There’s no doubt that our childhood and the way we were raised plays a key factor in the way we develop as adults.
We often don’t realize how impactful our upbringing is on us until much later in adulthood when we find ourselves feeling alone and isolated from the rest of the world.
It’s when we come to realize that maybe we are the way we are for a reason. The kinds of parents you had when you were younger matter too.
If you were raised by a devout religious family, you might have a strong connection to a higher being.
If you were raised by generous people, you might want to work for a charity as an adult.
And if you were raised by narcissists, you might suffer from a variety of problems related to your self-esteem, confidence, and relationships.
Here’s how your parents might have turned you into a narcissist by being ones themselves.
First off, what is a narcissist?
To find out if you were raised by a narcissist, it’s important to consider what a narcissist is. There are many definitions of narcissism, and some of them are widely off the mark.
To be clinically diagnosed as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or the official handbook for professional therapists) states that an individual must have 5 of 9 listed narcissistic personality disorder traits. These include:
- They lack empathy for others
- They believe that they are inherently more important than those around them
- They crave recognition for their inherent superiority
- They showcase extreme arrogance through their attitude and behavior
- They are paranoid of others being too envious of them
- They have a natural sense of entitlement, believing that the world belongs to them
- They obsess over fantasies of power, love, and success
- They exploit others to fulfill their constant need for admiration and attention
- They believe that only other special people can understand them properly
While some researchers believe that people are born with a narcissistic personality disorder, there are others who believe that it is a behavior that is learned through the environment.
They argue that while disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar have been proven to have genetic and chemical backgrounds, Narcissistic Personality Disorder showcases no physical abnormalities or differences in the brain.
How to tell if your parents were narcissists?
It’s important to ask yourself these 5 questions in order to understand if you were truly raised by narcissists:
1) Were your parents extremely critical of your behavior and outcomes growing up? Did it feel like you were you never good enough?
2) Did they always compete with you and do whatever they can to win?
3) Were your parents extremely possessive and afraid of giving you independence?
4) Did your parents seem to care about their appearance and the way to look others over any of your needs or wants?
5) Did your parents lack empathy for you growing up?
6) Have you always felt that your parents could never love you for who you are?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then it is possible that you may have been raised by narcissists.
But it’s important to remember that parents tend to be naturally protective and want their kids to be as successful as possible.
What may appear as a narcissistic parent may simply be a hard taskmaster, who believes that pushing you to overcome challenges is the best way for you to succeed.
It’s important that you’re able to recognize the difference before you start making unfounded assumptions that your parents were narcissists.
What tends to distinguish truly narcissistic parents is their consistency in denying their own child’s identity and choice to live life on their own terms.
According to Preston Ni in Psychology Today, the main hallmark of a narcissistic parent is that “the offspring exists merely to serve the selfish needs and machinations of the parent(s).”
6 negative consequences you may have experienced if you were raised by a narcissist
1) You don’t have high self-esteem and feel like you can’t do what you want.
If you suffer from low self-esteem and can’t seem to put your finger on why that is, you might need to take a look at your childhood and ask some tough questions about how your parents raised.
Start by looking at what their expectations of your performance were – did you fail in their eyes all the time?
Did you feel like you couldn’t do anything right?
That’s not really true of you, but the message you were getting from someone in your life that was important enough to listen to and believe.
A common trait of narcissism is grandiosity: feelings that one is superior to others.
Narcissistic parents may see themselves as superior than their kids. This by itself is bound to affect a child’s self-esteem, who can never seem to live up to the expectations cast upon them by their parents.
According to an article in Huffington Post, this is why many children of narcissists end up working in careers that they never wanted to do because it was forced upon them by their parents.
2) You feel closed off from other people.
As an adult, you might find it hard to make friends and connect with people. You might not really know why you’ve always had trouble sharing space with people.
It could be that your parents didn’t make room for you in their lives and were too busy talking about themselves or their needs more often than yours.
It’s not uncommon for parents who struggle with issues themselves to pass those issues on to their kids.
According to Shannon Thomas, a trauma therapist, shame can be what creates a narcissist, and if they see some of their own perceived weaknesses or flaws in their child, they many emotionally reject them for it.
3) You worry that people will leave you.
If you’ve had a difficult childhood filled with narcissism, you might find it hard to trust people. In turn, this might make you want to push people away and only focus on yourself instead of other people.
After all, according to Darlene Lancer in Psychology Today, caring from a narcissistic parent is absent. When you’re a child, you begin to believe that any close relationship will end up like this which you believe will eventually hurt you:
“Emotional comfort and closeness that normal maternal tenderness and caring provide is absent. Narcissistic mothers may tend to their daughter’s physical needs, but leave her emotionally bereft. The daughter doesn’t realize what’s missing, but longs for warmth and understanding from her mother that she may experience with friends or relatives or witness in other mother-daughter relationships.”
If you are alone and think that it will protect you from getting hurt, you might want to revisit that reasoning and search your past for evidence of how you were raised to think like that.
4) You feel like you aren’t as good as other people.
Inferiority complexes are common amongst children – even grown children – of narcissistic parents. With parents so consumed with their own lives, you might grow up feeling like your life wasn’t worth much.
It was a French psychologist, Alfred Adler who first coined the term “Inferiority Complex.” Alder believed that all humans go through feelings of inferiority as children. In turn, they spend the rest of their lives trying to compensate for these feelings.
Normally, these feelings change from the dependence of childhood and evolve towards the independence of adulthood. Despite this change, these feelings of inferiority still exist – albeit at more persisting and varying levels.
For some people, this can become a motivating factor. They use feelings of inferiority to push them to become better-performing individuals.
However, some become dominated by it. The feelings of inferiority become so overwhelming that it cripples them.
They become so paralyzed that they become extremely shy and have the feeling of overwhelming unworthiness. Worse, they tend to prevent themselves from failure by not trying at all.
As a result, you might feel like you aren’t as good as other people and need to show off and show up differently in order to prove your worth.
This comes off as narcissism in some cases and can leave you feeling lonelier than you imagined it would.
It’s not your fault, because it is the way you were brought up, but it is your responsibility to do something about it now that you might be on to why you are the way you are.
5) You feel anxious about life.
Everyone experiences some forms of anxiety in their life from time to time but if you feel anxious about life itself, about being alive, and don’t seem to have any sort of reason for why that is happening, you might turn your lens to your childhood and consider what connections there might be between everyday events that make you anxious now and things that happened to you when you were younger that also cause forms of anxiety to develop in your life.
Dr. Christiane Northrup, the author of Dodging Energy Vampires, describes what can happen when you have a long-term relationship with a narcissist. Eventually, it emotionally drains you to the point that it can lead to other issues, even those affecting your health.
“The same is true for you. If you are in a relationship with an energy vampire, you may be able to withstand the energy drain for a while, but eventually the relationship takes its toll. And, I’m not just talking about feeling a little emotional or drained. There can be serious health consequences when you are in an unbalanced relationship with an energy vampire.
In my decades on the front lines of women’s health, I’ve seen people suffering from adrenal fatigue, chronic Lyme disease, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid disorders, an inability to lose weight, diabetes, breast cancer, autoimmune disorders and so-called mystery illnesses.”
While this is primarily talking about romantic relationships with narcissists, it can also be the case if your parents are narcissists.
Being held to high standards that are impossible for you to meet, and having parents that really only care about themselves and their appearance, can talk a toll on you emotionally, mentally and physically.
6) You can’t assert yourself.
Even if you have forms of narcissism left over from your childhood, you might not be able to assert yourself in a productive way and it comes out all wrong.
According to Preston Ni in Psychology Today, a clear sign of a narcissist parent is the tendency to use the child as an extension of the parent’s wishes:
“Instead of raising a child whose own thoughts, emotions, and goals are nurtured and valued, the offspring becomes a mere extension of the parent’s personal wishes, with the child’s individuality diminished.”
Furthermore, its damaging effects may be best thought of as restriction of a child’s autonomy by needing to maintain parental dependence, which in turn leads the individual to be less able to live an adult life.
You might find that you have to yell and scream to get what you want or you manipulate people to do things for you so you don’t have to do them yourself. All forms of narcissism.
Whatever the reason for your thoughts and feelings, if you feel like your parents might have had something to do with your struggles – and it’s likely that they do – you need to get help to manage your situation and come out the other side to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday.
How to Heal Yourself if You Were Raised by a Narcissist
Growing up is hard enough without having to deal with parents who are full-on narcissists and only care about themselves, their needs, and their way in the world.
If you were raised by people who played on your emotions and made you feel bad about yourself, you’ve probably got some healing to do.
While nobody has had a perfect childhood – and what even is a perfect childhood anyway? – some of us have had it harder than others when it comes to getting love and affection from the people who are supposed to help make us functioning adults in the world.
The irony is that your parents might not have had a great start in life either and might not really know the difference.
If you are on to your past and feel like something needs to change so you won’t turn out like your parents, we wish to offer you some ways that you can start healing your mind, body and soul right now.
It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.
1) Learn more about what it means to be a narcissist.
One of the first things you need to do is spend time learning about what it really means to be a narcissist and find out for yourself if you think your parents really were on the wrong track or not.
Everyone has a little bit of narcissism in them, so if you feel like your parents had more than their fair share, do some research to find out how that impacts you and your adulthood before going any further.
You can’t fix something you don’t understand so don’t skip this step.
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According to the professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, W. Keith Campbell, Narcissism is a “continuum”, with everyone falling on some point along the line.
We all have our own small bouts and spikes of narcissism, and for the most part, this is completely normal.
But in recent years, an unprecedented percentage of people have shifted towards the extreme ends of the narcissism continuum, creating more narcissists than ever before.
2) Decide that you can’t change your parents’ ways.
The next step to healing is to accept that you are a separate being from your parents and even though they gave you your start in life, they don’t get to have a say in how you live as an adult.
You need to remind yourself that their life is not your life and that they are responsible for their own actions, just as you are responsible for your own actions.
Then you need to acknowledge that you can’t change the way they were or the way they are. You just need to focus on you.
According to licensed clinical psychologist Dianne Grande, Ph.D., a narcissist “will only change if it serves his or her purpose.”
While this does suggest that a narcissist can change, what does it mean, exactly?
Narcissists exist in their own ecosystems. Everything around them is designed to feed their egoistic needs: the need for power, the need for affirmation, and the need to feel special.
They have an intense inability to see the world the way that non-narcissists do, which is why they simply can’t change the way other people might grow or evolve.
Personal growth generally comes about through hardship, reflection, and a true desire to change.
It requires an individual to look inside themselves, recognize their weaknesses or flaws, and demand better from themselves.
But these are all actions narcissists are incapable of performing. Their entire lives are designed around ignoring self-reflection and self-criticism, and forcing them to change by normal means requires forcing them to act against their nature.
So rather than waste your energy on trying to fix something you can’t change, it’s better to accept your parents for the way they are.
3) Make choices about the way you want to be in the world.
Once you start to come to terms with the truths you are discovering about yourself, make decisions about how you want to show up in a different way.
A way that is meaningful for you. It might seem strange at first and your parents might have a thing or two to say about your new life choices, but if this is important to you, you’ll find space to come into your own life the way you were meant to.
If you’ve never been given a chance to shine, this will feel strange. Go for it anyway.
A crucial way to take responsibility for your life is with your daily habits.
Are you improving your life? Are you growing?
If you don’t look after yourself and your daily you, then it’s likely that you’re not.
Are you taking care of your body, your mind, and your needs?
Here are all the ways that you could be taking responsibility for your mind and body:
- Sleeping properly
- Eating healthy
- Giving yourself time and space to understand your spirituality
- Exercising regularly
- Thanking yourself and those around you
- Playing when you need it
- Avoiding vices and toxic influences
- Reflecting and meditating
Taking responsibility and loving yourself is more than just a state of mind – it’s about actions and habits that you do every single day.
You have to take responsibility for yourself, from the beginning of your day to the end.
4) Set up boundaries in your life.
As you continue on your journey to discover yourself, you are going to find that your parents have many criticisms and things to say about your new life’s choices.
It’s on them to deal with those frustrations or comments. It’s not for you to have to correct them and the way they think about your life.
Set boundaries for yourself so that you don’t put yourself in a situation where you could get hurt by them.
Tell them outright that you are making changes and if they want to be in your life, they are going to have to accept you the way you are now, which might be different from the way they wanted you to be.
5) Get help from your friends or spouse.
Just because you are expected to help your parents doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help of your own from your friends and other family.
You need people to remind you what adulting is all about sometimes and you need a kind ear to talk to about what you are going through.
You are going to have a full range of emotions and thoughts about this situation.
Your parents may use a variety of tactics to get your attention including going so far as to say they are sick and need your full attention.
Get help from your friends or seek professional help to keep you focused on living your own life as well
6) Be a different kind of parent.
Want to manage your parents who are narcissists? Do your damndest to be the opposite kind of parent to your kids.
By making conscious choices to raise your children differently, you can create boundaries for yourself and your children so they understand a healthy relationship between parents and children.
It’s hard to change the way your parents treat you, but remember that you have your own life and need to decide what is right for you and your family.
7) Say no.
Whether you decide to say no to your parents or not, you do have to say no to some things in order to deal with your parents.
This may mean saying no to yourself, but if setting boundaries is on your to-do list, don’t start off by cutting yourself out of the inner circle.
Say no to other things, other people, and things that will keep you up at night.
8) Help where you can and leave the rest on the table.
When it comes down to it, you’ll need to make some hard choices about having to manage your narcissistic parents. You might need to make some compromises.
Don’t leave yourself at the bottom of the list. Choose what is important to you and your life. They might be your parents, but they don’t get to rule your life as an adult.
Enlist the help you need, keep your distance if you can’t say no, and work on building up your resolve by setting a schedule or routine to help. Do what you can and leave the rest up to them.
9) Recognize that it’s not your fault.
One of the last steps to healing your soul and moving on from your narcissistic parents’ shadow is that you need to understand that the way you are is not your fault.
That is to say, it wasn’t your fault – anything you do now to perpetuate this narcissistic way inside you will be your responsibility.
As an adult with a mind of your own, you get to decide to move on. But you need to let go of what has happened so far and get to the next part.
In the same vein, you also need to let go of any blame you have towards your parents.
After all, the most important step to taking responsibility for your life is to stop blaming others.
Because if you’re not taking responsibility for your life, it’s almost certain that you’re blaming other people or situations for your misfortunes.
Whether it’s negative relationships, a bad childhood, socio-economic disadvantages, or other hardships that inevitably come with life, it’s always something other than yourself that’s at fault.
Now don’t get me wrong: Life is unfair. Some people have it worse than others. And in some cases, you are the victim.
But even if that’s true, what does blaming get you?
The victim card? An illusory advantage of preaching victimhood? Justification for life’s unsatisfactory conditions?
In reality, blaming only results in bitterness, resentment, and powerlessness.
Those feelings and thoughts may be justified, but it won’t help you become successful or happy.
Letting go of blame doesn’t justify other people’s unfair actions. It doesn’t ignore life’s hardships.
But the truth is this:
Your life is not about them. It’s about you.
You need to stop blaming so you can reclaim your freedom and power that is yours.
No one can take away your ability to take action and make a better life for yourself.
10) Decide to move forward.
The final part of healing is the action step: you need to start moving in the new direction that is important to you.
It will feel strange at first to try to get to know yourself when you feel like you already know so much about who you are. This is normal.
What’s not okay is allowing yourself to continue to be a narcissist without trying to become a better person.
Swallow your pride and do the work you need to do to start the healing process. Keep in mind that it may take time, you might slip and fall more than you’d like to admit, but you will get there.
And your parents? Well, they’ll either get on board with your new lifestyle or they won’t. But that’s not your problem.
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