How to Deal With a Narcissistic Parent


Emotionally healthy children grow up with the need to develop their internal sense of self and should learn to develop autonomy with parents who are emotionally available enough to foster these traits in a warm and supportive environment. Unfortunately, not all parents are equipped to help their children learn to develop those skills for themselves, especially if the parent possess a personality disorder such as narcissism.

Some parents with narcissistic personality disorder can miss the opportunity to develop a loving bond with their children because traits of NPD such lack of empathy, harsh criticisms, or inability to share time and attention with others may exist. Unless their children have another parental role model who helps them balance out the effects of this lack of nurturing, a child may grow up with an incredibly fragile self-esteem and possess underdeveloped emotional intelligence.

Many parents who possess NPD aren’t aware they are doing anything destructive, and their behavior is generally in alignment with the way they have always viewed the world and their place in it. This behavior is congruent with their self-concept and generally becoming a parent does little to alter this sense of self.

One of the hardest and most productive things to do when dealing with a narcissistic parent is to find the best ways to accept who they are. Accepting a parent’s NPD view of the world certainly doesn’t mean you are ok with their behavior or mean that you are ok with the way in which they are treating you. Acceptance of the situation means that you are willing to recognize other people’s behaviors and actions are outside of your sphere of control. Stepping back and recognizing the only person you have control over is yourself, will set you on the path to taking control back of your life.

Accepting the situation also means you start to notice the places you can stop setting yourself up for disappointment. Stop looking for the love and kindness you deserve from people who are incapable of giving it to you! You are probably going to be disappointed 99% of the time that you seek out reassurance, comfort, or signs of acceptance from someone who has NPD. Start recognizing your best bet for affection and admiration is to develop relationships with other people besides your parent. Getting your emotional needs met by your NPD parent is just not going to happen! It’s not because you aren’t loveable or worthy of love that your parent is not giving you the relationship you deserve. It’s because your parent has the equivalent of a brain injury when it comes to being soft and fuzzy. Stop asking a person with a brain injury to oversee your happiness. It’s a dead end.

Develop Healthy Boundaries

Developing healthy boundaries with your parent will be tough but necessary! You were likely never taught or had modeled for you, the value of having a healthy boundary. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, then you likely had most attempts to set your own boundaries disrespected and minimized. Learning to define, develop and enforce boundaries with your parent is necessary, if you have any hope to heal your childhood wounds. Learning to set boundaries will be essential if you hope to have any kind of ongoing relationship with your NPD parent. If you don’t, then you can assume your relationship will stay the same because it is unlikely your parent will have an “aha” moment and change the way they behave with you.

Be short and sweet when you relay your boundaries to your parent. It is unlikely they will be supportive or accepting of the new rules. However, this is your set of boundaries so that your life makes sense moving forward. It is not required or even needed that your parent become on board or even accepting of the way in which are you choosing to conduct your life.

Don’t Wait for Your Parent’s Support

Be careful that you don’t fall into a trap of waiting for them to be supportive or demonstrate support for your new boundaries. Be assured that your parent preferred things the way they were Your new boundaries are not going to be something they are excited about changing. You will likely need to repeat yourself several times, try your best not to take it personally. Remember these are your healthy boundaries and expect your parent to want things to go back to your old patterns of interaction.

You will likely be developing your own sense of confusion over where your NPD parent ends and this process will take a great deal of insight and strength. Your self-esteem likely needs to be rebuilt from the ground floor. Know that you may need to take a break from the toxic relationship you have with your NPD parent. Accept that taking a break is perfectly ok and probably at least temporarily needed in order to help you reset your old patterns of interaction.

Seek Professional Support

Seeking support from a licensed mental health provider is always a great first step to create an understanding of what your healthy boundaries are and why they are important to add into your relationships is always a good place to start.


Dr. Dana McNeil

Dr. Dana McNeil

Founder of The Relationship Place
Marriage and Family Therapist CA License #99008

certified gottman therapist

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