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How to Deal with Your Narcissistic Parents as an Adult

When you grow up with a narcissistic parent, your family life is difficult, to say the least. Even as an adult, this is unlikely to change. Your narcissistic parent is likely to treat you the same way that the did in childhood. The way they see you is frozen in time, and you will be assigned the same role that they expected you to fill in childhood.

As you become an adult, you may be realizing for the first time just how dysfunctional your relationship with your parents is. When we are kids, we just accept things as they are. But as we grow up and learn more about the world and relationships, we begin to see how abnormal our family structure may be.

It is like opening your eyes to the truth for the first time, and seeing your parents as they truly are, instead of how you wish they were.

When I realized my mother was a narcissist, it was completely by accident. I was on an online forum for pregnant moms, talking about how my mom was hassling me to have a baby shower I didn't want, and inviting people I didn't like. One of the commenters told me how messed up that was, and referred me to Raised by Narcissists.

As I began to read the posts there, I could relate to everything that people were saying. I felt seen and heard for the first time. It was like they were recounting my own stories back to me. For the first time, I realized just how problematic my relationship with my mother truly was.

Are your parents narcissists?

If you are searching for answers about your own parents and their out of line behavior, it helps to know the signs of a narcissist. To find out, compare their behavior to the diagnostic criteria. This can help you to decide if your parents may be narcissists.

When you live with a narcissist day in and day out, you come to realize that appearances are everything to them. They care more about how other people view them, and view their family, than what the actual experiences of the family members are.

People in the narcissist's life are treated like paper dolls. Cardboard cut-outs expected to look a certain way and present a certain image. But people are one dimensional with a narcissist. They don't care about your thoughts, feelings or needs. They only care about what you can do for them.

If this sounds like one or both of your parents, chances are that you have been raised by narcissists yourself.

Changing your relationship

Once you have realized that one or both or your parents are narcissists, you will probably also want to change the way your family functions. Unfortunately, with a narcissist, this is easier said than done. Since they focus from a very fixed mindset, they are unlikely to welcome change.

It is likely that they will point all the blame for any perceived family problems back at you, since you are the one rocking the boat. When this happens, you may feel defeated, and like there is no way forward in your relationship with your parents.

One way to start standing up for yourself and changing the family dynamic is by setting boundaries regarding what you will or won't tolerate.

According to Lyra Health:

As author and researcher Brené Brown, PhD, explains, healthy boundaries in relationships are “what’s okay with you, and what’s not okay with you.” They’re roadmaps for interactions and behaviors that we find acceptable or unacceptable. Boundaries help us live our values and priorities by setting physical or emotional limits that protect our well-being, mental health, and comfort. They’re a type of self-care and a life skill we can keep learning, practicing, and improving. Boundaries are important in any type of relationship—children, partners, co-workers, parents, siblings, or friends.

Boundaries in relationships are meant to keep you safe. When you put boundaries in place, they can help to maintain your physical and mental health. It is important that you put your needs first, so that your narcissistic parent can't gaslight or manipulate you any longer.

When you decide to set boundaries, you decide what type of conduct you will or won't tolerate from a relationship. You can let your parents know what your new boundaries are, and what the consequences will be if your boundaries are violated. It can be leaving a dinner or ending a phone call if they are berating you. Or, it can be reducing contact if you are being treated in an unkind way.

According to BetterUp, here are 4 ways that you can get started with setting healthy boundaries in relationships:

  1. Take the initiative and begin establishing your standards early in a new relationship. If you’re at a new job, make it clear that you plan to log off at a certain time. If it’s with a new friend, share what kind of emotional support you need from the beginning. 

  2. Learn from mistakes you and the other person have made and take it as an opportunity to set a new boundary. If you have a fight or a misunderstanding with a friend, it’s a perfect time to be vulnerable and share your needs. You can always start fresh whether your relationship is 1 week or 10 years old. 

  3. Strengthen your communication skills and articulate your feelings clearly. Get used to saying “no” and practice often. 

  4. Take a moment to think about your boundaries. Try writing out the specifics in a journal. Also consider your “why” — what need are you trying to meet with your relationship boundary? This will help you stay strong if others resist your boundaries. 

Learning how to set boundaries involves introspection, and understanding what behaviors have upset you in the past. This allows you to decide what you are no longer willing to put up with in your relationship with your parents.

In addition to setting boundaries with your parents, especially if these boundaries aren't being honored when you assert them, it can be helpful to work through your relationship issues with a therapist. Having a professional on your side can help you set and enforce boundaries, get an impartial viewpoint, learn coping skills, and work through childhood trauma.

Reducing Contact

In addition to learning how to set boundaries with your narcissistic parents, you may also need to reduce the contact that you have with them. This can include decreasing phone calls and visits, and limiting the information that you share with them. Know that there will inevitably be push back when you do this. Narcissists like to have you fully under their control.

If you don't reduce contact with your narcissistic parents, there can be increasing power struggles as you learn to stand up for yourself. For example, when I told my mom that I needed to set boundaries, she told me that I don't deserve to have boundaries. Many narcissists will react in a similar manner.

According to Psych Central, reducing contact with your narcissistic parents or deciding to go no contact may be necessary if:

  • Your needs don’t seem to matter

  • Your boundaries may not be respected

  • You feel used for your resources

  • You feel betrayed

  • You don’t feel safe

When I decided to reduce contact with my narcissistic mother, it was over about a 2-year time frame. I gradually reduced contact with her, to see if that would improve the way I felt about the relationship, and to see if her behaviors would improve.

Unfortunately, when I decided to reduce contact with her, my mom just started adding guilt trips about how little she was seeing of me and my kids. Instead of getting better, reducing contact only made the problems get worse. She was trying to reassert control over me when she felt like she was losing control.

Should you go no contact?

Deciding to go no contact with your narcissistic parents may feel extreme, especially if you talk about the decision with other people in your life. Most people don't understand the psychological harm that you suffer from having narcissistic parents and will tell you, "but family..." This can make the decision even harder. Just remember, you have to put your mental health and safety ahead of everything else.

Making decisions for your own good may feel foreign and scary as the child of a narcissist. Many of us have low self esteem, anxiety, depression, PTSD and trouble communicating assertively. Prioritizing ourselves may feel selfish or wrong. We have been conditioned to feel like our needs don't matter.

The decision to go no contact is a difficult one, and something you can discuss with your therapist as well, if other strategies to improve the relationship with your narcissistic parents aren't working.

According to Pinch of Attitude, here are some steps you can use in cutting off contact with narcissistic parents:

  1. Tell Her You Don’t Need Her in Your Life

  2. Provide Her With Very Little Information About What You’re Up To

  3. Inform Close Friends and Family of Your Decision

  4. Unfriend Her From All Your Social Media Accounts

  5. Block Her and Other Enabling Family Members

  6. Avoid Mutual Gatherings or Events

  7. Trust Your Intuition That You’ve Done the Right Thing

  8. Don’t Listen to Family Members Who Don’t Agree With You

  9. Stay Close With People You Trust

  10. Seek Professional Counseling or Therapy

  11. Only Answer Her Questions That Are Essential in the Most Boring Way Possible

As you go thorough the process of limiting or cutting off contact, there are many people who may not agree with your decision. You may end up losing some or all of these relationships as well. It can seem very isolating in the beginning when you are no longer attending family events that you are used to.

Many people will write a "goodbye letter" to the narcissistic parent to explain the decision and the reasoning behind it. In this letter, you can talk about all the ways your boundaries have been violated, and all the consequences to your mental health of your upbringing.

Personally, I didn't do that. I talked to my mom about trying to improve our relationship until I was blue in the face, and if anything, things only got worse. I voiced my concerns over and over. I explained my feelings and the events and reasons behind them.

Since I had previously voiced all my concerns on multiple occasions (for years!) I didn't feel a need to send a goodbye letter. I felt like it was unnecessary, and I had nothing to say that I hadn't said a million times before. So I just changed my phone number with no explanation and stopped talking to her.

This probably seems extreme - and it is!

In normal, healthy family relationships, you don't just ghost your parents. There are years of abuse that lead up to the decision. Anyone who hasn't endured years of abuse from their parents isn't likely to understand the trauma and pain that you are going through. This is another reason having a therapist is helpful.

Nothing about my relationship with my mother was ever normal. I could never trust her or count on her to help me unless there was something in it for her. I didn't confide in her. I didn't experience love or closeness. All I felt was pain, blame, shame and guilt. I had to move on so I could heal, and so I could protect my own children.

Beginning to heal

After you have cut off or reduced contact to a manageable level with your narcissistic parents, you will be able to take control of your own life and to heal. You can prioritize your mental health, your career, and your other relationships.

In addition, practicing extra self care is key! When you have been abused for a long time, your self esteem, your mental health, and your other relationships suffer. Making yourself and your healing a priority for the first time may feel selfish, but it is the first step in rebuilding your broken life.

The more time and distance you get away from your narcissistic parents, the easier it will be to heal and move on. You can build a life that is what YOU want for the first time. You can determine your own priorities and values, and follow your own life goals. Your life finally belongs to YOU, and it may feel like you are able to breathe for the first time.

As you heal, you may work on inner child wounds or your attachment style as well. Since you grew up with a narcissist, you didn't have a healthy template for what relationships should look like. As you learn to recognize red flags, you may realize that you are embedded in other toxic relationships as well.

If you dedicate yourself to your mental health and your healing work, you will be able to build a better life for yourself, free from the clutches of your narcissistic parents. You can follow your hopes and dreams, and have a life that you can be proud of. You can learn to love yourself, and love others in a healthy way.

All this may seem unachievable now, if you have just discovered that your parents are narcissists. But believe me, as someone who has been there, it is possible to build a beautiful life for yourself and to find happiness.

If you have questions, or additional topics you would like me to cover, let me know in the comments!

If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy my ebook, A Narcissist Destroyed my Life: How do I Rebuild? It is available on Kindle Unlimited or in Paperback.

I wish you all the best on your healing journey!


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