How to Handle a Narcissistic Parent (and Stop the Insanity!) - Terri Cole
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How to Handle a Narcissistic Parent (and Stop the Insanity!)

How would you feel if your own mother wore white to your wedding? If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you’ve probably experienced something similar. Behaviors that would seem outrageous and even unbelievable to other people, for you, was just par for the course.

Over the next few weeks, I’m answering the questions that I have received on Youtube, my podcast and the blog. This week, I want to share a story that came in from a woman whose mother insisted on wearing white to her wedding.

Sound out of control? Yup.

Here’s the rub: Jamie (our bride), knows that her mom’s a narcissist. She wrote to me that she’s furious with her, and she’s afraid to cut off the relationship because her mother is so vindictive and mean…but she’s also torn because there’s a part of her that still loves her too.

Sound familiar?

If it does, I want you to click below and watch this video on what can you do start to heal from the incredibly painful and isolating reality of having a narcissistic parent. Learning how to protect yourself is definitely what is needed and what’s in order.

The term narcissism has been thrown around a lot recently around the internet, so I want to be clear about what we’re talking about here.

A clinical narcissist goes far beyond self-absorbed. The most important distinction here is that a narcissist has no ability to empathize with their children or with others. They don’t have an awareness of how their own behavior impacts others.

Here are some signs your parent might be a narcissist:


There was a role-reversal of the parent/child relationship.

If you’ve been raised by a narcissistic parent, you know that there wasn’t any space for your needs, even when you were a child. The level of love that a narcissistic parent is capable of is shallow and doesn’t even come close to what a child needs. It is all about what the child can do for the parent and how the child’s talent or accomplishments makes the parent look to others. There is a sense of ownership and entitlement.  

I had a client who from the time she was 6 or 7 years old, would have to stay home from school when her mother got a migraine to take care of her. So that’s a very obvious example of the kind of role reversal of parent/child that is common with narcissism.

It could be a mother or a father, but if you’re the only adult in that relationship, even when you were a child, that sets you up to not know how to value your own needs and desires (since you were taught that they don’t matter.)

Your needs as a child were unmet.

It’s very challenging for true narcissists to love their children unconditionally or to be able to meet their children’s needs because the sad reality is that people who have narcissistic personality disorder are defined by a deep self-loathing and an extremely fragile ego. There is a fundamental lack in their capacity for them to love you the way you want and need to be loved.

A narcissist has insecurities that run deep. That means they need to constantly be seeking approval, validation, and attention from the outside world…and a lot of times this extends to their own child’s successes.

They tend to take credit for any good thing you ever do.

I had another client who was a very skilled musician. His father would take credit for his talents and accomplishments at every turn, saying things like, “I taught him that” and “He’s only gotten this far because of me” and was overly involved in his career. A narcissistic parent is always making it all about themselves, and sometimes that means they swoop in when things are great for you and try to soak up accolades and praise for your accomplishments.

They get overly involved with your friends.

It can be a very lonely experience to grow up with a narcissist parent. Why? Because other people might think your narcissistic parent is awesome.

Narcissists can be very charming. They feed on attention (called narcissistic supply), and they can be very skilled at using their charm to get what they need. They know how to be funny and endearing, and oftentimes pick one person and shower them with praise as an end to their own means.

So growing up, your friends might have thought your mom or your dad was awesome…so funny, so fun, letting you stay home from school…whatever…but the reality was that you had this secret shame that they weren’t really like that.

Narcissists are emotionally untrustworthy.

They will tell other people things you’ve told them in confidence. They might try to exploit you and you’ll always regret telling them anything that really matters to you. When times get hard, and you’d want to be able to lean on them and have support, they are nowhere to be found. When something amazing happens to you or the attention is all on you, they might try to sabotage you to get the narcissistic supply of drama they need. You have to remember that even when they’re being really nice, there are cycles of behavior with true narcissists, and eventually that won’t last. It’s just the nature of the beast, sad but true.

If any of these experiences resonate with you, there ARE things you can do to make it better and to heal.

One of the first steps is to understand and start to accept that you’re most likely always going to be in conflict or feel unsatisfied with your relationship with your narcissistic parent.

Narcissism is a personality disorder, and often times we see that a narcissist had a narcissistic parent, grandparent or caregiver. There’s usually learned behavior at play here, and so much of it has to do with early childhood experiences where there was either too much neglect or too much attention paid to the child.

One of the problems with being the child of a narcissist is that you feel invisible. You’re invisible, your needs are invisible, but often the problem itself is invisible.

It’s not easy to be open about it, because, in our society, there’s an expectation and a social pressure that whether you’re a man or a woman, you respect your parents no matter what. “Honor thy father and mother”…right? In American culture and many others, there’s a mother idolization thing going on as well. How many times have you heard, “You only have one mother…”?

So being open about how horrendous your mom or dad was isn’t socially acceptable…you risk being judged and misunderstood, or if you are honest then you’re in a position where you have to explain things to people and well…that’s just so difficult.

As an adult child of a narcissistic parent, it’s possible that you’ve read a lot about it, maybe even been to talk to a therapist (good for you!), and you’ve likely gotten some advice to “just cut them off”, which is easier said than done especially if that’s not what you want.

If your parent is so toxic that you’re literally losing your mental and/or physical health, then ok, I’m all for cutting them out of your life. But that extreme isn’t a solution for everyone.

What I do recommend is learning how to create a healthy distance between you and your narcissistic parent.

The child you were, this little, vulnerable kid, is still within you, and that’s the person who allows the parent to get close enough to continue to do emotional damage. Why? Because that child within each of us wants to be ever hopeful that the parent can change.

You’re a grown up now, and you DO have the power to step back, look at the evidence you have and realize that you don’t have to jump when they say jump anymore. You don’t have any obligation to give them full access to your life.

So what does creating that protective, healthy distance from a narcissistic parent look like? Let’s start with getting yourself psyched to change the interaction you have with this parent.

  • Look for evidence of ways you’ve managed them well in the past. Start tapping into your own strength and look for lived experiences you’ve had that really demonstrate how resilient you are. I want you to plug into your OWN reality and not theirs here. Think about times that you’ve felt good about how you’ve handled an interaction or a conflict with your parent and write them down.
  • Accept that they are never going to be who you want them to be. Accept that it’s sad and painful, but that you can decide to stop taking it personally. Recognize their limitations, and try to stop asking “Why?” You can’t apply normal expectations to someone who is dysfunctional.
  • Stop getting sucked into the conflicts that you know they will create. There’s a tendency for narcissists to “make a lot of noise” whenever the attention is not on them. So this can look like them pitting siblings or family against one another or behaving in ways that make you feel like whatever you do it’s never good enough. The thing is, as painful as these behaviors can be, you can cultivate the awareness that emotional reactions are what they want, and again, it’s not personal. When you raise your awareness, you can gain control over your reactions and in effect “diffuse the bomb”.
  • Try the “Gray Rock Method”. To follow up on the last point, the premise of this method is to act in such a way that you avoid becoming a target for the narcissist:

“Gray Rock is primarily a way of encouraging [an] emotionally unbalanced person, to lose interest in you. It differs from No Contact in that you don’t overtly try to avoid contact with these emotional vampires. Instead, you allow contact but only give boring, monotonous responses so that the parasite must go elsewhere for his supply of drama.”

You can read more about it here:


  • Limit interaction. I’m not just talking about in-person visits here, I also want to encourage you to limit the things you share with your parent. That can look like not picking up the phone or taking a break. Again, you have no obligation to give them full access to your life. It is necessary (and totally OK) for you to draw healthy boundaries with your parent to protect yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to take care of yourself and the family you’ve created. It’s not disloyal or selfish to put that first. That’s you being healthy. Whether or not you have kids of your own, you still have a chosen family that is your own – friends, partners, or kids. The boundaries you set with the narcissistic parent can serve to protect not just you, but also the people you care about from that toxicity.


I hope that this episode gives you permission to get creative and figure out how you can protect yourself and start to heal from the injuries of having a narcissistic parent. If it’s extremely toxic and/or the situation includes abuse of any kind, you may choose to go No Contact. That is your right. You do not deserve to be abused by anyone. It wouldn’t be the first step, but it is a last resort because if it comes down to you or them, you have to choose you.

And I am cheering you on like a wild maniac. If you like this episode, if it helps you, please share it with others that might get value from this.

I hope that this is inspiring and liberating to you in some way. Understand that I see you, even if other people in your life don’t see this, I know exactly how painful it is to have a narcissistic parent and how that ripple effect just keeps going unless you choose something different.

You can download your cheat sheet right here for strategies on how to handle your narcissistic parent.

Thank you for sharing, for reading, for listening, for watching.

As always, take care of you.


Terri Cole
  • Elizabeth Benson
    Posted at 11:37h, 04 March Reply

    This is seriously the best video I’ve ever seen on how to deal with a narc parent. All of your videos are great, but this one really stands out for me. God bless you and your very important work Terri. You are bringing healing to me and so many others who have really struggled. Thank you! <3

    • Terri Cole
      Posted at 13:22h, 04 March Reply

      Thank you Elizabeth! I’m so glad it was helpful.

  • Summah
    Posted at 17:27h, 04 March Reply

    Thanks Terri, Could you say a little more about working with the inner issues that arise when implementing these strategies overtime, or is there a video already? Due to the fact that children of narcissistic parents are not narcissistic, over years of implementing the grey rock, no contact and distancing methods in order to transition form surviving to thriving, it is common that the now mature adult suffers with residual guilt, shame and inappropriate boundary definitions at having to inflict such consistent ( almost narcissistic behavioural traits) towards another human being, especially when the narcissist may be a mother with their own early childhood issues. Yes, granted there may be no other pathway forwards however I am interested to learn more of the strategies around wellbeing when facing a lifelong commitment to using strategies that in themselves develop unhealthy methods of protection, especially when implemented from early ages as coping strategies. This is a grey area that has not yet been identified and the grey areas continue to grow for the child of a narcissistic parent as they come into individual self realisation and actualisation.

    • Terri Cole
      Posted at 17:56h, 04 March Reply

      Helllllloooo Summah!
      Thanks for a great Q. Many of the adaptive behavior strategies children learn to survive being raised by a narc can become maladaptive in adulthood as you referenced. The road to recovery for ANPs (Adult children of a Narcissistic Parent) can be long, painful and complicated but it is possible to heal. The avoidant strategies (Grey Rock, limited or no contact) are a starting place to set some limits with a narc that you choose (family) or are forced (co-parenting with a narc ex) to continue to be in regular contact with. None of the solutions are ideal or easy to do. The healing process is really about dismantling the inner paradigm of how relationships work in essence un-learning it and then replacing that with a healthier model of relationship with more authenticity. I am not sure I answered your Q but I tried 😉 -thank you for being here!

      • Summah
        Posted at 21:23h, 05 March Reply

        Thank you so much Terri, for your time and response and welcoming me here. Brought a smile to my face.

        Now that your response initiated some creative, curiosity and inspiration I have many, many questions. I hope it’s okay that today I took some time to ask some more questions around the healing process? It’s okay if you don’t respond to them or your only drawn to some of them. I am learning so much even just by asking them, so thank you, so much gratitude.

        Please note: I wish we had a name for human beings that had survived narcissist parents that did not need to have the term narcissist parent attached to it. It seems so counter recovery to always refer and highlight the narc parent and their traits when we barely understand the issues arising for people that survive and thrive in the aftermath. As usual the narcs get the attention they need whilst the adults are still attached to the role their parent played for identification. Until we come up collectively with a new name and for the purpose of clear communication I have referred to Adults of Narcissistic Parents (ANP) as you also did previously.

        1. How does the dismantling of the inner paradigm occur whilst the ANP is simultaneously needing to maintain boundaries, especially with but not limited to the narc? Are there ways that are more conducive to wellbeing than slipping back into old patterns to counterbalance what comes as reactionary from external sources?

        2. What happens when the ANP begins to identify with narc personality traits due to the fact that they implemented survival methods of a similar nature in order to survive and became aware of their own needs not being met? How does the mirror of transference act in the ANP dismantling healing process?

        3. What supports are there, that are useful for the ANP who is dismantled and attempting to reform healthier relationship patterns, especially when the complexity of this transition is unknown to others and often has elements of subconscious nature to the ANP? How does the ANP learn to continue in connections that may be painful during rapture and need repair in a healthy way?

        4. How does the ANP develop healthy relationship paradigms when the internal experience or memory is not there in the unconscious or subconscious to substantiate the understanding of a healthy paradigm?

        5. How does the ANP learn to identify and trust new positive experiences in connections when experiences in the past are that any good experiences or feelings with others are love bombing and something to distrust?

        6. How does the ANP find pathways to explore healthier connections whilst in learning of a new paradigm that are safe supportive and inclusive when transitioning form therapeutic into real life connections? How does the ANP still acknowledge their inner child’s emotions, needs and impulses from early developmental ages and stages whilst engaging in healthy connections with other adults that don’t have those needs or experiences?

        7. How does the ANP learn to navigate the social and societal norms around connection and communication when everything is now revealed and experienced for the ANP in light of the dismantling process as structured, forced and often not authentic? Is this a reflection of the recently dismantled protection mechanisms mirrored back in transference?

        8. If the ANP has experienced themselves as a grey rock for a long time and maybe came to believe that was who they were, how does the ANP allow their authenticity once it is revealed to shine in the world and overcome the lack of self- worth that was required to be grey rock? Witnessing of authenticity by others can be deeply overwhelming, humiliating and embarrassing for ANP who may never have been validated in the past. How does the ANP begin to experience validation and know when it is real and authentic and begin to receive it?

  • Noelle Buccella
    Posted at 22:42h, 04 March Reply

    An amazing video, Terri! I have a narc mom and I’ve been no contact since August. It has given me the time and energy to re-evaluate all of my relationships with other people, mostly my husband. I didn’t realize how much of a people pleaser and fixer I was…. still working on being more authentic. I’ve never put myself first due to my bad childhood, so I’m relearning how to do so. — I’m still having some anger over resentment of a ‘lost’ childhood, any tips for that?

    Thank you for your insight!
    — Noelle

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