narcissistic parents

The Wounded Child: 7 Needs Narcissistic Parents Cannot Provide

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Living with a narcissistic parent can be devastating, complicated, and downright toxic for children. The home, which should embody a comforting place of safety and love, resembles a quasi-battleground where there is only one clear winner.

Furthermore, many of these wounded children grow up falsely believing that their home lives were normal and acceptable. With that said, they experience aching and painful needs that may feel bottomless in their adult lives.  Following are seven things narcissistic parents can never provide to their children.

1 – Attunement To Feelings

Children learn how the world works through the almighty lenses of their caretakers, and research rooted in attachment theories shows that. When a caretaker attunes appropriately to the child’s feelings and needs, the child subsequently experiences safety and security.

However, in narcissistic families, children experience repeated incidents of their parent misattuning, misaligning, or downright ignoring their feelings. The parent does not validate the child’s emotions; the parent validates whatever is in the parent’s best interest.

The narcissistic parent may punish children for crying, shame them for experiencing fear, and even quell them when expressing ‘too much’ happiness. In other words? Children learn that their feelings are erratic and unsafe. They learn that they are a source of problems.

For this reason, many children grow up believing that feelings must be suppressed. To achieve this suppression, we see many children of narcissists struggle with substance use, eating disorders, self-harm, and other impulsive or compulsive lifestyles.

After all, if they’ve experienced compounded years of condemnation for having feelings, why should they feel safe within their own emotional selves?

2 – Room For Flexibility

Children have fickle and temperamental personalities. One moment, they love ketchup; the next moment, they detest it. One day, they want to become an artist, and the next, they’re telling you they intend to sign up for the military.

According to childhood development research, these identity shifts are both normal and healthy. As children grow, they seek to establish their own identities and understand their proverbial place in this world. Subsequently, they need support and reassurance from their caretakers that they are allowed to engage in this process.

However, in narcissistic homes, this freedom for flexibility doesn’t exist. The child must conform to the parent’s wrath- or face serious consequences. The narcissistic parent holds a rigid view of how their children must act and behave (and it’s typically a mirrored version of the narcissist).

This parent cannot tolerate outside peer or societal influence. Furthermore, this person cannot understand why a child would be “susceptible” to these influences, either. Children, therefore, grow up without ever being certain who to trust or what to believe.

3 – Healthy Communication

Simply put, narcissistic parents do not practice assertive or sensitive communication. They do not consider how the recipient will receive or understand the information. Instead, they use dialogue as a manipulative tool- as a means of furthering their own agendas.

This rupture affects children in profound ways. For one, they rarely feel safe expressing their own feelings. For two, they struggle to understand the nuanced differences between aggression and assertiveness.

That’s because narcissistic parents use a blend of cognitive empathy with aggression to communicate with their children. Regardless, children tend to experience this dreaded sense that it’s always their fault, as this is the mantra reinforced time and time again.

Thus, children will grow up dancing the tango of continuously walking on broken eggshells. In their adult lives, they may struggle with healthy communication patterns in their own relationships.

They may become passive people-pleasers, cowering in the face of authority, always worried about offending or angering other people. Or, they may take on the same, familiar communication habits as their parent, shifting into a narcissist themselves.

4 – Acceptance of Mistakes

In a healthy family system, parents understand (and embrace) the inevitable fallacies of their children. They know that children make mistakes, and they can reasonably accommodate for these inconveniences.

In households driven by narcissism, these mistakes aren’t embraced or accepted. The opposite occurs. The parent perceives mistakes as catastrophes.

That’s because anything beyond the realm of the parent’s rigid image reflects poorly on him or her. That is a hollow feeling the narcissist cannot tolerate.

In these types of households, parents often use physical or emotional abuse as a form of punishment. However, the emotional damage isn’t just in the bounds of criticizing or insulting the child. It’s taken a step further.

The parent continuously abuses the child by making it about the parent. As in, how could you do this to ME? Can’t you see how this affects ME? It’s no longer about the child’s “mistake.” It’s about the parent’s belief that the child has intentionally “harmed” the narcissistic parent.

5 – Conflict Resolution Skills

We know that narcissists do not engage in conflict on an even playing field. In fact, they play on their own field, and they make up their rules and parameters along the way.

The narcissistic parent cannot convey appropriate conflict management. That’s because the narcissist always wins, no matter the context. It’s not an issue of disagreeing or experiencing healthy tension. It’s a matter of, I’m right, you’re wrong, and anyone who thinks otherwise is insane.

When the narcissistic parent becomes angry, there is no compromise or healthy processing of emotions. The entire house shifts to what the narcissist needs at that moment. Many children continuously witness the useless power struggle between their narcissistic parent and their enabling parent. They quickly learn that the narcissistic parent always wins- even if someone else tries to put up a fight.

Again, children in these households will typically struggle with conflict management in their adult lives. Many will attempt to avoid conflict altogether, often emulating placating people-pleasers. These individuals risk repeating childhood patterns and becoming attracted to narcissistic partners.

Other children attempt to restore the power they never had by essentially mimicking the same narcissistic conflict resolution skills as their toxic parent.

6 – Unconditional Love

All children need to experience the inherent sense of universal security and love. They must know and feel that they are worthy and loved- no matter what they do. Unconditional love provides children with a healthy form of attachment to their caregivers, and it also provides them with the self-esteem needed to succeed in the world.

The narcissistic parent does not provide that love.

Instead, they often oscillate between love-bombing (when the child is behaving according to the narcissist’s standards) and complete discarding (when the child is acting otherwise).

In other words, love is conditional. It’s based on how the child can fit the needs of the narcissistic parent. It’s based on what the child does and gives- rather than who the child is. And it can change instantaneously.

You can see how this creates a conflicting paradigm throughout childhood. Children cannot anticipate the emotional reactions of their parent. They never know if it’s going to be a good or bad day. And, furthermore, they never know what kind of love (if any) they will receive.

7 – Age-Appropriate Responses

In healthy parent-child relationships, the parent provides age-appropriate responses based on the child’s needs and development. When narcissistic parents interact with their children, they do not accurately attune to the emotional needs of that child. They attune to what they need from the child, and not the other way around.

On the one hand, many narcissistic parents parentify their children. This means they treat the child as if the child is older than her actual age. Likely, they cannot comprehend that children do not operate on the same emotional levels as adults.  

Some parents will use the child for ‘peer support’ by dumping their own adult issues onto the child and expecting legitimate advice and solutions. Other parents may place unrealistic expectations of their children, such as assuming a child will take care of her younger sibling (and then get upset if and when the child asks clarifying questions).

When these children grow up, we see these narcissistic parents engage in infantilizing. In other words, this parent cannot accept that the child grows up into his or her own unique identity and adult self. The parent cannot tolerate the idea of not being needed, desired, or appreciated.

Thus, these parents will attempt to sabotage the natural, developmental process of adulthood. Some try to do this in subtle ways (such as making minor decisions for the child). Others will do it in far more destructive forms (disregarding boundaries, assuming complete responsibility for the child’s well-being).

The Future for Children

Growing up in a narcissistic family can be traumatic for all children. Though the narcissist’s child requires love, affection, flexibility, and encouragement, he or she receives the continuous message that their needs are unreasonable and insulting. It’s a troubling dynamic, and it’s one that can impact a child for the rest of their life.

Healing from the childhood wounding inflicted by the narcissistic parent takes time, but recovery and redefinition of love and acceptance are possible if actions are taken to remove children from toxic environments.  

The best gift you can give your children is your own healing

Join my course The Break Free Program

You will learn how to…

  • Begin living congruently with your desire to live a healed life without feeling guilty
  • How to implement ‘Extreme Modified Contact’ if you share custody with a narcissist
  • How to find your lost self, even years after narcissistic abuse
  • How to smash and sever emotional hooks that keep you prisoner”
    + so much more!

You’ll receive multi-media training (printables and videos) to help you set limits and create stronger boundaries against emotional manipulation that has caused you to act out of character.  Take the course on your own time, at your own pace. Your subscription never expires, and you can come back and review a lesson anytime you need.

Learn more here.

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Olivia says May 16, 2022

Thanks so much for this article. It’s hard to find advice it you have a narcissistic parent, all the advice is for if you have a narcissistic partner.
I identify with all these points, especially the walking on eggshells, never knowing if it’s going to be a good or bad day. And the lack of attunement to feelings, lack of conflict resolution skills etc. I realised quite young that my mother only had a few emotions- anger and being offended. Everything made her angry or offended to various degrees, and whatever I did was wrong. I got away from her as soon as I could, in my early 20s.

Casey Lynn says June 24, 2021

It’s been 4 yrs. since I left my narcissistic husband. After my mom passed away, he refused to acknowledge my existence. There was a day he got aggressive with our youngest daughter, where she had climbed on top of our mini fridge and spilt a drink. He became outraged and grabbed her by the hair of the head and slung her to the floor. There were locks of her hair dangling from between his fingers,as he stood there completely emotionless, seeming not one bit remorseful having just cause our daughter physical pain. Only thing I could bring myself to do was embrace my child and comfort her. I knew I needed to save my children and myself from this place.

    D'Ann Gregory says May 15, 2022

    I have been in your exact shoes. I put up with it for 20 years. My lightbulb came on when my ex held my daughter up by her neck to our sliding glass doors. I then filed for divorce. I knew it was going to be rough and that it was. I lost everything of assets I had.

    Today I have re built myself and have my own house, 2 cars, and most importantly A Peace of Mind!

Aurora says July 16, 2020

I grew up in a narcissistic home as well. My father was a selfish and cruel pig of a man who favored my brother because he wanted a boy. I was both invisible and a scapegoat who was basically treated like I never mattered. I only mattered when I had something my father wanted, and after he got it he pretended I didn’t exist. When I said no I had the third degree and horrible emotional abuse. I still deal with feelings of never being good enough and inadequacy, feeling shame and self blame to this day. Everything that happened was INSTANTLY my fault. I faced constant worthlessness and I felt I was often unwanted because I wasn’t a boy. Now that I’m away from home, I feel better but somehow I still feel anxious without knowing why or jump at every little noise. I was scolded when I tried to defend myself or cried, being told to shut up or he “would give me a reason to bawl about”. Upon hearing that for years, I’ve bottled up my emotions in fear I’d be facing his wrath again. I often considered as a child that he wouldn’t miss me if I ran away, yet I was too scared to leave in blind fear. I still have problems expressing my emotions and I often feel subconsiously that no one cares and I am left to my own devices to cope. But thank you for this information.

Elle Larrea says July 11, 2020

In response to Vc omg i tried to do what i said and i lost my daughter and everything else i have nothing

Vc says July 6, 2020

So sorry for your experience! It sounds like a nightmare, and one I fear for my daughter. Although I left before she was born, I am still unable to protect her as Family Courts do little to protect her, in which I naively believed was their true concern in making their rulings.
All I can say is check laws in your state, I discovered mine only requires one person Involved in communications, to have knowledge of recording them. I now have multiple recording apps on my phone. One for phone calls, and a voice recorder for conversations face to face.
I’m praying for these to shed light on the “man behind the mask” to be exposed for his true self.
Maybe something like this could assist you, if you need a way to discredit “him”. You might have a chance to seek a legal change for guardianship rights. I’d also check with state departments regarding policies, codes of conduct, and ethics, then file complaints against social workers license, and nurses. You might have to put on a farce just as “he” did, but never forget to document in any way that would be acknowledged by a court. You can collaborate and use their own words, and conflicting stories against them to show lack of professionalism, and “his” lies. I pray you don’t have to experience being kept from your own mother, or effectively, losing her while she is still alive.
Hope this might help in some way.

Sandy says November 25, 2019

I am. The only child to a narc mother. It was detinately ahell of aride. Alo t of what Kim wrote makes sence. But kim you left out being set up to always fail. I can not do anything right. She says we have i could never raise them without her. Zpent my teen years wit her being je@lous because her men looked at me she wouldnt protect me or stop them.
Treats me like a kid still.when l m !_ 49. Butt3ll$people howibu. Life of constant:.uilt

Anonymous says November 2, 2019

My stepfather treated us like a child,
but wanted us to act like an adult …
Very confusing, help me figure that one out?!?
Showed absolutely NO Love.
A lot of beatings – no positive communication mostly no communication at all…..

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Gia says April 3, 2019

So many amazing insights here. Whenever I get down on myself or forget why I behave the way I do, sometimes I often forget that this all stems from my childhood and I need to continue my healing process from this. It takes time and patience with myself…the same I grant to others. Thx, Kim for your invaluable insight.

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Julie Burdick says February 17, 2019

I really wish you would write something about narcissistic fathers and parental alienation. I know so many who abuse their children in this way. How can it be prevented? How can one deal with it when it does happen?

    Susan says July 12, 2019

    Yes, I agree! I keep hearing a lot from experts about victims of narcissistic mothers but hardly anything about narcissistic fathers. Which strikes me as odd because most of the people commenting on narcissistic-abuse-awareness sites are women who’ve been burned by men, and some experts have said there are more narcissistic men than women.

    Also interesting would be the differences between how narcissistic mothers act and how they affect their children (male versus female) and how narcissistic fathers act and how it affects their children (if any).

      Melissa says January 16, 2020

      It is predominantly men that are narcissistic. There are of course women narcissists. The large majority of emotional domestic abuse victims are women and children. Men are of course abused too, bit the majority of men who are abused are in a same sex relationship with…a man.

    VC says July 6, 2020

    Agreed…..this has been an exhausting 9 years of this, and now back in court, in which feels like a fight for my daughters life and my own… for some reason the laws such as “ the accuser, claiming absolute false claims, shall carry the burden of proof” doesn’t seem to be upheld in family court. Yet I have all the documentation to discredit, it’s like I’m on trial based off nothing but fallacies created by my ex… at what point do they take into consideration the constant emotional abuse and attempts at alienation? Court papers apparently mean nothing, and when they choose to go against court orders repeatedly, police can do nothing. Then we actually have to pay to go to court in attempt to hold them accountable, and wait to see if the judge chooses to place them in contempt. To constantly have people accuse me of doing what he has done to me, and know that in order to prove them wrong, would require anyone actually interested in my daughters best interest, to go through the ludicrous amount of documentation I have acquired over the years. So, without have an insurmountable limit of financial abilities to pay, it’s all rendered useless. Seriously???
    Very hopeful for the woman and her case against the judge in family courts in Illinois! Family courts need to take a much deeper look at their process, and should be required to observe any and all documentation that is pertinent to either claims. It states use can question authenticity of a claim, (carry the burden) of claims filed. Then when it’s apparent they were concocted manipulative claims, therefore causing stress and damage to accused. Last I checked, perjury is punishable by law.. Why does his mean nothing in Family Court??

Bianca says January 22, 2019

This is heart breaking. For almost 7 years I watched my ex partner treat his children exactly as you have described. It left me with a bitter taste in my mouth when I saw it but at first I thought that all I experienced was a different (and working) parenting style/approach.

As with their mother, his children were put in another conflict of loyalty when I decided to leave. When I see them now, I hardly recognise the eldest. It is like she is a completely different person with no clue as to who she is. The youngest has severe social (anxiety) issues and has trouble trusting anyone.
This behaviour in both children is far less apparent when they are with their mother; the woman who has always been angry with me for hijacking Daddy’s love from her children with my own two children, whom, by the way, were severely traumatised by my ex partner too (and luckily getting over this quite well).

It took me some time before the black veil I was under was lifted but I am so glad that all three of us ( my daughter, my son and I) got away from this miscreant. I still feel bad for his children though and possibly also for his new girlfriend.

I hope that one day they will see the truth and act accordingly too.

Thank you for your article.

Tommy says January 12, 2019

One powerful explanation of the unfortunate confusion . I keep commited to continue to learn and digest as much information as possible throughout my older years along my journey of life .When I was 17 years of age receiving my first tattoos I could never have realized that this I have just read .Was relevant through my misunderstood journey called life .I feel this is a real blessing too be able to understand why I am me . As my mouth hit the floor I now have a understanding of the affects this behavior had on me . The shaking and emotions ran all over me .Finally answers of truths can now take hold of the future of now knowing it was not me .Thankyou all with love and blessings greater than air .I knew unconditional love was part of me thank god I am able to give it willingly too the beautiful people that mean so much too ME .

Tracey says December 27, 2018

I stayed with my Marc for the sake of keeping my children safe, and by that I mean that I stayed so he didn’t get them alone to abuse them…I thought that as long as I was there then at least I could protect them. Well that all ended up so badly for me and my children because we did end up apart and going through the worst custody battle I could ever imagine and that’s still happening. My children have been physically and sexually abused at this point as well by that monster and still it’s me who’s being put on trial yet again because our narc is claiming he’s so hurt from being alienated from my children. He also is claiming it’s me who’s mentally unstable. It’s the hardest and scariest fight I have ever been through and I’m so scared for my children and even myself at this point. The legal system never seems to care at all what he’s done to the kids and they are only two and four. They listen to all his lies and seemingly couldn’t care less that this is nothing to do with me not caring for my children it’s completely the opposite and that’s me doing everything in my power to save them and protect them. I’m honestly so afraid right now I have no way to accurately describe the feelings the three of us live through every single day.

    Anonymous says February 17, 2019

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this! I went through it, too, and it took three years before I finally won sole custody. Once that happened, my ex completely lost interest in my daughter and faded out of her life. He just wanted to torture me. Get a good lawyer. Document EVERYTHING. This is the age of the father, in which everyone in the legal system (the country, really!) seems to assume children are better off with their fathers than their mothers, no matter what, but you can prove otherwise. Make sure you never say (or write!) anything negative about him to or in front of your children or any of their caregivers. Don’t make it difficult for him to see the children — I know you’re trying to protect them from him, but that makes you look bad in court and he’ll only wind up with more time with them if you go that route. Get them a good therapist with experience with parental alienation. If you really believe they’ve been sexually abused, take them to the doctor. Accept that your children are going to have to spend time with your ex. In this country even abusive fathers get time with their children. Your job is to look like you want them to have a good relationship with him (even if you don’t), and try to make that happen. If you don’t let him know how much all of this bothers you, he won’t be entertained by it and will eventually stop and go away. Try to make him think you’re happy he’s spending time with the kids so that you get a break — he might start skipping visits if he thinks they’re helping you. It’s awful and scary when you’re in the middle of this, but you can come out ahead.

    Vc says July 6, 2020

    I feel for you….I feel so emotionally exhausted and defeated at times. The attacks only continue, have even escalated to him trying to run me off the road…he said she said..nothing to be done about it. My daughter gets physically ill and vomits because of how worried she is about being with her dad, or displeasing him. He’s got financial abilities I do not, and I’ve had issues with obtaining counsel due to my case, and the fact that it is high conflict…worst thing I have ever dealt with in my life, and has taken it’s toll on me physically as it has gone on for so long.
    Hope your case ended well and you were/are able to get actual justice for you and your children’s sake.

Anon says December 27, 2018


Glad I found you, your insight and depth of narcissism is breathtaking. Keep up the good work.

CeeLee says December 10, 2018

This article describes my mother exactly. I’m 55 years old and still have trouble trusting people and my own judgement. My mother made my whole family enablers to her ever changing moods and made us all feel we were failures because she was never satisfied with anything, except alcohol and later on with drugs. It has been a long climb to a place where I can trust my own feelings and perceptions of reality. I’m glad I never married nor had children, so that cycle of abuse ended with me.

    Susan says July 12, 2019

    I’m the same age as you, but my story’s a bit different (covert narc father/empathic mother, no alcohol or drugs, sister became the “Golden Child” to whom I was always negatively compared when not getting the silent treatment for weeks or years at a time, I’m on my second marriage) …

    But I’m totally with you on being SOOOOOO glad I didn’t have children (for many reasons, one of them being that I knew I would make a terrible mother and never had a romantic partner I felt could make up for my inadequacy–although, despite “inexplicably” being what I called a “narcissist magnet” in relationships, it wasn’t until I was 54, AFTER my father succeeded in verbally abusing my mother into a state of CONSTANT stress and finally a nursing home, four years after he told me she had dementia–which neither I nor my sister could believe–and belonged in a nursing home, proceeding to use her risk factors of high blood pressure and diabetes, which she had kept well under control up until then–to keep her in a state of CONSTANT STRESS, since he couldn’t convince me because I live next door and would see/talk to her at LEAST a couple of times a week until then … and after which she kept running over to my house to get AWAY from his ever-increasing abuse, meanwhile running a smear campaign against me with my sister via e-mail to the point where SHE started giving me the silent treatment without any explanation about three years ago based on what they diagnosed as a MILD case of dementia–that I FINALLY figured out my strange attraction/attractiveness to narcissists was that HE was a narc. Seeing ME as her primary caregiver, which my mother approved of, the nursing home social worker told me that she wasn’t in the dementia ward because her dementia was actually mild and that putting her in the dementia ward wouldn’t be beneficial (in fact, before my “father” had her incarcerated there, her PCP had recommended she attend a day program and have a home nurse; “coincidentally” enough, my “father” had been put in charge of administering her medications). Unfortunately, I was still learning that narcissism was more than just gaslighting and the silent treatment and only later about smear campaigns or that the narc/”codependent” dynamic runs in families and that my mother was actually an empath/victim of his abuse–rather than my previous belief that they only argued constantly because they were incompatible and my mother had stayed with him “for the sake of the children” (my sister and me, which I now realize was a mistake) and because, as she told me when I asked her why she didn’t just leave him when he started treating her so badly, she took her wedding vows seriously (probably trauma bonding), and that she was tough enough to handle him (I’d never taken sides in their constant complaining about each other to me because I loved them both, and she had long ago made excuses to me for his behavior, saying he’d been abused as a child and that it was just a “thing” in his family that there was ALWAYS somebody not speaking to someone else, to which I attributed his extremely damaging silent treatments–which she got him to stop doing to me in my 20s or so, but I now wish he’d kept it up instead of gaslighting and word-salading me into believing if only I did this or that, he would finally see that I wasn’t the bad seed he thought I was! All those concepts, in addition to the smear campaign, were things I only learned AFTER it was too late!)

    So I was still speaking to him only as necessary regarding my mother’s care (but learning to recognize the gaslighting and TRYING to grey rock) when I mistakenly let it slip (still having ZERO inkling that he would ever INTENTIONALLY harm ANYONE, much less my mother, whom he had told me he really loved but it was SHE who for some reason he couldn’t understand wasn’t loving him back but was always yelling at him–i.e., playing the victim, and I was still buying it!) that she wasn’t in the dementia ward. All of a sudden he demanded to know how I knew that, like it came as a huge SHOCK to him, and I naively told him it was because I had made friends with all her nurses, and (due to my frequent visits, signing her out to take her shopping or out for lunch, and basically acting as her translator since nobody else could understand what she was trying to convey after her last ministroke had taken away much of her vocabulary, whereas she and I were so close that we could pretty much finish each other’s sentences, whereas my “father” always criticized everyone ELSE if they didn’t conform to HIS very rigid comprehension) the staff there all treated ME as her primary caretaker and told me everything that was going on with her. Suddenly HE started “visiting” her on weekday mornings, when he knew I couldn’t go (after which my mother told me a few times that she couldn’t stand it when he visited because he’s so self-centered and got bored with her so he brought in a portable DVD player ostensibly as a gift for her, but she didn’t care to watch TV anymore; he actually bought it for HIMSELF to pass the time while pretending to care about her!) instead of only stopping by for an hour on Saturdays with my sister and HER family, including sometimes my nieces, with whom my sister cut me off from all contact as he HAD been doing. Meanwhile, he started enacting his plan by making friends with the head nurse (to the point that my mother believed they were having an affair, which at the time I ALSO couldn’t believe he would be capable of, whereas now I DO!) AND the social worker–who leaves at 3 p.m., so I’d never met her either, only talked to her on the phone. Well, about four months into her incarceration, right around Easter of 2017, I got a certified letter inexplicably banning me from visiting my mother based on my allegedly screaming and yelling and disturbing people, but when I called the social workers, she adamantly REFUSED to tell me WHEN this supposedly happened but INSISTED it wasn’t retaliation for the night that an agency nurse (one of the ones who steal things from patients’ rooms, according to the regular nurses) REFUSED to look at the open wound on my mother’s foot and kept picking a FIGHT with me EVERY TIME I approached him for something (like the sandwich the nurses regularly had on their cart–and he had one too and didn’t know it–with her name pre-printed on it for when she got hungry later at night, and THAT day, she told me she hadn’t had lunch because people’s kids were visiting, running around, and taking things off her lunch tray. So I tried to contact the hospital system that owns the nursing home, and they told me to file a complaint, which I immediately did. But the social worker SWORE up and down that the certified letter restricting my visits to an hour at a time, supervised at the nurses’ station, requiring 24 hours, and only between 1-3 p.m., when they KNEW I wasn’t able to get there, was just “coincidentally” dated the day after my complaint and in NO WAY any sort of retaliation for the complaint (which would be illegal). And when I turned to my “father” for help, he pretended to KNOW that I had been screaming and yelling (which I WASN’T) and kept gaslighting me when I said that I hadn’t and tried to explain really DID happen. And one of the FEW times I was able to visit her after that, he had managed to set up the situation so that he KNEW it would trigger a panic attack (insisting, repeatedly via e-mail despite my concern that I hadn’t received any letter to confirm it, that the head nurse told him very clearly that there were NO restrictions whatsoever on my visits). I left the building before it became full-blown, but he then used my panic disorder to convince the social worker that I’m a danger to my mother and that I (of all people!) “upset” her and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to see or speak to her again. So now if I try calling there, the social worker just refers me back to my “father,” since he’s legally her “next of kin,” while he kept telling me that it was the SOCIAL WORKER who was the gatekeeper. Despite HIS having left a signed note next to the nurses’ station–the only phone provided for ALL the patients to use, so my mother was afraid to use it, stating that they were NOT to let me speak to my mother and telling ME that I can’t ever see her again until I “learn how to act like a normal person” and that my “temper tantrums” (HIS term for my panic attacks) won’t get me what I want. (As if I ENJOY having panic attacks or that I’ve EVER gotten anything I wanted by having one???) And also, for good measure, adding that the entire staff was afraid of me. (Also, in the only letter I ever got from them restricting my visits in the first place that, if I didn’t obey all their restrictions–OR if my mother exhibited any “behaviors,” whatever THAT means or as if I even have any CONTROL over her “behaviors”!) after I left, they’d have me removed from the premises by security or the police! And that’s where things have stood for the past two years … apart from my father having told me a few months ago (again by e-mail) that my mother is now so frail that she can’t be transported OUT of the building anymore requiring all her doctors go THERE to see HER. (She could already be DEAD now for all I know!)

    So (sorry, I got all rambly there, but I’ve been in a constant state of anxiety and grief over my mother and having had the rug pulled out from under me with the realization that the close, loving family I THOUGHT I had all this time was a total illusion held together solely by my mother’s force of will and constant battle against my “father,” who, not only was never really a father to me–and NOW he has total influence over the grandkids as well, whom my mother had taught to be loving and kind while being USED by my sister and her self-centered husband as a 24/7 on-call babysitter until she started showing signs of illness. (I mean, what kind of parents go to DISNEY WORLD, where they’d been like 10 times already before even HAVING children, leaving their five-year-old twins behind while having a grandparent come and stay at their house and babysit for a WEEK??? And then FRAME the photo of THEMSELVES having fun on one of the rides to display in the living room???!!!)

    Anyway, my point was that I too am SOOOOOO glad I never had children and have PARTIALLY ended the cycle. But I feel sorry for my nieces … and, of course, have no way to get in touch with them and make sure THEY know what narcissism is and don’t perpetuate the cycle! (Even though they just turned 18, I have NO DOUBT that my “father” has teamed up with my ex-sister’s gaslighting husband to SMEAR me to them just like he tried to smear my mother to me and almost had me believing she was a hypochondriac who could make herself deathly ill and require hospitalization at will, just to get attention, except it turns out that I have the same rare genetic disease whose symptoms get progressively worse with time as my mother since I’m coming down with the same symptoms she supposedly “willed” herself to get, and I wouldn’t will them on ANYONE! (And one of the twins has signs that SHE may have it too–and many of the worst symptoms can be prevented with early diagnosis–but my then-sister wouldn’t HEAR of it when I suggested she get checked out; in fact, I think THAT was the last time she spoke to me.) He would even mock his own sister to us to turn us against him and gaslight me by accusing me of “reminding” me of her. (How could I remind him so much of his one sister who moved across the country when I was about five years old and whom I had only MET maybe five times in total in my life?) So with my mother (the only GOOD influence on our nuclear family, whom he had moved away from HER family when I was four and my sister was about a year old, and it was the 1960s, so she wasn’t in a position to divorce him) when the company he worked for was closing down in that city and accepted a job in another city, where my sister and I grew up with no cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, unlike all the other kids I knew, and had no way of knowing our upbringing wasn’t normal or even HEALTHY, without ANY discussion with my mother, and to a HOUSE his father paid for and helped him pick out–again with NO discussion with my mother. (And when it came time to put her in the nursing home, he actually believed it was HIS house alone and my mother wasn’t legally entitled to HALF of EVERYTHING acquired by either of them once they were married!)

    Actually, I wish my PARENTS had never had children … and that my mother had never had the misfortune of meeting the foul monster that sired me. (She even told me she only got engaged to him after HIS father had called up her father and LIED to him about my mother just to get HER in trouble. Having just turned 18, she was so upset with her father for believing the lie, she got engaged just to get out of the house. And she had second thoughts on her wedding day but went through with it anyway. I always knew my mother resented him for moving us so far away from her family–who were very close-knit unlike his inbred pack of psychopaths–yes, “psychosis” is on his grandfather’s death certificate as a cause of death–he did try to commit suicide after his daughter died, while his wife was a particularly nasty piece of work–and inbred isn’t an exaggeration either; my ex-sister did the shocking genealogy on his side of the family! And my mother told me about the incestuous child molester/rapist living in the very HOUSE my ex-“father” was born in as some sort of “house arrest” to protect the neighboring children from him … and his only living sister unwittingly confirmed everything my mother told me his other now-late sister had told HER.)

    So you’re absolutely right (and so is Ross Rosenberg; is that where you first heard the theory too?): Narcissism and codependency go together and run in families! (I have a proposed corollary, having thought back in my family to the people I did know before they died and based on other stories that have been handed down: The way to tell which of the spouses was the narcissist is that the narcissist always outlives the codependent. Although I hope it will be different for my mother so I can see her again before she dies and straighten out all the lies I know my ex-“father” told her about me and why I stopped visiting! I won’t shed one tear when that maliciously EVIL spawn of Satan living next door to me, in a giant house blocking all the light out of our windows with a view of my old room that later became my mother’s, and his next door–a constant reminder of what he did to my now-absent mother–finally kicks the bucket and finds his reward in hell!!! I never in my wildest dreams imagined the depths to which he was capable of sinking … and ALL of the harm he’s done planned out in detail WELL in advance! He has even MORE my mother never told me about him because she was a decent person and even in the nursing home tried to tell me to be nice to him because he really loved me, as if it weren’t HIS fault he CHOSE to be evil–and knowingly too given how COVERT he is and how he has ALL my friends and the nursing-home staff totally charmed and the so-called “social worker” insisting to me that he’s NOT a narcissist–but all my mom would say was that there was a LOT I didn’t know about him. I only wish she’d understood narcissism and that staying married to one “for the sake of the kids” is an oxymoron because without her, I’m finding it out the hard way!)

    Since I can’t get rid of his evil DNA, I wish there were a legal way to have the name of that fiend and his fiendish family removed from my birth certificate! I HATE my long, stupid, unpronounceable, unspellable maiden name, seeing it on my birth certificate, my old school papers, my old nameplates from desks and offices I had at work; I want NO connection between him and me whatsoever. Since we were torn away from them and I never got to go to my mother’s high school, the same one my cousins went to, and I never had any relatives nearby, I want my mother’s last name, her father’s last name, my cousins’ last name, the last name my grandmother never changed even 48 years after my only REAL grandfather died!

Corinne says November 13, 2018

My mother was a narc, and though I don’t think I am, I do have to admit that when my child was young I had some parenting behaviors that I learned from my mother. It took me a few years to recognize them. I needed her to be perfect in order to see myself as a good mother. Having left my career path for parenting, I needed to be graded and she was my report card. Sick, I know. And I apologize to her still for it. She is tired of that, and we’re very close (the decision to be close to me is hers, I do not force myself on her. That’s my check valve.) The truth is, she was my first child and I needed to do it right or I’d be a failure. That is too much put on a toddler. She’s so wonderful. I’ve learned to be a better listener, to see her for who she is, to encourage her, to back down, to give her space, but I never know what the balance should look like. She’s in therapy. She has anxiety. I wonder every day if I caused it.

    Susan says July 12, 2019

    Kudos to you for having the courage to question whether you were a narcissist and being able to admit to making mistakes–which means you’re NOT a narc. I was my mother’s first-born too, and of course she made mistakes on me that she didn’t make on my sister. All parents make mistakes, but narcissists can’t admit them, even to themselves much less on a public forum. And I think I know how she feels. Even the fact that my mother TRIED to apologize for her “mistakes” means a lot, even though I never felt she owed me any and tried to tell her that. I myself don’t know how I’d have dealt with having an extremely hyperactive, impulsive ADHD first child back when there wasn’t even a socially acceptable name for it. (They used to call it “minimal brain damage,” and, unbeknownst to me at the time, she had taken me to the doctor to find out what was wrong with me after I tried to jump out a second-floor window at school running away from a hated gym teacher, and he told her NOT to have me diagnosed with that label because it would stigmatize me. It also says a lot that your daughter chooses to be close to you. I was MUCH closer to my mother as an adult than my sister, the “perfect” one, turned out to be. My mother was my best friend and the only person who ever truly knew me and loved me unconditionally. That’s not to say we didn’t have our arguments and get angry at each other sometimes, but I think that’s normal in any relationship that lasts for half a century. And for all the times we argued and it turned out I was right, we probably had ten times that many when we still lived under the same roof and she was working and cooking meals every night for a whole family and getting reports of the trouble I’d gotten into at school and my bad grades.

    I have anxiety too and lots more, but I see very clearly now that she’s only human and that SHE’s not the parent who caused my psychological problems. I often wonder what I’d be like now if she had actually divorced my father when they were thinking about it and I was hysterical because I didn’t want to live apart from either of them at 10 years old–and whether I’d even realize the bullet we’d have dodged if she had–but she was his victim as much as, or maybe even MORE than (now that I realize how much she’d been protecting me from him) I was. In fact, *I* still feel guilty for potentially having prevented them from splitting up and how much happier my mother could have been without him! (Then again, knowing now about “The Human Magnet Syndrome” and how little was known about the effects of narcissistic abuse back then–and still is–she could’ve ended up marrying *another* narcissist, and then I’d have had TWO narc-dads! I guess we can’t second-guess our decisions in the past but only learn from them and, hopefully, make better ones in the future. Although I’m still making mistakes. Like learning the hard way what happens when you finally figure out your “father” is a narcissist and then actually TELL him so while he’s in the process of putting your mother in a nursing home because of the dementia he purposely gave her. BTW, in case anybody reading this doesn’t already know … DON’T EVER tell a narcissist they’re a narcissist–at LEAST until you’re ready to cut ALL ties with them, change your name and phone number, and move far away with no forwarding address. And definitely NEVER tell them if they have the power to hurt someone they know you love.)

jackie says November 11, 2018

My mother is a narcissist, I grew up thinking i was the worst person on the planet and that she was a god because she was always right. She hated me and treated me with contempt. Everything in this article hit home. The sad part is that I didn’t realize that she was the sick, abnormal person and I was normal one and none of it was my fault until I was in middle aged. My problem now is that I really can’t stand her but she wants a relationship with me, I don’t know where to draw this line. I find it difficult to have a genuine loving relationship with her because I hate her. I only want to talk about surface stuff and don’t want her to know anything about me or what i’m doing in life.

Elizabeth says October 29, 2018

I am currently trying to get out of a relationship with my daughter’s father. After months of no help from lawyers or the courts, I finally got him out of the house. I’m frustrated because I know he will fight for access to his daughter, but I know it’s more about punishing me than about having a relationship with her. How can we co parent in a healthy manner when he isn’t a healthy individual?

    Anonymous says February 17, 2019

    Pretend you’re happy he’s spending time with her. If he sees it doesn’t bother you, he may fade out of the picture. Mine did.

Alex says October 23, 2018

I have a friend that recently divorced from his narcissistic wife. He currently has custody of their two girls. However, he is still trying to recover from the trauma and constantly fails and attempts to return to her. Since they have children together, no contact will not be able to be done completely. What advice can you give on that or what articles do you have on that topic?

Karen says October 22, 2018

What a powerful article! I identified with all of it so much, I had to read it twice. My narcissistic parents constantly gave or took away their “love” based on how I performed. It was devastating and it has continued on. I was always told “you don’t love US” or “how could you do this to US”, anytime I messed up in any way. I was expected to be perfect, to have zero flaws, to question nothing, and any feeling I had, was coldly denied. It has taken me to the age of 54 to realize what happened to me, and, would be continuing, if I hadn’t walked AWAY. Articles like these are life savers. Thank you!

Michael says October 9, 2018

Hi Kim,

As a father who has just left a toxic relationship at the beginning of this month, I am concerned for my children since they will continue to live with my ex. How can I help them while they remain in that environment? They are both teenagers now, becoming more independant and following their own interests. They are not interested in moving back and forth between us and it doesn’t help that I am in an apartment which is significantly smaller than the house they are in. The apartment does not have separate bedrooms for each of them and I struggle to see how I can make it feel like home to them.

I feel like I am too late to help them. What can I do for them at this point?

Any advice will be appreciated. Take care, and thanks for everything you do!

Karen says October 9, 2018

I wish i would have read this when my adult children were small. In reading this, I see my abuser doing these exact things but I’m also wondering if I did some of this as well.

I’m still trying to escape my abuser who now claims to be homeless, can’t understand why no one including his kids will help him, and does not know where he went wrong. I guess explaing again will be fruitless. I also know that I need to be strong and not let him back.

Escaping has been a long slow process, I know I have C-PTSD, but I am making progress. I’ve come a long way especially this past year.

    Sue says October 12, 2018

    Dear Karen, please stay strong. If pee-wee is homeless, too bad, so sad ;/ such is, evidently, the outcome of his malicious behavior.

Shirley Akpelu says October 9, 2018

I pray my son is able to discard the evil and cling to good deeds that he saw in our home. I did apologize to him for putting him through this abuse and asked forgiveness. I thought it was better to stay with the abuser for the sake of the children. Now I know that was wrong.

    Paige says October 23, 2018

    Me. too.

Helen Byrne says October 9, 2018

I was born into dysfunction.Both parents were narcs/ malignant covert other sadistic and cold.I have endured life long abuse,theres not much of me left.Dont even know who Helen was.x

Anonymous says October 9, 2018

Hi Kim. I recently opened a past wound that my son have experienced from his narc father. I thought I needed to walk him through that situation again because I wasnt able to protect and defend him during that time he got brutally whipped and put inside a hen’s cage. Did I do the right thing? I am trying to correct and process that incident according to his understanding now that we’re almost a year out and free? I wasnt able to defend him because it happened in public having 2 other witnesses and felt that I might aggravate the situation. He’s been shouting at me not to interfere. I fear that I might be making my son relive that memory again and react differently in the long run. I assured my son that we wont be needing to go back to that old life again and that we are safe now.

    Kim Saeed says October 14, 2018

    Hi Anon,

    It’s best to let a professional trauma therapist help your son. It may not be appropriate for him to relive the incident at this time. A trauma specialist would be able to help him process this incident, as well as the many others he endured while you were in that relationship.


Joyce Short says October 9, 2018

What a terrific and insightful post! Well done!

Unfortunately, a Narcissist parent who reads this is likely to think, nope, that wasn’t me. Hopefully; however, children who grew up with these issues will begin to secure the relief and understanding that can lead them onto a healing path.

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