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How to Recover From the Effects of Narcissistic Parenting

The effects of narcissistic parenting can be severe, but they can be overcome.

Key points

  • The impacts of narcissistic parenting can be unique to each individual who lives through it.
  • An adult child of a narcissist may believe their worthiness depends on how they act and what they do, not on who they are.
  • Learning what healthy boundaries are and how to set them with others is critical for recovery.

In the first post of this series on the impacts of narcissistic parenting, we explored the question, "Was your parent a narcissist?" In this post, we further explore what the impacts of narcissistic parenting can be on a young child, and also what you can do to heal and overcome these impacts.

Possible impacts of being parented by a narcissist

While the impacts on the child will vary as widely as the ways in which narcissistic parenting may manifest, some may include:

  • Absorbing and deeply believing in dysfunctional and destructive emotional templates of what love looks like.
  • Believing their worthiness depends on how they act and what they do, not on who they are, or not believing that they are worthy just for existing.
  • Struggling with setting healthy and appropriate boundaries.
  • Failing to recognize healthy romantic partners and even being drawn to dating or marrying narcissists themselves.
  • Falling into caretaking and rescuing roles, seeking validation and worthiness from taking care of others and people-pleasing.
  • Neglecting their needs and wants, or even being “needless and wantless."
  • Having a hard time trusting that their feelings and thoughts are valid and that their needs will ever be met.
  • Deeply struggling with their self-esteem and with maintaining a stable and cohesive sense of self.
  • Attempting to cope with their emotional pain from a childhood of neglect and emotional abuse through addictive and self-destructive substances and behaviors.
  • Possibly growing up to become narcissists themselves.

Again, this list is in no way exhaustive of all the psychological impacts being parented by a narcissist may have on someone.

The impacts will vary and will depend on the context of the child or adult child, how strong their sense of self was, whether they had stabilizing, functional relationships with other adults in their childhood, whether they were the scapegoat or the favorite child, how much or how little contact they had with the narcissist, etc.

Ultimately though, the adult children of narcissists will likely face complex psychological healing tasks as a result of their parenting experiences.

Healing after being parented by a narcissist

The healing work required by adult children of narcissists will likely include the following:

  • Educate yourself. Whether through books or through professional support, you will likely need to begin learning about what narcissism is, how it can show up in parenting, and what its possible impacts can look like. The first step in any healing process is bringing awareness to what is, and I find that psychoeducation about narcissists can be deeply illuminating as you begin to make sense of your past.
  • Confront your personal history of trauma and neglect. I strongly recommend working with a trauma therapist or other trained professional as you begin to remember, talk about, and make sense of your past. Also, don’t necessarily look to your own family of origin for an accurate reflection of your personal history if you have memory gaps or questions. They may not be willing or able to validate your personal history based on their own trauma with the narcissist.
  • Grieve what you did not receive. Inevitably, in the course of educating yourself and confronting your past, you will need to grieve what you did not receive—essentially, the chance to truly be a kid. This grieving process may take quite some time—it can, at times, often feel endless—but it’s also valid and necessary to your healing process.
  • Work through the developmental milestones you may not have achieved. Often as children of narcissists, we don’t fully get the chance to be children or teens with our own identities, needs, wants, and preferences. We may also have missed out on certain development milestones like lifestyle experimentation, dating, or even the pursuit of the education or career we wanted due to the impacts of psychologically unhealthy parenting. It’s therefore part of your healing work to begin working through any developmental milestones in conjunction with your personal history confrontation and grieving work.
  • Set boundaries. You'll need to set boundaries with either the narcissist(s) still in your life or those you may be over-accommodating and catering to. Learning what healthy boundaries are and how to set them with others is critical for recovery from narcissistic parenting.
  • Seek out healthier, more functional relationships. At first, these may feel hard if not impossible to recognize, and you may not trust yourself that you can actually draw these kinds of relationships into your personal life. That’s okay. Start with your relationship with your therapist (a trained professional whose job it is to show up in a healthy, functional way) and allow them to help show you what could be possible in healthier relationships. Over time, may influence who you attract into your personal life.
  • Focus your healing and recovery work on developing a more cohesive and stable sense of self. For most adult children of narcissists, the core healing work revolves around developing a more cohesive and stable sense of self, learning to love and value ourselves for who we are, not for who we think we “should” be to win approval. A poor sense of self can impact every area of your life, from your physical and mental health to your relationships and career advancement. It can even impact your bank account. So cultivating and developing a more cohesive and stable sense of self with the help of a therapist can be a wonderful way to focus your healing work.

The impacts of narcissistic parenting can be severe, but they can also be overcome.

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