Do Narcissists Make Good Parents? 

Narcissists parents

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has been increasingly recognized in recent decades as a pattern of exaggerated self-importance, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. With a rise of narcissism in society, questions emerge around how this impacts the next generation. Can narcissistic people make good parents? What are the effects on children? And is healthy change possible for narcissistic parents?

Signs of a Narcissistic Parent

First, it is important to understand the characteristics of narcissistic parenting. As psychologist Dr. Vaile Wright outlines, there are some clear behavioral signs:

  • Lacking empathy and compassion – Struggling to understand children’s feelings and needs beyond their own
  • Image and reputation focused – Using children to bolster their public image
  • Unrealistic expectations – Impossible standards for children to meet
  • Emotionally unavailable – Fail to nurture children or meet emotional needs
  • Overly critical and judgmental – Excessive criticism that erodes children’s self-esteem
  • Controlling and manipulative – Making major life decisions for children well into adulthood
  • Envious and competitive – Feeling threatened by children’s successes

These dysfunctional dynamics understandably take a toll.

The Impact on Children

Children raised by narcissists commonly struggle with:

  • Low self-esteem – Internalizing criticism and blame
  • Insecurity and anxiety – Walking on eggshells trying to please
  • Depression – Losing hope and joy in face of indifference
  • Anger issues – Bottling up frustration and pain
  • Codependency – Seeking validation from others as not getting from parents
  • Attachment issues – Inability to form secure relationships

The scars can last long into adulthood. A 2019 study found that children of narcissistic parents are more likely to develop NPD themselves.

Sons may face particular pressure. One father admits, “I think that I’ve done a lot of damage there because I’m trying to relive my life through him…I’ve crushed his spirit.”

Can Narcissists Change?

With awareness and commitment, narcissists can shift their parenting approach. As narcissism expert Dr. Craig Malkin explains:

“For those few narcissists who become aware of their disorder, there are ways forward. The goal is to become more empathetic. First, they need to discover what barriers prevent them from feeling empathy. Common barriers include:

  • Childhood trauma: Unmet childhood needs make it hard to focus outward.
  • Brain chemistry: Natural chemistry means emotions hit hard then dissipate.
  • Learned habits: They’ve practiced selfishness and are out of the habit of caring.”

With professional support, self-aware narcissists can heal past wounds, build self-regulation skills, and practice new relationship habits.

The willingness for self-reflection is key. Family therapist Joshua Coleman notes, “Narcissists who are committed to change can benefit from good psychotherapy.” Progress requires radical honesty with oneself.

Coping Strategies for Children

For those raised by unchanged narcissists, coping strategies can minimize harm.

Set boundaries around conversation topics, access to grandchildren, financial enmeshment or other triggers. Be firm and consistent.

Embrace imperfection. Let go of undue pressure to earn love or validation. Your worth isn’t defined by others’ approval.

Limit time together to reduce criticism and emotional drainage. Schedule brief visits with exit plans.

Connect with allies who demonstrate genuine care and concern. Build relationships that fulfill needs.

Acknowledge limitations. Accept that substantial change may never come, despite efforts. Focus energy on self.

Consider therapy for affirmation, guidance setting boundaries, or to process traumas inflicted. Healing is possible.

Is Healthy Change Possible?

In many cases, narcissists struggle to undertake the deep personal work required for real transformation. Their disorder centers around protecting the ego at all costs.

Yet parenting presents unique opportunities. Truly loving a child can crack open the heart of even the most self-focused. The reflection in a child’s eyes invites connection to one’s own innocence. And children’s dependence demands responsibility beyond the self.

So while narcissists may not appear to “make good parents” by typical measures, the possibility remains for growth. Perhaps the joy and caretaking of new life offers the very conditions to help dissolve lifelong patterns. For the sake of children impacted, one can only hope. The path ahead rests in society better understanding narcissism so as to provide meaningful help.


In summary, the very traits that characterize narcissism – such as lacking empathy, seeking validation, competitive envy and conditional care – pose clear challenges for positive parenting. The impact on children’s self-worth, emotional and mental health rings clear.

Yet a stigma around NPD prevents open conversation and understanding required to shift parenting approaches. While substantial change proves difficult, hope rests in self-awareness, professional treatment, and the motivation of wishing the best for one’s children. Society plays a key role in making resources for narcissists available without shaming judgment.

The possibility for breaking generational cycles remains, little by little, as parents transform their own unmet childhood needs. Despite the steep learning curve, many children still yearn for connection – if narcissistic parents can push past their defenses to truly see, care and change.

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