How to Deal with a Narcissistic Grown Child?

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You feel at your absolute breaking point dealing with your narcissistic adult child.

You’re not respected. You feel like, no matter what you do, it’s wrong. You’re tired of all the gaslighting and manipulation, but you keep asking yourself, Did I do something wrong? Did I cause this? Is it my fault? 

Acknowledging that your child is a narcissist is painful. Most parents experience a profound sense of grief when they come to terms with the true magnitude of their child’s behavior.

Some also feel relief- there’s a name for what’s happening. But it can still feel like you’re going to battle every day, and you must know how to take care of yourself.

How to Deal with a Narcissistic Grown Child

In this article, I will offer tips on how to deal with a Narcissistic grown child, and being a positive role model in relationships.

10 Strategies to Deal with a Narcissistic Son or Daughter

Let’s say you have a narcissistic son. He treats you poorly, no matter how much you try to support and respect him.

You always feel like you’re walking on eggshells, and he becomes angry when you make even the slightest mistake.

What you’re doing isn’t working, so it’s time to try a different approach. Here are some strategies to keep in mind.

#1 Detach From His Emotions

Narcissistic emotions tend to escalate quickly, but you’ll likely notice patterns of hot-and-cold behavior.

When your son feels out of control, he will do whatever he can to maintain some of that control, which may include yelling, manipulating, or trying to get empathy.

Your main priority should be to remember that his emotions are his, and it’s not your job to absorb them or take them on as your own.

#2 Stay Grounded in Support  

Parenting is hard, but parenting a narcissist significantly complicates the dynamic.

You must avoid isolating yourself from others. Even if you feel upset, angry, or scared, connecting with other friends, family, or mental health professionals can help you feel centered.

You need to have your own outlet to express your needs and emotions.

#3 Don’t Tolerate Abuse 

You should never tolerate abuse in your own home. Even though you love your son, aim to convey that he needs to respect you.

This will come in the form of clear boundaries about what is and isn’t permissible.

Sometimes this might entail walking away from the situation, not texting back right away, or asking him to leave your home. 

#4 Productively Validate Self-Esteem

Narcissists have incredibly fragile egos and rely on ongoing validation to feel better about themselves.

As a parent, you can focus on offering feedback and love to your child. Emphasize this praise when they engage in positive, prosocial behavior, but don’t overdo it, as that could fuel their ego more.

#5 Stop Trying to Challenge His Reality

It’s tempting to want to call a narcissist out on his behavior. Don’t you see how you’re manipulating me? Why are you always gaslighting every situation? You’re so selfish and self-centered! 

These powerful thoughts are normal, but expressing them to a narcissist is rarely helpful.

Doing so often triggers another narcissistic rage cycle because narcissists can’t integrate feedback well.

#6 Aim to Model Healthy Relationships

Children learn by observing their families, which is especially true in younger children.

Aim to be a good role model. Be compassionate and giving toward others. Demonstrate your loyalty in relationships, and do not gossip about others.

If you feel upset with someone, convey that you still respect them and want to work it out.

#7 Speak Respectfully and Show Curiosity 

Regardless of how your child acts, you can control your reactions. At times, this will be hard, and you may want to match the emotional chaos with your yelling, threats, or passive-aggressive behavior.

But aim to be steady and calm. Sometimes this is the best way to disarm a narcissist. 

#8 Listen to Him Closely and Compassionately

Practice active listening, even if your child isn’t willing to do the same. Over time, this can reassure him that you are curious about his experiences and want to know him on a deeper level.

When this is consistently modeled to someone (even a narcissist), they may start taking on some of that compassion themselves. 

Remember that many narcissists are walking around carrying heavy burdens of pain.

They feel incredibly misunderstood, and they’re terrified of rejection. As his parent, you have more influence than you realize in showing that you care about his hardships.

#9 Demonstrate Unconditional Love

If you want to have a respectful relationship with your narcissistic child, conveying unconditional love is important.

Do not attach love to an external accomplishment, and be mindful of only praising or giving things when they “do well.”

Similarly, avoid patterns of criticism when your child acts out or makes a mistake. As much as possible, try to be even-keeled and consistent, even when it’s hard. 

#10 Evaluate a No-Contact Relationship

Although it may be the most difficult choice, some parents must end their relationships with their narcissistic children.

It may be worth reevaluating your relationship if your child is continuously destructive and disrespectful to you (even after you’ve outlined boundaries). You don’t need to keep living with narcissistic abuse.

Remember that you don’t need to make a permanent decision right now. But if you frequently feel stressed and angry- without any signs of relief- you might need to alter your current dynamics. 

How Do You Live With a Narcissistic Child?

Your house, your rules. We’ve all heard this common cliche, but it becomes even more critical when navigating narcissistic family members.

It’s important first to identify your non-negotiable boundaries. When dealing with a narcissist, boundaries need to be treated as laws.

You can’t waver on them and must be clear and explicit about your expectations. Outline whatever consequences you will enforce should they breach a boundary.

Remember to maintain your sense of identity. Narcissists often view loved ones as mere extensions of themselves.

They naturally look down on anyone who thinks and acts differently from them. Holding onto your other relationships, interests, and desires would be best. You are your own person and are allowed to look after your needs.

Finally, it can be helpful to seek your own professional therapy. Narcissistic patterns can run in families, and you may have contributed to certain behaviors unknowingly.

This doesn’t make you a bad person, but working on yourself can improve your relationship with your child.

You may have an even greater influence if your child is young and impressionable- they absorb how you treat them, and if you have your own narcissistic or codependent symptoms, treating those can have an intergenerational impact. 

FAQ

How Do You Tell Your Child Is a Narcissist?

Narcissism is not like having high self-esteem or even displaying grandiose behaviors. True narcissism entails patterns of entitlement, disregard for others, and limited or no empathy

Being aware of a child’s age and growth is essential. For example, it’s developmentally appropriate for young children and teenagers to be self-centered.

But they should still show levels of affection and compassion to others. They should also value making friends and making a good impression in society.

How Does a Narcissistic Child Behave?

Narcissistic children may be more likely to bully people and blame others when they make a mistake. They also tend to struggle with emotional regulation or distress tolerance. 

When they encounter a difficult situation, narcissistic children may ‘act out’ or throw tantrums that feel much younger than their biological age.

They also struggle to accept any form of accountability, believing their needs trump everyone else’s. 

Narcissistic children may have entirely impractical ideas about their future (i.e., they only want to be celebrities or famous athletes).

They often assume they’re entitled to anything they want and may be extremely jealous of other people’s accomplishments.

Many narcissistic children have other co-occurring mental health symptoms.

For example, they may have depression, anxiety, substance use issues, self-harm problems, eating disorders, or other personality disorder symptoms. Narcissism tends to intensify those symptoms, which can also exacerbate narcissism.

How Do Narcissistic Sons and Daughters Treat Their Mothers?

It depends. In general, narcissists tend to come across as cold and detached. They may only show love when it meets their own needs.

They will often triangulate other family members when it’s convenient, especially when they get upset.

Some narcissists will treat their mothers wonderfully in the public eye to make a good impression on others. 

It’s also common for self-aware narcissists to blame their parents for their mental health issues.

They will often glorify past traumas and make it seem like they had the worst childhood.

Even if there’s any grain of truth to their story, they’re quick to exaggerate details and sidestep, taking any ownership over their part in the problem. 

How Do I Stop My Child From Becoming a Narcissist?

It’s unlikely that anyone can entirely prevent a mental illness from occurring, but parents can take some protective steps to help their child build healthy, stable self-esteem.

For example, even though you deem your child special, don’t praise them in a way that puts down other people or insinuates that they are inherently superior. Prioritize generosity and altruism, and demonstrate these things yourself. 

Many narcissists have histories of emotional neglect- with that, tell your child you love them and show up for them consistently and kindly.

Aim to accept them for who they are, even if you don’t agree with everything they do.

Finally, hold them accountable to rules and order, and enforce boundaries. Children need to know the world has limits and that they are expected to follow them. 

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