Emotional Neglect: How to Recognize a Narcissistic Parent

Emotional Neglect: How to Recognize a Narcissistic Parent

You may be familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus, the figure from which the word “narcissist” is derived. According to the myth, Narcissus was a strikingly beautiful young man who dazzled everyone who knew him with his beauty. Many people glorified him and fell in love with him, but he was so vain that he rejected them all. He didn’t think anyone was good enough! Finally, Narcissus saw his reflection in the water, and he fell in love. He was unable to run away from his own image and—depending on which version of the myth you read—he committed suicide or languished.


Narcissistic people are very much like their namesake. Much of the time they run on a tank full of superiority, confidence, and charisma. But sometimes narcissists find that their sense of superiority over others is an illusion. Then they look for evidence that confirms that sense of superiority, and they avoid interactions or relationships that underscore the contrary.

Emotional Neglect: How to Recognize a Narcissistic Parent

When someone or something interferes with their enormous self-esteem, they become obnoxious. Because despite their arrogance, they are easily hurt and emotionally weak. They hold grudges, blame failures on others, get angry at others, and fall out when things don’t go their way. They don’t like to be wrong. They like to hear themselves talk. But perhaps the most damaging quality is that they often judge others and find them grossly deficient. Narcissists are the kings and queens of the family, office, or business.

Narcissistic Parents

You can imagine that when narcissists become fathers or mothers, they demand perfection from their children, or at least do not want to be ashamed. While healthy parents may feel bummed when their child just misses that one ball during an important game, the narcissistic parent of that child becomes angry and feels personally humiliated. When their children make mistakes that are visible to others, no matter how much those children need their parents’ help at the time, narcissists take it personally and pay their children for it.

Nineteen-year-old Sid stands at the front door of his parents’ well-appointed home. At first glance, he is a tall, beautiful, young man. But when you look into his eyes, you see pain and uncertainty. He clasps his hands in front of him and hangs his shoulders. Next to him is a policeman, who rings the doorbell. The cop and the young man wait a few minutes until a chic woman opens the door.

She smiles sweetly at the officer and thanks to him for bringing her son home. She takes the paperwork he hands her and steps aside so her son can enter. The agent leaves. Sid’s mother closes the front door and pauses in front of her son, arms folded and a stern, adamant look on her face. Sid leans gently towards her as if wanting physical contact,

She says, “Your father is very upset. You can’t talk to him now. He’s already gone to bed. Go to your old room, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.’

Was Sid caught drinking? Or has he done something worse? Is something stolen maybe?

New. Sid, who has only just received his driver’s license, has just hit a pedestrian, who has been seriously injured. The man suddenly crossed the street in an attempt to catch the bus – a man in his forties with a family. The man is now in a coma in hospital. And Sid’s mother sends him to bed. She is angry because she knows that his name will be on the paper tomorrow, which gives her family a bad name.


Narcissistic parents don’t really see their children as separate from them. Rather, they see them as small extensions of themselves. The child’s needs are defined by the parent’s needs, while the child expressing their needs is often accused of being selfish or inattentive.

Emotional Neglect: How to Recognize a Narcissistic Parent

Beatrice was a bright 14-year-old African-American girl who received a full scholarship to a well-known, prestigious high school in her hometown. Most of her fellow students were so wealthy that during school holidays they took trips to places like Monte Carlo or the Swiss Alps. But Beatrice was a city girl whose parents had to save to take her to Disney World or Cape Cod once a year. As usual, her grades at her new school were fine, but she was miserable all year round. She felt like she was a symbol for all black people and for her town, but most of all, she felt like she didn’t belong anywhere.

But Beatrice’s mother felt great all year. She enjoyed dressing up nicely and sitting shoulder to shoulder with senators and parents who worked on Wall Street. She liked to tell the neighbors how hard it was at that school, and how well Beatrice was doing. She felt she could finally be with the kind of people that interested her. And every time Beatrice tried to share how miserable she felt social, her mother exclaimed, “But this is a great opportunity for you to become one of the super-successful people. It only takes four years. You just have to get a little harder.’

Beatrice tried to take her mother’s words to heart, but she felt lonely and depressed and had little in common with the other students. When she told her parents at the end of the year that she wanted to go back to ‘normal’ school, her mother jumped out of her skin, burst into tears, and screamed: ‘How can you do this to me? Now I can no longer see my wonderful friends there! And our neighbors must be glad you didn’t make it, because they were jealous of me! You do all this because you are nothing more or less than an attention grabber!’

Beatrice’s father didn’t help either. He had learned that he was best off taking his wife’s side.

What Beatrice needed were compassion and understanding. Instead, she was blamed. For a long time, her mother could not forgive her for this choice, which, by the way, turned out to be the right one for Beatrice. She graduated and got a full scholarship, and her mother was happy again.

A narcissistic parent cannot imagine and care about what the children are feeling. But a parent without empathy is like a surgeon operating with blunt instruments and poor lighting. That will lead to scars.

Favor children

Emotional Neglect: How to Recognize a Narcissistic Parent

When narcissists become parents, they often have very different relationships with each of their children. For example, a mother will pull one and find at least one of the other children disappointing. But that one child who gets positive attention because they’re beautiful, handsome, athletic, or smart is “the blessed one” and enjoys a special relationship with the narcissistic mom or dad. Sometimes this favored child only realizes as an adult that the parent’s love has been conditional all along.

Gina is a 32-year-old woman, the oldest of three children in a family that has lived in Manhattan for generations. Until very recently, she was the apple of her father’s eye and had a good, close relationship with him. But her younger brother, always less successful than her, keeps his distance from their father, as well as from Gina herself. Gina never understands why and assumes her brother is jealous.

But now Gina is going to marry a second-generation immigrant, a successful lawyer at the office where she works. Her father thinks she is marrying below her means. Since their engagement, her father has been cool and avoids her calls. When they do speak, he talks to her in that critical tone that Gina always heard when talking to her brother. Gina understands that she is disappointing her father.

With that new awareness, Gina could move on with her life by distancing herself from her father. Yet she may always subconsciously try to please him, to be better than the rest, and to gain successes and praise to please him. She is trapped in her father’s mirror. Throughout her childhood, her own identity was ignored as she toiled to fulfill her father’s grandiose ideas of her as the perfect daughter.

And whether a child of a narcissist in childhood feels scorned, like Gina’s brother, or loved, like Gina herself, as an adult, that child will struggle to free himself from the narcissist’s judgment. This child will have trouble seeing himself through his own eyes.

Emotionally neglectful parenting can look a lot like healthy parenting at first glance. But the differences are dramatic. Just as one mushroom in the forest can be a tasty meal and the other can be deadly, the similarities are only superficial. In Unknown Feelings, you will learn how to recognize the various poisonous mushrooms, how to live life to the fullest, and how you can pass on that power and knowledge to the next generation.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here