If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, that legacy may affect you in multiple ways.
The following list contains behaviors common among narcissistic parents. As you read through this list, you may identify which one of these applied to your childhood.
When you were growing up, did one or both of your parents:
- Criticize or second-guess your choices?
- Ruin happy times with their selfish behavior?
- Give you gifts with strings attached?
- Forbid you to disagree with them or punish you for doing so?
- Use guilt or pressure to make you put their needs first?
- Have a “come here”/”go away” style that was confusing and unsafe?
- Behave unpredictably?
- Overscrutinize you?
- Create drama, scapegoated, and disharmonized in your family?
- Seem never satisfied with you?
- Play the martyr?
- Become unhinged by your questions or independence?
- Tell you that you could trust them, then disappoint or use you?
- Minimize or ridicule your feelings and desires?
- Need to be the center of attention or dominate conversations?
- Leave you feeling trapped, unloved, hopeless, or helpless?
Each of these parental behaviors can leave lasting, negative legacies. A key step in moving on from a negative legacy is to recognize any connections between your upbringing and present-day unwanted behaviors.
The following shows possible connections between unhealthy patterns in your adult life and narcissistic parental behaviors in your childhood.
As an adult do you sometimes:
1. Have difficulty making decisions?
Possible connection: Your parents criticized or second-guessed your choices.
2. Get uncomfortable when good things happen?
Possible connection: Your parents ruined good times with selfish behavior or gave gifts with strings attached.
3. Worry or ruminate over confrontations with others?
Possible connection: Your parents forbade you to disagree with them or punished you for doing so.
4. Too often please others at your own expense?
Possible connection: Your parents used guilt or pressure to make you put their needs first.
5. Feel unable to get close to others even when you want to?
Possible connection: Your parents had a “come here”/”go away” style that was confusing and unsafe.
6. Find it difficult to relax, laugh, or be spontaneous?
Possible connection: Your parents behaved unpredictably or over-scrutinized you.
7. Feel inexplicably drawn to turmoil rather than harmony in your relationships?
Possible connection: Your parents created drama, scapegoated, and disharmonized in your family.
8. Expect too much of yourself?
Possible connection: Your parents never seemed satisfied with you.
9. View others as fragile or view yourself as too much for others to handle?
Possible connection: Your parents played the martyr or became unhinged by your questions or independence.
10. Trust others unwisely or conversely find it hard to trust, even when you want to?
Possible connection: Your parents told you that you could trust them, then disappointed or used you.
11. Feel numb or have difficulty knowing what you are feeling?
Possible connection: Your parents minimized or ridiculed your feelings and desires.
12. Feel extra-sensitive around bossy, entitled or manipulative people.
Possible connection: Your parents needed to be the center of attention or dominate most conversations.
13. Self-soothe through excessive food, drink, shopping or other addictive behaviors?
Possible connection: Your parents’ behavior left you feeling trapped, unloved, hopeless, or helpless.
Human behavior is complex and it would be a simplification to say that if your parent did X, you will automatically do Y. But narcissistic parenting is a powerful influence on children and it is important to take stock of your past.
As a child, acknowledging the truth about your narcissistic parent when you had little power or resources to do anything about it could have been devastating. As a result, you may have learned to ignore the dysfunction, acted as if it was normal, blamed yourself for it, or counted the days until you could leave home.
Such coping strategies may have helped you emotionally survive a difficult childhood — and it is important to honor whatever helped you survive in childhood — but those coping strategies may manifest later in life in self-defeating ways like some of the 13 patterns listed above.
None of the 13 patterns are life sentences. Everybody has challenges in life; some of the above tendencies may be your challenges.
In addition, you may have received good things from your upbringing, no matter how dysfunctional your parenting.
Even the most narcissistic of parents can contribute positive qualities and gifts to their children. The adversities of your childhood may have increased your resilience, empathy, awareness, and growth.
You are not a victim nor are you powerless. The opportunity in recognizing unhealthy legacies is to break the connections.
Each time you notice yourself falling into one of the patterns listed above, remind yourself: “This may have been my history but it doesn’t have to be my destiny.”
Then ask yourself empowering questions such as: “What is the best way to take care of me and meet my needs in this situation? Is this how I want to treat myself or others? Who do I want to be in the world right now?”
This article was originally published at PsychCentral. Reprinted with permission from the author.