Do either of your parents emotionally blackmail you, as in, guilt trips are just par for the course in your relationship with them?

Or maybe you grew up feeling like one of your parents was always trying to one-up you or take credit for your accomplishments?

If you are nodding your head then this episode is for you. 

Having a narcissistic parent is an incredibly painful and isolating experience and the wounds left behind can continue to impact us throughout our lives. 

This week, I’m breaking down the signs and symptoms of growing up with a narcissistic parent and helping you get a better understanding of how this might be impacting your life right now.

Our parents or parental impactors (the people who raised us) and the environment we grew up in lie the foundation for our identities and the way we interact with others and the world around us. 

As our very first attachments form from our earliest experiences, our sense of self develops. If there is abuse, neglect, or ambivalence in childhood, it can leave psychological and emotional injuries that last a lifetime. 

If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you might have experienced all of these dysfunctional behaviors, because a true clinical narcissist has no ability to empathize with their children or with others. They have little to no awareness of how their own behavior impacts others.

Here are some signs your parental impactor might be a narcissist:

  • Emotional blackmail + guilt trips. They would use emotional manipulation to get you to take care of their needs instead of them taking care of you. 
  • Inability to have empathy or compassion for your feelings or experiences. ​​There is a fundamental lack in their capacity for them to love you the way you want and need to be loved.
  • Punishing by withdrawing love or attention if you didn’t do what they wanted. Can include verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse. 
  • Taking credit for your accomplishments. A narcissistic parent tends to make most things all about themselves, and that can include them swooping in when things are great for you and trying to soak up accolades and praise for your accomplishments.
  • Competing with you. No matter what you do or accomplish, they’ve done it better. 
  • Exaggerating their own accomplishments and even straight-up lying about what they have or haven’t done in their life. 
  • Their agenda is the only one that matters. Their truth IS the truth. 
  • Narcissists can be very charming. They feed on attention (called narcissistic supply), and they can be very skilled at using their charm to get what they want. 
  • Purposefully doing and saying things to make you doubt yourself and your reality. (ie. gaslighting)
  • Pitting siblings or other family members against one another. Poor communication and triangulation (talking behind others’ backs).
  • Breaking your trust by using things you’ve told them in confidence against you. They might try to exploit you and you often regret telling them anything that really matters to you. 
  • Getting overly involved with your friends. It can be very lonely to be the child of a narc because your friends and others might think they are awesome (remember the charming thing?). 
  • Super-thin skinned and reactive. Cannot handle even the least bit of feedback or criticism and will retaliate by blowing up or stonewalling. 

If these experiences and behaviors resonate with you, you’re not alone, and I see you. 

As a child of a narcissist, you likely learned how to stay out of the line of fire and avoid pain by shoving your own needs down and prioritizing the needs, wants, and desires of your parent. No matter how damaged a parental impactor is, a child still craves their love, attention, and approval. 

Behaviors that were adaptive in your childhood can become maladaptive in adulthood. If we don’t do the work to heal these wounds from the past, they can follow us into our present. 

The impact of growing up with a narcissistic parent can show up in a variety of ways, but here are some common symptoms of adult children of narcs:

  • Emotional transference. You can become unconsciously activated by a person or situation, and your reaction is fueled by an earlier experience that is in some way similar to the current situation or person. 
  • Re-creating the relationship with your narc parental impactor in your romantic relationships. It’s almost like somewhere, deep down, the little kid inside of you is seeking a do-over and hoping for a better outcome.
  • Codependency. A codependent is all about putting the focus on the other person and a narcissist is all about putting the focus on themselves. You might have learned codependent behaviors were what kept you safe when you were growing up, but in adulthood, I promise you, they are compromising the quality of your relationships.
  • Disordered boundaries. If you grew up with a narc, there were likely no boundaries in your world. Narcissists are what I call “Boundary Destroyers” and the normal rules of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries just don’t apply to them.

Now that you’re a grown-up, you get to choose who has access to you and to your life. You can begin to heal from your past, no matter how painful. 

Here are some steps you can take to start to heal:

1. Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries. Learn as much as you can about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. If your narcissistic parent is still in your life, there are ways you can emotionally protect yourself.

2. Focus on YOU. What do you want? What are your needs, wants, and preferences, and desires? Now is the time to finally start to prioritize you. At first, this might be awkward or scary, but trust me, this is a vital part of healing. 

What would bring you joy? What can you do for yourself that is just for YOU? Part of this process is to care for yourself impeccably and re-parent yourself. You can now care for yourself and love yourself the way your narc impactor never could. 

3. Get knowledgeable. Learn as much as you can about narcissism and about being the child of a narcissist. There is so much information out there, so get committed to becoming an expert. Knowledge is power! The more you learn, the more empowered you can become to take your pain and transform it into your purpose. 

4. Honor your anger. As a child of a narc, you likely learned to disavow your anger. Remember: what was adaptive in childhood is maladaptive in adulthood. You’re an adult now and you don’t want unprocessed anger driving your decisions! 

Write about it, talk about it, get into therapy and begin to release it. When you process and release your anger and disappointment, only THEN you can be fully present in your one-of-a-kind amazing life!

Let’s heal this so you can move on and have more internal peace and harmony in your life. I have more resources inside this week’s guide for you, so make sure to download it here now. 

I hope this added value to your life and you know you are not alone. I created this for you because I understand from being a therapist for 25 years, how isolating, painful, and hard it can be to describe the experience of being the adult child of a narcissist.

I would love to hear where you are on your personal journey and I read all of your comments, so drop one here for me or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole. 

What do you think about this? Have you healed from a narcissistic parent? How did you do it? Did this help you? Lemme know! 

I super appreciate you, and as always take care of you.

P.S. If the narcissist parent in your life was the maternal impactor, I want to share my newest course with you. It’s called Understand and Transform Your Mother Wound.  If you are interested in having me walk you through this process of healing in a safe and sacred group container, you can get all of the information right here

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  1. hi Terri 🙂
    I have been diving deep with all the knowledge you share for these past months. I absolutely love how you communicate and share so elegantly. I was wondering if you had any advice on healing the trauma within the siblings from growing up in the traumatic house hold? Lately I have been noticing the way me and my sisters interact with each other and it seems like a lot of it comes from old unconscious behaviors/habits/patterns that were installed into us while growing up with our roles in the household.

    1. Hi Cailey,
      I’m so glad this resonated for you! When it comes to your interactions with others, the most important thing is to keep your side of the street clean. By changing your own behaviors, and by changing the dance you’ve been doing with your siblings for x number of years, the entire dynamic/dance will be affected. Just by changing your own behavior and holding up a mirror to the dysfunction, you’ll see a shift, and most likely there will also be an opportunity to discuss this so there won’t be a healthy need for you to cross to any one else’s side of the street. ❤️

  2. How about the narcissistic children of narcissists? How is it for them? How can they heal? Honestly almost all data about children of narcissists are about us co-dependent types of ACoNs, but coming from two highly narcissistic dynasties, both malignant, no one mentions the narcissists as children of narcissists. Narcissists don’t treat all their children the same, the neglect and abuse is carefully distributed for maximum control and power for the narcissists, to create the sibling issues.
    Not all of us ACoNs are empathetic, abused, neglected, scapegoat type of kids of narcissists who are just traumatized and co-dependent, I am one but I think that can-do-no-wrong POV in the society also contributes to the narcissists never figuring their issues’ and having that “It’s my parents’ fault I became like this. They were not kind enough to me bc they once said no.” when the reason really is the spoiling, over-indulging treatment they received in exchange of keeping silent about what goes inside. They almost always have that type of superficial, insightless, victim-like “it’s my childhood” excuses about their behaviour towards their children, when most were the golden children spoiled excessively and became narcissists bc of that.
    In my experience and belief, ~half of adult children of narcissists are narcissists themselves and I have vast, both first-hand and outsider’s experience with NPDd families continuing “the legacy”. I’m saying this as an officially tested, personality-wise normal kind of ACoNs, the narcissists need to be included in the story too.
    We aren’t all harmless wounded people, some are continuing the legacy of abuse firsthand instead of suffering from it. My sisters do. Many of my relatives who are ACoNs are now abusing some of their children with their also narcissistic spouses, while spoiling some on the other hand to create friction between them.
    I’m wondering this is one of the subjects people play 3 monkeys about, like “the King is naked” story bc I get scapegoated each time I talk about this issue. Just look at Snow White’s story, was all ACoNs there neglected, abused? Nah, only Snow White. What about the other kids?
    What are your thoughts about this? Why are some children becoming like their parents while the others are not, why do people act like narcissists are doing the same kind of parenting to each kid and why isn’t this side of the coin, narcissists who are children of narcissists, talked about under narcissistic parents talk? I’ve yet to see a narcissist not playing the golden child-scapegoat dynamics with their children; yet all I can find for reference is stories solely of the scapegoat kind of life which I myself lived, being generalized for every child of narcissists.
    It’s almost as if it’s a forbidden topic, to mention narcissists don’t grow on trees. If narcissists treated the children all the same, they would blame the narcissist(s) instead of the abused kid for the abuse, the children would unite against the narcissist, resulting in less supply for the narcissist and even collapse. Some kids are intentionally spared and groomed to be the right-hand of the narcissist, generally insecure and unempathetic ones, so they don’t rebel with the mistreated kids. Those ones especially grow up to be just like their narcissistic parents, maybe even worse and creating new families of themselves full of tragedy. Well, tragedy for the children, not the narcissists. Yet we all see ACoNs as innocent victims who need to heal from abuse. That’s far from the truth.

    1. Hi Ceren,
      Thank you for sharing this, as it’s true that not all children of narcissists are co-dependent. Many people can have narcissistic tendencies and come from all types of childhoods, including children of narcissists. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and truth ❤️

  3. Greetings from England where I am so happy to have discovered you. Your messages resonate with me in so many ways and I want to thank you for sharing your expertise, professionalism and warmth. Yes, we’re out here. And yes, we’re listening.

  4. THANK YOU for all the gifts you offer! I loved Boundary Boss! oh and I am a faithful Terri Cole Show podcast listener. I have been on devoted self healing journey for about eight years. In 2018 I did a deep dive into exploring narcissism and narcissistic abuse. It’s fascinating stuff!.As wit most authentic journeys, the divine timing your work on all of these media platforms is what so many of us need right now to help heal the world from pursuits that ego driven. Full disclosure: for the majority of my life I was oh an “overfuncctioner’ until I became disabled. Thank you not only for your work but for making it so accessible on every level. Much gratitude

    1. Hi Tara,
      I’m SO glad this content is resonating and thrilled to hear about your experience with your Boundary Boss journey! You’re a rockstar – keep it up ?? Thank you for sharing!

  5. I’m recovering from my borderline/narcissistic mother’s death and unearthing everything that was. She was abused to her death by my sociopathic-narc father. The guilt, grief of that has been horrifying, unsettling, confusing for the most part – and resulted in my bell’s palsy. I only learned until a few months before her death that she wasn’t really mentally ill with schizophrenia.

    Everyone was invested in keeping her sick… her brother stole her inheritance that could’ve provided her way out. That said, it wasn’t until really looking back carefully and going through all the letters she had after her passing that I uncovered and discovered that she never wanted to leave her sadistically abusive husband. It was her way to keep her hooks into me by believing she wanted needed help. And she never wanted her inheritance bc she wanted to stick it to him, and her brother was his rival.
    I’ve cleared my way through much of the horror, deep sadness and shame. Not quite so confused after a year and a half but there will always be some confusion when it comes to her. She was so good at being so needy. She was like Daisy Buchanon in The Great Gatsby and I was Gatsby. She did whatever she wanted and traipsed all over me with charm and without batting an eye. I feel like my life was a different version of Jason Borne. The emotion that is mostly coming up for me now is anger. I do want to experience it and I don’t want to become embittered. But aware I need to really feel it to move on. I have difficulty being mad at her. Her husband is easy and feels like an endless pit.

    As you can imagine with a challenging past I’ve encountered other narcissists. Having friendships seem to be the most difficult. Surprisingly I never have difficulty with men. Anyways, with taking a deep dive into with all things Narcissists, I notice warning signals sooner and am allowing myself to be ok with being wrong about someone, missing the opportunity to get closer, in favor of protecting myself if I see a flashing warning light. And that feels really good that I can do that for myself. It’s a huge step for me since I was always thrown to the wolves so to speak. It’s a bit lonelier admittedly but I’m okay with that. I need to hone my instincts and learn to set boundaries, protecting myself from any situation where someone makes me uncomfortable.

    1. Hi Lauris,
      Thank you for your vulnerability – I see your struggle and I honor your efforts to improve your boundaries ❤️ It’s never easy (especially with a past that includes poor boundaries from both parents), but it IS possible ?

  6. Hi Terri:)

    I relate to all of the above. I had thought that I had healed that aspect of my life long ago, I was doing well in life, but ended up not seeing (or wanting to see) the signs and ended up marrying the emotional equivalent of my deeply narcissistic mother. I am now very much looking forward to this weeks course on healing the mother wound, as I want to heal this once and for all and be able to move forward. It’s never too late. I have to believe that. It’s been a long and painful road.

    I’ll be so happy to see you again, especially in this context..

    1. Hi MP,
      It’s super common to not see the signs and end up marrying the equivalent to one of our parents! I’m so glad you’re on your path to healing, and I agree – it’s definitely never too late! I’ll be cheering you on along the way ?

      1. I’ve just watched this and it’s so powerful. I have done exactly the same covert narcissist mother / flying monkey / pathetic father who idolises her and I moved into a relationship with a overt / grandiose narc – I have children with him. For 43 years I’ve lived with these people and I am an echo and totally invisible. I thought it was all me, I thought I was mad. I’m on Terri’s mother wound course and I desperately want to heal. I want to break the chain for my children – I have boundless love for them and I feel positive for the future. We cannot let them win – we all deserve more. My anger is very real. Terri thank you for all that you do – you are the light in very dark places. You get my every time when you talk to us directly it’s so hard but so helpful.

        1. Hi Susie,
          I’m so glad this resonated for you!I love that you’re working to stop the cycle with your children and that you’re honoring your anger ❤️ Thank you for being here and for sharing!

  7. Well I nodded to every question. lol
    I have 2 narcissistic parents, so I guess I won the lottery for that. My mother is the guilter with the thin skin unable to handle Truth, and my father is the unempathetic shamer and punisher. Competition comes from both. As an adult, this deep emotional wound has really started to surface. It sometimes actually gives me physical headaches at this point. It’s like screaming in my head that wants to get out. Sometimes I wonder if it’s actually possible to really heal these kinds of wounds. I Thank You for your video, and your efforts.

    1. Hi Aaron,
      I’m holding space for you with so much compassion as you navigate your mental and physical health. It is possible to heal these wounds and I’ll be cheering you on along your journey ❤️

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