Growing Up With Narcissistic Parents
When you make your parents look good, you’re praised and put on a pedestal. But when you make a mistake, you are name-called and mocked. You’re the family scapegoat for anything that can and does go wrong. Narcissist parents only care about their needs. They are egotistical and selfish.
But you’re not like them. You may have a deep sense of ‘otherness’ compared to your siblings and parents.
“Even though many victims of narcissistic parents recall they knew something was wrong with their seemingly good parents when they were very young, as they grew up they still ended up blaming themselves for being fundamentally flawed and never good enough.”
Does that sound familiar to you?
Children of Narcissist Parents: Like Growing Up in a Cult
Samantha grew up with a narcissist parent.
During a consultation with me, Samantha said she always felt like Cinderella when she was a child: like she was the unwanted one in a family that had nothing else in common with her. Although her needs were met and she felt loved, Samantha felt she had a job to perform from a young age – keeping her mother happy.
In a cult, the leader makes everything about themselves. They are the “chosen one” and demand to be worshipped. To achieve that, the followers of the cult have roles to play to ensure the leader’s needs are met – and the followers are happy to be told what to do.
How can a family be like a cult?
If you have a narcissistic parent, you know that everything has to be about them. They insist on the spotlight being on them at all times. Everyone else in the family is responsible for keeping them happy.
The family members have a choice: go along with their demands willingly or face their wrath. There is a matriarch or patriarch who imposes their values on the family members, just as in a religious cult. Any family member who does not follow their rules and demands will be scapegoated.
It’s not unusual for one member of the family (sometimes the person who marries in) to take the role of the scapegoat as the others fight for survival.
That’s what happened with Samantha. As the oldest of three children, Samantha often had to care for her younger siblings as a child so her mother could do what she wanted. Unequipped for that task, any fights between her siblings, missed homework or forgotten school lunches – was all Samantha’s “fault.”
The Narcissist Family Often Portrays an Image of Success
Samantha’s father was in the military and often absent from home for long periods. Even when home, he worked long hours at the base. He spent little time with her.
Her younger siblings were needy and seemed to take after their mother. As a result, Samantha felt out of place and isolated. She often spent time alone in her room reading and keeping out of the way unless needed.
A shy and quiet person, she was berated and negatively compared to her siblings. Her needs were also undervalued as she was placed in the role of a secondary caregiver with little consideration for her own needs.
But to the outside world, Samantha’s family was a perfect one. Samantha did well at school and graduated as a nurse. But the years of living in a family war zone had taken their toll on her.
The Consequences of Narcissist Parents
Samantha suffered significant impacts due to her narcissist mother:
- Low self-esteem and confidence issues
- Never feeling like she fit in anywhere except work – where she was helping people
- Growing up with a co-dependent personality type: she could only get a sense of self-worth from others by meeting their needs and making them happy
Samantha wasn’t aware of the toll her narcissistic mother had taken on her life until she came to visit me for help following the breakup of a toxic relationship.
Breaking Away from a Narcissist: Learn to Set Boundaries
Samantha could not overcome the feelings of being different and isolated from others until she met Mark – who made her feel loved and special.
Mark got on incredibly well with her mother and the rest of the family – which Samantha couldn’t understand until a year or so into their relationship, when he started to exhibit the same narcissistic traits of her mother: blaming her for things going wrong and making her the scapegoat for his unhappiness. Samantha knew things needed to change.
Change is possible – for Samantha and for you. You CAN escape the grip of a family cult by developing an understanding of the often complex dynamics – and learning to put appropriate boundaries in place to protect your sanity and your autonomy.
If Samantha’s story is similar to your own, reach out to me for a consultation. Together, we can work on restoring your self-esteem, setting boundaries, and helping you to build fulfilling relationships.
Developing elegant solutions to complex personal issues
Daniel Lichtman MA (Couns Psych)
Daniel offers single session and multi-session packages of in-person and online counseling. Online coaching allows you to gain support privately and discretely, wherever you are in the world.
Registered Psychotherapist (PACFA Australia) and Certified Transformational Coach (Circling Institute, USA) with over 8,000 hours experience.