7 Signs You're a Narcissistic Parent

Desperate mother holding her crying son

Narcissistic traits tend to develop during early childhood as a means of self-protection due to environmental factors. Experiencing some narcissistic traits from time to time is completely normal, but if you notice that you have more than a few signs and your relationships, career, family life, and overall happiness is being negatively affected, know that there are resources that can bolster your overall wellbeing.

Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Personality disorders typically develop during childhood, but aren't diagnosed until someone is at least 18 years old. It is totally normal for children to show signs of narcissism as it is part of their brain's development, but adults who have multiple signs of narcissism may experience problems within their daily life. Those with narcissistic traits may have difficulty being parents themselves and may find raising a child to be stressful and confusing.

Challenges With Empathy

Those who have narcissistic traits may experience difficulty with understanding the perspective of others, including their child. When you are empathic, you can easily put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand their point of view. Those with narcissistic traits tend to struggle with this. On a deeper, psychological level, this difficulty with empathy once served a purpose. Many of those who develop narcissistic traits were put down, berated, or ignored during their own childhood thus leading them to focus on preserving themselves versus trying to understand the perspective of others.


Grandiosity means naturally feeling better than others and a sense of entitlement when it comes to what you believe you deserve. This may translate into behaving in a condescending way and not giving others a chance to share their perspective when you feel you are correct in a given situation. As a parent, this can be especially tricky as young children are naturally self-centered as a part of their developmental process. This can lead to a lot of parent/child clashes that can feel stressful.

Attention Seeking

Those with narcissistic traits may also feel naturally drawn towards actions that result in high levels of praise and attention by others they deem to be important. This aspect of narcissism is common in adults who were not given a lot of positive feedback growing up and as adults now seek out the praise that was absent during their childhood as an unconscious attempt to reconcile rejecting memories. Attention-seeking behaviors may place the parent's priorities above a child's wellbeing creating a potentially unhealthy dynamic.

Fragile Self-Esteem

Fragile self-esteem tends to develop when children experience unrealistic expectations from their parents, are abused, are put down often, and are ignored. When these children grow up, fragile self-esteem tends to translate into an overly confident adult on the exterior, while on the inside there is a constant battle to seek out approval. Again, this drive to seek out approval often develops unconsciously as a way to work out their own childhood traumas, rejections, and unhealthy attachments to their parents. When an adult with fragile self-esteem has a child, it can often feel overwhelming and rejecting which can trigger their own childhood traumas.

Mother berating her daughter

Relationships Based on Gain

Often, those with narcissistic traits learn early on that relationships are about what you can get from others. This is another behavior that is learned during childhood, but sticks around into adulthood. This can lead to adults having difficulties maintaining healthy relationships and having an even harder time modeling healthy, loving relationships to their own child because they most likely did not have a great example of that growing up.

Exaggerated Sense of Self

Those with narcissistic traits may have an exaggerated sense of self to overcompensate for the fragility of their own self-worth. This tends to develop in childhood as a means of protection from a potentially damaging parent who did not foster healthy self-development. When those with exaggerated self-worth have their own children, they may too find it difficult to foster their child's sense of self because they don't have a healthy grasp on their own.

Bases Goals on Others' Approval

In many circumstance, those with narcissistic traits grew up with a parent or parents who were difficult to please, thus leading them to seek out approval from others as adults. This creates a lack of intrinsic motivation when it comes to goal setting which can leave an individual feeling unhappy and rejected unless they are praised or supported by others. This can be especially tricky when it comes to parenting, as an individual may only feel good about parenting when they are doing what they deem to be a good job in front of others who comment or praise them. This may also motivate them to push their children into doing activities that look good to others, but the child is not naturally interested in doing them. In other words, this can lead to the parent placing their needs above the child's which can be incredibly damaging to a child's development at any age.

Better Understanding Narcissistic Traits

If you feel as if some narcissistic tendencies are negatively impacting your overall quality of life and your ability to parent, it's a good idea to investigate some potential resources. If you believe you were raised by a narcissistic mother or father, speaking to a therapist can be immensely helpful in processing your parent/child relationship. For parents who believe they have some narcissistic traits, counselors and therapists can help you better understand why these traits developed in the first place and how to work with your natural tendencies when it comes to becoming the best parent you can be. Remember that raising a child comes with its challenges and working on yourself is one of the healthiest and bravest steps to take as a parent.

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7 Signs You're a Narcissistic Parent