It can be difficult to know how to handle a narcissist in your life, especially when they’re your parents.
You might feel as if they’re never taking responsibility for their actions or constantly disrespecting boundaries, which can often leave an emotional scar. That is why knowing how to deal with them is essential.
According to experts, here are effective ways to deal with a narcissistic parent:
Stacey Simmons, PhD, LMFT
Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, Hope Therapy Center
Know what kind of narcissism you’re dealing with
There are several types of narcissism:
The one that has been discussed a lot in recent years is malignant narcissism. This type of narcissism is the most difficult to deal with and nearly impossible to treat because the person who has it sees only the downside in being treated.
They don’t want to live in a world where they aren’t the center of the universe; It holds no appeal. It makes them feel like a “loser” to consider anyone else’s feelings or point of view.
The world is a complex set of zero-sum games to a malignant narcissist. Play with them, and they play to win — and that is all they care about; even your own parent will reduce you to a number in a winning calculation.
Insecure type narcissism
Another kind of narcissism is the insecure type. This type of narcissism typically is on a continuum with borderline personality disorder, or at the very least, borderline features.
That means that depending on the stimulus, a person with narcissistic or borderline features could swing to the other extreme when under duress.
Borderline features tend to show up when someone feels that they will be abandoned, embarrassed, or disconnected from some person, object, or role that provides them with safety and security.
A good example is a narcissistic parent who reacts to their adult child moving away. The child provides some identity, safety, or reliability for the parent.
Rather than ask the child about ways they can collaborate so that the child can help in the event of an emergency, the parent lashes out, “How can you leave me? I’ve never been able to trust you. You’ve always been so selfish.”
This is because the parent responds to their own attachment wound and feels better, making the child share in the responsibility of the problem.
This last bit is very important. People who have borderline features mixed into their narcissism often need to enmesh to feel safe. The narcissist wants to enmesh for their safety; they aren’t interested in the safety of the person they are enmeshing with.
They will want to diffuse their feelings by making someone else at least partially responsible. For young children, this creates deep fault lines in the personality structure that will need therapeutic attention if that person is to form healthy attachments later.
For adult children, it means that they need to find ways to have healthy attachments with others to have the ego strength to stand on their own and stand up to their narcissistic parents.
This will mean having clear boundaries and known mechanisms for enforcing them for most adult children.
Understand how to use boundaries effectively
Anyone exercising their right to boundaries (as anyone with a narcissistic parent needs to learn to do) must understand how to use boundaries effectively. It must always be coupled with expectations and vice-versa.
Boundaries without expectations are tyranny (and a favorite of narcissists), and expectations without boundaries are enmeshment (favored by borderlines).
For example, a narcissist with borderline features employing expectations without boundaries will blow up at something that seems inconsequential or that they didn’t communicate.
For example, you plan to attend a fun girls’ night with some co-workers, and your father explodes because he had needed you to come over and help with his computer to get his taxes done- but he never discussed it with you, so you couldn’t plan to help him.
He just “expected” you to be available. Or perhaps, on the other extreme, your mom doesn’t explain that she wants you to park your car in the driveway because her HOA will fine her if you park on the street.
She doesn’t tell you about the HOA dues, and she expects you to follow her instruction because she “said so.” The expectation is that her word should be enough for you, and you don’t need context or an explanation.
Define the boundary and the expectations associated with it
So when creating boundaries to use with your narcissistic parent, the key is to define the boundary and the expectations associated with it.
“I will not tolerate you calling my children names. If it happens, we will gather our things and leave, whether the Thanksgiving Turkey is being served or in the middle of Target buying school supplies.”
This clarifies the boundary, “you may not do X, and if you do, this is the consequence, Y.” Expectations also include context, and you have the right to ask your parent to make an effort to understand.
“Mom, Jason doesn’t have to hug if he doesn’t want to, we are teaching him that he has bodily autonomy, and we want him to make his own decisions about who gets a hug. If he gets taught, he always has to hug when he doesn’t want to; it means he is more at risk with other adults we don’t want him to trust.”
Narcissists hate being included in context. They’ll say they want to understand, but they really care about context as it relates to them- not how it relates to you. They will bristle at the context and the expectations, but an effective boundary includes both.
Types of boundaries
The fence even therapists aren’t great at discussing boundaries with patients. People often presume that all boundaries are binary.
Most people think of a boundary as a stern “No.” I tell my clients that there are three primary types of boundaries: Fences, Brick Walls, and the Great Wall of China.
Depending on what the boundary is for, fence types can be picket fences or other kinds of the fence (security fences, pasture fencing, etc.)
For example, you might be more forgiving of a neighbor who is constantly walking into your yard because their old, blind dog wanders in, unlike a neighbor who waltzes into your yard to borrow your hose without asking.
Both of those are fence boundaries — how do you want to reinforce them? Maybe you’d collaborate on a solution with the first neighbor if their dog gets out a call or a text before coming over.
Maybe with the second, you’d give them a verbal, then a written warning. Or perhaps you’d install some security cameras so you’d know if anything serious were to go missing.
Fence boundaries are the kinds that you don’t mind occasionally reminding someone about or defending.
The Brick Wall boundaries are a little more intense. They are intended to give an apparent shape to your expectations. They say, “This boundary is important.”
If you put up a brick wall, you are basically saying, “For now, this is a hard no, though I can re-examine the need for this wall later.” A brick wall is structural, but it can be changed. It can be torn down, scaled, or re-purposed.
Brick wall boundaries allow you to rest comfortably behind them, with the clarity of having given someone a clear and affirmative sign of your expectations.
Brick wall boundaries might be things like, “you may not insult my children or spouse, if you do, we will leave your home, and it will be at least a week before we talk again.”
Great wall of China
This boundary is the absolute no. This kind of boundary typically means no return from breaching it. With this type of boundary, you’ve usually already given a narcissistic parent the last two types of options, and they have barreled through them or blown them up.
Breaching this boundary can look like verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse. It is usually something that breaks a bond or is profoundly destructive.
There is no real coming back from this breaching this boundary — and for the person who is let in after breaching this last form of a boundary, they are rarely trusted and always kept at arm’s length.
Getting to boundaries
A word of caution if you are new to setting boundaries with your narcissistic parent. They are adept at bypassing boundaries, mocking them, or rolling over them.
It will take some practice and follow-through to ensure that your boundary defenses are believed. That may mean that you have to engage in uncomfortable behavior that may be a stretch for you.
Seek the help of a licensed professional
Remember that the narcissistic parent has been a narcissist longer than you’ve been defending your boundaries — they have some skills to protect themselves from having to play by the rules — they will not take your changing things lightly or well.
If you find yourself struggling, seek the help of a licensed professional.
Diamond, D., Levy, K. N., Clarkin, J. F., Fischer-Kern, M., Cain, N. M., Doering, S., & Buchheim, A. (2014). Attachment and mentalization in female patients with comorbid narcissistic and borderline personality disorder. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 5(4), 428.
Huxley, E., & Bizumic, B. (2017). Parental Invalidation and the Development of Narcissism. The Journal of Psychology, 151(2), 130–147. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2016.1248807
Jagasia, K., Saunders, P., & Roufeil, L. (2022). “Now I Can See Things for What They Are”: The Experiences of Adult Children of Narcissists. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 1-23.
Lenzenweger, M. F., Clarkin, J. F., Caligor, E., Cain, N. M., & Kernberg, O. F. (2018). Malignant narcissism in relation to clinical change in borderline personality disorder: an exploratory study. Psychopathology, 51(5), 318-325.
Love, S., & Feldman, Y. (1961). The disguised cry for help: Narcissistic mothers and their children. Psychoanalytic Review, 48(2), 52-67.
Shaw, D. (2010). Enter ghosts: The loss of intersubjectivity in clinical work with adult children of pathological narcissists. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 20(1), 46-59.
Dr. Dana McNeil, PsyD, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Founder, The Relationship Place
Emotionally healthy children grow up with the need to develop their internal sense of self and should learn to develop autonomy with parents who are emotionally available enough to foster these traits in a warm and supportive environment.
Unfortunately, not all parents are equipped to help their children develop those skills for themselves, especially if the parent possesses a personality disorder such as narcissism.
Some parents with narcissistic personality disorder can miss the opportunity to develop a loving bond with their children because traits of NPD such as lack of empathy, harsh criticisms, or inability to share time and attention with others may exist.
Unless their children have another parental role model who helps them balance out the effects of this lack of nurturing, a child may grow up with incredibly fragile self-esteem and possess underdeveloped emotional intelligence.
Many parents who possess NPD aren’t aware they are doing anything destructive, and their behavior is generally in alignment with the way they have always viewed the world and their place in it.
This behavior is congruent with their self-concept, and generally, becoming a parent does little to alter this sense of self.
Be willing to recognize that other people’s behaviors are outside your sphere of control
One of the most challenging and most productive things to do when dealing with a narcissistic parent is to find the best ways to accept who they are.
Accepting a parent’s NPD view of the world certainly doesn’t mean you are okay with their behavior or that you are okay with how they treat you.
Acceptance of the situation means that you are willing to recognize that other people’s behaviors and actions are outside your sphere of control. Stepping back and realizing that the only person you have control over is yourself will set you on the path to taking control of your life.
Accepting the situation also means you start to notice where you can stop setting yourself up for disappointment. Stop looking for the love and kindness you deserve from people who are incapable of giving it to you!
Develop relationships with other people besides your parent
You will probably be disappointed 99% of the time that you seek reassurance, comfort, or signs of acceptance from someone who has NPD. Start recognizing your best bet for affection and admiration is to develop relationships with other people besides your parent.
Getting your emotional needs met by your NPD parent is just not going to happen! It’s not because you aren’t loveable or worthy of your parent’s love is not giving you the relationship you deserve.
It’s because your parent has the equivalent of a brain injury when it comes to being soft and fuzzy. Stop asking a person with a brain injury to oversee your happiness. It’s a dead end.
Developing healthy boundaries with your parent
Developing healthy boundaries with your parent will be tough but necessary. You were likely never taught or had modeled the value of having a healthy border for you.
If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you likely had most attempts to set your own boundaries disrespected and minimized. Learning to define, develop and enforce limitations with your parent is necessary if you have any hope to heal your childhood wounds.
Learning to set boundaries will be essential if you hope to have an ongoing relationship with your NPD parent. If you don’t, you can assume your relationship will stay the same because it is unlikely your parent will have an “aha” moment and change how they behave toward you.
Be short and sweet when you relay your boundaries
Be short and sweet when you relay your boundaries to your parent. It is unlikely they will be supportive or accepting of the new rules. However, this is your set of boundaries so that your life makes sense moving forward.
It is not required or even needed that your parent becomes on board or even accepts how you choose to conduct your life.
Be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of waiting for them to be supportive or demonstrate support for your new boundaries. Be assured that your parent preferred things the way they were. Your new boundaries will not be something they are excited about changing.
Try your best not to take it personally
Try your best not to take it personally. You will likely need to repeat yourself several times. Remember, these are your healthy boundaries and expect your parent to want things to go back to your old patterns of interaction.
You will likely be developing your sense of confusion over where your NPD parent ends, and this process will take a great deal of insight and strength. Your self-esteem probably needs to be rebuilt from the ground floor.
Know that you may need to take a break from the toxic relationship
Know that you may need to take a break from the toxic relationship you have with your NPD parent. Accept that taking a break is perfectly okay and probably temporarily required to help you reset your old patterns of interaction.
Seek support from a licensed mental health provider
Seeking support from a licensed mental health provider is always a significant first step to understanding your healthy boundaries and why they are essential to add to your relationships is always a good place to start.
Psychotherapy | Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Alma
A child longs to have a parent who shows them unconditional love and acceptance and puts them first emotionally. Growing up not having this can lead to feelings of insecurity.
Narcissistic parents are parents who are entirely focused on themselves. They are the centers of their universe, not their children, and this is very sad and frustrating for the children who have parents with this disorder.
So how can children deal with a narcissistic parent to protect their mental health? There are a few things that they can do:
Understand that this is a personality disorder
The parent with this disorder comes across as arrogant, often uncaring about other people, and absolutely full of themselves. The parent with narcissism cannot handle any criticism, however constructive it sometimes may be, because it tears apart their self-image.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have extremely fragile self-esteem. At the same time, they have high self-esteem, but that self-esteem is very much dependent on external validation. They are pretty vulnerable people.
With this in mind, children with narcissistic parents need to remember that their parents suffer from an illness. It is not personal. Their parents do love them in their own way.
This could be difficult to work through for a child who just wants their parents to show a little more care for what they have to say, rather than toot their own horn all the time.
Still, it should provide peace of mind to know that narcissism is an illness, it is not personal, and it isn’t because the parent doesn’t care about the child.
Have strong boundaries
It isn’t easy being around someone who is always talking about themselves and sensitive to other people’s words and opinions. Adult children can be respectful to their parents while also creating some strong boundaries to protect their mental health with said parents.
Boundaries might mean creating distance from the parent or letting the parent know that you love them so much and want to hear what they have to say, but you want to have a chance to talk and feel listened to also.
Narcissistic parents will have difficulty respecting this because they have difficulty empathizing with other people, and if they cannot appreciate this, creating some distance will be most beneficial.
Therapy can help improve parent and child’s relationship
Being able to process having a parent who is all about themselves can be helpful in therapy.
Going to therapy can help the child emotionally, both to understand why their parent behaves the way they do and to have their feelings about it validated and heard.
Everyone’s experience is different, and a therapist can guide a child experiencing this according to their specific situation and issues with the narcissistic parent.
Therapy can also be helpful for the parent and child to engage together to help improve their relationship.
Shawnessa Devonish, MA, LCPC, NCC
National Board Certified Counselor and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Rejuvenated Minds Therapy
Be consistent in setting time limits while interacting with a narcissistic parent
If they have to engage with this parent, people must be consistent in setting time limits while interacting with a parent that displays narcissistic traits.
To develop self-awareness around the “time limit,” be intentional about noting the time period you begin to feel irritable, criticized, judged, or any uncomfortable emotions around that parent.
These time limits will assist you with protecting your peace by refraining from sitting through hurtful comments.
Avoid holding on to hope for this parent
It is risky to hold on to hope with parents who display narcissistic traits. In many cases, the hope you have tends to lead to disappointment, frustration, or sadness.
Hence, direct more hopeful energy towards people or situations that can meet your expectations (including yourself).
Don’t argue with them and just leave
Narcissists want to trigger you to engage in these verbal altercations because it satisfies them to know that they have control.
Do not allow their manipulative tendencies to get the best of you. And this starts with you being assertive through your actions ex: “leaving.”
Remain direct while interacting with a narcissistic parent
People with narcissistic tendencies use strategies to manipulate individuals. Due to this, you must keep conversations at a minimum and remain super direct while interacting with them.
This will minimize their success at controlling your narrative and help remind you that you have power over the interaction.
Focus on the outcome
If you must interact with a narcissistic parent, do not put effort into developing an improved relationship.
This particular strategy will only work if both parties mutually agree on enhancing the dynamic and engaging in the work needed to make progress (with a professional).
However, if not, focus on achieving the desired outcome during the interaction (ex: Only dropping off a package for your parent that “accidentally” got sent to your house and then immediately leaving to avoid any negative backlash).
Communications Coach | Author, “The Home Office Parent: Raising Kids and Profits Under One Roof“
Acknowledge that it feels unnatural and unfair that you, as the adult child, have to manage the parent and find a way to stay emotionally healthy despite the toxicity.
Release the inherent childhood belief
Grieve that loss. Try to release the inherent childhood belief that the parent is supposed to fix things for the child, not the other way around, as you are now both adults, and the dynamics have changed.
Once you accept that Dad can fix anything in your house that breaks, you are a more aware and healthy communicator. You step out of being the victim and into a more powerful mental and emotional perspective.
Begin with a foundational understanding of the behavior
Begin with a foundational understanding of the behavior. People don’t become narcissistic by accident or on purpose; it is a defensive method of dealing with the world around them rooted in the messages they received as children.
In some cases, that means abuse or neglect. In others, it involves excessive praise and unrealistic expectations.
Just because Dad grew up with the white picket fence and a seemingly normal childhood doesn’t mean his mother didn’t withhold affection or his Dad wrote off his dyslexia as laziness.
As with any compulsive behavior, narcissists try to control a world around them that feels out of control.
Remember that the narcissistic parent doesn’t love themselves more than they love you
Remember that narcissistic parent doesn’t love themselves more than they love you; it just feels that way. In fact, the narcissistic parent believes they love you more profoundly than any mother ever could or ever has.
Accusations of selfishness or self-absorption won’t help the dynamic or “wake them up” because they won’t understand the indictment and will write it off as your problem or failure to understand them.
Decide on your boundaries
Decide on your boundaries. Just because you’ve chosen to try to understand your parent’s behavior doesn’t mean you’re giving them a pass to make you crazy.
If Mom calls every day to tell you how the grocery store clerk was rude to her again, start limiting phone calls to once a week and set a timer. If Dad comes over every Saturday, create a reason to go biweekly.
Before you encounter the parent, set a mantra-like:
“I love my mother with all of her human gifts and flaws. I know she doesn’t choose this behavior; it’s the only way she has learned to deal with a life she can’t control.
I will have compassion for her and me, and I will limit my exposure to keep myself healthy and safe.”
Always let the narcissist speak first
Always let the narcissist speak first. They can’t hear anything you have to share until they’ve been heard, so give him 15 minutes to express himself and say, “Okay – my turn.”
If that’s too blunt, use phrases like “That reminds me…I wanted to get your perspective on something…” and shift the conversation. Asking for the narcissist’s opinion on something increases the opportunity for healthier dialogue.
Ernesto Lira de la Rosa
Psychologist and Media Advisor, Hope for Depression Research Foundation
Begin to communicate and set boundaries with a narcissistic parent
Individuals with narcissist traits feel unique and special and only associate with others who are equally special. They overestimate their abilities and may expect praise from others.
There are also persistent patterns of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. This can lead to them taking advantage of others to meet their own needs.
If you have a parent that displays these characteristics, you may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, and angry with your parent. These are normal and valid reactions, especially since individuals with these personality qualities can engage in emotional manipulation.
It is, therefore, important to set and maintain boundaries with this person. This individual may consistently violate the boundaries and not respect you, setting healthy boundaries to maintain relationships.
Consider what kind of relationship is realistic with a parent
First, I would recommend considering what kind of relationship is realistic with a parent with these personality characteristics. If you reflect on your limits and how you want to respond to this person, you may be able to set boundaries that align with your well-being.
Once you reflect on the relationship, you can begin to communicate and set boundaries with a narcissistic parent.
Often, boundaries include:
- Saying no
- Limiting contact with the person
- Letting the person know how their actions and words have impacted you
You may not receive the response you are expecting, which is okay. It is essential to continue reinforcing these boundaries so that the person can begin to see that you will no longer allow them to hurt you.
It is important to note that when you set boundaries with someone who has narcissistic traits, they will react with anger.
They may not be used to you setting boundaries with them, which will cause them to react in ways that will hopefully keep you in line. This can be a form of emotional abuse.
Reach out to a therapist for support
In addition to setting boundaries, I recommend that you reach out to a therapist for support. Relationships with narcissistic individuals leave you feeling a myriad of emotions.
You may feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, and it is essential to release what you are holding onto. It can be helpful to work with a therapist so that you can also learn how to set and maintain boundaries.
Therapy can also help you see things from a different perspective and help you work through conflicting emotions you may have about the relationship.
Christy Lincoln, MA, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Writer, Choosing Therapy
Establish your boundaries
In one word: boundaries. Boundaries are your friend. The best part? You get to choose your boundaries. They can be whatever you want.
No, I will no longer:
- Share my social media with you
- Answer your phone calls after 9 pm
- Share phone or bank accounts with you
- Discuss my health, career, partner with you
- Allow you access to my children
In some cases, setting boundaries can preserve your relationship, and no one has to go through the trauma of a complete severing of ties.
You probably already have boundaries in place with your parent, even if you think they are small and feel inconsequential. Give yourself credit and use these successes to build upon.
Thinking of these limits you have placed to preserve your well-being, how would your relationship with your parent improve if you felt comfortable honoring any boundaries you need?
That is the place of love for yourself that will give you the best way to handle this.
If this sparked some insight or gave you something to chew on, writing it down may help. I encourage my clients to journal as we work, which has helped many. If nothing else, it records where you are in time as you come to terms with this.
Having a narcissistic parent often leads to unbearable grief. Please be kind to yourself along the way.
Founder, Parenting Pod
Acknowledge and be aware of narcissism
The very first step in dealing with a narcissistic parent is acknowledging the narcissism and being aware.
It is very important for the child in question to recognize the symptoms and behavior and understand where it is coming from to protect themselves better and seek support.
In some cases, narcissistic parents will acknowledge the condition and seek help, which is highly beneficial to themselves and the people around them, and any children in the picture.
Sadly, that isn’t always the case, so here are my top tips for those that need to deal with a narcissistic parent:
Set boundaries for your safety
Once you can identify the behavioral patterns of narcissism, you can better protect yourself so that you are not falling under your parent’s control.
But another thing you need to do is to let go. You won’t be able to change your narcissistic parent, so the only thing you can do is distance yourself a little and set boundaries for your safety.
The more “objectively” you can look at the situation, the less anxious you will be.
Find a support system
This is incredibly important. Having people you trust and can speak with about the situation will help you process things a lot better, and it will help stop you from feeling crazy or delusional.
Narcissistic parents will often try and gaslight their children into thinking that it’s their fault or that they’re making things up, having someone to reassure you will be vital.
Be strict with your own space and life
This can be very hard, but it is essential to have a life of your own and thrive. Narcissistic parents want to be in complete control, so you will have to be strict with your own space and life so that it is not interfered with.
Don’t feel guilty about this. It is a necessary safety measure, and you deserve to have your own happiness.
If you need to cut ties, do it
There is often a lot of pressure to give parents and family members infinite chances, and it is seen as selfish or mean if you want to walk away because they are family and you owe them.
However, this isn’t true. At the end of the day, you need to prioritize yourself, and if your narcissistic parent is becoming too much to handle or they are negatively impacting your life, you have the right to walk away.
Jessica Loftus, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Arcadia Mental Health Counseling Services, PLLC | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional
Speak with a mental health professional for support and validation
When dealing with a parent with narcissistic personality disorder, the first line of defense for the adult-child is to speak with a mental health professional for support and validation and learn helpful communication tools they can use to deal with the frequently tumultuous relationship.
It is widespread for children of narcissistic parents to develop issues such as:
- low self-esteem
- eating disorders
- trouble setting healthy boundaries
One may feel a chronic sense of unease and fear of disappointing and/or setting their parent off, which can sometimes become generalized to other relationships.
Practice being compassionate with yourselves
It is essential for someone with a narcissistic parent to work on setting healthy boundaries and practice being compassionate with themselves, something their parent may not have shown them.
In some cases, creating distance from the parent may be the best option. However, the parent will likely become angry and more controlling as they see their child’s behavior change and may not be able to accept the boundaries and limits being placed.
With the support of an experienced therapist or even a trusted friend, they can enforce their limits without submitting to their parents’ demands.
It’s important to remember that the child of a narcissistic parent has developed adaptive ways to cope with their parents’ behaviors. Just as these have taken time to form, it will take time to unlearn and learn healthier ways to interact and manage the relationship.
That’s why self-compassion is such a big part of the process. Finding a therapist who specializes in personality disorders or who utilizes DBT may also be helpful.
Medical reviewer and Addiction Advocate, OK Rehab
Generally, narcissistic parents view their children as possessions rather than people, and they tend to police their children’s lives to a worrying degree due to the sense of power they feel over them.
This can manifest as:
- Being excessively concerned with their child’s appearance.
- Taking their child’s achievements as their own.
- Bragging about their children to an excessive degree.
- Not allowing their children to establish independence.
When the child of a narcissistic parent becomes an adult, the parent often panics as they are losing their sense of control over their child.
As a result, they may resort to extreme measures to gain this control back, such as:
- bullying their child
- preventing them from achieving their dreams
- punishing them for being independent
Cut off a narcissistic parent in extreme cases
In extreme cases, it is necessary to cut off a narcissistic parent, as sometimes there is nothing you can do to keep their bad behavior at bay.
This is unfortunate, particularly if you have your own children, but it will prevent you from being hurt in the long term if your parent is willing to go to any extreme to establish control over you.
Set firm boundaries with a narcissistic parent
However, if you can tolerate your parent to a certain degree, it’s essential that you set firm boundaries with them.
The specific boundaries will be personal to you, but some I have recommended to my clients in the past have been:
- Reduce the amount of time spent with them.
- Only see them in public areas.
- Ignore their messages if they are hostile.
- Remove yourself from any situation in which your parent becomes abusive.
It is never easy dealing with a narcissistic parent, but the most important thing to remember is prioritizing yourself. A narcissistic parent is not putting your needs first, so you need to do it for yourself to stay firm and content.
Jim & Jessica Braz
Founders, Baby Out of Wedlock
Get free coaching
There is a world of books and podcasts that can really help and are free. Our favorite is “The High Conflict Co-Parenting Podcast“ hosted by Brook Olsen.
Start on episode one and work your way up; you will have a whole new outlook after about ten episodes. This alone would have changed my life during my custody battle.
Get paid coaching
Going through a custody battle requires a lawyer, but an excellent high-conflict coach can make a difference. There is a whole world of them out there.
While lawyers are only good at the law and sometimes encourage conflict (to inflate their fees), these coaches teach you how to disengage, spot your triggers, and only respond when necessary.
They are worth their weight in gold and can save you tens of thousands in legal fees by teaching you only to fight when the juice is worth the squeeze.
One coach we like is Michelle Mitchel, who is unique because she is a licensed attorney, a certified High Conflict Diversion Coach, and a Martha Beck certified life coach.
Consider switching to Parallel Parenting
Most family courts and professionals encourage healthy co-parenting when two parents work together. It’s sort of a fairy tale – almost impossible in real life, even under the best circumstances.
But when dealing with a difficult narcissist, the only solution is to abandon co-parenting and switch to Parallel Parenting. This is when each parent sets firm boundaries and parents within them.
They don’t try to micromanage the other parent, and they don’t even respond to anything from the other parent that they are not required to respond to. They teach their children, “My house, my rules,” if kids complain about differences.
They don’t react to triggers from unhealthy parents. They funnel all co-parenting communication through a parenting app. Learn more about this parenting style through Carl Knickerbocker’s “The Parallel Parenting Solution.”
Use a parenting application
Use a parenting app like “Our Family Wizard.” It has valuable features for any co-parent (shared calendars, request for reimbursement, request to change schedules, etc.), but it is a must-have for high-conflict parents.
We recommend you force all communications (calls, text, email) through the app, and there it will be cataloged and easily reportable to the court if needed later. The app shines a light on bad behavior and is such a good tool that some jurisdictions insist parents use it.
Use a Parenting Coordinator
Parenting coordinators are essential for avoiding conflicts that escalate into expensive trips back to the court system or other dysfunctional situations for the child.
It’s usually a voluntary arrangement where both parents agree to let the PC be their binding mediator for the next 12 or 24 months. When a dispute arises (and they always do), people typically start screaming at each other and eventually end up in expensive litigation where problems are never really solved.
Instead, when you have agreed in advance to use a PC for dispute resolution, practical solutions are found by a professional who hears both sides of the story and attempts to help the parties find a way to compromise.
If the parties cannot agree on a compromise, the PC will eventually make a binding decision with the child’s interests in mind. There is no downside to signing up; you won’t need to use your parenting coordinator if you never argue about anything. You can read more about them in our book, “Baby Out of Wedlock.”
Clinical Hypnotherapist | Wellness Coach
Unlearn their influence with emotional bonding and understanding
Living with narcissistic parents can not only just hamper your growth prospects in life but also leaves lifelong scars. Dealing with narcissistic parents, life becomes more challenging to manage, as parents are always considered the source of all positive energy, love, and kindness.
This makes it even more difficult to understand where you are going wrong in dealing with toxic energy.
Your narcissistic parents are the most rigid naysayers in every situation in life. But it is always possible to unlearn their influence with emotional bonding and understanding.
Here are three ways to deal with narcissistic parents:
Communicate your feelings to them
Communicate your feelings to them. What are your likes or dislikes? What are the things that you don’t want in life? You can simply talk about these issues as it can help you extensively.
Sometimes, a simple conversation can solve huge things in life.
Say no to the feelings and actions you think are toxic
Say no to the feelings and actions you think are toxic and do not help you grow in life. You can prioritize your life effectively. Setting healthy boundaries is an important task that you can accomplish in life.
Unlearn past experiences
Forgiveness is very important when it comes to dealing with a narcissistic parent. You can forgive them for their past actions and simply move on with your life to witness brand new positive experiences.
Realizing that they are also human beings who can make mistakes. Unlearning all the past bad experiences can help you grow in life.
CEO, ADAPT Programs
Identify the characteristics of the parent
Before you can deal with them, you have to understand some of the key characteristics of a narcissistic parent.
These parents often come across as selfless individuals who are sacrificing their life, ambitions, and goals only for you to succeed. But the unfortunate thing is that their actions are only self-serving.
Narcissistic parents often view their kids as nothing more than an extension of themselves. They cannot view their kids as separate humans who might not want the same things as them.
Moreover, their arrogant behavior is coupled with their inability to take any negative feedback, making the children afraid to even open up about their emotions.
Always remain calm when it comes to dealing with a narcissistic parent
A narcissistic parent will do anything to ensure they have control over you. This can extend to making your major life choices, e.g., who you marry or where you go off to college.
They’ll deliberately criticize you under the pretense of helping you become a better person. I’ve found it highly effective to always remain calm when dealing with a narcissistic parent.
They’ll want you to exude negative emotion because that reaffirms their belief of being in control. You don’t want to give them that at all.
Remember to let go
You may feel pressure always to be the best son/daughter, and in doing so, you’ll start living your life according to how they want you to live it.
But there comes the point where you have to understand that you can only keep your narcissistic parents happy to a certain extent.
Related: Are Narcissists Happy?
It’s not your job/responsibility to fulfill their dreams, and if they cannot understand it, it’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t break the cycle.
Writer and Founder, Kin Unplugged
Figure out their patterns
Identify the times when they start to exhibit narcissistic behaviors. Is it only when they want something from you or want to manipulate you? Is it mainly when others are around and trying to impress them?
Adjust your expectations accordingly
Once you know what sets your parent off and makes them start to exhibit narcissistic behavior, you should be able to adjust your expectations accordingly.
Do not expect too much from them. Ideally, expect nothing so that you will not be disappointed.
Let them know that you are aware of what they are doing
Do not be afraid to let them know that you know what they are doing. Do not do this in a confrontational way but instead in a matter-of-fact way.
Get a third party involved
Sometimes seeking help from a professional, impartial third party may be what you both need to interact with each other better and help you know how to deal with your narcissistic parent with minimal emotional hurt.
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