How To Tell If You Were Raised By Narcissists

The myth of Narcissus is a wildly famous story from Greek mythology. According to the legend, he perished admiring his own reflection. Writing for Psychology Today, psychiatrist and philosopher Neil Burton MD, noted: "The myth is a warning against vanity and self-love." Nowadays, everybody appears to be dealing with a narcissist — at least, judging by TikTok, where the term has millions of hits. 

According to a 2018 study, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as a "psychological disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of grandiosity, fantasies of unlimited power or importance, and the need for admiration or special treatment." It goes on to say that folks with NPD exhibit, "impulsivity, volatility, attention-seeking, low self-esteem, and unstable interpersonal relationships," and that they struggle with interpersonal and occupational issues.

While some level of narcissism is natural in human development and there even may be a healthy type of narcissism, severe cases can cause emotional damage to the people around them. With genetic and environmental factors determining many aspects of personal mental illness, we know that family history is key to mental health. So let's take a look at some tell-tale signs that you might have been raised by narcissists.

If your parents needed you to succeed for them to succeed, they may be narcissists

Narcissistic parents often push their children to excel, but it isn't necessarily for the sole benefit of the kids. Professor Preston Ni M.S.B.A expounded on the idea in an article for Psychology Today, saying, "Instead of raising a child whose own thoughts, emotions, and goals are nurtured and valued, the offspring becomes a mere extension of the parent's personal wishes, with the child's individuality diminished." 

If you find yourself questioning how hard your parents pushed you to succeed, there's a chance that it might be a symptom of NPD. In fact, University of Georgia Professor Keith Campbell informed The Washington Post that, "As a narcissistic parent, you look good and feel good because of the success of your kid." Look no further than the college admissions scandal for a pretty famous example of this dodgy behavior.

If your parents didn't love you unconditionally, they may be narcissists

Mistakes and missteps are inevitable in the early development stages. Children need unconditional love as they grow and begin to navigate and explore the world around them. As John Amodeo Ph.D., MFT, explained in a piece for Psychology Today, "As they struggle through life, we need to be unendingly patient — taking many deep breaths, and offering guidance repeatedly. Embodying a consistently loving, accepting presence, we create a climate for safe attachment".

Unfortunately, many narcissistic parents are incapable of unconditional love, creating an unsafe space for their child that may have a lasting effect since they lack the necessary nurturing needed in childhood. Karyl McBride, a licensed marriage and family therapist, warned in her own article for Psychology Today that many children of narcissists "learned that love is either about 'what I can do for you' or 'what you can do for me.'"

As a result, "Many adults raised by narcissistic parents choose love partners based on this distorted meaning, which sets them up for dependent or codependent relationships." Further, Mind Body Green points out that you can never do anything right with a narcissistic parent because their expectations are inherently unrealistic. But you may try to replicate the dynamic you had with them later in life simply because it's all you know. 

If your parents steamrolled everyone to fulfill their own desires, they may be narcissists

Narcissists are well-known for putting themselves and their needs first. If your parents consistently and primarily looked out for themselves only, then they were probably narcissists. Now, obviously, every parent deserves a reprieve to put themselves first from time to time. This is a deeper, darker kind of selfishness that ignores the needs and desires of children and can have more serious, long-term repercussions.

As psychologist Craig Malkin revealed to HuffPost, "I've seen clients whose parents made them feel sick, crazy, or selfish for expressing the most basic of needs." This can create serious issues for adult children of narcissists attempting to create genuine, meaningful, and lasting relationships in their lives. It sets them up for failure because these relationships were so incredibly toxic to begin with. 

If your parents had big egos, they may be narcissists

There's a thin line between confidence and putting too much emphasis on one's feelings of self-worth. Having a big ego is inextricably linked to narcissism. According to the American Psychiatric Association, patterns of an inflated sense of self arise in those with NPD. Serious issues can come up like, "a grandiose sense of self-importance," and having, "a sense of entitlement." 

If your parents exhibited these characteristics then they may have also had "unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment" and expected everyone to comply with their needs and expectations. They may also have exaggerated their own achievements in the search for praise, as narcissists are known to fish for compliments

If your parents did not have their egos fed with the praise they sought, according to the Mayo Clinic they may also have become visibly annoyed when they did not get the treatment they thought they deserved. Again, this is something you may subconsciously replicate in future relationships, which sets you up for further disappointment.

​If your parents care too much about their image, they may be narcissists

Narcissists are often hyper-focused on their image and what they project to the world. If being the perfect family was a priority in your house or an emphasis on outward appearances was pervasive, there is a chance your parents were exhibiting narcissism. According to the American Psychiatric Association, narcissists can be "preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love." This leads to them dominating social situations.

Your parents may even continue infantilizing you well into adulthood whether you need their assistance or not because they view you only through themselves. Likewise, "They may struggle sharing their adult child with the adult child's partner," as Kimberly Perlin, LCSW-C, a licensed clinical social worker, warned Psych Central. She also noted, "They may monopolize the topics of conversation and become miffed quickly if they do not receive their expected fawning."

If your parents were manipulative, they may be narcissists

Narcissistic parents are known for making a great effort to get what they want out of any person or situation, and this can unfortunately include their own children. According to an article written by Preston Ni M.S.B.A. for Psychology Today, some common examples of methods that parents employ to manipulate their children are; guilt trips, placing blame, shaming, drawing negative comparisons, pressuring, coercing, and manipulatively rewarding and punishing. 

Since love coming from parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can frequently be conditional (either given with approval or taken away as punishment), children can be easily manipulated in the quest for acceptance and love. Ni explained further in a separate article for Psychology Today, writing, "Narcissists may use their romantic partner, child, family, friend, or colleague to meet unreasonable self-serving needs, fulfill unrealized dreams, or cover-up weaknesses and shortcomings." 

It's all part of being seen as perfect by outsiders, which could lead to keeping secrets for the rest of your life about how you were truly treated. It could also involve you being pitted against your siblings, if they're seen to be toeing the line better than you, per Psychology Today. You also have to be careful not to pass these problematic behaviors on to your own children.

If your parents thought they were extra special, they may be narcissists

People who exhibit narcissistic traits tend to think that they are very special and may even believe they are better than other people. Licensed clinical social worker Shanon Thomas described narcissistic parental behavior in an interview with Business Insider: "They think they're amazing — they think themselves to be smarter, better-looking, more powerful than other people, and they pretty much believe it. Even with their friends and peers, they believe themselves to be one step up."

If your parents had interpersonal issues like grandiosity (that was either out in the open or internalized) or they were condescending towards people they thought of themselves as being above in some way, they may have been narcissists. And according to Preston Ni's article in Psychology Today, if they enjoyed showing off what they considered "their superior dispositions, be it material possessions, physical appearance, projects and accomplishments, background and membership, contacts in high places, and/or trophy spouse and offspring," then the likelihood that they were suffering from some level of narcissism is pretty high. Again, though, some of this stuff may not even have been real. 

If your parents were incapable of empathy, they may be narcissists

Another common trait that narcissists exhibit is a lack of empathy. They may not be able to fundamentally recognize or understand the emotions of others, or they may be so wrapped up in their own thoughts and feelings that they don't or are unwilling to even notice. According to Preston Ni's article in Psychology Today, children who are raised by parents who lack empathy may exhibit three potential types of behaviors — fight, flight, or freeze — in response to the deficit. 

Ni explained, writing, "They may fight back and stand up for themselves. They may flee to create distance from their parent(s). Some may begin to freeze and substitute their invalidated real self with a false persona (playing a role), thus adopting traits of narcissism themselves."

Regardless of how visibly upset or angry you might have been, nothing else mattered but how your parent felt, as Meghan Marcum, chief psychologist at AMFM Healthcare, told Insider. They can't relate to how you're feeling unless it directly impacts them, in which case they'll turn whatever you're feeling around to play the victim once again.

If your parents were jealous of you when you were growing up, they may be narcissists

Even though narcissistic parents need their children to succeed to feel like they themselves have succeeded, there's an even darker side to this dynamic that you may have experienced. Envy is a common trait of narcissists in general, but when it comes to children, it gets a little more complicated. Though narcissistic parents can push their children to achieve in order to make themselves look better, sometimes they wind up feeling and acting jealous of their own kids.

This may coincide with the fact that many narcissists "have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation," per the Mayo Clinic. If their children get the kind of attention they seek for themselves, it may be too much to handle and they become envious, as HuffPost points out, especially if it enables you to have a life away from their controlling influence.

This could, in turn, lead you to become a perfectionist who ties your self-worth to your achievements in a seriously unhealthy way. "It translates to your professional and personal life, to friends, lovers, clients. It's that same relationship that continues to cycle," Dr. Sudhir Gadh, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, informed Men's Health. 

If your parents were neglectful, they may be narcissists

Another key aspect of narcissism is self-absorption. When a parent exhibits this character trait, it can manifest in the form of neglect — sometimes even bordering on abuse. The Washington Post reported that children aren't capable of giving their parents the kind of consistent attention that narcissists want and need, and they react in two different ways to this lack of admiration. 

Either they become majorly controlling towards their children or they abandon them for other people or things that validate them in some other way. With the latter, children wind up growing up without a truly present parent and that can lead to serious intimacy issues later in life. According to the experts who spoke to Men's Health, you'll either seek out similar relationships or become the narcissist yourself. 

"There might be trouble with boundaries, where you're trying to define where you end and the other person begins," says Dr. Michael Roeske, PsyD, senior director of the Newport Healthcare Center for Research and Innovation. Either that or you'll seek out someone submissive, whom you can manipulate in the same manner as your parents did when you were growing up. 

If your relationship with your parents is superficial, they may be narcissists

For narcissists, amassing material wealth and possessions can be more important than personal relationships since outward appearances are so important to their sense of self-worth. Since we know that feeling special and flattery are key factors in feeding the narcissistic ego, it is no surprise that "They go out of their way to seek ego-boosting attention and flattery," according to Preston Ni's article in Psychology Today.

Narcissists are also competitive and jealous by nature so "keeping up with the Joneses" and one-upmanship are natural manifestations of those traits. They also seek others to be envious of them as they are of others. Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and college psychology instructor, wrote for Psychology Today that, "They want to make sure they appear wealthy, popular, and elite."

Thus, "They're often materialistic and greatly enjoy name-dropping, as associating themselves with the hottest brand or famous friends makes them feel important." You might even feed into this, particularly if your achievements are used to boost their ego. 

If you are competitive with your siblings, they may be narcissists

A little healthy competition with siblings is completely normal but if you find yourself in a deeper, lifelong competition with your brothers or sisters, it may be a sign that your parents were narcissists. Sadly, it seems many narcissistic parents raise their children to be competitive with each other on purpose, as HuffPost reported. 

This can result in picking favorites as well as someone to blame, and this favoritism can be very destructive. A separate HuffPost article breaks it all down, pointing out that although they're two sides of the same coin, children raised as the favorite and the scapegoat end up having very different experiences in the same home, which leads to further difficulty later in life. 

On an individual level, children who are raised in this manner suffer in their own personal lives as well. HuffPost elaborated, "This pattern of idealization and devaluation teaches us that love is unstable, frightening, and ultimately unpredictable. It causes us to walk on eggshells, fearful that we may displease others." 

If you attract narcissists into your life, your parents may have something to do with that

If reading about narcissists is reminding you of people in your social circle, a significant other, or even your boss, it's important to note that it is common to attract this type of person into your life if you were raised by narcissists. People who were brought up on conditional love often seek the same in adulthood because it is the only kind of love they have ever known. 

According to trained marriage and family therapist, and life coach, Kathy Caprino, it's not a conscious decision but rather something that's inherent in virtually every interaction with other people (via Forbes). Although it might not be that obvious on the surface, once you take a closer look, it becomes clear that you're surrounded by narcissists. 

As a result, "They might struggle with setting boundaries with others and knowing exactly how to communicate honestly in relationships," as Dr. Michael Roeske told Men's Health.

If you exhibit narcissistic traits yourself, take a closer look at your parents' behavior

Perhaps most worryingly of all, sometimes narcissistic traits can be handed down from generation to generation — if the cycle is not actively broken. It's possible that if your parents were narcissists then their parents were narcissists as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three possible causes for narcissistic personality disorder: Environment, genetics, and neurobiology.

Psychologist Craig Malkin told HuffPost, "Some children see that the only way to avoid ridicule and abuse is to be like the narcissistic parent, and over the years, this survival tactic turns into the way they genuinely see the world." He elaborated, "Extremely strong-willed children, more extraverted from birth, sometimes become narcissistic themselves in a game of 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'" 

It's only natural because, as Dr. Seth Meyers informed Men's Health, "In a parent relationship, that's the closest relationship that a child has with anybody." Emulating the behavior you witnessed growing up, whether you're aware of it or not, may be unavoidable. To break the cycle and ensure you don't perpetuate it in your own relationships, speak to a professional and ensure you move forward in a healthy manner.