It is very common for narcissists to want to have children, after all, they are still humans and being a parent is a normal desire that most people have. They will be excited about being a parent, they’ll devote an extraordinary amount of time towards preparing themselves to be a parent, they might even go as far as constructing their life around being a parent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have what it takes to be a good parent. 

A good parent is available, responsive, and consistent with their child. A good parent helps their child develop a realistic sense of self by mirroring their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. Narcissists can’t be a good parent because they are incapable of having emotional closeness that good parenting requires.

This article is going to guide you through all of the different reasons that narcissists can’t be good parents and we’ve also gone ahead and created a short video down below explaining one way that narcissism can be passed down to children just so you can grasp a comprehensive understanding of how bad narcissistic parents really are.

A Short Video About Narcissism Being Passed Down to Children

Why Are Narcissists Incapable of the Emotional Closeness That Good Parenting Requires? 

A narcissist’s incapability of the emotional closeness that is required for good parenting originates from their upbringing. It is believed that narcissism originates from a childhood with primary caregivers who are unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with their child. 

This means that the primary caregivers aren’t able to provide their children with the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. 

We cover this, and many other credible theories about the origin of narcissism in our article How Are Narcissists Made but what this level of neglect does to a child is it forces them to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to construct a sense of self. 

For example, a child of an unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregiver will construct their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a really good piano player instead of constructing it through the relationship they have with their primary caregivers because of how neglectful they are. 

Over time an emotionally inadequate approach to constructing a sense of self teaches the child that their true identity isn’t good enough to be acknowledged, accepted, loved, or admired by others. So they develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves because their true identity makes them weak and inadequate. 

a child of a narcissist crying in the mirror

These are very powerful emotions that the child has to manage every single day but because of the neglect they received from their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers, they are far too emotionally inadequate and immature to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their negative emotions.

Instead, this child will use compartmentalization to suppress all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves deep within their psyche and hide them behind the sense of self that they construct from the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment. 

Compartmentalization is defined by the American Psychology Association as “a defense mechanism in which thoughts and feelings that seem to conflict or to be incompatible are isolated from each other in separate and apparently impermeable psychic compartments.” 

They go on to state that, “In the classical psychoanalytic tradition, compartmentalization emerges in response to fragmentation of the ego, which ideally should be able to tolerate ambiguity and ambivalence”.

As this child goes from childhood to adulthood, their inadequate approach to constructing their sense of self makes their sense of self extremely fragile and dependent on the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment. 

It is for this reason that narcissists are so superficial, materialistic, and trivial. They desperately need validation, admiration, and reassurance but in adulthood they need it from society and their peers instead of their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.

When a narcissist experiences something that contradicts the false sense of self that they’ve built for themselves, it destroys the psychological barriers that are holding all of their negative emotions back and compromises their emotional stability. 

One of the biggest contradictions to their false sense of self that narcissists encounter in life is emotional closeness. We spoke about this in our articles Do Narcissists Enjoy Intimacy and Are Narcissists Scared of Commitment but narcissists are terrified of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs that come with being a good parent.

the emotional needs of a child

When parenting with their children, narcissists are going to be unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with their children. They are not going to be able to mirror their child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs because of their own emotional inadequacy and immaturity. Their emotional neglectfulness will lead their child into a damaged sense of self that will affect their lives every single day.

5 Examples of Narcissistic Parenting From Survivors of Parental Narcissistic Abuse

There are five roles that the children of narcissists could potentially have within a narcissistic family structure: the scapegoat, the golden child, the helper child, the invisible child, and the truth teller

We’ve been fortunate enough to connect with five survivors of parental narcissistic abuse who believe that they were one of the roles listed above. They were able to share some memories they had of the way that their narcissist parent treated them to help those who read this article understand more about narcissistic parenting.

We’ve created a short video below that quickly defines each of the roles that children have in a narcissistic family structure so that you can unpack our participants’ stories with all the information that you need to get the most out of this article!

A Short Video Defining the Five Roles That Children In Narcissistic Family Structures Have

How Do Narcissistic Parents Treat the Scapegoat?

Becky, a survivor of parental narcissistic abuse, was the scapegoat in her family. When asked about what her experience as the family scapegoat has been, she told us that the abuse she experienced left her doubting and blaming herself for the abuse, pushed her into a narcissistic romantic relationship in adulthood, depressed, and with an eating disorder. 

“I was my father’s emotional and physical punching bag for 20 years of my life. The most vivid memory that I have of the abuse is when my father was fired from his job. He was a security officer and being fired made him feel inadequate. Of course, he blamed his failure on me. He would just project all of his internalized rage onto me by putting out his cigarettes on the soles of my feet so he could have an excuse if someone else noticed the marks, making me go to school with dirty clothes, and refusing to let me have friends. He took my youth away from me simply because he was too much of a coward to accept his own failures.”

How Do Narcissistic Parents Treat the Golden Child?

Ryan, a survivor of parental narcissistic abuse, was the golden child in his family. During our interview he told us that when he was a teenager his role as the golden child made him very narcissistic. But once his girlfriend in college forced him to see a therapist to work on their issues, he was able to improve himself which left him with a lot of survivor’s guilt because he realized how he contributed to the abuse his family members experienced. 

“For a while it was my older brother who was the golden child. That all changed when my older brother went off on my father and left the family for good. I became the golden child my freshman year in high school because I was the quarterback for the varsity team. My father had already been really absent in my life before the golden child phase but part of me feels like being the golden child made things worse because at the time I felt like our relationship was improving but he was never there for me emotionally. Only when I was doing well at football. I went on to play in college because I knew he would want to be a part of my life but once I got injured, he was gone and I was forgotten.”

How Do Narcissistic Parents Treat the Helper Child?

Jiri, a survivor of parental narcissistic abuse, was the helper child in his narcissistic family. He told us that being the helper child landed him in a narcissistic romantic relationship for 23 years because he believed that he had to give up his own thoughts and feelings to be loved by others. It wasn’t until his younger brother, who was the family scapegoat but found a great therapist and began to heal, helped him see all of the lies and abuse that he was able to escape his marriage and heal himself.

“I did everything for my narcissistic mother. If she needed me to cook for my younger siblings, I would be cooking. If she needed me to skip school to help with the kids because she didn’t want to pay for daycare, I would skip school. If she asked me to discipline my siblings because they were making too much noise, I would rule with an iron fist. I didn’t have a childhood because of her and I missed out on many opportunities in life.”

How Do Narcissistic Parents Treat the Invisible Child?

Oliver, a survivor of parental narcissistic abuse, was the invisible child in her narcissistic family. In her interview she revealed that being the invisible child has had a really negative impact on her life. She has missed out on many opportunities in her personal and professional life because of the belief that her thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs don’t matter that she developed because of the abuse she experienced. 

“Being an invisible child was horrible. I remember during the 2001 Superbowl I fell down the stairs and broke my arm but my father was a huge fan of the Ravens so he didn’t want to take me to the hospital and miss the game and he wouldn’t let my mother take me to the hospital because she was in the middle of cooking dinner. I sat there crying silently for the remainder of the game until my father decided to drive me to the hospital and blame me for ruining such a great night.”

How Do Narcissistic Parents Treat the Truth Teller Child?

Ethan, a survivor of parental narcissistic abuse, was the truth teller child in his narcissistic family. When asked about his experiences as the truth teller he told us that it made him feel insane. His narcissistic stepfather came into his life when he was 15. Everyone in his family was under his power and control except for him. He was kicked out of the house when he was only 16 years old because his stepfather convinced his mother that he was the root of all of their problems.  

“He destroyed my relationship with my mother. To this day I haven’t been able to forgive her for what she allowed him to do to all of us. He would hit my mom, throw me and my siblings around the house, destroy things we needed for school or work, and just terrorized our lives for fun. He made me feel like I was crazy because my mom sided with him because she claimed to love him and my siblings sided with him because of how scary he was. I have a lot of trust issues and it has affected my relationships a lot.”

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

About This Article

We used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create parts of this article to enhance its accuracy and readability. It underwent a strict human editorial process before being published. See additional information.


Duffy, Janette L., and Kristine M. Jacquin. “The Psychological and Legal Risks for Children of Narcissistic Parents.” Fielding Graduate Institute (2017).

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