7 behaviors of a narcissistic parent that are hard to understand
By Ramani Durvasula/ Good parenting requires empathy, compassion, and a willingness to make some of your own needs secondary—basically, many of the traits you wouldn't find in a narcissist.
But as a psychologist who studies the effects of narcissism on family relationships, I have noticed that many narcissistic traits, such as grandiosity, superiority, and entitlement, are on the rise. You may know a narcissistic parent and not realize it. Here are the common signs:
1. They see their child as a source of validation
Narcissists will often loudly praise their children when they score the winning goal or take the big role in the school play. You can see them constantly bragging online or bringing up their child's beauty or talent in conversation. If something doesn't involve their child's accomplishments, the parent is controlling, detached, and uninterested in the child.
2. They are emotionally responsive
Narcissists are often aggressive when they feel let down or frustrated. If they believe their child is critical or challenging, they may lash out. These reactions can manifest as screaming, sudden outbursts of anger or, in more severe cases, physical violence.
3. They always put their needs first
Narcissistic parents expect their children to make sacrifices so they can have everything they want. For example, if a parent likes sailing, then their children should sail every weekend.
4. They are intrusive
Narcissistic parents can be quite intrusive. They may ask probing questions or be critical of their child, such as commenting on weight, appearance, or other attributes that make the child feel insecure.
5. They have favorite children
Narcissistic parents may have one child whom they compliment excessively, while speaking ill of the other child.
This can make children feel uncomfortable, betrayed and psychologically insecure.
6. They blame their children
Narcissists need to feel perfect, so they avoid responsibility for the mistakes they make and blame their children. They can be cruel when they feel criticized, and their comments often sting.
7. They expect the child to be the caregiver
At a relatively young age, the message from a narcissistic parent is that their child needs to take care of them.
This often extends into adulthood, where the narcissistic parent can be quite manipulative. A common line might be: "I fed and clothed you, so now you owe me." Many narcissists expect their children to provide care and support later in life.
*Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a psychologist, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.