Raised By A Narcissist

Few phrases sum up the idea of narcissism better than:

It’s all about me. 

But the most defining feature of a person with narcissism is actually not his self-involvement. It’s his deeply concealed fear of being exposed as inadequate.

Underneath the bluster and arrogance of the narcissist lies a hurt and fragile core. Deep down, narcissists fear others will see that they are not special or superior (they are just human beings after all), so many of their grandiose behaviors are designed to prevent that exposure. Surprisingly, this deeply buried vulnerability is the trait that can do the greatest damage to the narcissist’s child.

What is it like to grow up with a narcissistic parent? Meet Lucy, who was raised by a narcissistic father. 

The Child


Lucy grew up knowing that she was her father’s favorite. A straight-A student and accomplished athlete, she made sure to never let him down by making a B or dropping a ball in a game, like her brother did. Lucy noticed early that she was special in her father’s eyes. She saw how enraged and embarrassed her father was when her older brother got in trouble at school, and she made sure never to make him feel that way. 

Lucy made many decisions in her life that were designed to please her father. She felt that if she let him down he would stop loving her, so she followed in his footsteps to take over his dry cleaning business. Lucy never thought about what she herself wanted as a career because her father made it clear to her from birth that he had already set up her life for her. 

At age 23, Lucy was feeling bored behind the counter of the dry-cleaner and yearned to go back to college and get an MBA. It took her months to gather the nerve to tell her father her plan. When she did, he was enraged. “I’ve given you everything, and this is how you repay me? You have no idea what you’re doing. When you’re broke and miserable, don’t come to me for help.” 

From that point on, Lucy’s father treated her coldly, as if he no longer loved her. She was no longer the apple of his eye. Her brother finally got his turn as the favorite, and Lucy was on her own. 

The Parent

The narcissistic parent is not able to see his child as a separate person. The child is an extension of himself; an object to deliver admiration, but also capable of bringing shame. These parents often choose one child who they feel most likely to reflect positively upon them and lavish favoritism upon that child, as Lucy’s father did. This leaves the other children jockeying for attention and love.

Since the narcissist’s child is seen as an extension of the parent, any normal failure, struggle, or flaw of a the child poses a threat to the narcissist of being exposed as imperfect. So he keeps a tight rein upon the children, especially the favored one, out of fear of being exposed. When any child, particularly the chosen one, expresses his own wants, feelings or needs, this makes the parent feel vulnerable. The child is likely to meet with harsh rejection.

The Result

Throughout childhood, Lucy’s own identity was neglected while she toiled to be the perfect child to protect her father’s vulnerable core from exposure. This is one of the many ways in which Childhood Emotional Neglect can happen. As an adult, Lucy will struggle to define her own wants and needs. In fact she may feel selfish for simply having wants and needs. As an adult, that long ago child will be trapped in her father’s mirror, yearning for his lost love and approval.


  1. Separate Yourself:  Your parent probably gave you what he/she could, but it was limited, and some of it was painful. If you need distance from your narcissistic parent, take it. The more you can do so with compassion for his/her deeply buried vulnerability, the better.
  2. Discover yourself: You are behind on discovering who you are. As an adult, you now have to define yourself and what you want. Start paying attention to your feelings, wants and needs in a way that your parents never could.
  3. Lose the guilt: This is not your fault. You are not responsible for your parent’s needs and issues. But you are now responsible for your own healing. Now is the time for you to stop feeling guilty and take control of your life.
  4. Seek help:  Enlist the support and guidance of an experienced therapist. Visit EmotionalNeglect.com. Follow the recovery steps set out in Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Or both.

Today, for your healing and for yourself, it’s your turn. Right here, right now:

It’s all about you.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty. 


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Inger Downing - March 25, 2017 Reply

I was physically, mentally and emotionally abused by my grandmother for years. Unbelievable, horrific things she did to me which I always questioned how a person could be so cruel/mean spirited to their own granddaughter. It would take a book to tell my story of 54 years of abuse and the wicked things I suffered from the relentless mistreatment from my grandmother. It wasn’t until recently, after she passed away in August 2016 at the age of 90 that I discovered the answer to why she was the abusive, horrible person she was to me all these years. Months later, after she passed, I was still in severe pain, along with memories of the many ruthless, cruel, wicked things she did to me, I googled(grandmother abusing granddaughter for years). I was shocked with what the search revealed. I found out my grandmother was a narcissist.She had narcissistic personality disorder. The characteristics, traits & personality of people with this disorder described my grandmother, the things they do,there behavior and the damage they inflict on their (target). I had been raised by and the victim of a narcissist. I finally found out there was an actual name/ medical term for the person I had been hurt by over & over again all these years. It gave me validation and confirmation that something had to be wrong with someone to do the things she did and could care less about the effects of her wicked seeds. It was another shock to discover that one of the characteristics this person possesses is, they get pleasure from seeing you hurt and in pain. They enjoy hurting you. They do it intentionally. This explained why she had no problem with abusing,harming and hurting me all these years. She enjoyed it. Another significant, shocking but accurate thing about this type of person(which I had also experienced and was still experiencing after she passed)is that they never stop. The older they get the worse they get. I was shocked and amazed to read everything I experienced with my grandmother was right there. I tried for years to figure out how she could be so cruel,how could or why a person could do such things. I find out all along my grandmother had a mental illness. How dangerous it is to be involved with a narcissist. I wished I had known this information years ago. They also emphasized, getting away from, disconnecting and having nothing to do with this type of person because of how dangerous they could be. Oh if I had known this!!! I had no one tell me all these years that something was wrong with my grandmother. All the adult relatives that knew her growing up, before me & my brother were born had to know something was wrong with her and she wasn’t normal. They may not have known the name for it but there’s no way they didn’t know something was wrong. Everybody acted like nothing was wrong. This revelation hurt me as well!! The way narcissist deceive others to think they are the sweetest,nicest people in the world to discredit what you say about them. How they are so good at tricking people to believe they’re sweet, wonderful people that these people won’t even entertain, believe anything you say about them. I’ve experienced this first hand. The multitudes of lies they tell. They are brain wash specialist. It’s terrible what I went through. It was so true and profound when I read they don’t stop, continue even in old age and get worse. Also the information advised to keep your children away from them because they would become victim to their narcissist behavior. Brain washed and used in their mission to destroy you. I’m a victim of this also!! Oh how I wish I knew all this information years ago. I was correct to feel the way I felt about my grandmother. I was correct about how horrible & not normal the things were that she did to me. Before I discovered this information, silly me for the last 10 years or more felt obligated to be there for my grandmother. I called myself letting go of the past because she was up in age & me, her & my son were the only 3 left. I devoted myself to my grandmother and son. Taking care of everything they needed still being mistreated while doing so many times. Being taken advantage of and disrespected by her and my son. I still pushed through, always dependable and reliable. In the midst of being hurt many,many times. They put me through HE’LL!,but I felt it was my responsibility to take care of them as best I could and believe me it was a hard,hard job. The devastating things is just like the information aboutpeople with narcissistic personality disorder said,little did I know,all those years I was being a great granddaughter to my grandmother,she was stIll doing wicked things behind my back. Destroying me and my son’s relationship,lying,manipulating and still doing everything she could to destroy me. Even after she passed I discovered many more things I would never have expected. She continued to inflict pain and hurt to in death and the things she did were so diabolical they still linger and effect me even though she’s gone. I’m in excruciating pain. At least now I know what was wrong with her but it pains me that I was a victim of someone with a mental illness for years. My grandmother and no one intervened or understood the severity of the things I sometimes told about what I was going through with her. It was crime that was ignored and I never got any cooperation,help or justice. I’m the last one standing to tell this horrible story not to mention that I believe me and my brother were kidnapped based on many things I learned over the years and didn’t make sense when I was younger. People got away with serious crimes and me and my brother were the victims.

Wanda Schmidt - June 17, 2015 Reply

I’m 58 yrs old. I can confirm everything you’ve said with my Mom until I left home. As a child Everything was her way or the highway. She had me under her thumb. When she was angry she would take it on me mentally and physically my feelings didn’t matter so I lived my life from child trying to please her. I live in guilt everyday. if wasn’t for my Saviour Jesus Christ I would not be alive today. I married a similar man who has narcissistic behavior. I basically married into same situation. My mind can be full of grief and anxiety if he doesn’t understand me he either blows up, refuse to change, every thing is black and white. And sometimes, maybe most of my times everything I do wrong is pointed to me. I have Bipolar Major Depression and anxiety. I don’t know myself any more. This makes me more grief stricken.

Tomoveon - November 30, 2014 Reply

Imbroglio. It appears our mothers were alike. As with any narcissist they love themselves and require all of the attention. I understand that it is a disorder or imbalance. But I wish I could figure out how to move on.
At 53 this is the first time I have ever thought of looking for online support. Though I have sought psychological counseling to help me move forward it hasn’t worked because I can’t seem to overcome her emotional control over me. Therapists have told me to distance myself mile wise to prevent the control and the longest I’ve lasted is one year and that was only because she had hurt me very badly with her actions.
As a child we were made to feel guilty if she was sick. We were like slaves with extreme emotional abuse and control. Physical abuse was used if emotional didn’t work fast enough.
How do we move on? I want to move on in life. I can no longer afford a therapist. I live every day of my life trying to make it through her verbal abuse and mental torment. I have had someone tell me that I’m feeling sorry for myself. But I’m not seeking pity. I just can’t seem to move on. I always feel guilt if I’m not doing things for her or buying things for her just like when I was a child. I don’t seem to grow emotionally. I’m always hoping that if I come back near her she will love me and want me. How do I stop this?

Imbroglio - October 3, 2014 Reply

I think my mother is probably a narcissist, but she is not like Lucy’s father. It’s like she is always preoccupied with her own needs and considers people surrounding her should serve her needs but is reluctant to dedicate our needs very much. Throuhout my childhood, she dominated the household and expected everybody in the home should follow her opinion. If anybody didn’t follow her, she would show the queen’s temper by fulminating to the level like the ceiling is going to collapse. When I was a little child, my second sister and I both feared her very much. When she was sick, she asked us to be surrounding her to comfort and serve her persistently. But when I was sick and she was serving me, she kept blaming that I didn’t take care of myself well so that I got sick and thus needed her service. She always took my second sister and I to the places she herself likes to go the most, which are banks, but rarely accompanied us to the places we liked to go, such as museums, science exhibitions, zoos, child’s parks; even if she actually went with us, she would show annoyance soon and asked us to end the journey soon. She actually didn’t care about my school grades very much. Every time she scolded me or beated me, the reason was mainly for her own advantage, like breaking her bowls, using too much her water, electricity or gas. She was fussy and often tried to bring trouble to me; it’s like she doesn’t like to see me happy and no matter what I do, she can pick something to deplore, even irrationally. She herself hates to read or study then she also hates to see us reading or studying. She hated to see my father treating me well and often couldn’t tolerate to see my interaction with him. She only buys food (to hide) for herself to eat and never buys the food for the whole family (It was always my father who did that). She only bothers to repair the broken household facility she herself needs to use. Now we all grew up and don’t like to live in the home. Sometimes I heard she complained to others that my youngest sister didn’t go back often. She always wants to blame others but never introspected herself for why we don’t like to go home often. But I guess when I don’t go back often, he doesn’t mind at all because it’s like she hates me. When I didn’t go home almost one year, she never bothered to call me.

Pearl - August 27, 2014 Reply

This is a beginning article. Even thought I am not particularly fond of Sam Vaknin, a declared narcissist himself, he has volumes of information in print and in youtube. Details to make your skin crawl. I recently discovered that the weirdness my mother had was narcissism. Raised between a bipolar father and her was hell for me; my brother is an “inverted narcissist,” and I am a codependent and bipolar myself. I see every writer vilifying the narcissist, although somewhere they add that it is a “low-esteem” condition, not an arrogance problem. Narcissists were victims of neglect/abuse themselves: that’s how they develop a sort of denial that they hope will fool the rest of the world. The tools they use for that are immoral, because they cannot feel empathy, physically; they are impaired, by the latest brain scans results (very diminished gray-matter mass) to feel compassion for anybody. They are like robots that fake and manipulate to obtain the desperate approval that they need, their “narcissistic supply*Vaknin). // I adored my mother, who is alive at 87 and with whom I was forced to cut all contact. We had reversed roles: once my father’s abuse of her became obvious I took her and my little brother under my wings/ I left the continent, I brought them with me, and they both, eventually, betrayed me. My mother shot herself in the head, and missed, because it was a manipulation move. My brother used me financially and left with the money bag. The betrayal doesn’t hurt as much as the void of not being able to stay in touch with them, itself an unhealthy need on my part. Narcissism is a chain; I am extremely insecure but overly caring for the suffering, animals and humans (codependency). There are many varieties of narcissism, and many degrees, many fluctuations during one’s lifetime, and there is no way to help them without becoming hurt oneself, that I know of, as a mentally-ill patient. Good luck to everyone.

    Upsie_Daisy - November 21, 2014 Reply

    So glad to read you are taking care of yourself! I wanted to add that Sam Vaknin seems to be pretty well known, there are other voices on YouTube. A British guy named Richie has a channel called “The Spartan Life Coach” and is a psychiatrist who has firsthand experience with Narcissists. But he’s vey upbeat and affirming. Another person I’ve come across is an Aussie named Melanie Tonia Evans. Her technique is interesting because while she’s also had firsthand experience with a Narcissist, she is all about teaching people recognition and self-empowerment. She seems to know some things about “peptides” as the source of the terrible withdrawal that can happen when we quit the N. I have benefitted from her teachings. Both are a nice counterpoint to Sam’s kinda deadly-in -large-doses videos. -Be well.

ckc - August 27, 2014 Reply

i was having trouble understanding my 55 year old boyfriends issues. when we first met he was the sweetest kindest man, ever attentive and loving. i didnt understand why he kept me such a secret from his family. once they knew about me his behavior changed. everything about his life revolves around his mother. he won’t do anything that would upset her. i have since discovered that she was behind each and every one of his failed relationships. he is willing to let our friendship fail, in order to please his mother. he recently suffered a seizure that has left him temporarily paralyzed. i have been unable to even visit him, because of his mother, of course. he will be living in his mother’s house when he is released from the hospital. i care for this man deeply, and i dont know how to comfort him in any way now. his mother is 87 years old, and i know he would never be able to confront her even if he wanted to, the guilt he would carry would be unbearable to him.
i am tormented by our situation, i was nearly ready to just let him go thinking of him as just a pathetic mama’s boy. reading this has helped put some perspective for me. i know he cares for me as much as i do for him. with this, i plan to continue being his friend, but not certain as to how i will handle my own agony of not being able to be a part of his life anymore.

LCJ - August 23, 2014 Reply

Very few therapists understand what having an NPD parent is like. My final therapist trained me to set boundaries and get distance from my NPD mother then pulled a 180 and said I better go to my NPD mother because I was going to need her help. This therapist put my livelihood AND MY LIFE in danger. I am alarmed he is licensed to keep practicing. When I confronted him that I’d warned him my NPD mother was emotionally abusive and asked why he flipped so suddenly and so persistently, he offered to treat me for the trauma from going back to her for a full price, no discount.

    Pearl - August 27, 2014 Reply

    I’ve read about narcissistic therapists and psychiatrists…. this was at least an unethical one. I am clear about my situation re my mother’s narcissistic betrayal, after much watching Sam Vaknin on youtube, untrustworthy narc himself… but with good info, I think. I bought his Malignant Self-Love book and now he has one “mother” book. But I can’t get other professionals to talk about this issue in detail. They don’t want to talk about a third person without the person being a client, I think. No therapist should be giving advice as to stick to your mother, although mine told me ABSOLUTE NO CONTACT with her due to my own bipolar disorder.

counselingGradStudent - August 23, 2014 Reply

Thank you for this great, easy-to-read and understand article! As a counseling student, and a daughter-in-law dealing with an NPD mother-in-law, this was such a helpful resource. This is a very difficult disorder to navigate… researching has made a big difference for my family.

Addie - August 22, 2014 Reply

Awesome article! So interesting that it is often males…often father’s that are the narcissists. And, similar to the story, my father was also like this. It was a nightmare. He was violent as well. It didn’t matter that I was a straight A student, etc. I recall one time I didn’t brush my hair to his satisfaction and he tried to punch me in the nose (a true swing from a grown man to a little child). Fortunately, I ducked just in time and he missed. It took me a long time to realize, I didn’t want to nor did I have to please him and besides, there really wasn’t any way to completely please him. It’s not my job, I’m not a robot and, like I said, it would have been impossible, anyway. AND deep down in his core, he was so very insecure. My mother saw right through all of this, but I suppose she had her own issues and was willing to put up with his narcissism and the mental and physical abuse. My mother died young. And my father expected me to cater to his every whim. Nope. So, we barely spoke for many years. When he was dx’d with a terminal illness, I did help where I could while he was hospitalized for three months. Sometimes he was quiet and one time, he broke down crying (briefly) saying he always loved me. Now, that was a shock. Then, SECONDS later, he started spewing his ugliness. SAD…but I am free and life is good. 🙂

    Pearl - August 27, 2014 Reply

    I wonder why you were so healthy, being that your mom was a codependent, put his needs first…. maybe she was a good mother to you, and set good examples of independence, etc.

    My mother could not say I love you to me; whe would cry and put up fits but could not utter those words that I needed so much. After our final conflict she told me that nobody ever gave her as kiss as a child, much less tell her that they loved her. I know her narcissism started as neglect from her family. I feel so bad that she cant see herself as having a problem, one that I could help her with even at age 87, if she wanted. I want to compensate to her all the love she was missing as a child…. but I did compensate, I thought, until I was 58 years old. I brought her to live to my house and adored her… and she run away with a guy and my money. And now she says I kicked her out. I guess one day the pain will die off. I have an adorable husband of 35 yrs who helps me to heal the hole full of love for somebody who cannot love me. I wishe I would’ve woken up earlier. That’s all. Good luck to all.

juliea - August 21, 2014 Reply

Looked at your checklist and answered yes to all. But today it is impossible to look at what I need as I am raising my oldest child’s little one and have her needs to put first, and there are many.

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