Narcissism is a spectrum of character traits. Narcissists have difficulty with empathy, they fail to appreciate that other people may have perspectives that differ from their own, and they struggle significantly with taking accountability for their own behavior. Essentially, it is all about them and their needs. When they are confronted with either criticism or an expectation that they don’t like, they typically react with manipulation, attention-seeking behavior, defensiveness, anger, or the silent treatment. There is a lack authenticity and reciprocity in their relationships.
In order for children to grow up emotionally healthy, they require an emotionally “tuned in” parent. This type of parent has the ability to empathize with what their child needs and acts accordingly. Their child’s emotional self is validated, feelings are allowed to be appropriately expressed, and the parent responds consistently with warmth and authenticity.
This key factor of emotional development fails to happen in a home with a narcissistic parent because the parent is driven by their own needs, not their child’s. Instead, due to what is essentially emotional neglect and/or abuse, a child learns that he (or she) “isn’t good enough.”
The way this manifests itself as an adult may vary. Some adult children of narcissistic parents struggle with narcissism themselves. Others face difficulties with anxiety and depression, feelings of emptiness and inadequacy, and struggle with setting appropriate boundaries in relationships.
There is a path to recovery for children of narcissists. It requires grieving for the childhood you deserved but didn’t have, finding new ways to nurture yourself, and developing better tools and skills to manage your relationships, mood, and behaviors.