The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) captures the core of narcissism (entitlement, grandiosity, lack of empathy, excessive need for validation, overall deep insecurity, etc.). However, it does not offer much guidance in easily identifying signs of narcissism in daily life, especially in parenting.
Due to the complicated nature of NPD, signs can often vary between the different subsets of narcissism. Here are the possible signs and expressions of narcissism, according to these subsets, below:
THE GRANDIOSE NARCISSIST
The Grandiose Narcissist is characterized by the overt grandiosity that is most commonly associated with narcissism. These narcissistic people present as the “Disneyland Parent.” They are there for the big days, they like to “put on shows” of their children as if to say, “Look at us, I have these great kids and do all of these great things for/with them.” They care a lot more about how things look in public than the way things actually are.
They might push their children to excel at something that will make the parent look good. They view their children as an extension of themselves, rather than humans with independent identities. If their children do not excel in public, then the narcissistic parent will likely disconnect from them.
The Grandiose Narcissist needs to be liked and admired, so if a child is not delivering this to them, then they distance themselves from that child. They are not interested in the private day-to-day work of parenting and they very likely have short fuses with their children at home. To the Grandiose Narcissist, everything is about them all the time, so the needs of children and the demands of parenting are seen as an inconvenience. Adult children of Grandiose Narcissists often become vulnerable to pushing their own needs away in order to focus on attending to the needs of people around them. These children are taught that their own needs are an inconvenience and only get in the way of others.
THE MALIGNANT NARCISSIST
The Malignant Narcissist is the more menacing, manipulative, and exploitive subtype. They are more prone to lying, sadistic, and paranoid behavior. They present themselves as cold and “scary,” especially to their children. These narcissistic people are completely concerned with power, control, and dominance. Their children likely grow up with chronic anxiety and, as adults, are more likely to experience PTSD like symptoms, be easily activated and triggered, and have extreme difficulty feeling safe in relationships.
THE COVERT NARCISSIST
The Covert Narcissist is characterized by a more vulnerable and victimized style. They present themselves as victims and tend to express beliefs that life never goes their way, people are out to get them, they deserve so much more from life, and people just don’t see their potential. They become like sullen victims with their children which then causes their children to feel responsible for “rescuing” them.
This type of narcissistic parent might say things to their children such as:
- “I’m doing the best that I can and no one is supporting me.”
- “Parenting takes such a toll on me.”
- “I would never have treated my parents like this.”
- “Nobody in this house ever appreciates me enough.”
- “Everyone out there has it so much easier than me as a parent.”
Chronically hearing statements such as this from a parent will likely instill an immense amount of guilt in children, making them constantly feel as if they need to save their parent but are never able to, regardless of how hard they try. Adult children of this type of narcissist will likely vacillate between guilt and anger. Guilt because they were not able to help their parent, and anger for a childhood that was always all about the parent.
THE COMMUNUAL NARCISSIST
The Communal Narcissist derives validation from engaging in charitable or good deeds. They want to be viewed as humanitarians or “saviors.” They are very likely on the center stage of whatever charitable event they’re at or derive validation via social media for all the “good things” they do for other people. They want to be seen as a rescuer.
However, all of that charitable kindness fades while behind closed doors with their children. They may be consumed with helping starving children in a different country, but be disengaged from their own children at home. They will likely display their parenthood in public, but then not actually want to do the work of parenting. They want validation of being seen as an amazing parent and will want their children around when it suits these validation needs.
Their children may wonder why their parent gives so much to children on the other side of the planet but then not give any of that same effort to them. They will likely become very tired of hearing “how lucky you are to have such a great parent who does so much good.”
Adult children of this narcissistic type may often feel as if they grew up in an “alternate universe” after constantly hearing about how wonderful their parent is and yet, behind closed doors, they have to endure the lack of empathy and disconnection. Adult children will likely feel as if they’re not enough and live with a certain amount of confusion and disorientation.
THE NEGLECTFUL NARCISSIST
The Neglectful Narcissist does not engage with people much unless they need something from them. They view people as inconveniences, as a means to an end, and only access other people when it works for them. They likely view their children as major inconveniences. Their parenting style is very disengaged, disinterested, and remote.
This type of parenting treatment significantly impacts a child’s sense of worth. They come to believe that they’re not worthy of their parent’s attention. Adult children of this type of narcissistic parent have lived a very destabilized life, likely have a deep sense of feeling as if they’re not enough, and believe they have to jump through hoops in order to get attention, approval, or love. The
may even take on the interests of others in order to find acceptance from them.
THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS NARCISSIST
The Self-Righteous Narcissist derives validation from holding themselves up as a morally superior person. They are focused on doing things with absolute rigidity and correctness rather than from a more flexible place. They may look like loyal pillars of a community (common in religious communities) and have a very high standard of what’s right and what’s wrong.
They view the world in black and white, with no grey areas. They present themselves as very judgmental, critical, and authoritarian. Their parenting style is very strict and limiting. Their children will likely be raised with a strong sense of conditionality (follow the rules or you won’t be loved).
These children as adults believe that their parent valued the “rule of order” more than they valued their children. This results in a lot of self-devaluation, self-judgment, chronic feelings of shame, and a belief of “there’s something wrong with me.”
(Originally published as part of “70+ Signs of a Narcissistic Parent” on UpJourney.)