A narcissistic parent is a parent affected by narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder. Typically narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and may be especially envious of their child's growing independence. In the face of this independence, the narcissistic parent "may experience a sense of loss, the child having served as an important source of self-esteem." The result may be what has been termed "narcissistic attachment"—the child always exists for the parent's benefit.
Narcissistic people have extremely poor self esteem and feel the need to control how others regard them, deeply fearing they will be blamed or rejected and personal inadequacies exposed. They are self absorbed, some to the point of grandiosity, and preoccupied with protecting their self image. Their interpersonal behavior tends to be inflexible, and they often have an inability to admit faults or to feel empathy.
Narcissism tends to play out inter-generationally. Whereas the "good-enough" parent is confident enough to allow a child's autonomy, "a pathologically narcissistic parent... [may] need to extract a specific performance from the child to glorify [him/]herself." For example, "the nonmirroring father who was preoccupied with his own self-enhancement and... insisted on being looked up to and imitated"  may produce a son who "began to see himself as a 'puppet' of his father"—one who "learned early in life to put other people's emotional needs ahead of [his] own."
According to American psychologist Alan Rappoport, narcissism is based on very low self esteem, Narcissists are afraid that others will think ill of them. To protect their fragile sense of self, they seek to control what others think and how they behave. Narcissistic parents "demand certain behavior from their children because they see the children as extensions of themselves and need the children to represent them in the world in ways that meet the parents’ emotional needs." Thus narcissistic parents may speak of "carry[ing] the torch," "maintain[ing] the family image," or "make[ing] mum or dad proud" and may reproach their children for exhibiting "weakness," "being too dramatic," or not meeting the standard of "what is expected." As a result, children of narcissists learn to "play their part" and from time to time are expected to "perform their special skill," especially in public or for others. In extension, children of narcissists typically do not have many memories of having felt loved or appreciated for being themselves, but rather associate their experience of love and appreciation with conforming to the demands of the narcissistic parent. For example, a narcissistic father who was a lawyer demanded that his son, who had always been the favorite child, enter the legal profession as well. When the son chose another career, the father rejected and disparaged him.
"These traits will lead overly narcissistic parents to be very intrusive in some ways, and entirely neglectful in others. The children are punished if they do not respond adequately to the parents' needs. This punishment may take a variety of forms, including physical abuse, angry outbursts, blame, attempts to instill guilt, emotional neglect, and criticism. Whatever form it takes, the purpose of the punishment is to enforce compliance with the parents' narcissistic needs."
Nina W. Brown, in her book Children of the Self Absorbed, provides specific checklists for readers to identify a "destructive narcissistic pattern" in a parent. She suggests examining "their parents' behaviour in the past... whether they turn every conversation to themselves, constantly demand attention, fish for compliments, fail to listen, use possessions without asking, find laughing at themselves hard, exaggerate and make demeaning comments about their children."
"Narcissistic parents give rise to either narcissistic or codependent offspring because [of] their inability to engage emotionally with their children's needs." Narcissistic parents likely went through some form of emotional or psychological neglect in their own childhoods, thus may find it difficult to place their children's needs and interests ahead of their own desire to feel in control.
Children of a difficult, more stubborn temperament defend against being supportive of others in the house. They observe how the selfish parents get his needs met by others. They learn how manipulation and using guilt gets the parent what he or she wants. They develop a false self and use aggression and intimidation to get their way. These children grow up to be Narcissistic themselves.
The sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family learn to meet the parent’s needs for gratification and try to get love by accommodating the whims and wishes of the parent. The child’s normal feelings are ignored, denied and eventually repressed in attempts to gain the parent’s “love.” Guilt and shame keep the child locked into this developmental arrest. Their aggressive impulses and rage become split off and are not integrated with normal development. These children develop a false self as defense mechanism and become co-dependent in relationships. The child's unconscious denial of their true self perpetuates a cycle self-hatred, fearing any reminder of their authentic self.
The novel Loverboy by the author Victoria Redel is written from the perspective of a mother exhibiting characteristics of extreme narcissistic parenting. The protagonist embarks upon a series of reckless sexual relationships with strangers for the sole purpose of conceiving a child who will act as a source of self-enhancement. When her son, Paul, is born, she forbids him from having any contact with or friends in the outside world, and constructs an elaborate fantasy world for him based entirely around herself. Eventually Paul reaches school age and seeks autonomy outside of his mother, a normal stage of child development which the narcissist can only view as a deep personal rejection. Additionally, their local laws require children to enroll in school; her self-absorption is so entrenched that she views even an innocuous external institution such as kindergarten to be a personal threat. With her narcissistic supply about to be cut off, she commits a murder-suicide attempt by carbon monoxide poisoning. Characteristically, she believes that murdering Paul is a positive act of love which will protect him from the unacceptable world outside herself.
- Stephen E. Levich, Clone Being (2004) p. 89
- Levich, p. 31 and p. 91
- David Stafford & Liz Hodgkinson, Codependency (London 1995) p. 41
- Rappoport, Alan, Ph. D.Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissis. The Therapist, 2005.
- Salman Akhtar, Good Feeling (London 2009) p. 86
- Heinz Kohut, How Does Analysis Cure? (London 1984) p. 183
- Joseph Glenmullen, Prozac Backlash (New York 2000) p. 278 and p. 266
- Boyd, R. How Early Childhood Oedipal Narcissistic Development Affects Later Adult Intimacy and Relationships 2011
- Samuel Vaknin, Malignant Self Love (2003) p. 95
- Simon Crompton, All about Me: Loving a Narcissist (London 2007) p. 120
- Crompton, p. 120
- Crompton, p. 119
- Lynne Namka, Ed.D. Selfishness and Narcissism in Family Relationships.
- Redel, Victoria (2001). Loverboy : a novel (1st Harvest ed. ed.). San Diego: Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-600724-5.
- Gardner, F 'To Enliven Her Was My Living':Thoughts On Compliance And Sacrifice As Consequences Of Malignant Identification With A Narcissistic Parent British journal of psychotherapy Volume 21 Issue 1, Pages 49 – 62 (2006)
- Brown, Nina W. Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-up's Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents (2008)
- Campbell, Lady Colin Daughter of Narcissus: A Family's Struggle to Survive Their Mother's Narcissistic Personality Disorder (2009)
- Donaldson-Pressman, S & Pressman, RM The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment (1997)
- Golomb, Elan Trapped in the Mirror Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self (1995)
- Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003) – see Chapter 9 – The Narcissistic Parent
- McBride, Karyl Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers (2009)
- Miller A The Drama of the Gifted Child, How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of their Talented Children (1981)
- Payson, Eleanor The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002) – see Chapter 5