phone number. Be prepared for them to contact you anyway and be ready to walk away. You must steel yourself against their reaction. When you decide enough is enough, make sure you have a support system of loving family and friends around you.

You can also join a support group that caters to other victims of narcissistic behavior. It can help exponentially to talk about your feelings and find strength within a group.

Eventually, your child will get the message and stop fighting you.

Dealing with Your Adult Narcissistic Children Means Taking Control of Your Life

Dealing with an adult narcissistic child is painful and difficult. However, confronting the problem is something you have to do to improve your own life and stop the cycle of abuse. The only path with hope is to stop giving them anything, to demand civil behavior or to cut off contact. 

To learn more about narcissistic behavior and how to break free from it, check out our online courses.

Remember, you have the power to change your life.

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14 comments
Kathy says July 22, 2019

I have a narcissistic son in law. I married his Dad 8 yrs ago. The yr prior to our marriage. I seen the relationship between the 2 of them. After a little time past. I noticed his son being very disrespectful. As this point I asked my hushand why does he treat you so badly. He really never gave me an answer that particular day. I didnt have much conversation with my son in law. But when I did he was quite charming. Im still confused of course. So on day I just asked. What is going on? It was very long discussion about his son. He told me to be aware of him. He has a severe anger problem. Mind his son is a grown man. After the long conversation we had. I had discovered that his son had totally control of him before our married. Giving him anything weather he could afford it or not. Going debit. He stopped doing for him that after we got married. Told his to get a job. Start taking care of himself. He went to jail. Doing drugs. Told us he was homeless and hungry. Made our life a living hell. Phone calls all hours of the nite. Cuss calling us name. I could go on and on. We finally came to realize we had to break all ties with him blocking phone social media even losing friends. This is a terrible thing. We love him. But we feel we didnt have a choice.

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Cheyenne says May 5, 2019

I stood up for myself today with my narcissistic daughter and am experiencing a nasty lashing out from her on her fb page. I refuse to let her live with me again after 2 failed attempts – she is 29 – and I had her blocked until today when she emailed me that she needed to talk to me. I unblocked her on fb and saw a comment about her wanting to find her siblings in Germany and accused me of standing in the way of her reconciling with them which is not the case. I do not know where they are. She has pulled my half sister into this drama. My half-sister hates me because I found her dad who is my dad as well 20 years ago (I was adopted) as she does not want a sibling (I am 57, she is 50). Now they my sister is making up the story that 15 years ago, I had left my daughter with my dad and stepmom in Georgia to run off to CA to reconcile with my then husband, that she had to search for my daughter’s paternal grandmother in AZ, that she paid for my daughter’s flight ticket to AZ and that I had left my daughter for my then husband. In reality, my then husband and I lived in Georgia with my daughter at that time, my daughter’s behaviors were out of hand, her teacher suggested I get her to a group home for girls, I said no I do not want her in the system so I called her paternal grandmother in AZ, I paid for the flight ticket and I got my daughter to Savannah to the airport and waited until the plane took off. My sister has the nerve to gaslight our parents by telling them they do not remember the events correctly, that her version of the events are correct and I had persuaded our parents that it happened the way I just described (the way it really happened not my sister’s version). I don’t understand how people can do this kind of thing, My sister does not care that I had crappy adopted parents, that I had cancer, am struggling with Meniere’s and balance dysfunction, am almost deaf – she wants to destroy my good relationship with my dad and stepmom, the only parents I have and am close to. My bio mother rejects me to this day. I think my sister is a narcissist as well (my parents have described her as incredibly selfish and that they are paying for their mistakes in how they raised her now). I decided today that this is it, that I will not be in touch with my narcissistic daughter ever again. She is also disinherited and she told my sister this. I am heartbroken. My peace of mind is more valuable however than being in touch with her and being continuously abused.

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Sasha says April 28, 2019

I have a narcissistic son and daughter in law. I have never seen two more controlling people. They feed from each other and she knows when to push his buttons to make him come and involve me by bringing up something I didn’t do for them years ago. She finally got hat she wanted, a wedge between my son and me. I didn’t realize just how narcissistic He was until he blew up at me. I am almost 70 and feel like I am at the age where I shouldn’t have to deal with this. I am done and can’t…don’t want to deal with the whole situation anymore. Oh and there are two grandchildren that I know they will keep away. It’s sad, because I am sure our relationship has now been destroyed. I don’t want to go through all of this again.

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Thea says April 26, 2019

This is such a painful process to go through, my mother is narcissistic and I was the scapegoated child, my sister the golden child. I grew up confused and feeling worthless and having no idea of boundaries. I went on to marry a sociopath unknowingly of course, and had a daughtera few years later.
From about the age of four I think she developed narcissistic traits took advantage of her friends viewed herself as always right (others always wrong) and became very selfish and demanding. While she was growing up I gave her plenty of love and support and tried to make her feel valued, because I didn’t want her to go through what I did as a child, despite everything she has rejected me with empty promises and devaluing comments even stating when she was 18 years old that she was like her father and not like me! felt like a stab in the heart.
Over the years she witnessed her fathers abusive behaviour both physically and psychologically towards me. I try to have very minimal contact with her and and always come away feeling a complete emptiness inside.

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    johnny says June 3, 2019

    My wife and her mother are both narcissists and I am glad you aren’t one and realize their problem. All my children are one now too. Its very easy for a mother to raise a narcissist while destroying a father’s role. God is the only cure.

    Reply
Holly C says June 4, 2018

I don’t miss the bullying, I miss the the lost potential. I really miss my grandchildren. Toward the end, knowing they would be his ultimate weapon. It is.

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Sarah A Negus says May 23, 2018

Teena,

Very odd post. I was a very naive 20 year old when I met my now deceased (killed himself) ex husband. Raised in a normal Loving family. My gut told me something was not quite right…..but my hormones, and insecurities around my looks etc, aka low self esteem (at least in the attractability Dept), at the time overruled…….I ended up, two children later left alone as I called him out on his lack of ability to be #1 a father and 2 to be a loving decent person….Well after the fact, his Mother (a saint) told me to leave him..My children were loved, nurtured and cared for as well if not better than any child….I have encountered more than one couple, who adopted….who, despite providing amazing love, care and example of good….. nevertheless whose child did not in turn take and emulate those qualities and behavior. I mean NO disrespect or judgement when I say Teena, somehow you may either be NPD yourself……or were raised by 2 people who were of that ilk….That said, and from my experience and extensive research……you may in fact be one of the offspring of two “cluster B’s”…..that took from two grandparents the healthier non disordered genetics…..For that if the case, I’m happy for you…..But make NO mistake. Loving, good parents CAN and do give birth to a “bad” seed……through no fault of their own,

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Teena says May 22, 2018

It’s extremely unlikely that a narcissist would emerge a family environment that isn’t saturated with narcissistic thinking. Narcissists’ parents have rigid hierarchical world-views, worship excellence and success (however they define it) and teach their children that those who don’t measure up deserve maltreatment. Love is highly conditional. Children come to see the world through their parents’ eyes develop defenses against parental withholding and devaluation. Good parents don’t produce narcissists. Good enough parents don’t either. I’m sorry, but if you have a narcissistic child you don’t get to feel sorry for yourself.

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    Cheyenne says May 5, 2019

    As I was raised by narcissistic adopted parents who were rigid, inflexible, judgmental etc, I have become the opposite. This made me easy prey to narcissists. I didn’t even know that my adopted “parents” had been narcissists until I was 45 years old and learned that it had not been a normal environment. Thus, I was with a narcissistic husband for 13 years, most of her formative years (4-14 years old), she learned it from him. She has the same lifestyle he had (not working, then changing jobs all the time, living off people, feeling entitled, demanding and if her demands are not fulfilled, temper tantrums and threats – she threatened to beat me up today – living in peoples homes, things falling apart there, she blames her roommates, goes to the next friend, friendships fall apart, she is an addict). I am almost deaf, she used my deafness by sneaking around at night whenever we were alone. It has been a very difficult many years. So, it is usually one parent or stepparent who contributes to it. There are also children who are narcissistic because their brains are differently wired. I have a masters in forensic psych with focus on personality disorders. Your response is harsh. It is not always both parents, it is sufficient when one parent (or in this case stepparent) has NPD. Children raised by narcissistic parents often become empaths and thus easy targets for narcissistic partners.

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      Ayi says May 26, 2019

      Thank you Cheyenne. As mother 2 children with an NPDfather, I came here seeking support. That comment stung, and so reading you reply was balm to my soul. Thank you.

      Reply
    Lois Goodman says June 5, 2019

    Good parents can and do produce narcissists. i totally disagree with Teena. We made a monumental mistake with our eldest. when she was 2 yrs old she threw her first tantrum. we attended parenting courses and the educator told us to praise praise and praise. try to ignore the bad… yeah right. it created the monster. im telling you that too much praise and trying to make sure she had a high self esteem did the damage. 3 more children all brought up the same and only one narcissist. our life has been hell as now she has withdrawn contact with our grandchildren as some grandiose punishment for us.

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Pamela Leach says April 4, 2018

My granddaughter is being bullied by her father. My daughter is trying to get custody BK. She is 16 not allowed to have a cell phone she might call her mom.the court said he has to allow her to call her mom 3 notes a WK he won’t let her. She was molested at 5years old by dad’s friend he did nothing She has to baby sit for all her younger siblings. She isn’t allowed to have a boy friend. They try to break her passwds to Snoop and they have cameras in every room and outside. She looks just like her mom beautiful and it scares me. Is this normal?

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    Kim Saeed says April 16, 2018

    Heck no it’s not normal. Sounds like someone may want to call CPS on her behalf, or at the very least, contact a DV center and seek guidance from them.

    Kim

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Sally says April 3, 2018

Soooo so happy to finally read a post about this…..I have lived with and through this reality. My TWo adult children, unfortunately have imo AND experienceinherited the genética that set then Up for one, with Bordrrline pd and my second child with anti-social pd…..Its ime 100% in the genes…….Thank you

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