What If It's Your Parents Who Happen To Be The Narcissists?

"Narcissists constantly violate boundaries. They see others, particularly their children, as extensions of themselves to control and manipulate."— Julie L. Hall

Love & Relationships

Although it really is hard to believe, my father has been gone for five years now. And, while he certainly had his fair share of flaws and missteps (as we all do), if there's one thing that I found to be really refreshing about him, it was his signature raw candor. Sometimes he would say things that would even leave me taken aback (I've been told that he and I have that in common). But even when what he said came off as jarring or super uncomfortable, at least I knew where he stood, and where I stood as it related to where he was at. And, if there is one thing that he used to constantly warn me about, it's that I had narcissists all up and through my bloodline. On both sides.

Actually, more times than not, he didn't refer to them as "narcissists"; "arrogant assholes" was his phrase of choice, but after getting my heart broken by a narcissist, drawing some clear boundaries lines with a few family members due to mind-boggling toxicity, and doing about 12 months of research on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (for the record, a lot of people have some of the traits; it's another matter entirely to be officially diagnosed with the disorder), I have to admit that he was right.

I can't remember who said it, but there's a quote that says something along the lines of, "Once you've had an epiphany, you can never go back to who you were before it. It totally alters your being." Now that I know what a narcissist is, I get why I struggled so much with my self-worth while growing up, why I tolerated some of the abuse that I did from people in and outside of my family, and just how many individuals around me have suffered at the hands of narcissistic abuse—some from their very own mother or father.

If you're someone who doesn't have a healthy sense of self; you lean towards codependent relationships; disappointment absolutely devastates you; you know you've got trust issues that you just can't seem to shake; you constantly battle with anxiety and/or depression; you feel empty inside; you don't have any real personal boundaries; you feel guilt or shame for telling others "no"; you still think you have to run major life choices by your parents and/or you have absolutely no clue what you want out of life because you've been doing what others want you to do since forever—while seeing a professional therapist is recommended, what I will say for now, is those are all side effects of being raised by a narcissist.

Wow and ouch, right? Now let's go a little bit deeper.

How Can You Know If Your Parents Are Truly Narcissistic?


Narcissism: selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type

There's no way around the fact that, if you have a narcissist parent, that means you also have a toxic one. But because not all toxicity is narcissistic, let's briefly touch on some pretty telling signs that your mom or dad falls into the narcissism parent category (I'm putting these in past tense, but that doesn't mean that it might not still be happening; chances are, they are):

  • You grew up feeling controlled (even if it was via passive aggressive behavior)
  • They always laid guilt trips on you
  • They seemed to compete with you and/or "own" your accomplishments
  • You constantly had to walk on eggshells
  • They had alter egos—they seemed perfect to those outside of the house yet all-over-the-place at home
  • They lied a lot
  • They had unrealistic expectations
  • They gaslighted you often
  • They manipulated religion in order to get their way or justify their questionable behavior
  • They made you feel bad for making choices without them
  • They always made you question your own thoughts and feelings
  • They displayed very little compassion or empathy
  • They were possessive
  • They were neglectful
  • If they were physically or verbally abusive, somehow it was everyone else's fault but their own (they didn't take ownership for their actions)

You know what's crazy about this list? I could actually put about 30 more signs on here, but there's simply not enough space to keep going. Anyway, as you're processing everything that you just read, it's important to keep two things in mind. One, a parent having one or two of these qualities does not automatically make them narcissistic; however, if you can pinpoint a consistency of five or more, you've definitely been affected—if not flat-out traumatized—by a narcissistic mother or father. Secondly, the reason why your parents are this way is typically due to some sort of trauma they experienced themselves while growing up—and by "trauma", I mean there's a pretty good chance that they were raised by a narcissistic parent too, although I should put on record that that is not always the case. Sometimes it's due to other issues.

If you check out articles like "Childhood Roots of Narcissistic Personality Disorder", you'll see that narcissism can also be "birthed out of" childhood bullying; being spoiled and developing a sense of entitlement; arrogance; selfishness; not being taught how to co-exist with peers; not knowing how to handle criticism and correction (or being overly-criticized and corrected); creating a fantasy world where you lie to yourself rather than accepting reality and/or not knowing how to have a healthy sense of self-worth. Something that all of these things have in common is healthy parenting works to make sure that these things do not transpire. When that doesn't happen, the innocence and natural trusting ability that children have becomes tainted. As a direct result, they try and figure out ways to no longer feel vulnerable; they take extreme measures to protect themselves from any more harm. Sometimes those measures are extreme. One of those extreme measures is narcissism—putting themselves above everyone else, at the expense of everyone else. Even their own children.

The reason why it's so important to know the backstory on narcissistic behaviors and tendencies is because, while the actions of a narcissist can oftentimes be perceived as pure evil, they are oftentimes victims (including self-victimizers) themselves. There are very few individuals who "want" to be narcissistic. At the same time, because it is a form of mental illness (especially once someone has been diagnosed with this disorder), it's not something that someone can just turn on or off like a faucet. Narcissism needs professional help in order to work through; that starts with having enough humility and self-awareness to admit that one needs assistance. Ironically, because of the arrogance (which is usually a low form of self-esteem) of a narcissist, rarely does this happen.

So, you know what that means, right? If you one or both of your parents are narcissistic and they refuse to get professional help—tell them that an altar call at church ain't gonna cut it; they need to see a therapist; even the Bible says "Seek wise counsel" (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15 and 12:20)—they are going to remain narcissistic. If that is how it all goes down, what exactly should you do?

How Can You Heal from Being Raised by Narcissistic Parents?


If the narcissistic parent that you happen to have is your mom, do yourself a world of good and read "10 Signs You Might Have Unhealthy Boundaries With Your Mom" (you can't change what you're not fully aware of). Then follow that up by watching a great YouTube video on the topic, "The Problem with Being The Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother, and How to Fix It". In the video, not only does the coach touch on some other signs that you've been infected/affected by a narcissism parent (including not knowing yourself well enough to be aware of your true likes or dislikes, constantly feeling incompetent and not having a clue what self-care looks like), she also talks about how to get onto the road to healing. Between her video and some other research that I've done (and implemented), if you're ready to heal from being raised by a narcissistic parent, here are some of the things that you should do.

1. ​Take a "vacation" from your narcissistic parent. 

The best thing that you need to do is probably the hardest. Since narcissistic parents cultivate such a perfect storm of control, manipulation and playing the victim, announcing to them that you need some time apart, is not going to sit well with them. Not at all.

But I can promise you, sis, that if you clean break, even if it's just for a couple of weeks, it will give you a new perspective on your parents as well as yourself.

At the same time, I'll also say that if you don't do this part, you might as well click out of this article because everything else won't be all that effective. The reason why I say that is because remaining in the presence in or even around the energy of a narcissistic parent is like…trying to get over the flu when someone who has it is kissing you in the mouth. In order to heal, space from what's hurting you is required.

​2. Journal what your needs, likes and goals are. 

A part of the reason why you need your narcissistic parent out of the way is so the world around you can get quiet enough for you to hear your own thoughts. If in the silence, you have absolutely no idea where to begin dreaming for your own life, that's another sign that your parent was probably narcissistic. The remedy to that is to get a journal (or vision board or create box) and start thinking about what you want for your own self. Stop worrying about what they will think if you change career paths, move to another city, or choose to break-up with someone they really like. Now is the time to put your voice before their own. They have a life to run—theirs. It's time to take back control of yours.

​3. Set firm boundaries. 

Even the healthiest parent has to adjust to letting their child go. But a narcissistic one? Chile, they wouldn't know a boundary if it kicked them in the face. You're an adult now. This means that you don't need their permission to do…anything, really. And while it would be nice to get their support in your decisions, boundary-setting teaches you that you shouldn't be so caught up in how they feel that you don't live the life that you want to lead. When writer Anne Lamott once said, "'No' is a complete sentence", she didn't say "except when it comes to your parents". Everyone applies. And here's the thing—if a parent loves in a healthy way, they will also respect the boundaries/limits that their adult children have set. If yours doesn't, well.

4. Say what you mean, mean what you say. 

One of the narcissistic relatives that I have? It's like the only thing they listen to is what they want to hear. And so, in order to get them to really honor my limits, I've had to be a bit excessive. For instance, there is a particular thing that I requested they do for a year. For three years now, they haven't followed through. So, every time they've violated the request, I've reset the clock. This past year is the first time when they've gotten the memo. That's the thing about boundaries—in order for (some) people to honor them, breaking them needs to come with consequences. Extreme ones, if necessary.

​5. Avoid other narcissistic relationships. 

Since our parents have such a significant amount of influence in our lives, a lot of us end up with other narcissists in our space; not because we want to but simply because it's familiar to us. I'll tell you what—ever since I've be detoxing from narcissistic relatives, a lot of my social circle has shifted too. That's because I realize that I gravitated to narcissists by proxy. But once you start to love on yourself, set your own life terms and live without permission or apology—you get super picky about your relationships. As you're figuring out how to deal with your parents, be intentional about the other people who are in your life too. Read books like Boundaries and Safe People (same authors).

Check out two of my favorite YouTube channels that are devoted to healing from narcissism (The Royal We and Divine Truth). Take in the wisdom of articles like "Why Narcissists Struggle With People Who Practice Self-Compassion" and "7 Healing Affirmations For Victims Of Narcissistic Abuse" and videos like "The 3 Stages of Narcissistic Abuse + My Experience" and "The 5 Most Common Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Mistakes". Surround yourself with individuals who not only love you, but will totally allow you to BE you.

I know what it's like to have narcissistic relatives. Because I do, if you have them, I wish I could hug you right now; you've been through a lot. But please don't allow their issues to continue to take over your own life. You deserve to heal from narcissistic abuse and then live freely and fully. My hope and prayer is that this article is a step towards helping you to do just that.

Feature image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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