Remember that time your mom would not stop talking about her (brief) career as a dancer in front of your high school boyfriend? Or when your dad pressured you into joining the debate team and you absolutely hated it? Yeah, parents don’t always get it right. But what’s the difference between the usual embarrassing/annoying stuff that parents do and being raised by someone who is an actual narcissist?
According to the ICD-10, the diagnostic manual put out by the World Health Organization, a person must have at least five of the following symptoms in order to qualify as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):
A grandiose sense of self-importance
A sense of entitlement
Requires excessive admiration
A lack of empathy
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Is interpersonally exploitative
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
Believes that they are “special” and unique
But what does all that mean when it comes to child rearing? Read on for 12 signs that you may have grown up with a narcissistic parent.
(Note: Narcissistic is a diagnostic term so if any of these examples below sound familiar, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your parent has NPD—they might just have narcissistic traits. In other words, only a professional can diagnose someone as a true narcissist.)
1. Your parent always expected (and demanded) preferential treatment.
Example: You dreaded running errands with your dad because he would either cut the line at the store or demand that someone (even a total stranger) get him whatever item he was looking for. Yep, this was mortifying for a reason—a narcissist feels that their needs should receive priority over the needs of others.
2. Your parent always craved praise, gratitude and compliments...and would often use them in a transactional way.
Example: Every time your mother cooked dinner, you would have to praise her effusively or else she would refuse to make dinner the next night. File this one under “requires excessive admiration.”
3. Your parent felt they were superior to others.
Example: Your dad only wanted you to play with children from “well-off” families because most people weren’t “good enough” for his kids. A narcissist feels like they’re better than other people and isn’t afraid to show it by talking down to others or patronizing them.
4. Your parent was unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
Example: Remember that time you went to school with a big pimple, were given a pop quiz and slipped in front of your crush? When you came home and told your mom about your crappy day, she basically ignored you and immediately launched into a lengthy description of a bad day she had. If empathy was hard to come by in your childhood, you could be dealing with a narcissist.
5. Your parent would constantly take advantage of others in order to achieve their own ends.
Example: Your dad pressured you to be friends with Jenny and insisted you invite her to your house every weekend...until Jenny’s dad lost his high-power job in the city and then he didn’t want Jenny coming over anymore. For a narcissist, friends are only useful if they can bring you closer to your own goals in life.
6. Your parent thought they were special and that they should only associate with other special or high-status people.
Example: Going out to dinner with your dad was always super embarrassing because he would treat the waitstaff so terribly. (Meanwhile, he couldn’t say enough good things about his snooty boss.)
7. There were no boundaries growing up.
Example: Your mother would parade around in skimpy clothing when you had male friends over or talk about her sex life. A narcissistic parent sees a child as an extension of themself, which means that there are no boundaries or privacy with the parent.
8. You were never allowed to shine.
Example: You scored the highest grade on your math final but when your teacher congratulated you, your dad jumped in and said: “She gets it from me, I have a head for numbers.” For a narcissist, it’s all about them...cue the competitive behavior and stealing your thunder.
9. Your parent would exaggerate their achievements and talents.
Example: Even though you got into an excellent college for engineering, your mother can’t stop talking about how she was put in the advanced math class in high school. A narcissist expects to be recognized as superior...whether or not they actually have the accomplishments to back up their claims.
10. You often felt like the parent.
Example: You would do all the cleaning and errands around the house. It’s common for children of narcissists to be made to feel responsible for the parent’s wellbeing (rather than the other way around).
11. Your parent’s affections were unpredictable.
Example: You were the favorite child one day and your sibling the next. Sometimes this would depend on who was catering the most to your parent’s needs… and sometimes it wouldn’t.
12. Your parent’s standards were unrealistically high.
Example: It wasn’t enough that you got straight A’s and were the captain of the basketball team…you also had to look a certain way, chair the student council and date the most popular kid in school. And even then, you never felt like you were good enough.
Why does it matter?
In her book Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents, professor Nina W. Brown notes that the effects of growing up with a narcissistic mom, dad or guardian can be severe: “When children grow up with a self-absorbed parent, they may find that there are lingering effects on them as adults—effects such as being manipulated, seduced or intimidated to do things they do not wish to do or that are destructive for them; being unable to initiate and maintain satisfying and enduring relationships; being unable to say no and stick to it; and other negative behaviors and attitudes with others as well as with the self-absorbed parent.”
If any of that sounds familiar, you should absolutely seek professional help so you learn different strategies that can help you interact with the parent and deal with negative thoughts and feelings as a result of your upbringing. “You don’t have to continue to suffer and be frustrated,” says Brown.