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Describing A Narcissistic Parent’s Abuse

Narcissistic abuse of children is abuse of children by a narcissistic parent or parents. The abuse usually takes the form of emotional abuse but may include physical abuse.

Anyone who’s been raised by a narcissist will recognize their narcissistic parent in this overview of their behavior, to varying degrees: The narcissistic parent needs the child to give up their own desires, deny their own feelings, and repress their personal autonomy in order to serve the parent’s needs.

This abuse can take a variety of forms, which sometimes overlap.

For example, a father or mother who complains that they are giving up (or gave up) so much joy, pleasure, achievements, money, etc. because of the child, often referred to as a “guilt trip.” This is told to the child either openly, or through pouting, sighs and moans, and other gestures of complaint.

A father or mother makes a “substitute mother” out of the child, requiring that a child acts as a parent to them (in one way or another) rather than the other way around (according to psychoanalyst Sandor Ferecnzi.) For example, a small child may be required to rub the parent’s back and bring them tea when they aren’t feeling well, as the parent pours out their woes to the child (which may include complaints about the other parent) in an age-inappropriate demand for consolation.

The child is essentially a main source of narcissistic supply for the parent and the narcissistic parent simply can’t understand why this is a problem. When a child begins to differentiate themselves, seeking to develop autonomy that the normal parent encourages and is proud of (even if wistfully), the parent will voice their displeasure in any number of ways, seeking to squash what they view as a dangerous rebellion. This often occurs well before the rebellion of the teenage years–children make new discoveries of self at various stages of childhood. The budding autonomy of toddler-hood, the initial school years, or the process of individualization at any point in time is perceived by the narcissist as threatening to their self-esteem. The threat may be viewed with various intensities depending on where the narcissistic parent falls on the spectrum of this personality disorder.

If a child rejects their role as the narcissistic parent’s source of self-esteem, and refuses to reflect back to the bottomless-pit of the narcissist’s needs, the narcissistic parent will virtually always take revenge. The revenge may take many forms: silent treatment, lying to family members about the child, insulting the child or otherwise making cruel remarks, other emotional abuse such as giving away a beloved pet or canceling a birthday party, isolating the child from the rest of the family, and in the case of some narcissists, physical abuse, etc.

As the child with autonomy grows and develops, they may display skills and talents that the narcissistic parent perceives themselves as lacking. Or the parent might perceive that the child is trying to “one-up” them and enter into competition with the child. This will continue through adulthood and even throughout life. The narcissistic parent only has pleasure through the child when the child is failing.

In other cases, the parent takes credit for the child’s successes and “owns” them, talking about them as if they are their achievements.

More to follow…








Describing A Narcissistic Parent’s Abuse

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2018). Describing A Narcissistic Parent’s Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jan 2018
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