If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you’ve likely experienced some behaviors that would seem totally crazy or even unbelievable to other people. 

You know first hand what it feels like to have your needs go unmet when you were a child. To feel invisible. To have to care for instead of being taken care of. To never be loved the way you needed to be loved.

To a real narcissist, they are the center of all worlds. Not their family, not their spouse, and sadly, not their children. 

Having a narcissistic parent is one of the most incredibly painful experiences there is. Dealing with this through your developmental years and into adulthood can leave a lasting impact on… 

> your self-esteem and self-worth,

> how you understand and manage your emotions, 

> how you value your own needs and desires,

> the quality of all of your relationships (and, honestly, your life!)

It can also be extremely isolating, because there’s a lot of societal pressure to have a great relationship with your parents and to respect them no matter what, right?  

Unfortunately, this is a topic that I get asked about a lot, and you know that I am dedicated to sharing anything and everything I can to raise awareness around mental health, to lessen suffering and to help you better understand yourself…so that you can heal. 

In this week’s episode, I’m pulling back the curtain on narcissism and giving you 20 real-life behaviors, signs and signals that your parent might exhibit if they are indeed a narcissist. Because you deserve to be seen.

First, let’s make a distinction between someone with a true narcissistic personality disorder [NPD] and someone with narcissistic personality traits or tendencies. According to the DSM-5¹, the manual doctors use to diagnose mental illness, an individual with NPD displays “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy”. 

I really want to underscore that lack of empathy piece, because when it comes to a clinical narcissist, they are actually incapable of understanding your feelings. There is a fundamental lack in their capacity to love unconditionally. While this is a sad reality, understanding this is crucial to coming to some sort of peace and acceptance. 

So let’s get into some of the signs and behaviors of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • They are Boundary Bullies. Narcissists are like professional boundary erasers. They can be incredibly controlling about what happens in your life and if they are the engulfing kind, they can get overly invested and overly involved in every single thing you do…and absolutely feel it is their right to do so. Trying to set and maintain healthy boundaries with a narcissistic parent is incredibly difficult because they will straight up just ignore you.
  • They use codependency to control you. If you grew up with a narc parent, they likely were or still are resistant to you being a separate person from them. In a healthy parent/child relationship, there comes a time when the child needs to individuate from the parent in order to grow into a healthy adult. In a narc system, you may have been afraid to individuate as a child, because it was a matter of your survival. They see you as an extension of themselves, even into your adulthood.  
  • They only acted loving towards you when you did what they wanted. A narcissist’s love is always conditional. They may have lavished attention on you when you were giving them what they wanted, but they could always turn on a dime. They can and will withhold love to get you to do what they want and to fulfill their needs.
  • It’s always about them and they always play the victim card. No matter what is going on, it is always, always about the narcissist. They need to be the center of your world. If you do something they perceive as a slight, you probably heard some version of “How could you do this to me?!!” Everything that happens is happening TO them and they don’t take responsibility for their behavior or actions.
  • They can be vengeful. If a narc feels that you’ve wronged them in some way, they are definitely not above trying to get back at you. They can be serious grudge holders and seem to remember every disappointment and will absolutely bring things up from the past to throw in your face. 
  • They are spotlight hogs. It’s almost like they can’t tolerate any conversation that isn’t about them. They will straight up interrupt or always somehow find a way to bring everything back to them every single time. 
  • Professional guilt tripper. Whatever they feel like they need to do to get you back in line with what they want…they’re willing to do it. Guilt is definitely one of the sharpest tools in their belt and they use it often to get you to behave the way they think you should.
  • They compete with you and take credit for your accomplishments. As weird as this sounds to any normal parent, a narc parent once again, always makes it about themselves. Any good thing you’ve ever done in your life, they’ve done it better AND the only reason you accomplished anything is because of them. 
  • They cannot handle criticism AT ALL. Narcissists are SUPER thin-skinned. They can freak out over any perceived slight or implied criticism. Unfortunately, they also catalog their grievances and as I mentioned earlier, have a tendency to get back at the people they think wronged them. 
  • They gaslight the shit out of you. Have you ever tried to explain your feelings or talk about a situation only for your parent to be like, “that never happened”? Narcs will literally deny your reality if it doesn’t fit into their agenda. It’s scary and damaging, and it really impacts your ability to trust yourself because you’re always questioning your own sanity. 

I really dig deep inside the episode and talk you through all 20 of the signs and behaviors, so be sure to watch it here or listen to it here. I’ve also included the complete list in this week’s downloadable PDF for you. 

One of the most difficult things, if you are the adult child of a narcissist that you might be dealing with, is that there’s some part of you that expects that they will be different. It’s like the child within is holding onto hope. You might keep thinking, “this time I’m going to be good enough” or “this time I’m going to get through to them.”

If this resonates with your experience, I really want to encourage you to go through this list and ask yourself if you’ve experienced these behaviors in your life. You can lessen your suffering by getting into some acceptance about what your parent may or may not be capable of, and it is my sincere hope that this will help you get some clarity so you can protect yourself from any further pain and suffering. 

I’ve compiled the complete list of my 20 Traits of a Narc Parent for you here, as well as some other resources for you that I mention in the episode. 

If this added value to your life in some way, I hope you’ll share it on your social media platforms. We are in this together when it comes to breaking the stigma around discussing mental health and I am so grateful that you are in my crew.

I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you. 

¹American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

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  1. Narcissism is an inherent trait of every human being, some much more than others. Every person at some points in their lives, relationships, parenthood, etc., will express their feelings and experiences in certain situations. As a parent of 2 grown children, teenagers can be tricky little suckers that would test the patience of God! Let’s face it, many children and teens, can be somewhat rebellious, verbally challenging and resentful of boundaries and guidance and haven’t we all maybe avoided, learned from or remembered something, as a result of someone else’s life experiences? How many people in a discussion have said the words ‘so have I?’ Or ‘I’ve had that too?’ Or even ‘ no, and my word is final?’ We are all guilty of it in some way, so does that mean every person has a narcissistic trait? What some view as narcissistic, others view as a contradictory hypothesis on their views. There’s too much emphasis on fancy names for everything today and not enough focus on human values and respect!

  2. I’m 28, and first had someone say to me, “Sounds like your mother is a narcissist” when I was 22ish. I still sometimes need to read lists like this to remind myself that yes, she definitely meets the criteria of a narc, and I’m NOT “crazy” for going No Contact at 21 years old. (Yeah, I went NC before I actually knew that was a thing people do in healing from narcissistic abuse! I’m totally proud of myself for that.)

    Thank you for putting this info out there, and I love your voice in your writing. <3

  3. Hi Terri! Thank you so much for all the content you share. I’ve been following your work for a few years and have found it very helpful. I would love if you could share any insights or tips on how to deal with selfish mothers.

    Although I would love to label and blame my mom as a narcassist (which your videos extensively cover), but I feel the truth is she is just very selfish. She does have the capacity for empathy, but she has developed really selfish habits in her life. I know she loves and cares about me, but it comes from a very unhealthy place within her which makes it very difficult to love her or be around her. Physically, its exhausting to be around her which is part of the reason why I moved a few state away over 5 years ago. My entire life she has always been very anxious and talks non-stop ALL day (usually about herself). As a kid and even to this day, I have never felt seen or heard by my mom (or my dad who is also emotionally unavailable). It’s as though she’s not actually listening but waiting for her turn to talk. And to top it off, she doesn’t take any criticism well. So I’ve never talked to her about it, knowing she wouldn’t want to hear it. My only insight is this is her way of controling her life. Unfortunately it leaves very little room for real conversation and intimacy. AND I have recently noticed her nonstop talk also blocks conversation & intimacy with my dad and brother when we all happen to get together. I’m 30 years old and have been working to forgive her, knowing that she is a survivor of sexual abuse from her father and there is a reason she is the way she is.

    However my question to you is, how can I show up in a more healthy way in my relationship with my mother so that I am not exhausted when I’m around her? What are some examples of boundaries I can have to safe guard my energy? Keeping in mind that it is possible she will never change.

    1. It’s all about what you need to feel healthy and feel your best. The first step is self knowledge and knowing what you need. Get curious about what is causing you to feel exhausted and observe yourself. Maybe you don’t share as much with her because her reaction feels draining to you. Maybe you limit the length of your conversation. It’s not about trying to change her as much as it is about you taking care of yourself and making sure you’re having your needs met.

  4. I just posted about the golden vs. the scapegoat. I feel like whenever your talking with them about something that’s affecting you personally it’s brushed over, and the response usually sounds like; “oh well, been there, done that, or, well that’s everyone. They will end a discussion that you find interesting by; changing the subject, or interrupting you and saying; I don’t mean to interrupt, and continue talking anyway, while whatever you just said is cast to the side. There’s always some weird competition going on that you’re unaware of, they either saw something first, or heard it before you did, therefore there’s no reason for it to be discussed. They compare you to someone they dislike. I could go on, but I won’t I do however, have a question. Are narcissists known for saying; “I can forgive, but I won’t forget. And second, I have another question regarding apologies. I came up with a term I call; the third party apology, basically it’s an apology that a person gives you when they can’t apologize, but they tell you that they told someone else how sorry they were for whatever it was they might have done to you, while still not saying the actual words. I was wondering if you’ve ever noticed this? Anyways thank you for this video, it helps to know that what we’ve seen an experienced is not all in our heads

    1. A narcissistic person will always make it all about them and what they need and want. If they want to hold a grudge over you because it makes them feel better, they will. An apology would take a certain amount of humility and self awareness. Going through a third party gives a sense of distance so they don’t have to take responsibility for what was done. I’m sending you strength!!!

  5. dear Terri,
    Thank you for all your videos. they are spot on re narcisstic people. I have a question when you have time please to answer. I recently visited my narcisstic mother in a nursing home. my husband and I travelled 3 and a half hrs to visit each month. the last visits she told me to go within ten mins of arriving cause I didn’t do what she wanted. I am a recovering people pleaser and am trying to say no to my mother. I normally visit once a month but now I don’t see a point in doing that. she doesnt appreciate me coming. I feel an emotional hangover still 5 days later over it. how do I deal with future visits.? she told me to go numerous times. I left and came bk to check on her before we drove the long drive back to be told go again… I feel discarded by her once again. I don’t want to feel like this in future visits and I want to feel in charge of me. I was cross and I said I wont be coming again which I know I gave her a reaction but I was angry after the long journey. thank you very much. how do I put up a boundary regarding visits to her in the nursing home. she has her mind intact. C.

    1. I hear you. If it’s causing you such grief and anxiety, how would it feel to take a little break and give yourself space and rest? You can use that time to process any emotions that come up for you.

  6. Terri, thank you!
    Being the youngest of 4 (i’m 49) and scapegoat of the family, your talks helped me out a lot.
    When my father passed away, now 14 years ago, he warned me that my mother’s infinite fantasy (as he called it) would make my life a living hell, he was so right… and he also said, if there is one person who can turn this around, it will have to be you…

    In the last decade she turned my sisters, brother and there partners against me, she even tried it on my daughter… now my brother’s only purpose in life is to cut my out of the inheritance… supported by all the others, even my ex partner.

    To quote my oldest sister: I can perfectly see what mother does to you, but it is so conveniend for me, otherwise she would target me…

    Against all odds, i’m living my live succesfully, meaning i’m able to sleep, i wake up every morning starting with being thankfull for what i do have, going to work and living in my own little house.

    My own childhood helps me to remember how NOT to treat my daughter.
    She is a wunderfull loving 13 year old, learns to set boundaries, studies well and knows how to see the difference between false and true Self people.
    She has goals in her live and knows she can always stumble, get back up, see what can improve, and go for it.
    For only that is for me the meaning of living: it’s just a daily lesson in being human, the art of being able to live with your self, being the architect of your own life.
    No matter what, i will always support her and be proud of her.

    In a way i’m gratefull that i can see different than my mother and the rest. I can see what childhood trauma’s can do to people so they hide in narcicistic behaviour. I’m so glad that, in a way, my own self handled my trauma’s differently.
    Your texts and video’s are an inspiration, so thank you.

    1. It’s great to hear how much you learned and your determination for things to be different for your daughter. It sounds like you’re taking your struggles as an opportunity to heal and grow and focus on what you want to create with your family.

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