Were you raised by a narcissist?

codependency golden child manipulation narcissist parents scapegoat Mar 18, 2022

No one has perfect parents. We all make mistakes, including mistakes in parenthood. But growing up can look quite different when raised by narcissistic parents.  

When we look at narcissism, we can usually find common traits such as feelings of grandiosity and superiority. They have a very superficial image of themselves, relying on building up the image they are showing to other people. Narcissists lack empathy which helps them manipulate the people in their lives for their own gain. They also don't like to be inconvenienced, even by family. 

Narcissistic Parents 

When it comes to narcissistic parents, these traits can present a bit differently. Image is extremely important to a narcissist, and their children are a part of that image for better or worse. Narcissistic parents can use their children to fulfill goals and ambitions by living their dreams through their children. They use their children's success to show their success as parents. However, this is a spectrum and can swing in the complete opposite direction. Instead of seeing their child's success as their own, a narcissistic parent can feel threatened by their child; the child succeeding means that they are better than their parent.  

A common dynamic for children with narcissistic parents is the golden child vs. the scapegoat. The golden child is the superficial image of the narcissistic parent, while the scapegoat is the image of the narcissist's insecurities. When children are placed into these roles, the narcissistic parent will work to protect this imagery regardless of what happens. The golden child will always be expected to perform their best, constantly under the pressure of the narcissistic parent. But at the same time, the golden child is the favorite. Even when they fail, the golden child will always be put on a higher pedestal. While they will always be pressured to be their best, they can also do no wrong. The golden child represents the narcissist's superficial and grandeur image and therefore gets the praise and love. Whereas the scapegoat, no matter how hard they try, will never be good enough. They can even be punished for succeeding or taking the limelight away from the golden child. The punishment does not have to be obvious and can seemingly be to an unrelated issue. A narcissistic parent will look for roundabout ways to keep this child in their place. Because the child in the scapegoat role is the image of a narcissists insecurities, they will get the left over affection. This child is seen as the target and what is the cause of the families problems, and so, they are treated as such. They will also be held to impossibly high standards, so they inevitably fail in their narcissistic parents' eyes.  

 The dynamic between children and narcissistic parents can be emotionally confusing to children. A narcissistic parent can create a dependent or codependent relationship with their children in a way that is not healthy for a child. Sometimes, we can see cases of emotional or covert incest. Covert incest doesn't mean that the child was abused by what we usually associate with incest, but that the parent required too much emotional support and labor from their children. Examples of emotional incest include the parent needing praise from their children for being a good mom or dad. It could also be asking their child for emotional support on complex or adult topics that are otherwise inappropriate to discuss with a child. Essentially, the child is in a position where they need to care for the emotional needs of their parent, blurring boundaries.  

Impact on children 

Children of narcissistic parents can experience a wide variety of symptoms. Children of narcissist parents can often feel invalidated or ignored. If the child was subjected to emotional incest, they were likely forced into maturity at a young age, making developing healthy emotional relationships difficult to reach in adulthood. This can cause children to not learn about appropriate boundaries and have difficulty establishing and enforcing boundaries since they were raised carrying the emotional labor for their parents.  

These children can also have difficulty with depression and anxiety and rely on external validation. Many children can suffer long-term effects from the emotional and psychological abuse from narcissistic parents, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  

Was Your Parent A Narcissist? 

This is the question, isn't it? At what point do we consider a bad parent or an emotionally abusive parent as a narcissistic parent? They could be narcissists, or they could be people who have not worked through their own trauma and passed down those issues to their children. Manipulation, grandeur, and so on can be signs of many things. But the biggest sign of a narcissist is selfishness and self-entitlement with a lack of empathy. Look at your childhood as a whole. Look at your dynamic with your parents and how they treated you. It can be hard at first to realize and acknowledge if there is a narcissist in our life, but when we step back and look at everything that has happened and the effects on our health, the picture becomes clearer. If you find that you were used as an extension of your parent, that you had to be their emotional support, or that you fit the golden child/scapegoat dynamic, then chances are you were raised by a narcissist.