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Coping When You Have a Narcissistic Parent

narcissistic parentJaci came to see me one month before the christening of her niece, for whom she was honored to be named godmother.

Jaci could turn off the familiar anxiety video playing in her head. This is what Jaci imagined would happen at the christening, given her past experience with her narcissistic mother, Betsy.

Jaci would be taking with friends and family at the party after the service, having successfully avoided her mother’s company at church. She’d be feeling happy. It would be a joy to hold the baby and know her sister trusted her to be godmother. Then, Betsy appears at her side, cutting into the conversation.

“So who would have thought Jaci would be the godmother?” Jaci imagines Betsy announcing loudly. “She doesn’t even have kids! Good luck with that!”

And Jaci sees her joy draining out of her like water being slurped down a sink.

If you are an Adult Child of a Narcissistic Parent (ANP) Jaci’s story may be familiar to you. Perhaps you such movies in your mind before family events.

Narcissistic Parents (NPs) may:

  • Behave as if their sons’ and daughters’ feelings are invisible to them.
  • Have no awareness of how their behavior impacts their adult children.
  • Have poor impulse control, at least as far as their adult children are concerned.
  • Have no ability to take responsibility for how their behavior impacts their adult children if it is pointed out to them.
  • May become angry they are challenged about their behavior.
  • May become depressed when they are challenged their behavior.

ANPs may feel::

  • Hopeless that things will never get better with their NP.
  • Helpless that they have no control over how their NP makes them feel.
  • Stuck that they can’t change their lives as long as things are so bad with their parent.
  • Guilty that perhaps they are to blame for their NP’s behavior and their response to it.

Well-meaning friends and loved one may encourage ANPs to “let it go, move on, heal yourself.”

Therapists may do the same.

But it doesn’t help.

Still, Jaci came into my office the week after the christening, a smile on her face. “I feel great,” she said. “I feel so good about how I handled things with my mother.”

Here is what really helped Jaci, and can help you:

  1. Jaci thought about and what she wanted to happen at the christening, instead of what she was worried would happen. She thought about times she had already handled difficult situations with her mother in a way she felt good about, even if just a little.

    Example: Jaci described that if her mother made unkind comments to her she wanted to let them “roll of my back.” She wanted to feel as good at the end of the day as she did at the beginning of the day, no matter what her mother did.

  2. Next, Jaci talked about times when that had already happened in some way, even to some degree. How had she managed to “let her mother’s unkind comments roll off her back” so that she felt “as good at the end of the day as she did at the beginning”?

    Jaci recalled a recent family cookout she hosted. Jaci’s mother arrived late, pronouncing: “She’s never ready on time. You know how disorganized she is.” She then proceeded to complain that her her burger was cold and her salad warm.

    Jaci remembered feeling a flash of hurt. Then, she remembered it was time to serve dessert, grabbed her best friend, and escaped to the kitchen, where they rolled their eyes. Jaci kept going.

  3. Remembering what already worked at the cookout helped Jaci come up with a plan for the christening.

    Jaci’s solution: She knew it was unlikely she could avoid her mother, or her loud-mouthed insults, throughout the entire day. But her favorite cousin would be there. If she needed to, she would grab her cousin and make her escape (even to the next room).

    When you think about your situation with you parent, think about the following questions:

    • What do you hope will be different?
    • What is the first thing you’ll notice when things are different with your NP?
    • How have you manage to cope so far with your NP’s behavior?
    • Are there times when you cope with the situation with your NP the way you would like to already, even a little bit?

    When you answer these questions, you will increase your awareness of:

    • The strengths you already have.
    • The solutions you already use.
    • The coping skills you have already developed.

    Even a little. But it’s a start.

    Ocus Focus/Bigstock

    Coping When You Have a Narcissistic Parent


Stephanie Kriesberg, Psy.D.

Dr. Stephanie Kriesberg is a licensed psychologist in Concord, Massachusetts. She has twenty-five years’ experience treating children, adolescents, and adults, and specializes in the the treatment of adults with narcissistic parents. Visit her website at: www.drstephaniekriesberg.com


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APA Reference
Kriesberg, S. (2018). Coping When You Have a Narcissistic Parent. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 25, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/coping-when-you-have-a-narcissistic-parent/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.