Were You the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse?

Why it can be hard to define whether you were abused by your parent.

Posted Apr 17, 2020

Surely, one would think, one would know whether or not they are the victim of abuse in their childhood—abuse of any kind? And yet, when it comes to narcissistic abuse, there’s often confusion on the part of the abused child as to whether any abuse actually occurred. Sometimes, it can take years for someone to fully realised that their parent was a narcissist and that they were subjected to narcissistic abusive behaviour.

Why is this? Well, in contrast to some other forms of abuse, such as physical and sexual abuse (which, it should be remembered, can also take place within the narcissistic parental-child relationship), narcissistic abuse can be far harder to identify. Even in cases of physical or sexual abuse, victims may find it hard to accept that it happened and may blame themselves in some way for its occurrence (and they may have been manipulated into thinking this way by the perpetrator). But with narcissistic abuse of an emotional nature, there are no physical bruises and it can take a lifetime of confusion on the part of the victim to realise it took place. 

Narcissistic abuse tends to be more subtle in nature. The abused child may have been raised in an environment which looks idyllic to those on the outside, perhaps with an attractive mother or wealthy parents. Their narcissistic parent may be charming and funny and entertain the child’s friends. Narcissists are great at presenting a good front to the world and abusive behaviour can take place relentlessly and viciously, even when everything looks rosy to everyone else. 

What victims of narcissistic abuse tend to have in common is that—no matter how much they have been impacted by their childhoods—they find it very hard to find a reason for their problems in their upbringing. They assume that there is "something wrong with them" because, they reason, they came from comfortable backgrounds and didn’t suffer the terrible abuse that many children are subjected to. 

We often tend to think of narcissistic abuse within the context of romantic relationships but narcissistic abuse is also present in many parent-child relationships. 

It’s useful to define exactly what we mean by "abuse" which is usually defined as any action which intentionally harms or injures another person. When a parent hits their child or physically abuses them in some way, or when an adult engages in sexual abuse with a child, it is easy to recognise this as abusive behaviour.

Narcissistic abuse can be just as harming or injurious to the child on the receiving end—but consistent nasty comments and put-downs are far harder to "see" than a bruise on a child’s body. The damage takes place on the inside rather than on the outside. That’s why this type of abuse remains hidden—even, often, to its victims. 

Source: 123rf

A narcissistic parent will engage in some of the following behaviours towards her children which cause them a range of issues later in life: 

1. Boundary violation

The narcissistic parent finds it very hard to recognise a distinction between herself and her children. She doesn’t recognise their autonomy or boundaries. She may violate boundaries in several ways including over-sharing information and demanding an inappropriate level of information/involvement in her child’s life. 

2. Control

The narcissistic parent needs to control everything. He insists on having a high degree of control over his children’s choices. He may establish ways to control the family, including dismissing a child’s other parent in front of them.

3. Lack of empathy

The narcissistic parent finds it very hard to truly empathise with her children and may fail to provide the unconditional support they need. 

4. Putting herself first

Narcissists’ needs are paramount. They may look fantastic at certain aspects of parenting, but ultimately they will be prioritising whatever meets their needs.

5. Criticising

Narcissistic parents are often highly critical (which stems from their own fragile sense of ego).  

6. Demanding attention

Narcissists demand a high level of attention from those around them, including their children. The narcissistic parent's child may have to fulfil a number of roles, including serving as their own "partner" or "mother." 

7. Manipulative behaviours

Manipulation is a key element in how narcissists interact with their children. The child is held by several strings and has to meet the needs and wants of his or her parent. The child is manipulated by charm or neediness into doing what the parent wants them to do. 

8. Jealousy

Narcissistic parents are often jealous of their children—for narcissistic mothers, this is particularly the case when it comes to their daughters. They may see their daughters as more attractive, younger, and possibly having had an "easier" life than they have had.

9. Taking credit for a child’s achievement

On the flip side of that, a narcissistic parent may take all the credit for things which his child has achieved in life.

10. Refusing to let an adult child go

When a narcissistic parent's identity is closely tied up with that of being a parent—and it’s been an identity which has allowed her to exert a high degree of control—she may find it very difficult to accept that her child is an adult. 

11. Refusing to accept a child’s partner

If a narcissistic parent considers himself to be the most important person in his child’s life, he may refuse to accept the adult child’s partner.

12. Siding with a child’s partner

On the flip side of that, the narcissistic parent may side with her child’s partner in order to try and create an ally with whom she can criticise her child. 

Growing up in an environment where you experience the above has lasting and damaging effects on everything from your core identity to the choices you make in life. It's important to recognise the impact this has had in order to take steps in moving on from the abusive relationship.