The Narcissist and You: How a Narcissistic Parent is Affecting Your Relationships

Bonnie MacDougall, RP, ICADC

You may often hear the term narcissist thrown around quite frequently these days. If you were to go by a very broad definition of the term, everyone, including you, would be one. With the ability to take selfies, create the illusion of what reality you want to present on social media, and all the mirrors we keep in our homes (JK), then we are all guilty of being narcissists. All joking aside, in order to grasp what this post is about, it is important to understand what a narcissist is. According to the dictionary, a narcissist, besides being tough to spell right, is “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.” Essentially, a person who thinks the world revolves around them. Know anyone like that?

Yes, it can be hard to decipher who in your life is truly a narcissist. Is it the person who is constantly creating drama that centers around them? Is it the person who always has to see how their hair is or check their makeup? Is it the person who obsesses over getting ready to look good going out, even to a dark movie theater? Yes, these could all be definitions of a narcissist. But according to The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), a narcissist is much more than any one definition. In fact, the journal mentions that there are different subsets of a narcissistic personality. In plain English, there are different variations of this type of person.

Let’s take a step back before we go any further. What does all this have to do with anything? Why know about the narcissism? Why define it? Why care? The reason for discussing this in length in this article is to help you understand how someone who you had a formidable relationship with as a child that was or is a narcissist will affect your current relationships. Thus, if your father, mother, or another pivotal role model in your young life who had a deep and meaningful relationship with you and acted as a parental figure of sorts was a narcissist, it is affecting your current relationships and ability to have a healthy one. That is why we are here discussing this issue.

Now that we are clear, let’s dig in, shall we? In order to know how your current relationship, or ability to have a successful one, is being impacted by that self-centered individual from younger-you years, it is imperative to see if they were a true narcissist. That takes us back to the article in the AJP. In that article, it details four subtypes of a person with narcissistic personality disorder. While there is no need to delve into the four subtypes, because your therapist will be able to identify the type your younger self’s narcissistic parental figure falls under, they have similar traits that all narcissists have. Below are some.

* Grandiose

* Self-loathing

* Extroverted

* Socially isolated

* Captains of industry

* Unable to hold a steady job

* Model citizens

* Prone to antisocial behavior

Confused by the conflicting features? Let’s try to clear this up. The DSMV, which is the bible of psychological disorders, states “Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, entitlement, and lack of empathy.” This is a broad definition, and the truth is that underlying reasons for a person having a narcissistic makeup are many. When psychologists look at the underlying causes as well as the broader definition of this issue, you get a list like the one above. Plus, when you take the definition from the DSMV, you can appreciate that a person who has no empathy for others can act both antisocially because they do not care what others think, or be an extrovert because they are the most important person in the room. A narcissist and how they act can widely vary. So was the person in your younger life who helped model what a relationship looked like a narcissist? Psychology Today would have you look for these traits, according to an article on its website.

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. 2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. 3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions). 4. Requires excessive admiration [regularly fishes for compliments and is highly susceptible to flattery]. 5. Has a sense of entitlement. 6. Is interpersonally exploitative. 7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling [or, I would add, unable] to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. 8. Is often envious of others, or believes that others are envious of him or her. 9. Shows arrogant, haughty [rude and abusive] behaviors or attitudes.

Again, these are very similar to what we mentioned earlier but more detailed. Another way to identify if that person in your younger life was self-centered is to look at your current relationships. Is the person you are with displaying any of these traits (which are found in another Psychology Today article)?

* Conversation hoarder

* Conversation interrupter

* Rule breaker

* Boundary violator

* False image projection

* Entitlement

* Charmer

* Grandiose personality

* Negative emotions

* Manipulation

So, by now it should be clear if the person you have in mind from your younger life is narcissistic. Why is this important to your current relationships and ability to succeed in them? Again, as with anything in psychology, the answers are wide and varied. Below are some concrete ways that this affects you now.

First and foremost, we tend to imitate, on purpose or subconsciously, the relationships we had with our parents or role models from childhood. Thus, you may be seeking someone who is a narcissist without even knowing it. This is dangerous because a person like this cannot connect on a genuine and meaningful level because it is about them, and oftentimes their decisions or actions wind up hurting you and your self-image. For example, someone who has no empathy is probably a poor listener and not going to consider your needs. It turns into an empty and one-sided relationship for you.

Then there is the fact that sometimes we emulate the person we admired the most. Thus, if you admired a narcissist as a child, such as a parent, you may have a tendency to act out similar behaviors just because, rational or not, it is what you saw as the way to act. In doing this, you are driving those away whom you want to bring close to you. It may be subtle or oblivious, but it makes it hard to maintain a healthy relationship if you are acting selfish all the time.

Another example is the fierce independence a narcissist can have. If your parent was outgoing, it could have caused you to abandon emotional intimacy because you believe no one can be relied on or trusted.

These are just three of many ways a narcissistic parent or parental-type role model can affect you and your current relationships or relationship status. But, there are many more ways that a parent of this makeup is changing your relationships, and you can read them here, again, at Psychology Today’s website. It should come as no surprise that a psychologist loves Psychology Today.

Defining what a narcissist is is complicated. There are many forms with many underlying conditions that cause them. Even harder is being the child of one. This causes many waves of injustice when it comes to relationships for children of narcissists. The good news is that healing is possible. With the help of a trained professional, you can come to enjoy meaningful and healthy relationships in your life.

If you want more in-depth knowledge on this topic, check out these two books. * Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers * Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents

Or, if you would like to read someone’s first hand account of what it is like being in relationship with a narcissist: