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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

When your Parent is a Narcissist: Take your Life Back (or, establish it in the First Place!)

People who grow up in a home with a narcissistic parent tend to learn how to navigate life by using their parent’s feelings and moods as a guidepost. If the parent is happy, then the family can rest. If the parent is in a bad mood, then it is the family’s job to do something, anything, to fix the problem.

In reality, the problem is within the narcissist him/herself. The narcissist’s unhappiness is not caused by his/her family members. However, children are explicitly and implicitly taught that they are responsible for their parent’s feelings. Because of this, the child of a narcissist grows up looking externally for his/her identity.

This causes many problems for adults who have grown up being conditioned in this manner. Adults of narcissistic parents have a hard time knowing their own feelings and their own wants and needs. It has been so ingrained within them to look externally for their identities.

This article addresses the adult victim of parental narcissistic abuse and how to heal. These recommendations are not exhaustive, but are a good starting point for becoming autonomous and free from the snare of their parent’s emotional traps.

Finding your voice

When you grow up around a narcissist you are conditioned to believe that only the voice of the narcissist matters.  Along with this you learn that only the narcissist is allowed to have and express feelings (and opinions.)  You watch your non-narcissist parent abide by these rules, so without thinking you follow suit.  This is not a conscious process; it is subconscious – “under the radar.”

An important step in healing is learning to tell your story.  Realize that when in a relationship with a narcissist, you take on the role of the co-narcissist.  In this role you sacrifice your voice in order to meet your narcissistic parent’s needs.

Here are some suggestions for how to “find your voice:”

  • Be aware of how you care-take your parent’s needs and what you get out of it.
  • Examine your role in the relationship.
  • Let go of your parent’s life and get a life of your own.
  • Discover your own wants, needs, and desires.
  • Stop trying to change your parent.
  • Be willing to take major risks in order to recover.

Learning to give back the responsibility of your parent’s life and happiness back to him/her

One of the results of having a narcissist for a parent is that he/she has masterfully managed to project all of his/her negative feelings and beliefs about him/herself onto his/her children.  He/she has used both direct accusations and under-cover implications to cause his/her children to believe that they are responsible for his/her feelings.

Intellectually, you may understand that no one is really responsible for someone else’s life, but intrinsically you feel that you are responsible for your parent’s happiness and you “know” that because of your innate failure you have been unable to be a good enough son or daughter to accomplish that task. You feel a constant sense of guilt for not being able to pull off the good child act sufficiently.

So, what do you do about it? How do you give back the responsibility for your parent’s life and happiness back to him/her?  Here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Give yourself permission to fail.  Let your parent be unhappy and allow yourself to just know he/she’s unhappy.  Let yourself be with that experience without trying to change it.  You see, underneath your desire to please your parent is your need for him/her to “see” you and value you and even enjoy and appreciate you.  But, with a narcissist, those experiences are few and far between.  The best way for you to let go of the constant battle to keep your parent happy is to allow him/her to be unhappy and to grieve the reality that no matter what you do, he/she will neither “see” you nor will he/she stop needing you to be bad.
  2. Realize that this truth: your parent needs you to be bad.  He/she needs this so that he/she has a constant scapegoat for his/her own problems and unhappiness.  As long as he/she scapegoats someone he/she never has to look at him/herself.
  3. Let yourself off the hook by telling yourself that you are now going to allow yourself to no longer carry the responsibility of your parent’s happiness and that you are going to hand that responsibility back to your parent.

Practice these three simple tasks each day and you will learn to stop taking on the responsibility for your parent’s happiness.  You need to tell yourself that he/she has manipulated you and brain-washed you into caretaking his/her life long enough and that you are turning the page and writing a new chapter.

Changing your inner dialogue

In addition to finding your voice and stopping yourself from forever being responsible for your parent’s happiness, it is also important that you work on changing the way you treat yourself each day.

Eliminate the critic that resides inside your head. Eliminate your inner narcissistic parent. Instead, develop an inner nurturer, inner compassionate companion, and inner healthy adult (these may be all the same person.) Ultimately, the recovery process involves developing a healthy relationship with yourself.


Recovery from any type of abuse is a process and will take a lifetime. Narcissistic abuse is very challenging to heal from, so be patient with the process. The best approach to healing is to allow yourself the gifts of time – unhurried, relaxed baby-steps, and grace.

Do not be in a rush. There really is no need to “arrive.” Just practice the art of living one day at a time. Learn to enjoy each day as it comes and be mindful of what you are experiencing and learning.

Healing occurs as you rewire the patterns in your brain that you were raised with, creating new patterns within your psyche. Take each decision as it comes and make the one that is healthiest for you. As you practice the art of being good to yourself you will become stronger and stronger each day. At some point you will come to realize that you have healed.


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When your Parent is a Narcissist: Take your Life Back (or, establish it in the First Place!)

APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). When your Parent is a Narcissist: Take your Life Back (or, establish it in the First Place!). Psych Central. Retrieved on July 21, 2019, from