A mother and daughter sit side by side looking unhappy.

When a co-worker or boss refuses to take responsibility for their actions and ego, it’s hard enough. But what if that person in your life is a parent?

Shifting the blame, seeking constant validation, refusing to apologize and gaslighting are all traits of narcissism. No one should have to put up with this type of behavior, but when it comes from a parent, it can be especially damaging. Children raised by narcissistic parents often develop insecure attachment styles. This leaves them with the sense that relationships are fragile and they must work hard to keep people in their lives—even the ones who are harming them.

While you can cut ties with a partner or friend, unfortunately, dealing with a narcissist parent isn’t quite so simple. No instant fix exists; you can’t wave a magic wand and change your parent’s personality traits. Because it’s your mom or dad, going no-contact is probably not an option either. However, that doesn't mean you have no options. 

Here’s everything you can do to guard yourself against narcissistic parents—whether you still live with them or have long been independent.

Do you have a narcissist parent?

Common signs of a narcissistic parent include:

  • They guilt-trip and gaslight you.
  • They view your achievements as a reflection of themselves.
  • They use the silent treatment or are passive-aggressive towards you when they don’t get their way.
  • The parent-child relationship has been reversed, with you acting as your parent's caretaker.
  • They frequently remind you of what they’ve done or sacrificed for you.
  • They redirect conversations back to themselves as much as possible, often dismissing your opinions.
  • Some of their stories about the past don’t align with the truth.
  • They exaggerate their talents and importance.
  • They have a strong sense of entitlement.

Even if you are living through this situation, understand that narcissistic abuse and manipulation aren’t always apparent to the victims. It might be years before you come to terms with the idea that you have a narcissist parent. No one wants to think badly of their mom or dad. Plus, most of us accept that how we grow up is everyone’s reality until we notice how different life is for others. You may not realize how you've been manipulated until you see firsthand how other families interact.

The good news is that whenever you come to the realization, it isn’t too late. Recognition is the first step; the next step is figuring out what you can do to protect yourself from future harm.

Learning to cope with narcissist mothers and fathers

Every relationship is unique, but when it comes to drawing your line in the sand with a narcissist, you can follow some best practices to prioritize your own well-being. 

1. Establish healthy (and firm) boundaries.

Your narcissistic parent will thrive on creating some sort of drama, but you can stop this behavior in its tracks by setting healthy boundaries for yourself. For example:

  • If your mom is belittling you about missing her calls, tell her that you’ll call when it works for you. Then end the conversation there.
  • Say “no” to unreasonable requests and hold firm on that decision.
  • If your parent starts a fight, refuse to engage in the argument.

When a narcissist parent sees you’re no longer reacting in the way they want you to (i.e., arguing or caving to their will), the manipulation will fall flat and they’ll let it go. If they don’t, you should adopt another healthy boundary—walking away whenever the conversation is going in circles.

2. Take the relationship for what it is

While you may have to come to terms with the fact that your relationship with your narcissistic parent isn’t ever going to be a deep, well-rounded one, you can identify what works and what’s positive in your relationship. 

To do this, write a list of your parent’s positive points. How can you nurture the things that are working in your relationship? For example,  if you and your mom share a love for gardening, agree to stick with that topic while avoiding any personal subjects. Use this exercise to also recognize what you’ll never get from this parent as a way to ground yourself and avoid further hurt.

3. Pick your battles

Engaging with a narcissist’s drama isn’t going to lead anywhere good. Because narcissists blame-shift and struggle to take responsibility, the best way to handle their actions is to step away and assess the situation. Can you let this go? Or does it require a confrontation?

If you choose to address the issue with the narcissist, go in with your eyes wide open. Narcissists don’t take criticism well. Prepare in advance, be very selective about your words, and steel yourself to face the backlash. If an argument ensues, and it’s going nowhere, take it back to step one and walk away.

4. Learn ways to redirect the conversation.

Instead of arguing with your narcissist parent over their alternative version of reality, find ways to identify with their feelings. Say something like, “It sounds like that bothered you,” or, “I’m sure that was upsetting.” This shows you’re listening without agreeing with any distorted facts.

After this acknowledgement, change the subject to something less-triggering. This makes the narcissist first feel recognized (rather than misunderstood) and then redirects their attention to something positive.

5. If the situation is unbearable, consider cutting off contact.

Cutting out a narcissistic parent is a big step, and not every adult child is willing to remove themselves from their immediate family. If you still live with your parent or are financially dependent on them, the risks may be too great to even consider this option. But you need to be sure you’re making the best decisions for your life. You can’t force a narcissist to change, and although cutting contact is an extreme solution, it might make sense for your circumstances. 

If you're contemplating going low- or no-contact, make sure you have a support system, and seek professional help if necessary. You may also want to look into support groups where you can connect with others who are dealing with similar situations. Remember, your well-being should always be your top priority. So whether you choose to continue communication with your narcissistic parent or not, make sure you are taking care of yourself. 

Shutting down the dance

A narcissist’s behavior is like a dance—they’re seeking attention from you, but that doesn’t mean you have to join the tango. You can say no to them. Instead of engaging in arguments, disengage and give yourself time and space, as this is often the best way to diffuse the situation.

Employ techniques to make your relationship with the narcissist less volatile. Find support and pick your battles. Take time for self-care activities and seek healthy relationships that offer unconditional support, whether you have family, friends, or a mental health professional to discuss your problems with. Once you learn how to handle these complex relationships, you may feel you have more control over your life, and that’s a priceless power.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.