Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but a starting point for your own exploration. Likewise, I am not a professional, but a survivor of childhood narcissistic abuse (among other types). I write about my own experiences, observations, and what I have learned through research.
Yesterday was World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day, which inspired me to write about the signs that you may have been raised by a narcissist for those who are still unsure or questioning. If this resonates with you, I encourage you to do your own research on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), narcissistic parents, narcissistic abuse, and Narcissistic Victim Syndrome to learn more. You can reclaim your life, and educating yourself is the first step.
The following are common effects brought on by the specific abuse tactics used by narcissists:
1. You Feel You Don’t Have Rights
Because you were treated like a “second class citizen” by your parent, it’s natural to grow up feeling like you don’t have any rights. For all intents and purposes, you didn’t have rights in your childhood home. Your parent did not grant you the freedom to express yourself or your feelings and opinions, explore your talents and interests, make mistakes and learn from them, set and maintain boundaries, or anything else children and adolescents are supposed to do to prepare themselves for adulthood. Due to this, you are compelled to explain yourself and your actions, justify your feelings, and you are reluctant to voice your opinion, because you feel you are constantly being judged.
2. You Feel Guilty for Having Basic Human Needs
Narcissists cannot focus on anything other than themselves, which is why they find everyone else’s emotions and needs annoying. And they resent having to take care of anyone because, as the perpetual victim, they believe they are the ones who should be taken care of at all times, so they treat their children (and their needs) as nuisances. This makes you feel guilty for having the same basic needs everyone else has, such as food, emotional stability, or medical care when you are sick or injured. Moreover, it leaves you feeling like a burden and believing that wanting even your most basic needs to be met is somehow selfish. (It’s not.)
3. You Find Boundaries Confusing
Due to their unparalleled sense of entitlement and an astounding inability to view you as an individual and not a mere extension of themselves, your parent refused to allow you to have any boundaries, which makes it difficult to understand, set, and maintain them in adulthood. Further, if you had at least one narcissistic parent, you were forced to “take up as little space” as possible to prevent them from turning into a puddle of tears or suddenly exploding on you any time you expressed a need or emotion. This resulted in more blurring of boundaries, as you had to become your parent’s “caretaker” to try to avoid their meltdowns.
4. You Were “Parentified”
Narcissists do not mature with age, and they often put their children in the position of having to “parent” them. If you took on the responsibility of being a caregiver for your parent in any way, for any reason, as a child, you were parentified, and it likely reinforced the notion that your needs were insignificant, or at least secondary, to the needs of your parent. As an adult, you are overly concerned with being selfish and view your needs as a burden to others, so you organize your life around everyone else’s needs and desires.
5. You’re a Chronic “People Pleaser”
Because your parent’s wants and needs were always of the utmost importance, you were conditioned to bury your own needs in order to better serve them. Another contributing factor is that narcissistic parents continually force their children to seek approval by setting an expectation, then “moving the goalpost” once the expectation has been met. If your parent made you feel like you had to earn their love, as an adult, you probably feel compelled to prove you are worthy of love and affection.
6. You Are a Perfectionist
Similarly, narcissistic parents make their children feel like they will never be “good enough.” Because they forced you to earn their conditional love, you became a perfectionist as a way to bolster your chances of pleasing them and finally being good enough. On the other hand, if you were like me, you became a perfectionist to prove to yourself and others that your parent was wrong about you. Either way, it’s about earning your right to be in the world, as you were raised to believe your worth was contingent upon the tenuous value your parent placed on you, rather than being taught your inherent value as a human who exists on this planet.
7. You “Feel” What Others Are Feeling
In many cases, children of narcissists develop very highly attuned empathy. This is a survival mechanism. When you have a volatile parent who becomes enraged at the slightest provocation, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all, you become hyper-aware of their facial expressions, body language, and energy in an attempt to avoid being abused.
8. You Second-Guess Yourself… A Lot
The goal of the narcissist is to keep their target off balance, and the abuse they dole out has the specific purpose of inducing uncertainty. If your parent consistently questioned your emotions and actions, dictated how you should feel, and challenged your perception of your own experiences, you learned you couldn’t trust yourself. Additionally, narcissists convince their targets that they deserve to be abused. This manifests as deep insecurity in a child who grows up to believe that everything is their fault and they can’t do or say anything right, which often results in debilitating self-doubt in adulthood.
9. You Are Indecisive
Because your parent saddled you with an exceptional sense of self-doubt, you have trouble making decisions. This is due to the scrutiny you likely endured for making even the smallest mistake as a child. You become paralyzed with fear, and you think and rethink over all of the possible outcomes, until you become so overwhelmed that you decide not to make a choice at all.
10. You Have Trust Issues
If your parent was narcissistic, they conditioned you not to trust your own feelings, instincts, and perceptions of reality. Besides that, you probably also learned you couldn’t trust your parent at an early age. When you can’t trust your own parents or yourself, you will not be able to trust others either. (Learning to trust yourself first is key.)
11. You Are Fiercely Independent
This may seem counter-intuitive due to trauma bonding (a powerful emotional attachment between an abuser and their target, which forms as a result of the cycle of abuse); however, if you learn you cannot rely on or trust anyone, you may grow to be fiercely independent. Another reason for this is the constant criticism to which you were undoubtedly subjected. If you were endlessly scrutinized for the way you did things, you probably learned to do them on your own, with no one watching, to avoid being ridiculed.
12. You Are Profoundly Lonely
When they’re not being abusive, narcissistic parents are neglectful. This can result in what I often refer to as a “profound sense of loneliness.” I believe it is the combination of abuse and neglect, along with never feeling like you quite fit in anywhere, because you are convinced you are a burden, strange, stupid, incompetent, lazy, crazy, etc. Narcissists are basically empty shells, devoid of positive emotion and love, which leaves their children feeling like they are on their own, because they are.
13. You Have a Distorted Self-Image
Living with a narcissist will leave you with a distorted self-image physically, mentally, and intellectually. When the narcissist is also your parent, the damage can be catastrophic. Because they do not allow their children to explore and acknowledge their talents and interests, you probably feel like you are still “finding yourself” well into adulthood. This leads to difficulty even acknowledging your talents, skills, abilities, and positive traits, as well as discomfort with receiving and accepting compliments, because you were prohibited from doing such things by your parent. In addition, the abuse tactics favored by narcissists cause low self-esteem and a lack of self confidence in their targets, which makes it nearly impossible to view yourself with any accuracy.
Narcissistic abuse is highly misunderstood and particularly treacherous, yet extraordinarily prevalent in society as a whole, which is why awareness must be spread. Because this type of abuse can be so subtle, and its perpetrators are oftentimes very charming or even charismatic, the average person has difficulty recognizing and understanding it, but its effects are devastating, nevertheless. Please remember that it was not your fault. You didn’t deserve to be abused by the people who were supposed to love and protect you. Narcissists are abusive by nature, so there was nothing you could have done as a child to affect their behavior. Your parent is solely responsible for his or her own abusive actions. The simple fact is that you were born to someone who can’t stop being abusive, and that is their defect, not yours.