If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, then you know what a struggle that can be. If you’re like many children of narcissists, you probably breathed a sigh of relief when you were able to move out and put some separation between you and your caregivers. But if you’re realizing that growing up with narcissistic parents is still affecting your romantic relationships as an adult, you’re not alone.

Narcissistic parents often have a significant impact on their children’s emotional development, shaping their self-perception and relationship patterns. You may find yourself struggling with attachment issues as an adult or seeking out partners who are narcissists themselves.

Understanding how narcissistic parents impact romantic relationships can help you break free from negative patterns and build healthier connections.

What Happens When You Grow Up With Narcissistic Parents?

Narcissistic parents can be self-absorbed, controlling, and emotionally manipulative. They are often preoccupied with their own desires, and may use their children to fulfill their emotional needs. They may lack empathy and fail to recognize or respond consistently to their children’s needs.

Narcissistic parents also may have unrealistic expectations of their children or may push them to achieve unrealistic goals. They may be overly critical and judgmental. And their love and approval may be conditional based on their children’s achievements or behavior.

If your childhood sounds a lot like this, you may have been left feeling neglected, invalidated, or criticized. You may have struggled with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression throughout your younger years.

Even as an adult, these negative emotions can persist, affecting the way you perceive yourself and others. You may struggle with intimacy and commitment or fear rejection and abandonment. You may feel like you’re not good enough for your partner. 

All of these patterns can lead to dysfunctional relationships, infidelity, emotional distance and communication issues. You might also struggle to set boundaries in a relationship and may experience codependency.

How Does Narcissism Affect Adult Relationships?

Even if you’re no longer close (geographically or emotionally) with your narcissistic parent, your experience growing up with them can have a significant impact on your adult relationships. 

While there are many ways your childhood experiences can manifest in romantic relationships, many of these issues stem from two key factors: trauma and attachment style.

Can you get PTSD from narcissistic parents?

Dealing with narcissistic parents can absolutely result in relationship trauma. Research has shown that growing up with a narcissistic parent can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

This is because narcissistic parents may use emotional, psychological, and physical abuse to control and manipulate their children. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and fear that can continue into adulthood.

Until you work on healing from trauma, you may find yourself easily triggered by your partner’s behavior, may have trouble trusting a partner and may struggle with relationship anxiety.

What attachment style do children with narcissistic parents have?

Attachment style is another area that can be significantly impacted by narcissistic parents. Attachment styles are based on the idea that our early experiences with parents or caregivers shape how we interact in romantic relationships. 

Children with loving, stable and supportive parents typically develop a secure attachment style. Children with parents who were emotionally distant, abusive or inconsistent in their support – such as children of narcissists – may develop an anxious or avoidant attachment style.

If you have an insecure attachment style, you may struggle with forming healthy relationships and may have difficulty trusting others. You may also have a fear of abandonment and struggle with emotional regulation. This can lead to a range of issues in adult relationships, including difficulty with intimacy, trust issues, and a fear of rejection.

Not sure what kind of attachment style you have? Take our attachment style quiz.

A narcissistic parent yells at their child

8 Ways Having Narcissistic Parents Could Impact Your Adult Relationships

As we’ve already seen, growing up with narcissistic parents can have a significant impact on your romantic relationships as an adult. Here are some of the specific relationship issues that could be caused (or exacerbated) by your experience with narcissistic parents.

Self-Esteem Issues

Narcissistic parents often prioritize their own needs and desires over their children’s emotional well-being. This can lead to a lack of validation and support. As a result, you may struggle with low self-esteem and have difficulty believing in your own worth and value. Because you might feel unworthy of love and affection, it can be challenging to form healthy relationships with others.

Identity Struggles

Narcissistic parents may also project their personal desires and expectations onto their children. If you experienced this, you may have confusion and uncertainty about your own identity. You might struggle to form a clear sense of self and may feel like you are constantly trying to meet someone else’s expectations. This can make it difficult to establish boundaries and assert your own needs and wants in a relationship.

Difficulty Trusting Others

Having a narcissistic parent can make it difficult to trust others. You may have grown up with a parent who was unreliable, inconsistent, or emotionally distant. This can make it hard for you to trust your partner and feel secure in your relationship.

Intimacy Struggles in Relationships

You may struggle with intimacy in your romantic relationships if you grew up with narcissistic parents. Perhaps you learned to keep your emotions and thoughts to yourself and now you might find it difficult to open up to your partner. You may also find it challenging to express your needs and desires, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts in the relationship.

Bored Easily in Relationships

If you grew up with narcissistic parents, you may have learned to seek validation and attention from others. This can lead to a pattern of quickly losing interest in romantic partners once the initial excitement fades. You may find yourself constantly searching for the next thrill, rather than investing in a long-term relationship. This can lead to infidelity or breaking off relationships quickly.

Unrealistic Expectations in Relationships

Having narcissistic parents can also lead to unrealistic expectations in your romantic relationships. You may have learned by watching your parents to prioritize your own needs and desires above others, leading to a lack of empathy and understanding in your relationships. This can cause significant conflict when your partner’s needs don’t align with your own.

Attraction to Narcissistic Partners

If you had a narcissistic parent, you may be more likely to be attracted to narcissistic partners. You may find yourself drawn to people who are self-centered and demanding, just like your parent was. You may also be more likely to tolerate abusive behavior because it feels familiar to you. This is often one of the biggest ways toxic parents can impact adult relationships.

Narcissistic Parent Intrusiveness

Even if you’re not personally struggling with some of the issues mentioned above, narcissistic parents can still have an impact on your relationships. They may try to control who you date, criticize your partner, or interfere in your relationship in other ways. 

This can make it hard for you to establish healthy boundaries in your relationship and can cause conflict between you and your partner. It can also wreak havoc on any relationship you may continue to have with your parent.

A couple sits on the couch during an argument

The Role of Therapy When Dealing with Narcissistic Parents

If you or your partner were raised by a narcissistic parent, therapy can be an effective way to address the impact it may have on your relationship. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering therapy.

Recognizing the Impact

Before you can begin healing, it’s important to recognize the impact that growing up with a narcissistic parent has had on your relationships. Without this understanding, you may struggle to move on from the challenges you’re facing.

Healing Process

Both individual and couples therapy can help you work through the emotions and behaviors that may be affecting your relationships. A therapist can help you identify patterns in your behavior, develop coping strategies, and work on building healthier relationships.

There are many different types of therapy that can help with healing from narcissistic abuse, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Talking with a therapist about your personal relationship issues and history can help determine which form of therapy may be right for you.

How can you support a partner who was raised by a narcissistic parent?

If your partner was raised by a narcissistic parent, you may still be feeling the effects of narcissism on romantic relationships. Hopefully, your partner will recognize the impact their childhood has on adulthood and will work on their own healing.

But you can also support them and help to improve your relationship. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Listen actively and validate their feelings
  • Encourage them to seek therapy if they haven’t already
  • Be patient and understanding as they work through their emotions and behaviors

Remember, healing from the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent takes time and effort. But with the right support and resources, it is possible to build healthy, fulfilling relationships as an adult.

A mom sits on a couch hugging her daughter while yelling at her husband

Get Help Managing Narcissistic Parents & Romantic Relationships

Dealing with narcissistic parents can be challenging. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there are resources available to help you manage these situations.

Working with a therapist can help you develop coping strategies and provide a safe space to explore your feelings and experiences. Look for a therapist who has experience working with individuals with narcissistic parents or who specializes in relationship issues. Consider seeking couples therapy, too, to help you and your partner better understand the challenges in your relationship.

It’s also important to set boundaries with your narcissistic parent. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary for your well-being and the health of your romantic relationships. A therapist can help you with strategies, scripts and support for this process.

Contact Couples Learn today to learn more about our online couples therapy and online relationship therapy for individuals. Discover how we can help you better understand and overcome the impact of narcissistic parents.