It can be really hard to figure out if your parents are narcissistic or not because of how good narcissists are at disguising their abuse as love.
7 Helpful Signs That You Have Narcissistic Parents
- They Have a Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
- They Are Preoccupied With Fantasies
- They Only Associate With Other People They Believe to be Special or High Status
- They Have an Excessive Need for Admiration
- They Have a Sense of Entitlement
- They Are Interpersonally Exploitative
- They Lack Empathy
This article is a thorough exploration of these seven signs of narcissistic parents and will give you the information that you need to make conscious and well-informed decisions that protect you from your potentially narcissistic parents.
They Have a Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
The first defining characteristic of narcissism is a grandiose sense of self-importance.
It is an unrealistic sense of specialness and superiority that causes an individual to truly believe that they are unique and better than others.
If you have a parent who has a grandiose sense of self-importance, there’s a good chance that they are narcissistic.
They Are Preoccupied With Fantasies
The second defining characteristic of narcissism is a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
This is a very important characteristic to pay attention to because it highlights just how delusional narcissists can be.
You see, the beliefs that narcissists have about themselves (i.e. they are special, unique, and superior to others) are rarely supported by reality.
The truth is that deep down narcissists feel insecure, inadequate, worthless, unlovable, unwanted, and weak.
However, they are too emotionally immature to manage these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions by themselves so they have to find other alternatives.
One of these alternatives is a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
These fantasies also allow them to maintain the unrealistic beliefs that they have about themselves and suppress their low self-esteem and emptiness.
In other words, the fantasies that narcissists have are lies that they tell themselves about who they want to be seen as and this helps them hide who they truly are.
One of the signs that your parent has a narcissistic preoccupation with fantasies is their response to people who they believe are a threat to their fantasies.
You see, if a narcissist suspects that someone is trying to expose them for who they truly are, and subsequently, invalidate their fantasies, they will become extremely defensive and fly into a narcissistic rage.
This defensiveness and rage puts them in a position from when (where?) they can protect their fantasies by keeping people at a distance.
Another sign that your parents have a narcissistic preoccupation with fantasies is their eagerness to associate themselves with people that they think have reached success as they would like.
In fact, this is actually the next defining characteristic of narcissism that we are going to talk about so let’s go on ahead and move onto the next section.
They Only Associate With Other People They Believe to Be Special or High Status
The third defining characteristic of narcissism is a belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.
This belief that narcissists have is a by-product of their preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
In the previous section we mentioned that one of the ways that narcissists protect their fantasies is by getting extremely defensive and using narcissistic rage to keep people at a distance when they feel threatened.
Well, another way that narcissists try to protect their fantasies is by only associating themselves with people who they believe are special or high-status.
By doing this, it is much easier for the narcissist to convince both themselves and others of the unrealistic beliefs that they have about themselves (i.e. their fantasies).
How can you spot this trait in your suspected narcissistic parent?
If you take a closer look at the relationship that your parents have with the people they view as special or high-status, you may notice that they don’t contribute to the group dynamic in the same way as their successful, powerful, beautiful, brilliant, etc., friend/associate does.
This is a huge sign that your parents may be narcissistic. You see, narcissists can talk a big game, but that is only because they are trying to be kept in the special or high-status circle that they’ve created for themselves.
Narcissists rarely have the qualities required to back up the unrealistic beliefs that they have about themselves because they have an inflated ego that is not matched with what is happening around them.
They Have an Excessive Need for Admiration
The fourth defining characteristic of narcissism is an excessive need for admiration.
Narcissists have something called fragile high self-esteem.
This means that their feelings of self-worth are unstable, uncertain, and based on unrealistically positive self-views, while simultaneously being entirely dependent on external validation and self-deception.
As a result, narcissists tend to have an excessive need for admiration.
This is commonly referred to as narcissistic supply.
Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that narcissists receive from their external environment.
Now, we are aware that we told you in the previous section that narcissists have low self-esteem.
The reason that we said this is because deep down narcissists feel insecure, inadequate, worthless, unlovable, unwanted, and weak.
These painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions are attached to their true identity.
That said, narcissists work extremely hard to suppress their true identity because they lack the emotional skills one would need to manage the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that narcissists have.
They do this by building a falsified identity that supports the unrealistic beliefs that they have about themselves (i.e. their fantasies) out of narcissistic supply.
To maintain this falsified identity, narcissists need a consistent flow of narcissistic supply, hence their excessive need for admiration.
Their excessive need for admiration is the origin of a narcissist’s fragile high self-esteem and it isn’t attached to their true identity, it is attached to their falsified identity.
How can you spot a narcissist’s excessive need for admiration?
One of the most common ways that narcissists seek admiration from their children is by creating a golden child that they can live vicariously through.
A golden child is a child who is the narcissistic parent’s favorite child. They are often held in high esteem by others.
Sadly, narcissists don’t genuinely like the golden child. They only view them as a source of narcissistic supply.
When the golden child is doing something that provides the narcissistic parent with narcissistic supply, the narcissistic parent will “reward” them with attention.
But the second the golden child doesn’t provide the narcissistic parent with enough supply, the narcissistic parent will discard them like they do with everyone else who doesn’t give them enough narcissistic supply.
This dynamic in a family setting is a huge sign of a narcissist’s excessive need for admiration but there are many more.
Narcissists are constantly behaving in ways that allow them to be reminded of how great they are.
If you have a narcissistic parent, you’ll likely feel emotionally drained around them because narcissists are notorious for constantly taking from you while giving nothing in return.
As you can imagine, this is incredibly draining for those that interact with them.
They Have a Sense of Entitlement
The fifth defining characteristic of narcissism is a sense of entitlement.
This refers to a sense of deservingness or being owed a favor when little or nothing has been done to deserve special treatment.
Now, one could argue that even non-narcissistic people have a sense of entitlement sometimes.
This would be true. We all have felt entitled to something at one point or another.
But the sense of entitlement that narcissists have is different and far more extreme.
You see, when a non-narcissistic person feels entitled, it is typically because of one of their accomplishments.
The sense of entitlement that narcissists have originates from the unrealistic beliefs that they have about themselves (i.e. their fantasies.)
Because of this, narcissists often create an image of themselves that portrays them as competent and/or high achieving, even in the absence of proof.
This causes them to have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment and they do not modify this expectation based on what is happening around them.
Narcissists truly believe that they are the center of attention and things should be done for them.
They can’t even be bothered to consider others in their expectations.
How can you spot this trait in your narcissistic parent?
One of the core aspects of a narcissist’s sense of entitlement is their belief that there should be automatic compliance with their expectations.
This belief prevents them from being able to accept, or even acknowledge, the perceptive of others.
The unrealistic beliefs that they have about themselves trap them inside a fantasy world where they view themselves as the best at everything.
Because of this, if they have an expectation of what you should do or how something should be done, they expect immediate compliance.
To them, if you don’t comply it means that you don’t see or understand how truly great they are.
They will almost always punish you for this with a variety of different manipulation tactics that are designed to remind you that they are the ones in charge and that they are in control of the relationship.
They Are Interpersonally Exploitative
The sixth defining characteristic of narcissism is interpersonally exploitative behavior.
This refers to the narcissist’s tendency to exploit others and show no regard or empathy for others’ emotions or interests.
Some of the most common tactics that narcissists use to do this are physical intimidation, baiting, gaslighting, and triangulation.
When someone physically threatens you, it is called physical intimidation.
For example, imagine you’re having an argument with an abusive/manipulative person.
They could try to physically intimidate you by standing up, towering over you, and balling up their fist like they are about to swing on you.
Baiting is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone says or does something manipulative to get you to engage in a negative interaction with them.
For example, imagine that your narcissistic parent knows that you are insecure about your acne.
While at a party, they whisper in your ear, “Your acne looks terrible right now, couldn’t you have washed your f*cking face before you came here and embarrassed me?”
This would be considered baiting.
Gaslighting is a manipulation that occurs when someone says or does something that doubts or denies another person’s reality.
Narcissists use gaslighting to get others to question their own sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
For example, if you confront your narcissistic parent because they called you stupid and you wanted an apology but they said, “What are you talking about, that never happened.”
This would be considered gaslighting.
Triangulation is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party to create a power imbalance.
For example, imagine that you are having an argument with your narcissistic parent about something that has nothing to do with your siblings.
If your parents said, “(your sibling’s name), can you please get in here and talk to your brother/sister because I have had it with him.”
This would be considered triangulation.
They know that it is very unlikely that your sibling is going to side with you against them so they bring them into the conversation to create a power imbalance.
They Lack Empathy
The seventh defining characteristic of narcissism is a lack of empathy.
When someone lacks empathy, they don’t have the ability to understand and/or share the feelings of another.
They also can’t self-reflect on the impact that they have on other people.
For example, those who lack empathy often criticize/punish others for expressing their emotions.
Imagine that you came home crying because you were being bullied at school.
If your parents lack empathy, they may respond by saying something like “If you didn’t do those things, you wouldn’t be bullied.”
The reason that narcissist’s can’t connect to other people’s circumstances is because they don’t view others as people with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their own.
They largely view other people as sources or narcissistic supply. That’s it.
4 Signs Someone Lacks Empathy
1. Constant Criticism:
It is common for those who lack empathy to constantly criticize others.
This is because they are incapable of empathizing with others so they tend to only see faults in others because they don’t/can’t understand that everyone makes mistakes.
2. Poor Emotional Control:
Low emotional intelligence is linked to lack of empathy.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage one’s own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.
Both empathy and emotional intelligence are crucial for regulating one’s emotional responses.
So, people who are low on either often overreact and have outbursts of anger/impatience.
This could manifest in the form of inappropriate comments or an insensitive attitude to other people’s feelings.
Either way, poor emotional control is a sign of a lack of empathy.
3. Can’t Read Body Language:
People who have empathy are typically good at paying attention to the body language of others and acting accordingly.
Those who lack empathy have a difficult time picking up on body language cues so they often respond in ways that upset others.
4. They Never Say Sorry or Admit They’re Wrong:
It is common for lack of empathy to be accompanied by a belief that he or she is always right.
Because of this, it often creates unresolved/one-sided arguments and can eventually have a negative impact on personal relationships.
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Labuschagne, Nicola. Narcissism, family of origin, and career self-efficacy: a comparative study of university students. Diss. 1996.