3 Steps Towards Ending the Narcissistic Family Legacy

Recognise and end narcissistic parenting within your own family.

Posted May 03, 2020

In a previous article, I discussed how narcissism can be passed down through the generations. If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, your first sense of what is right and wrong in the world will have been learned from them. It is possible that you inadvertently carry on their narcissistic legacy by raising your own children in a similar way.

Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

Creating a family based on narcissistic values includes:

  • Teaching your children that love is conditional on their achievements
  • Creating a family dynamic based on manipulation and secrets
  • Recognising only the positives of your own narcissistic parent
  • Choosing partners who will allow you to be the dominant force in the family
  • Regarding your children as an extension of yourself

If you are a narcissistic parent, your focus will be on projecting the perfect family image. Your children’s successes and failures become your successes and failures. You may place unfair demands on your children and place undue pressure on them to strive for "perfection." You may fail to see your children as autonomous, independent human beings—even when they are adults—and overstep the boundaries of what is acceptable between a parent and child. Perhaps you have one child who is good at meeting your emotional needs and you have created what you see regard as a particularly close, emotional bond with this child—which looks like favouritism to your other children. When you have this type of unequal relationship with one of your children, you may need lies and secrets to protect what is going on between the two of you. 

Growing up with a narcissistic parent is exhausting and stressful and sets a precedent for your children’s future relationships and life choices. If you recognise yourself as a narcissistic parent—which may be the result of your own upbringing—it is important to be aware of the damaging effects this can have on the family and to take steps to end the narcissistic legacy. 

3 Steps to Change the Situation

1. Recognise the damaging effects of narcissistic parenting.

Narcissists have a tendency to only accept their opinion at the right one. They can see situations in very black and white ways and as "right" and "wrong." When you are raised by a narcissistic parent with this mindset, you can grow up equally convinced that they are right about everything—if you ever attempted to offer a counter opinion, it would be quickly shot down.

Your narcissistic parent probably convinced you that you had a better life than the other kids you knew due to their superior parenting and abilities to earn more money, be more popular, or be more successful. They may have convinced you that you had it better than other people because you and your parent were so "close" due to the intimacies they shared with you.

If you were raised in this way, even as an adult you may fail to see anything wrong with it. It is important to recognise the damage that this type of parenting has on children and to start from this point of awareness in changing the situation in your own family.

2. Recognise that good parenting respects the autonomy of your children.

If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, you may have developed poor boundaries between yourself and others. Narcissistic parents often see their children as an extension of themselves and use various emotionally manipulative and inappropriate means of violating boundaries between themselves and their children.

Perhaps you have noticed a tendency to have poorly defined boundaries between yourself and others in your adult relationships. When it comes to children, you may have similarly poorly defined boundaries. You may see your children as an extension of yourself. You may regard them as being there for emotional support and find yourself sharing information about your personal life and emotional state which is too much for a child to handle.

If you were raised in this way yourself, you may think it’s perfectly ok to do so, especially if you are not yet aware of the negative pressure this placed on you. Children like to feel important and needed by parents, but by failing to create healthy, respectful boundaries, you are creating a situation in which your child may also have poor boundaries between him or herself and others in their adult life. This can lead to them choosing needy and potentially narcissistic friends and partners as they repeat the patterns they have learned. 

3. Notice how you talk about other people within the family.

I was raised in a family where the first thing that happened when meeting pretty much anyone was to complain and gossip about them. If they weren’t in the family, my mother would comment on their looks, what they’d said, what underlying insult was contained in their comments, and how badly they were doing in life. This went for people that we “liked” as well as anyone else.

It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties, and with a new partner whose family acted in a completely different manner, that I realised I did the same. Not to the same extent, it has to be noted, but I tended to find something negative in every interaction—coming away from an interaction with some degree of rudeness and snark was deeply ingrained. Being close to a family with completely different values helped me recognise how I was acting. I didn’t need to make myself feel better and compare my family to anyone else’s—we were fine as we were and so were other people.

Do you find yourself engaging in unnecessary negative talk about other people on a regular basis? Are you passing on the message to your kids that other people are not as good as you because they’re less financially successful, attractive, or don’t come up to your expectations in some other way? The next time you find yourself about to complain about someone purely for the sake of doing it, ask yourself what type of message you’re giving your kids.

Narcissism within families creates pressure, division both within the family and with those outside of it, and can result in deep insecurities and unhappiness for the children raised in those environments. If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, you can begin to take ownership of your own family in a new, more positive, kind, and accepting way and end the generational narcissistic legacy.