How Being Raised By A Narcissist Can Make You Feel You’ve Been Neglected Your Whole Life

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Can Being Raised By A Narcissist Make You Feel You’ve Been Neglected Your Whole Life?

Narcissism could best be described as an excessive focus on one’s own wants, needs, happiness and feelings over the wants, needs, happiness, and feelings of others.

When you are dealing with a true narcissist, you can bet that even when they are kind, they are being kind for a reason that serves them.

Generally, it’s not a good idea to trust a true narcissist. They will have their own interests in the front of minds and may be willing to hurt you in various ways if they deem it necessary in order to meet their own needs.

It is very important to keep in mind, though, that there are many different levels of narcissism. Some narcissists are so self-absorbed that they do not care about anyone else’s health, happiness or safety. Others can have milder versions of varying degrees, where they may act moderately narcissistically in some situations, and much less so in others.

There’s a lot of talk about narcissism these days. At last, the general population is becoming knowledgeable about what narcissism is, what it looks like, and how it forms.

But in some ways, the more you know about narcissism the more questions you may have. It can stir up a lot of doubt about the people in your life, whether one or more is a narcissist, and what you can, or should, do about it.

No one has more reason, or more right, to have such questions than the child of a narcissist. Being raised by a narcissistic parent is a very hard thing to understand and cope with. This is made even more complicated because the child of the narcissistic parent can be fooled into believing or feeling the narcissistic parents’ attention, which is actually mirroring, is love.

Raised By a Narcissist

The child of a narcissist has a life that appears one way but is actually another. This is, in many ways, a process of growing up deceived.

All children begin from a place of trust at birth. Babies are born with their brains already primed to experience love and care from their parents, and so they naturally interpret their parents’ actions through that lens.

All parents must make decisions for their child. But most parents make decisions, as best they can, based on what they feel is best for their child. In stark contrast, the narcissist makes decisions based on what’s best for herself. But children, of course, know nothing about selfishness or narcissism, so they will naturally believe that their parents’ selfish decisions arise from love and care.

Narcissistic parents are unable to see or hear their child or connect with her inner self. Because they experience their child as an extension and reflection of themselves, they are only tuned in to whether the child makes them feel bad or good. When you make your narcissistic parent feel very, very pleased, you will bask in the warm glow of her “love.” But it’s not an honest love of your true inner self; it’s simply a matter of feeling pleased with the positive mirror image you have provided for her.

This is how the child of a narcissist ends up in a school he would not choose, or practicing an instrument he does not enjoy. It is how the child of a narcissist ends up home alone, feeling unloved and poorly cared for. It is how the child of a narcissist ends up feeling like her parents’ prized possession one day, and their deepest shame the next. It is how the child of a narcissist ends up feeling unknown, unseen and unheard, but confused about why that is. And this is how the child of a narcissist grows up to feel alone, empty and lost as an adult. And despite the periodic warm glow of the Narcissists’ false love, it’s how the child ends up feeling neglected all of her life

Unaware, you are constantly a victim of your parents’ whims and needs. But inconsistent, false or absent love takes its toll, leaving you, the child, wondering, “Am I an acceptable person who is deserving of love?”

How Being Raised By A Narcissist Can Make You Feel You’ve Been Neglected Your Whole Life

The short and simple answer to this question is this: You end up feeling neglected because you truly have been. Yes, you are a victim of Emotional Neglect. This can be fairly obvious if your parents were absent, abusive, or, out of selfishness, did not provide for your essential physical, educational or physical needs.

But many lovely victims of their narcissistic parents struggle to understand or accept that they are a victim at all. Because what if your parent was not particularly abusive, appeared loving, and met at least some of your essential needs described above? This can make it very difficult to accept that you were neglected.

But you were. You were emotionally neglected. You grew up with what I call Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs. And no parent fails more on that than the narcissist.

You grew up with the deepest biological expression of your truest self, your feelings/emotions, ignored. Your narcissistic parent, if he saw your feelings at all, experienced them as an inconvenience or a burden. This conveys to you a powerful Life Rule that you will likely follow your entire life: “Your feelings are a useless burden.”

What your parents gave you in childhood will be continued through your whole life. You have grown up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. And you have learned how to neglect yourself. But the good news is this: Now that you’re an adult, the ball is in your court. You can reverse the harm your narcissistic parent did to you by treating yourself in the exact opposite way.

To learn how to reverse the harm of your narcissistic parent, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn how to deal with your narcissistic parent now in a way that allows you to become stronger and healthier, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Above all, never doubt this fact for one more minute: Being raised by a narcissist does make you feel you’ve been neglected your whole life.


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RR - February 11, 2020 Reply

Hi Dr Webb, thank you for your work, it is so eye-opening and validating!
I don’t remember reading anything in your books regarding differentiating a narcissist type from someone with high-functioning and undiagnosed autism, which would have some similar traits (self-focused, lacking capacity for empathy and so on).
What do you think about this? How would you tell the difference? And does it matter?

    Jonice - February 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear RR, yes it does often matter, depending on your relationship with the person. The best way to understand the nature of a person in your life is to talk it over with a trained therapist.

Jackie - January 14, 2019 Reply

All I can really say is – thank you. Your posts and books etc. mean a lot to me, my wife, my kids, and so many other people. You have an incredible gift for articulating these very confusing and emotional concepts in such beautifully simply ways. This makes it manageable and possible to first believe what is going on and then to heal from it. Thank you.

Beverly - January 13, 2019 Reply

I have been reading both of your books and I see myself all over the pages of your books. I definitely do have CEN. My mother was a narcissist and only cared when she thought my actions made her look bad. Now I am married to a narcissist. Most of my life I felt alone, neglected, abused physically, mentally and emotionally. Lately I just want to cry. Not sure how to deal with all the emotions I have been having. I have been writing to try to get my feelings out on paper. I do have a therapist and she has been helping me to acknowledge how I feel and accept them. I do feel more in control and more calm than I have ever been in my life. I want to thank you for your books and all the insights you have given me about myself.


    Jonice - January 13, 2019 Reply

    Dear Beverly, your story touches my heart. I am so glad to be part of your honoring yourself and your emotions more. Good for you for doing this work. Keep it up! You deserve the calmness and control that you are working so hard for, and much much more.

Katie - December 18, 2018 Reply

Running on Empty and your articles have been so enlightening for me. My parents were abusive to us and each other. Yet nobody saw it because in public they gave the appearance of a “perfect family “ and expected us to act accordingly. Everything was a facade. Unraveling this and learning to parent differently has been essential and exhausting. The hardest part is the attachment feelings to a mother figure I still long for. But it also makes me acutely attuned to my kids needing that safety and love consistently. Hopefully breaking the cycle!

    Jonice - December 20, 2018 Reply

    Good for you Katie! Keep up the wonderful work you’re doing.

Anonymous - December 17, 2018 Reply

Thank you Jonice. This is it right here. This is the reason I’m so messed up. This is also the reason I’ve chosen every screwed up partner that never loved me & why I wasted years in those relationships no ever being heard or acknowledged. This is why all those relationships, as well as my marriage have failed. This is the reason I AM a COMPLETE failure. This is the reason for it ALL. At this point of my life, (I’m in my early 50’s)
I can’t even maintain staying employed. Please don’t ask me to read your books. I’d love to more than anything but, I’m such a loser, that I can’t even afford to get myself well. My life has been nothing but pain & misery. I so wish I had been strong enough to have your will power. Right now I don’t even want to be here anymore. There’s nothing left for me. I know you’re going to say I should seek professional help & I thank you for your concern but, I’ve already done so throughout my life & as you can see its done nothing for me. I truly appreciate
you for giving me such an informative & eye opening education as to why I’m so screwed up as it’s been way better to read your posts & gain that knowledge than seeing any professional who could never provide me any answers… I went no contact with my mother years back to bad it wasn’t sooner. My adult son hasn’t spoken to me for three years. Since his father passed away. Things were good between us or at least I thought they were but, I guess his father’s narcissism was my fault too. I did everything differently with my son and broke the cycle of neglect & abuse I grew up with but, it just goes to show that obviously it wasn’t enough. I give up. I wish everyone well & I hope they find the healing path I’ve always been in search of.
Thank you again.

MPA - December 11, 2018 Reply

I ‘m 70 and still struggle with this. Thanks to new resources, like ROE, at least I know WHY now. I can see that patterns I set up. I don’t express my wants and needs, then feel neglected when I don’t get them fulfilled. It’s hard to believe that it’s now safe to ask for help and to express feelings of anger, disappointment, etc.

Laura - December 10, 2018 Reply

Hello, I am a preschool teacher and I fear that one of my preschoolers has this dynamic happening. It triggers me and I want to help or save the child.

    Jonice - December 10, 2018 Reply

    Dear Laura, all you can do is be kind and caring to the child. I know it’s hard to stand by and watch and my heart goes out to you.

    JP - December 23, 2018 Reply

    I would also take every opportunity to let the child know how smart, talented, special, gifted the child is. The only positive comments about my ability I received growing up came from my teachers which helped me believe in my ability to go to college and join the professional world when so many around me choose to work as dancers in gentlemen clubs or marry the first man who offered to take care of them.

Monica - December 10, 2018 Reply

Wondering if CEN is the culprit of my daughters not feeling understand by their dad. Not all the time, but it does bring them to tears when it happens, and now I’m having flashbacks of similar feelings (in regards to their dad) when we were first dating. Assuming, maybe I repeated the pattern of CEN I experienced growing up, when I chose my marital partner 🙁 oops!

    Jonice - December 10, 2018 Reply

    Dear Monica, maybe you could try to talk with your husband about this? If not, then start addressing it yourself. This dynamic can harm your children, passing CEN on to them.

Ms L M O'Hagan - December 9, 2018 Reply

I struggle with this one as to how you get other people to change for the better how they treat you. There are a lot of what you call them or takers and not givers when you have CEN.

    Jonice - December 10, 2018 Reply

    The only thing you can do is be clear about what you won’t tolerate. You can’t change their behavior but you can change ho much of it you allow to harm you.

Rachel - December 9, 2018 Reply

I want to thank you for highlighting this life-changer which started with emotional abuse in a long term relationship and results in a questioning of all relationships, primarily my parents, one of them somewhere on narcisstic scale, the other having a depression my whole life. I am on my own, and in my early 50s, hoping that I have plenty of time as there is so much to learn and to catch up on! I have online support,and need a new therapist soon-preferably a body psychotherapist as I believe that trauma is held everywhere and this process helps.I would like to know what you think (I am in London but M.S. limits travel.)

    Jonice - December 10, 2018 Reply

    Dear Rachel, you do have time! I suggest going at this from all directions possible. All my best to you!

Anon - December 9, 2018 Reply

I grew up being made to feel everything was my fault. My brother teased me mercilessly and when I reacted by being upset I was always told to be quiet and to stop making a fuss. When I was 6 I was pulled out of the car and left by the side of the road as my parents pulled a short distance away. On their return they said they had only come back because my brother had begged them to. I was told there was no need to make a fuss as I knew they would come back. I was also told if I did it again they would do it again and leave me for real. I did my best to suppress my emotions growing up but sometimes they just overwhelmed me. As an adult I was told I was a difficult child, having read your posts and your book I realise I have CEN and I can learn to feel and experience my emotions as they arise and not to have to suppress my wants and needs. Thank you helping me see it’s not my fault.

JQ - December 3, 2018 Reply

My parent never provided me with any of the 5 love languages which I feel I needed and still crave. Does that makes the narcissit as they were never abusive in any way?

    Jonice - December 3, 2018 Reply

    Dear JQ, sadly, Emotional Neglect can be so severe that it crosses the line over to abuse. I’m so sorry you grew up this way!

Karen - December 2, 2018 Reply

Thanks again Dr Webb
Your articles are always enlightening and this one is no exception. Thanks to all of your writings and encouragement I have come a long way on the journey of healing from CEN and am now starting to live life on my own terms, with stronger boundaries and acknowledgement of my feelings.

This article has prompted a question or two. Is a parent’s narcissism a product of the way that person was raised? Are they suffering from CEN themselves and self absorption is their way of coping?

    Jonice - December 3, 2018 Reply

    Dear Karen, most narcissists grew up with CEN as a part of the picture. Yet they had other complex childhood experiences that overshadow it.

      Karen - December 11, 2018 Reply

      Thanks for your reply Dr Webb. Would you be able to say a bit more about what you mean by “other complex childhood experiences”? Thanks

Rosie - December 2, 2018 Reply

It was only as a young teen I noticed my ‘loving’ dad was totally self focussed and was indifferent to consequences to others. It makes one feel very small but in need of that attention which was rightful. I am getting a lot of relief out of reading your second book. It’s been an easier way in than the first since that required me to recognise many emotions I had no idea of to choose between. As you say., the child of a narcissist has to bury emotion as it makes one vulnerable to taunts. Getting some progress though my cen partner and I split. His sister bought him the first book but he’s too dyslexic to read it. Links to articles were not opened. Glad you made the other an audio book. Maybe one day he will find this.

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