Narcissistic Parents


What is the effect that a narcissist parent has on his off spring?


At the risk of over-simplification: narcissism tends to breed narcissism. Only a minority of the children of narcissistic parents become narcissists. This may be due to genetic predisposition or different life circumstances(like not being firstborn). But MOST narcissists had one or more narcissistic parents or caregivers.

The narcissistic parent regards his or her child as a multi-faceted Source of Narcissistic Supply. The child is considered and treated as an extension of the narcissist. It is through the child that the narcissist seeks to settle "open scores" with the world. The child is supposed to realise the unfulfilled dreams, wishes, and fantasies of the narcissistic parent. This "life by proxy" can develop in two possible ways: the narcissist can either merge with his child or be ambivalent towards him. The ambivalence is the result of a conflict between the attainment of narcissistic goals through the child and pathological (destructive) envy.

To ameliorate the unease bred by emotional ambivalence, the narcissistic parent resorts to a myriad of control mechanisms. The latter can be grouped into: guilt-driven ("I sacrificed my life for you"), dependence-driven ("I need you, I cannot cope without you"), goal-driven ("We have a common goal which we can and must achieve") and explicit ("If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion or any other set of values - I will impose sanctions on you").

The exercise of control helps to sustain the illusion that the child is a part of the narcissist. This sustenance calls for extraordinary levels of control (on the part of the parent) and obedience (on the part of the child). The relationship is typically symbiotic and emotionally turbulent.

The child fulfils another important narcissistic function - that of the provision of Narcissistic Supply. There is no denying the implied (though imaginary) immortality in having a child. The early (natural) dependence of the child on his caregivers, serves to assuage the fear of abandonment, which is THE driving force in the narcissist's life. The narcissist tries to perpetuate this dependence, using the aforementioned control mechanisms. The child is the ultimate Secondary Narcissistic Source of Supply. He is always present, he admires, he accumulates and remembers the narcissist's moments of triumph. Owing to his wish to be loved he can be extorted into constant giving. To the narcissist, a child is a dream come true, but only in the most egotistical sense. When the child is perceived as "reneging" on his main obligation (to provide his narcissistic parent with constant supply of attention) - the parent's emotional reaction is harsh and revealing.

It is when the narcissistic parent is disenchanted with his child that we see the true nature of this pathological relationship. The child is totally objectified. The narcissist reacts to a breach in the unwritten contract with wells of aggression and aggressive transformations: contempt, rage, emotional and psychological abuse, and even physical violence. He tries to annihilate the real "disobedient" child and substitute it with the subservient, edifying, former version.


next: The Spouse / Mate / Partner of the Narcissist

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2008, November 7). Narcissistic Parents, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Last Updated: July 4, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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