5 Red Flags Your Parent Is a Narcissist, According to Therapists

Knowing how to detect these tell-tale signs is the first step toward healing.

Empathy, patience, and selflessness are just a few ideal traits that parents will embody while raising their children—that is unless you have a narcissistic parent. This can impact your mental and emotional health, self-esteem, and even your other relationships as an adult. Experts say the first step toward healing is to be aware of the signs that your parent is a narcissist—and that it's not your fault they weren't able to meet some of your core needs.

If you think your parent might be a narcissist, it can be helpful to seek out guidance from a mental health professional who can help you learn to re-parent yourself, set healthy boundaries, and work through the complicated emotions you have about your relationship with your parent. In the meantime, therapists recommend keeping a lookout for these telltale signs that your parent might have narcissistic tendencies.

RELATED: I'm a Psychologist and These Are the 5 Telling Signs Someone Is a Narcissist.

5 Narcissistic Parent Signs

1. You often find yourself walking on eggshells.

young indian woman in a bad mood
fizkes / Shutterstock

According to Carl Nassar, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in family relationships, narcissistic parents expect their children to tolerate all of their dramatic and unpredictable mood swings. And because they take up so much emotional space in the relationship, "you learn to repress your own emotions," he says.

When you're having a hard time, you may find that your parent is unable to be there for you emotionally—and that they very quickly shift the conversation back onto their emotional struggles.

2. Their needs always come first.

Young man comforting and supporting a sad woman who is in serious trouble at home, Consolation and encouragement concept
iStock

Do you frequently drop everything at any moment to tend to your parent's needs? And if you don't—prioritizing your own needs—are there serious repercussions?

Over time, narcissistic parents subtly reinforce the idea that it's your job to take care of them rather than the other way around, says Nassar. You eventually learn that you have to push your own feelings and wishes aside in order to be loved by your parent.

Nassar notes that this dynamic can often have a lasting effect that bleeds into adulthood. Children of parents with narcissistic tendencies often find themselves in relationships or even jobs where they tend to play the caretaker role and may have difficulty acknowledging or expressing their own needs.

RELATED: 7 Body Language Signs That Mean Someone Is Lying, According to Therapists and Lawyers.

3. They don't respect your boundaries.

Shutterstock

While you were growing up, your parent may have read your diary or texts, or overshared inappropriate personal information with you. Now, as an adult, they may frequently drop by unannounced or attempt to involve themselves in your marital disputes. All of these behaviors are signs of poor boundaries, which are super common in relationships with a narcissistic mother or father.

As Nassar puts it, narcissistic parents don't see these acts as violating, because they feel entitled to everything in their child's life. They believe they are above rules and limitations, and will either outright ignore the boundaries you attempt to set, push back on them, or find loopholes in them.

For example, if you tell your parent that they can no longer leave you a lot of voicemails while you're at work, they might start sending you a barrage of texts during your workday instead.

You might find it's very difficult for you to say no to things, or to draw any lines with the people in your life about what kind of behavior isn't acceptable, says Nassar. That's partly because you didn't grow up with someone who modeled healthy boundaries for you—and also partly because your parent never showed any respect for your boundaries.

4. They don't celebrate your successes.

Handsome young man talking to his senior father while spending time at home together
iStock

Parents who are mentally and emotionally healthy feel pride and joy when their children succeed. But a narcissistic parent will have trouble acknowledging your wins because they take the focus off theirs, says Michele Leno, a licensed psychologist and founder/owner of DML Psychological Services. So, they'll either downplay what you've accomplished or somehow give themselves the credit for your accomplishments.

"Narcissists need to feel acknowledged," Leno explains. "They become anxious if they are not the center of attention."

While they may not acknowledge your successes to your face, Shari B. Kaplan, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Cannectd Wellness, says it's not uncommon for narcissistic parents to brag to others about what's going on in your life. This is often just a way for them to fish for praise about their parenting.

RELATED: Why You Should Never Call Out a Narcissist—And What to Do Instead, Therapists Say.

5. They never really apologize.

Woman arguing with mother on couch
Shutterstock

If you have a narcissistic parent, chances are you've rarely, if ever, heard a genuine apology. In fact, Nassar and Leno say narcissists will often flip the blame back onto you so that they never have to acknowledge their wrongdoings.

For example, they might insist that they never would have shown up uninvited to your house if you had just called them back earlier. Or, they may "apologize" without actually taking any responsibility, saying things like, "I'm sorry you feel that way," "I'm sorry we fought," or "I'm sorry you couldn't just realize I was joking."

As an adult, you might find that you often take responsibility for things that aren't your fault, says Nassar. This is because your narcissistic parent has essentially gaslit you into believing you are always to blame.

For more relationship advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more