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  • Kaitlyn Pfiester

Signs of a Narcissistic Parent and How to Spot Them

Updated: Feb 4

In today’s world of Hollywood and self-absorbed influencers and politicians, the term narcissist is thrown around a lot. From a clinical perspective, most experts see narcissism as one of many personality disorders. Mayo Clinic defines it as such: “A mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”

While you may look at this and think it fits plenty of “famous” people, that may or may not be the case. Furthermore, a person can have narcissistic tendencies, such as an enlarged sense of self, but may not be a narcissist by the medical definition of lacking empathy.

But let’s put Hollywood and politicians aside for a moment. What happens if you were raised by narcissist parents or someone with strong narcissistic tendencies? How can you tell?

Model posing with hand in hair holding out the bottom of blush dress

Unfortunately, narcissism can be more challenging to spot in parents than in partners or bosses.

Why is this?

The answer is as simple as it is sad. You were taught that parents didn’t care for children like they do in movies. Everything your caregiver did you, you were conditioned to think it was normal. You were likely even told others had it worse. A narcissist parent will do everything in their power to convince you that they are better than everyone else, and if you disagree, there’s a problem with you.

It’s in our nature as humans to build and cling to the emotional connection we have with our parents, even if we’ve tried to convince ourselves otherwise. It can be much harder to find fault in parents than, say, a partner.

With a partner, you remember what it was like before. You remember having a sense of self. This does not by any means reduce the trauma anyone who has had a narcissistic partner goes through, but the situation is different. With a narcissist parent, there is no before, and there is no concrete point of reference to look back on and compare.

Here are four significant signs to look out for if you think your parent or caregiver may be a narcissist. Please also note that there are different types of narcissism, but we won’t cover that here.

They focus on how things “look,” often to the detriment of the entire family.

Family looking perfectly put together with dad on one side and mom holding baby
They focus on how things “look,” often to the detriment of the entire family.

This is one of the most apparent signs of a narcissist. Everything the narcissist does revolves around their image and keeping up appearances. Their reputation is the most important thing in the world to them.

If you had a narcissist parent, there was likely a lot of pressure to perform as a child, be that in sports, school, or even just how you dressed and spoke—everything you did needed to reflect well on them, regardless of your feelings.

This may not have even been said to you outright, but there was always a feeling that something bad would happen if you weren’t ALWAYS on your best behavior. If you acted out, you were shamed, yelled at, or compared to other " good " kids. Regardless of what form the punishment took, you understood, from a young age, that your well-being came second to your parent's reputation.

Ten minutes on the internet will show you a plethora of cute videos of children being brutally honest. But if you or your siblings were “caught” saying anything the narcissist thought might endanger them, you were likely ridiculed and again shamed, even if you had no idea what you did “wrong.”

#1 They focus on how things “look,” often to the detriment of the entire family.

#2 You had a defined unhealthy role in the family.

#3 They never take responsibility for their parenting decisions (or any other decisions).

#4 Patterns of love bombing and then neglect.


You had a defined unhealthy role in the family.

If you had a defined role in the family, such as the scapegoat, the mascot, the golden child, or any of the others, (there are six), there’s a chance you had a narcissistic parent.

What is an unhealthy family role?

A role in the family is much like having a job you didn’t apply for and certainly didn’t want. Two of the most recognizable roles are the scapegoat and the golden child.

If you were the scapegoat, all of the family's problems were dumped on you. You were blamed for the faults of others, and when something bad happened, somehow, someway, it was always your fault.

Person depressed with a hoodie over their head
You had a defined unhealthy role in the family.

Narcissists are incapable of empathy and taking responsibility for their actions. A scapegoat allows them to put that responsibility on someone else, so they don’t have to look at themselves. It’s cruel for anyone to do, but especially for a parent to do to their child.

On the flip side, you may have been the golden child. If that was the case, you probably weren’t blamed for anything, or if you were, it wasn’t often. You likely felt the most pressure to keep up appearances. This, too, is cruel and unusual punishment to place on a child. You were also probably called mature for your age and felt you had to keep up that pretense.

Several unhealthy roles show up in families with narcissistic parents, so check out our post on family roles.

They never take responsibility for their parenting decisions (or any other decisions).

As mentioned briefly earlier, narcissists are incapable of taking responsibility. However, there is one exception to this. A narcissist might apologize IF they think they will get something out of it.

Apologies of this kind might sound like: “I’m sorry YOU felt that way” or “I’m sorry things didn’t turn out the way YOU wanted them to.” Neither of these is an apology. When a narcissist says something like this, they are mimicking remorse and then twisting it to place the blame on you, freeing them of responsibility in their mind.

Woman wearing a striped shirt, shrugging
They never take responsibility for their parenting decisions (or any other decisions).

Narcissists need a “supply” of people who build up their egos. The golden child learns to do this well. If you were that for them and are now starting to question things, be ready for phrases like: “I did the best I could” or “How could you think that after everything I did to put a roof over your head.”

The point the narcissist is trying to make is that they were the victim. To them, it doesn't matter that you were only a child trying to survive an abusive and exploitative situation. They somehow had it harder, and you should feel sorry for them and “forgive” them.

This is absolutely false. It was their job to be the adult, not yours.

Patterns of love bombing and then neglect.

What is love-bombing?

Love bombing can be difficult to spot at first. Healthline defines the act of love-bombing as such: Love bombing often involves over-the-top gestures, such as sending you inappropriate gifts to your job (dozens of bouquets instead of one, for example) or buying expensive plane tickets for a vacation, and not taking “no” for an answer.

While this is easiest to point out in romantic relationships, the same principles of “I gave you things, so now you have to like me” apply to parents as well. This might take the form of a usually uninvolved parent suddenly wanting to spend time with you and spend money on you. This is highly confusing for children, especially when the narcissistic parent decides to move on, leaving the child wondering what they did wrong to deserve the abandonment.

When they do something for you, they want everyone to know.

This is because it was never about you. Everything a narcissist does is to inflate their sense of self-importance. Doing things for others is a great way to get everyone’s attention.

Perhaps back-to-back days at the zoo gets them labeled as the best dad for a while. Or maybe your mom took you fishing but ended up spending most of the time posting about it on social media instead of spending time with you. Either way, their actions look good to the outside world, but the child is still lost in the mix.

Dad walking towards the lake with a child
When they do something for you, they want everyone to know.

You are a transaction in their mind.

They give you time, money, something that looks like love, and in return, you are expected to provide them with whatever they want.

Love bombing is very difficult to keep consistent because of its transactional nature. It’s not genuine. Eventually, it will fade, and the narcissist will be back to showing their true colors. The issue is, that you were a child and couldn’t leave when the behavior changed. You had to stick around, likely convinced that love works in these cruel patterns of your parents invalidating you, then buying you your favorite fast food, and then back to calling you names and telling you you aren’t good enough.

Even as an adult, you may still believe this lie somewhere deep down, even if logically you know better. You may find yourself attracted to narcissists or people who tend to put you down rather than build you up. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Remember, you’ve been conditioned from birth to believe these lies. It will take time to retrain your brain into believing unconditional love exists and that you’re worthy of it.

How do you know for sure?

There is no surefire way to know if your parent has narcissistic personality disorder without an evaluation from a professional, but educating yourself on the topic can help.

In her video, on MedCircle, narcissism expert Dr. Ramanii says that if you’re suspicious, take a step back and watch their patterns. Are they invalidating about one thing and highly hypocritical about another? She also says, “their patterns are as consistent as the rising sun.” Meaning once you can see them, you won’t be able to unsee them. (Narcissism in a Parent [The Signs You Need to Know]

Remember, if you noticed any of these patterns when you look back on your childhood, regardless of whether or not they were a narcissist, there is plenty of trauma there that deserves healing.

Path through calm, green forest

Will they change? How to move on.

The short answer is no; they won’t change. Narcissists are deeply insecure, so much so that they refuse to look at themselves at all. That being the case, narcissists may lead you to believe they are trying to change by saying everything you want to hear, but in reality, they are only trying to get you to stick around.

So how do you move on from a narcissistic relationship with your parent?

The best way to move on from a narcissist is to cut off all contact. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, especially with family, so your next best option is to Grey Rock.

What is Grey Rocking?

Grey Rocking is exactly what it sounds like, to become like a grey rock. The point is to become as dull and unremarkable as possible when you’re around the narcissist. By doing this, you are stripping them of any ammunition they might be able to use against you.

This is extremely difficult to achieve at first, and you will likely slip up. After all, this is your parent we’re talking about—the person you’ve been trying to gain the attention of since birth.


DO NOT confront the narcissist on their narcissism. As tempting as it may be, telling the narcissist, you know what they’re up to will only enrage them. They will not take it as healthy criticism. Depending on the narcissist, they may pull the victim card and call you a horrible person for thinking such things, especially “after all they’ve done for you.” Another horrible line for someone to use on their child.


Being the child of a narcissistic caregiver is one of the most challenging things you can endure psychologically. It’s a type of torture no one should have to endure. If you saw your parent or caregiver in any of these points, there are a few things you must remember.

1. Despite what you’ve been told, you’re not crazy.

2. You did not deserve the treatment you were given as a child or as an adult.

3. You are not to blame for their behavior.

4. Their past trauma does not give them the right to treat you the way they’ve treated you. We are all responsible for our actions, no matter what has happened to us in the past.

Breaking out of the toxic patterns and healing from the grief of losing someone who should have been a loving parent is devastating. Talking to someone who understands the impact of narcissism is a great way to start the healing process.

To get started, contact us on our contact page today! Or give us a call at (833) 496-5011.

You deserve the peace of mind.

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