If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you’ve likely experienced some behaviors that would seem totally crazy or even unbelievable to other people. 

You know first hand what it feels like to have your needs go unmet when you were a child. To feel invisible. To have to care for instead of being taken care of. To never be loved the way you needed to be loved.

To a real narcissist, they are the center of all worlds. Not their family, not their spouse, and sadly, not their children. 

Having a narcissistic parent is one of the most incredibly painful experiences there is. Dealing with this through your developmental years and into adulthood can leave a lasting impact on…

  •  your self-esteem and self-worth,
  •  how you understand and manage your emotions,
  •  how you value your own needs and desires,
  •  the quality of all of your relationships (and, honestly, your life!)

It can also be extremely isolating, because there’s a lot of societal pressure to have a great relationship with your parents and to respect them no matter what, right?

Unfortunately, this is a topic that I get asked about a lot, and you know that I am dedicated to sharing anything and everything I can to raise awareness around mental health, to lessen suffering and to help you better understand yourself…so that you can heal.

In this blog and video, I’m pulling back the curtain on narcissism and giving you 20 real-life behaviors, signs and signals that your parent might exhibit if they are indeed a narcissist. Because you deserve to be seen.



First, let’s make a distinction between someone with a true narcissistic personality disorder [NPD] and someone with narcissistic personality traits or tendencies. According to the DSM-5¹, the manual doctors use to diagnose mental illness, an individual with NPD displays “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy”.

I really want to underscore that lack of empathy piece, because when it comes to a clinical narcissist, they are actually incapable of understanding your feelings. There is a fundamental lack in their capacity to love unconditionally. While this is a sad reality, understanding this is crucial to coming to some sort of peace and acceptance.

So let’s get into some of the signs and behaviors of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • They are Boundary Bullies. Narcissists are like professional boundary erasers. They can be incredibly controlling about what happens in your life and if they are the engulfing kind, they can get overly invested and overly involved in every single thing you do…and absolutely feel it is their right to do so. Trying to set and maintain healthy boundaries with a narcissistic parent is incredibly difficult because they will straight up just ignore you.
  • They use codependency to control you. If you grew up with a narc parent, they likely were or still are resistant to you being a separate person from them. In a healthy parent/child relationship, there comes a time when the child needs to individuate from the parent in order to grow into a healthy adult. In a narc system, you may have been afraid to individuate as a child, because it was a matter of your survival. They see you as an extension of themselves, even into your adulthood.
  • They only acted loving towards you when you did what they wanted. A narcissist’s love is always conditional. They may have lavished attention on you when you were giving them what they wanted, but they could always turn on a dime. They can and will withhold love to get you to do what they want and to fulfill their needs.
  • It’s always about them and they always play the victim card. No matter what is going on, it is always, always about the narcissist. They need to be the center of your world. If you do something they perceive as a slight, you probably heard some version of “How could you do this to me?!!” Everything that happens is happening TO them and they don’t take responsibility for their behavior or actions.
  • They can be vengeful. If a narc feels that you’ve wronged them in some way, they are definitely not above trying to get back at you. They can be serious grudge holders and seem to remember every disappointment and will absolutely bring things up from the past to throw in your face.
  • They are spotlight hogs. It’s almost like they can’t tolerate any conversation that isn’t about them. They will straight up interrupt or always somehow find a way to bring everything back to them every single time.
  • Professional guilt tripper. Whatever they feel like they need to do to get you back in line with what they want…they’re willing to do it. Guilt is definitely one of the sharpest tools in their belt and they use it often to get you to behave the way they think you should.
  • They compete with you and take credit for your accomplishments. As weird as this sounds to any normal parent, a narc parent once again, always makes it about themselves. Any good thing you’ve ever done in your life, they’ve done it better AND the only reason you accomplished anything is because of them.
  • They cannot handle criticism AT ALL. Narcissists are SUPER thin-skinned. They can freak out over any perceived slight or implied criticism. Unfortunately, they also catalog their grievances and as I mentioned earlier, have a tendency to get back at the people they think wronged them.
  • They gaslight the shit out of you. Have you ever tried to explain your feelings or talk about a situation only for your parent to be like, “that never happened”? Narcs will literally deny your reality if it doesn’t fit into their agenda. It’s scary and damaging, and it really impacts your ability to trust yourself because you’re always questioning your own sanity.

I really dig deep inside the episode and talk you through all 20 of the signs and behaviors, so be sure to watch it here or listen to it here. I’ve also included the complete list in this week’s downloadable PDF for you. 

One of the most difficult things, if you are the adult child of a narcissist that you might be dealing with, is that there’s some part of you that expects that they will be different. It’s like the child within is holding onto hope. You might keep thinking, “this time I’m going to be good enough” or “this time I’m going to get through to them.”

If this resonates with your experience, I really want to encourage you to go through this list and ask yourself if you’ve experienced these behaviors in your life. You can lessen your suffering by getting into some acceptance about what your parent may or may not be capable of, and it is my sincere hope that this will help you get some clarity so you can protect yourself from any further pain and suffering. 

I’ve compiled the complete list of my 20 Traits of a Narc Parent for you here, as well as some other resources for you that I mention in the episode.

If this added value to your life in some way, I hope you’ll share it on your social media platforms. We are in this together when it comes to breaking the stigma around discussing mental health and I am so grateful that you are in my crew.

Finally we are entering our Boundary Palooza soon which is 14 Days of FREE training, activities with prizes designed to help you get your boundary intelligence on and give you the tools you need to be seen, heard, and understood during these changing times and beyond, something that can really help with this topic. If you want to find out more or sign up you can do so HERE.

I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.

¹American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.