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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism Part 5: The Narcissistic Parent

Updated: May 14

The Narcissistic Parent: Recognizing The Many Faces of Parental Narcissism

As discussed earlier, narcissism varies widely among individuals, with each displaying a unique combination of traits. While certain characteristics are typical, not all narcissists exhibit every trait, and those they do display can vary in intensity. Given the complexity of human nature, narcissism can take on countless forms. Nevertheless, certain presentations of parental narcissism frequently emerge.

What’s the Narcissistic Parent’s M.O.?

Narcissistic parents use the members of their family as sources of narcissistic supply. They expect their family to meet their emotional, physical, relational, and self-esteem needs, while ignoring, minimizing, criticizing, and shaming the needs of those same family members in return. In summary, the narcissistic parent is the star of the movie while everyone else is a supporting character. If you don’t like it, oh well.

Drawing from my personal and professional experience, as well as notable works like Lindsay Gibson Ph.D.’s Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents and Dr. Durvasula’s It’s Not You, there are six archetypes of parental narcissism that I have found to be quite common. As you read them below take some time to reflect on which archetype or archetypes your narcissistic parent resembles.

The Six Archetypes of Parental Narcissism

The Emotional/Unwell Parent: The Emotional/Unwell Parent can come across as needy and whiny. Their emotions, which shift swiftly and unpredictably, drive their actions and behaviors. They often rely on others to soothe and meet their emotional needs. If they are not met in a way that is sufficient for the Emotional/Unwell Parent, they can become angry, irritable, passive aggressive, or abusive. When the emotional experiences of others are at the forefront (i.e. a wedding celebration, a child’s choir recital, a partner’s tough day at work), the Emotional Parent finds ways to draw the attention back toward themselves. They can use physical ailments or mental health concerns (real or fictional) as attention-seeking and guilt inducing tactics to manipulate others into meeting their needs.

The Driven Parent: The Driven Parent’s connection with their child is goal-oriented and outcome driven (i.e. the beauty pageant mom, sports-obsessed dad, academic-driven parent). They expect their child to meet their vision for success, having a rigid view of what success should entail. Their child’s success is typically then claimed by the parent as their doing. The Driven Parent comes in two flavors: 1) cold, critical, and demanding or 2) emotionally available on a conditional basis that is dependent on their in-the-moment approval of the child. They can also be emotionally distant or disengaged from other children within the family whom they don’t see as capable of meeting the specific version of success they envision for their child.

Grandiose/Entitled Parent: The Grandiose/Entitled Parent makes sure the spotlight is always on them. To others outside of the family, they are the life of the party. They can be great storytellers and loads of fun as long as the attention is directed towards them. At home, love comes with strings attached. Any act of kindness and attention towards the child is met with an expectation of unwavering admiration, gratitude, and rigid obedience. "You should be grateful for all that I do for you!" is the mantra of this parent. Similar to the Driven Parent, the Grandiose/Entitled Parent is quick to claim their child's successes as their own because after all, "if I didn't pay for all of those lessons, you never would have competed to begin with!" And for that, the child should be grateful for too. 

The Passive Parent: The Passive Parent is hands-off with a laissez faire attitude on parenting (i.e. the fun mom, chill dad, or the way too busy parent). They avoid conflict and are not keen on setting house rules, boundaries, or expectations for their children. They tend to leave the caregiving responsibilities to their spouse or place the ownness on the child to figure things out by themselves. Some Passive Parents cross appropriate boundaries with their child by becoming friends with them—think of the dad who brings his teenage son to the bar on Friday nights to DD, or the mom who hosts wild house parties for her teenage daughter and her friends. Other Passive Parents prioritize their own lives over their child’s need for a present and available caregiver. Overall, the Passive Parent has trouble providing the necessary structure and security that a child requires to feel safe and seen.

The Altruistic Parent: The Altruistic Parent want others to believe that they are Mother Theresa or Mary Poppins. In public they present themselves as nurturing, giving, caring, and loving. They may volunteer, be members of the PTA, or lead the local Boy Scouts troop. When behind closed doors with their family however, they are quick to anger, judgement, and insult. They may verbally or physically retaliate for a perceived slight that occurred outside of the home that they did not address out in public where others can see. For the Altruistic Parent, nurturing is on their own terms, not based on their child’s in-the-moment desires for love, affection, and connection. They can at times put down, reprimand, or punish their child one moment, then nurture the hurt child the next moment.

The Rejecting/Malignant Parent: The Rejecting/Malignant Parent is cold, closed-off, self-involved, and distant. They command the household with fear, temperamental demands, abusive behavior, and rigid expectations. They prefer to be left alone, ignoring their child—and other members of the family—unless they need something or have reason to express rage, shame, criticism, cruelty, or ridicule.

Understanding these archetypes can provide insight into the complex dynamics of narcissistic parenting. By recognizing these patterns, individuals can begin to untangle themselves from the web of manipulation and seek the healing they deserve. It's a journey toward reclaiming autonomy and forging healthier relationships, free from the grip of parental narcissism.

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