Today, you’re going to learn all about healing from narcissistic abuse by a parent using practical strategies to heal as a survivor of narcissistic parents. You’ll also learn how to forgive a narcissistic parent if you decide to do so.
Growing up with a narcissistic or a self-absorbed parent can leave lingering effects on adults.
These effects might include not being able to initiate and maintain satisfying and healthy relationships, or not being able to say no, etc.
You might feel tempted to get revenge because of all the lingering effect you’re left with.
But the best revenge is to build your self and to create your desired life – this is positive revenge.
Who Is The Narcissistic Parent?
Narcissism has become a common term today.
You can see narcissism as being located on a continuum. On one end, there is healthy narcissism that is mature and realistic.
On the other end, there is pathological narcissism that is extremely immature and unrealistic.
Most narcissistic parents would be in between the two ends, where the person may display the behaviors and attitudes of the person with the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as described in the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it is not an NPD.
These behaviors and attitudes ones that you may expect of children but that signal immaturity, such as constantly bragging, or expecting others to immediately meet one’s demands.
Related: Is My Mother A Narcissist Quiz
8 Behaviors and Attitudes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
The following are the behaviors and attitudes that indicate a NPD. Your parent might not have or demonstrate all of these traits. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM-5 that therapists use as a guide, the person has to have only 55 percent of the following characteristics to be considered narcissistic.
1. Lack of empathy
They expect others to be empathic toward them, but show no empathy to others.
They constantly blame others for mistakes and are critical, demeaning, and devaluing toward you and others.
2. Inability to make real intimate connections
Although they can become very anxious when alone, they perceive relationships as existing for personal convenience and would move from relationship to relationship without being able to make real intimate connections.
3. A sense of grandiosity
The parent has unreasonable expectations for success. They want to win all of the time and do not have a reasonable sense of their personal limitations.
They also have an attitude of feeling vastly superior to others, which can be displayed through behaviors such as talking down to others.
4. Entitlement attitude
They don’t recognize others as separate and distinct individuals.
They assume that everyone else is just an extension of themselves self, are under their control, and just exist to meet their own needs without protest, even the unspoken ones.
They would ask intrusive personal questions and might tell others what they should do with no respect for others’ boundaries.
5. Attention and admiration seeking
They tend to display attention-seeking behaviors, such as speaking loudly, talking a lot, dressing to attract attention, etc.
6. Impoverished self
They constantly complain about being deprived or excluded, even when there is no evidence to support such a perspective. But they would usually self-depreciating comments to get others to disagree and reassure them that this is not true.
7. Envy and resentment
They tend to resent of others’ success, accomplishments, and possessions. They feel that other persons are not deserving, or they might feel impoverished themselves.
8. Reverse parenting
This is when the child is made responsible for the parent’s well-being instead of the other way around. They might use statements, such as “I love you when you…,” or, “If you loved me, you would…”
6 Sings You Grew Up With A Narcissistic Parent
1. Your parent seems to be self-absorbed in almost every situation and circumstance. Even when some of their acts seem to benefit others, they are really based on their own needs.
2. You have suffered a number of parental empathic failures that affected you psychologically and that continue to affect you today.
3. You always felt that you are responsible for your parent’s emotional or physical well-being and no matter how hard you worked to achieve this, you had no success or you never received your parent’s appreciation.
4. You emerged from childhood with relatively low self-esteem and self-confidence, which continue to affect your relationships.
5. Any efforts you made to get your parent to see your own perspective, to approve of you, or to show you love and support have been futile.
6. Any attempts to change your parent have been futile – they did not and will not change.
5 Types of Narcissistic Parents
1. The Severely Narcissistic Parent
They have an insatiable need for admiration. They must be the center of attention and may treat you as a rival, especially when they feel the spotlight is moving from themselves to you.
Whenever the narcissist feels threatened, they may use criticism and other forms of emotional abuse to undercut your sense of confidence.
2. The Control Freak
This parent sees their child as a person whose role in life is to make them happy and do as they say.
They demand and threaten severe consequences anytime their child is trying to do something different.
They would justify their demands by claiming that only they know the best course of action their child can take.
3. The Overly Enmeshed Parent
They will smother you with demands for time and attention and would insist on erasing any boundaries between you.
They really on their role as a parent to fill their emotional needs. Constantly reminding you of the sacrifices they had to make for you.
They commonly describe their child as their “best friend,” though they would offer little to no support or empathy, especially when their child’s needs and preferences don’t line up with their own.
4. Parents Who Need Parenting
These parents are usually overwhelmed, depressed, or addicted, leaving their child the responsibility to take care of himself or herself and sometimes the rest of the family as well.
When a role reversal happens, the child grows up for the guidance and protection his or her parents were unable to give.
5. Parents Who Neglect And Batter
Parents on this dark end of the spectrum are devoid of warmth.
They would leave their child unprotected from abuse at the hands of other family members or at their own hands.
Healing From A Narcissistic Parent
#1. Let Go of Fantasy
The first step in healing from your narcissistic parent is to let go of your fantasy.
You may not even be aware that you are fantasizing, but children of narcissists usually have one of these fantasies:
* Your parent admits their mistakes and hurts, and makes amends.
* You are able to achieve more success than your parent and show them that.
* Everyone sees your parent for the person they are and rejects them.
* You do to the parent what they did to you, or someone else does that to them and they suffer.
* Your parent will regret what they did and change.
The reason why these are fantasies is because they are unlikely to happen – your parent isn’t going to change or become aware of their wounding.
Having these fantasies are reinforcing your negative feelings and keeping you stuck.
Becoming aware of your own fantasies and how unlikely they are to happen is the first step to let go of them and allow yourself to heal.
But how do you stop having them?
To let go of these fantasies, you need to work through and resolve your negative feelings about the injury and your narcissistic parent.
One strategy is to engage in self-talk in your thoughts every time you begin to think any of your fantasies.
For instance, if you find yourself fantasizing about your parent apologizing for the hurts they inflicted, you can tell yourself the following:
- I cannot change others and it is unrealistic to expect my parent to change.
- I need to accept that my parent isn’t going to realize the hurt that they inflicted
- I will rise above the hurts by becoming a better person.
- I don’t need to hurt my parent or receive an apology in order for me to feel better.
Be patient with yourself – these fantasies won’t disappear overnight.
Remind yourself that the hurt might be deeper than you thought, and that with persistence you will overcome it.
The following strategies will also help you reduce your fantasies.
#2. Allow Yourself to Grieve
Sit with the pain and grieve having to let go of your fantasies. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Whatever is there you need to release. Tell yourself that you deserve this time to heal.
You might need to take time to be alone to grieve. Set aside some time alone solely for this grieving process. Repeat it several times until you begin to feel relief.
There is no right way to grieve, so try several different things until you find what works for you.
Some people are able to process their feelings when taking long walks, going for long runs, journaling, drawing, etc.
The most important thing is that you allow it to happen. Giving yourself emotional attention might feel uncomfortable, but you can do it.
Your grieving may take the form of intense sadness and even anger. Don’t act on these feelings other than to write them down. Allowing yourself to feel your emotions doesn’t mean to be destructive to yourself or others.
Grieving the Parent You Never Had
Every child deserves loving and supportive parents. If you didn’t have that growing up, you have a right to grieve the loss.
Recognize these feelings and write them down in your journal or talk about them with a safe person.
If you can’t think of a safe person who’s willing to listen, try 7cups of tea. It is an online service with thousands of volunteer listeners stepping up to lend a friendly ear.
Start with a list of what the ideal parents would look like to you.
This could include having parents who understood you, with whom you could talk about your feelings and desires, parents who would accept you for who you are, who would be proud of you, etc.
Contrast what you wanted to what you had with your own parents.
Allow yourself to face the disappointment and pain these holes had left you with.
As you go through the list of the things you wanted in your parents, you might feel that you do not or did not deserve loving parents. That’s a distorted deep belief ingrained from the emotional abuse or neglect you experienced during your childhood. But you deserve loving parents.
#3. Transform Your Negative Self-Talk
Your narcissistic parent might have triggered much of your insecurities and negative thoughts. But your current negative self-statements can be a contributor too.
To change your negative self-talk, you need to become aware of it and its inaccuracy and negativity and substitute it with positive self-statements.
The following are some examples:
Negative Belief: I need others’ approval.
Self-affirmation: I like and want this person’s approval, but I will be okay even if I don’t get it.
Negative belief: I must be perfect.
Self-affirmation: I will work to be better, but I still like myself even when I am not perfect – good enough is sufficient.
Negative belief: I need to take care of others.
Self-affirmation: Showing confidence that the other person can fix it can be the best help I can give them.
Negative belief: I am helpless to make changes.
Self-affirmation: I have not yet found a way to do change, but I believe in my ability to make choices and change
Negative belief: I’m not as worthwhile as others.
Self-affirmation: Mistakes are one of our best tools to learn and most mistakes can be corrected and they don’t make me less worthwhile.
#4. Cultivate Altruism
Altruism is when you give freely not because you are forced, or made feel guilty, or for your own satisfaction. It is also free from obligations, expectations, reciprocity, or any other strings attached.
You simply give because you want the other person to have whatever it is.
Being accustomed to getting with strings attached, altruism can help you change the way you perceive the act of giving. It doesn’t just benefit the receiver, but the giver also receives positive outcomes.
It helps you free yourself from expecting and needing appreciation, expecting something in return, or feeling the need to do something to gain someone’s approval and admiration – you free yourself from the negative beliefs around giving the narcissistic parent taught you.
What can you do or say that would be altruistic?
First, you need to keep reminding yourself that your actions will be freely given and are without strings.
The following are is a set of altruistic acts you can perform:
- Helping a neighbor, by bringing a home-cooked meal, offering to babysit, or even offering a listening ear.
- Tutoring or mentoring a child.
- Making reading tapes for the visually impaired.
- Buy a movie ticket for the person behind you.
- Pay for someone’s meal at a restaurant.
- Hold open the door for people.
#5. Reach Out to Others
Your relationship with your narcissistic parent might have affected your ability to create and maintain healthy relations.
Reaching out to others and working on these connections will help you change the negative beliefs around relations.
Our relations and connections with others improve our physical and emotional health and provide us with significant support. These connections are also part of what gives meaning and purpose for our lives.
You can use encouraging self-talk to get started. Remind yourself that you might face disappointments, but that you need to try to understand others’ responses rather than giving up.
Keep in mind that meaningful relationships usually take time and effort to develop.
The following are some ideas to help you with that:
* Show interest in the other person and ask them questions to encourage them to talk about themselves.
* Find something you appreciate about the other person and let him know about it.
* Listen intently to their concerns and don’t rush to solve their problems or give unsolicited advice. Most of the time people don’t need a solution, they just need someone who’s going to listen and sympathize.
* Respect other people’s psychological boundaries and don’t try to take over others’ lives, or let your life be taken over.
* Find mutual interests and activities with the other person, and engage in these.
#6. Mindfulness: Increase Your Self-Awarenenss
Mindfulness teaches you to stay focused on what is important. This won’t just improve your life, but also your interactions with your narcissistic parent.
It helps you stay grounded and curiously observe your emotional state and thoughts. It can reduce your anxiety or anger and let you feel more in control.
You can practice mindfulness while interacting with your narcissistic parent by doing the following:
* Notice that your parent is showing many signs of aging you don’t remember seeing before.
* Notice how even though your parent is saying the usual hurtful things, you are not confused about why they’re saying them.
* Watch the inaccurate words said by your parent flow out harmlessly – they don’t hurt you anymore.
* Notice your parent’s anxiety without taking it on your essential inner self, or feeling that you need to change it.
Start practicing mindfulness with more activities throughout the day, (like washing the dishes, or taking a shower, or taking a walk outside) until it becomes effortless.
#7. Break The Cycle: Reduce Your Own Self-Absorption
Being raised by a self-absorbed parent, you can see how self-absorbed behaviors and attitudes are not constructive or helpful.
It’s also important that just as your narcissistic parent cannot see their narcissism, you may also be unaware of the behaviors and attitudes you have that indicate undeveloped narcissism.
Becoming aware of your narcissistic parent influence and working on reducing your own self-absorption will help you lead a healthier life and enjoy better relationships.
Start noticing any of these behaviors or attitudes and journal about them. Think of ways you can reduce these behaviors and attitudes and replace them with healthier ones.
The following is a list of the behaviors and attitudes of the narcissistic that you need to watch out for:
* An attitude of entitlement that conveys arrogance, contempt, and superiority.
What can you do: become more aware of the impact of your behavior on others and question some assumptions you might have about how others are supposed to treat you.
* Attention-seeking behaviors that ensure that you are constantly the center of attention.
What can you do: become more aware of your attention-seeking behaviors, such as talking loudly, and reduce such behaviors.
* Admiration seeking behaviors through which you external recognition and approval.
What can you do: refrain from boasting and bragging – your achievement is enough recognition you don’t need external validation.
* Lack of recognition or understanding of the boundaries that define where you end and where others begin.
What can you do: become more aware of when you might have violated others’ boundaries, as well as when your own boundaries are being violated.
* Taking advantage of others for your personal benefit.
What can you do: become more aware of any attempts from your part to get people to do things for you just because you want them to and not really because you need their help.
* Lack of empathy and not being able to be compassionate with others’ feelings.
What can you do: practice listening more intently to others and try to tune in to other people’s feelings behind their words.
How To Forgive A Narcissistic Parent?
Should You Hold The Narcissist Accountable For His Abuse?
Victims of narcissistic abuse struggle with the dilemma of whether or not to hold the narcissist accountable for their behavior.
Narcissism is a personality disorder, but that doesn’t mean that they have no control over their actions and words. The mere fact that they can be nice to other people is evidence that they are indeed in complete control of their behaviors.
But think about narcissism in terms of addiction. You probably wouldn’t excuse the behavior of a drug addict or allow him to use you and abuse you, because you know that a drug addict can fight his compulsions. The same is true for the narcissist.
Narcissists do know right from wrong and can choose right, but they do not want to. They don’t want to face the consequences of their actions. Psychologists also agree that narcissists lack impulse control.
Rebuilding a relationship with the narcissist will depend on his level of accountability for his actions. They need to acknowledge, accept, and be willing to modify their behavior. This unlikely to happen with the narcissist because they don’t believe they ever do anything wrong.
Should You Forgive a Narcissistic Abuser?
With the innumerable hurtful actions they had done, it would be nearly impossible to forgive each one.
But you can’t forgive one thing without forgiving everything. Forgiveness should include everything for it to bring you peace of mind.
Forgiveness isn’t about excusing the abuser.
To excuse the narcissist is to give in or let them off the hook, and that will only set you up for more deception and abuse.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with whether or not the abuser deserves to be forgiven. Forgiveness can be given without the narcissist ever knowing they have been forgiven.
Forgiveness is about letting go of toxic feelings – anger, resentment, and fear. It is a commitment you make to yourself to heal your wounds and allow yourself to begin life with a clean slate.
Ann Landers said, “Hanging on to resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”
Forgiveness is also a by-product of self-love. When you truly love yourself, you’ll have no need to hold on to grudges.
How To Forgive A Narcissistic Parent?
There are many ways to help you forgive:
1. Write a letter in which you express your anger and pain and related thoughts.
Writing things down can be healing in itself and forgiveness does not depend on your abuser reading the letter. But if you wish to send the letter, at least wait a week or more before deciding whether or not to send or email it.
2. Use an empty chair
Sit across from it and speak to it as if the person you wish to address is sitting in it. Then switch seats and imagine their response to what you just told them. (Gestalt therapy, formulated by Fritz Perls 1893-1970)
3. Use forgiveness meditation
1. Take your time to relax and clear your mind by focusing on your breath.
2. Then let yourself picture and remember the many ways you were abused by the narcissist.
3. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that your heart is ready to release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness.
4. Now say to yourself “I have been carrying this pain in my heart for too long. I am ready now to release the pain. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”
5. Gently repeat this statement to yourself until you feel a release in your heart.
If you didn’t feel ready to let go and move on yet, be compassionate with yourself. Forgiveness cannot be forced. Simply continue the meditation and let the words and sensations gradually work in their own way.
FREE Forgiveness Worksheets
Living well, where you achieve a meaningful and satisfying life, in spite of your narcissistic parent behaviors and attitudes that affected you is the best revenge.
“Positive revenge” allows you to show the other person that they were wrong without hurting them or compromising your own values and principles.
Still Dealing With A Narcissistic Parent? Read this: How To Set Boundaries With Narcissistic Parents?
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Children of the Self‑Absorbed, © 2001 by Nina W Brown. All rights reserved.
- You Probably Think this Paper’s About You: Narcissists’ Perceptions of their Personality and Reputation – PMC (nih.gov)
- Narcissism Driven by Insecurity, Not Grandiose Sense of Self, New Psychology Research Shows (nyu.edu)
- Narcissism study sheds new light on the relationship between grandiose and vulnerable subtypes (psypost.org)
- Study shows Narcissistic Personality Disorder may have a biological component – UChicago Medicine
- Study Finds Link Between Narcissism and Aggression (verywellmind.com)
- A Study of Narcissism, Affiliation, Intimacy, and Power Motives among Students in Business Administration – Lynne Carroll, 1987 (sagepub.com)
- There Are Two Types of Narcissist, And The Difference Is Crucial, Research Shows (sciencealert.com)
- Effects of Narcissistic Abuse (verywellmind.com)
- The Effect of Pathological Narcissism on Interpersonal and Affective Processes in Social Interactions – PMC (nih.gov)
- Narcissistic personality disorder – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Frontiers | The Higher the Score, the Darker the Core: The Nonlinear Association Between Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism | Psychology (frontiersin.org)
- (PDF) Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Impact on Relationships (researchgate.net)
- Mediation effect of narcissism on the relationship between empathy and the quality of interpersonal relationships – ScienceDirect
- Narcissism: 5 Signs to Help You Spot Narcissistic Behavior (webmd.com)