When you think of narcissism, you might think of the exaggerated yet typical version of a narcissist — a person who openly focuses on themselves, downplays other people, and shows little or no signs of empathy towards others. Sometimes narcissism is more subtle: On the surface, the person may appear to be a caring person, but underneath is a whole different story. But what do you do if you suspect your child’s parent is a narcissist? 

What is Parental Narcissism? 

Narcissism is a mental health disorder in which a person has a heightened sense of self-importance with a deep need for attention while also lacking empathy or consideration toward others. 

Parental narcissism occurs when, as you might guess, a narcissist becomes a parent. While becoming a parent often makes a person more compassionate and caring, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Narcissism is, after all, a mental health condition that doesn’t just go away.  

Think of famous narcissistic parents from movies and TV, like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development, or Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. 

(It’s important to understand that, more often than not, it’s not the narcissist’s choice to think the way they do. But, with that said, it is possible for a narcissist to overcome their own shortcomings, although it requires a lot of internal work.)

Signs of a Narcissistic Parent

If you suspect your child’s parent is a narcissist, then there are many ways that this could affect them as they grow up. But first, you need to be able to recognize the signs. Here are the tell-tale signs of a narcissistic parent (NP), according to clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula: 

  • The NP sees their child as a source of validation, but only when the child does something worth bragging about, like getting good grades, winning a game, or getting into a good school. Otherwise, the parent seems disinterested in the child’s hobbies, thoughts, and overall presence.  
  • The NP is emotional and sensitive, but they are critical and unsympathetic when their child displays the same emotions. For example, the parent may explode at the smallest things but tell their child to “get over it” if they’re upset about something. 
  • The NP puts their needs first. While parents sometimes need to prioritize themselves, NPs do it to an unhealthy extent by choice or a lack of natural self-awareness. 
  • The NP has bad boundaries. Whether a young child or a grown adult, NPs have poor boundaries regarding their children. They might be overly intrusive and opinionated in their child’s life or remove themselves when it’s convenient. 
  • The NP plays favorites. If an NP has more than one child, it’s not uncommon for them to “play favorites” and have a Golden Child that they constantly praise but don’t do the same for the other child. 
  • The NP always blames the children. Classic shift-blaming lines include, “I couldn’t do XYZ because of you” and “I’m so tired because I need to take care of you all the time.” 
  • The NP expects to be cared for. NPs expect to be cared for emotionally, mentally, and sometimes even physically. In some cases, NPs will guilt trip their children in a way that says, “I took care of you – now you should help do the same for me.” 

How Hickey & Hull Can Help Your Family

While narcissism is not an uncommon personality disorder, knowing how it affects your children is not enough to protect them. 

Hickey & Hull Law Partners is experienced in family law and can mediate, create a parenting plan, or even help fight for custody if you suspect instability or abuse. 

Contact us today by filling out our online form or calling us anytime. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.

In the River Valley:
502 Garrison Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72901
Phone: (479) ‍434-2414
Fax: (479) ‍434-2415

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In Little Rock:
124 W. Capitol Avenue Suite 870
Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: (479) ‍434-2414
Fax: (479) ‍434-2415

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In Russellville: 

127 East 3rd Street
Russellville, Arkansas 72801

Phone: (479) ‍434-‍2414
Fax: (479) ‍434-‍2415



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In Northwest Arkansas:
409 W. Poplar Street
Rogers, AR 72756
Phone: (479) ‍802-6560
Fax: (479) ‍802-6561

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