15 Traits of Adult Children of Narcissists: How To Reclaim Your Happiness after Emotional Abuse

A Psychiatrist's Guide to Understanding and Overcoming the Legacy of Narcissistic Abuse

15 Traits of Adult Children of Narcissists: How To Reclaim Your Happiness after Emotional Abuse
Sheenie Ambardar, MD is a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and coach who sees patients throughout California and New York via telehealth. Dr. Ambardar specializes in working with Adult Children of Narcissists and provides trauma-informed therapy, medication management, personal coaching, and group therapy for this community. To learn more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you can check out Dr. Ambardar's article about Narcissistic Personality Disorder on Medscape, first published in 2009.

The Psychological Toll on Adult Children of Narcissists

Growing up as the child of a narcissistic parent is a unique and often painful experience. While the charming facade presented to the outside world might mask the truth, children within such families navigate a web of emotional abuse, manipulation, and neglect.

The consequences of this childhood trauma can reverberate into adulthood, leaving lasting scars on the psyche and impacting relationships, self-esteem, and overall well-being.

If you suspect you're the Adult Child of a Narcissist (ACoN), understanding the common traits can be a crucial step towards healing and growth. Remember, you are not alone.

Research by the National Association for Self-Esteem suggests that one in five American adults has a narcissistic parent, highlighting the prevalence of this issue.

Recognizing these traits is not about assigning blame, but about gaining insight into your experiences and empowering yourself to break free from the cycle of narcissistic abuse.

15 Common Traits of Adult Children of Narcissists 

  1. Low Self-Esteem
  2. Perfectionism
  3. Anxiety and Depression
  4. Chronic Self-Blame
  5. Identity Issues
  6. Codependency
  7. Difficulty Setting and Enforcing Boundaries
  8. Emotional Dysregulation
  9. Hypervigilance and Sensitivity to Criticism
  10. People-Pleasing Tendencies and Difficulty Expressing Needs
  11. Trouble Identifying and Expressing Emotions
  12. Physical Health Issues
  13. Chronic Self-Doubt and Insecurity
  14. Difficulty Trusting Others and Forming Relationships
  15. Resilience and Strength 🩷 💪

Let’s explore each trait, keeping in mind that not all 15 traits may pertain to you:

1. Low Self-Esteem 

One of the most significant challenges faced by Adult Children of Narcissists (ACoNs) is their struggle with low self-esteem. Growing up with a narcissistic parent who constantly belittles and criticizes you can have a profound impact on an individual’s self-worth.

During childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, your emotional needs may have been ignored, your faults exaggerated, or you may have been constantly compared unfavorably to others.

Many ACoNs have internalized the negative messages they received and have developed a deep-seated belief that they are unworthy, inadequate, and not good enough.

2. Perfectionism 

As a result of their low self-esteem, Adult Children of Narcissists often develop perfectionistic tendencies. They strive for perfection in all areas of their life, constantly seeking validation and approval from external forces.

This relentless pursuit of an ideal can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, as they fear making mistakes or falling short of great expectations.

A constant drive for perfectionism can be a response to a childhood where only the best was good enough to gain a narcissistic parent's approval. This trait often leads to burnout, imposter syndrome, and chronic dissatisfaction.

3. Anxiety and Depression 

Research has shown a correlation between being raised by narcissistic parents and the development of anxiety and depression in adulthood. This is often due to the chronic stress and emotional turbulence experienced during formative childhood years.

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Adult Children of Narcissists often struggle with Depression and Anxiety

4. Chronic Self-Blame 

Narcissistic parents often blame their children for their own shortcomings or for challenges faced in the family. This can lead to a lifelong habit of self-blame, where the Adult Child of Narcissists automatically assumes responsibility for any interpersonal problems or conflicts, even when it is unwarranted.

5. Identity Issues 

Struggling with a sense of identity is common among Adult Children of Narcissists. Their own preferences, needs, and ambitions may have been routinely ignored or overshadowed by their parent's demands.

This often leads to a deep sense of confusion about who they really are and what they truly want in life.

6. Codependency 

Codependency involves an over-reliance on others for validation, decision-making, and a sense of self and this is a very common behavioral trait in Adult Children of Narcissists. This stems from the highly enmeshed relationship and blurred psychological boundaries experienced with a narcissistic parent.

7. Difficulty Setting and Enforcing Boundaries 

Narcissistic parents often blur boundaries, demanding excessive attention and emotional availability from their children, while offering little emotional nurturance in return. This creates deep confusion and difficulty distinguishing between your own needs and those of the narcissist. 

Growing up, you were likely not taught how to establish healthy boundaries or assert your needs. As a result, you may often struggle with setting boundaries in your adult relationships, which leads to feelings of resentment and being taken advantage of.

8. Emotional Dysregulation

The unpredictable and emotionally charged environment of a narcissistic household can make it difficult to manage emotions effectively. Children of narcissists may not have had their emotional needs met or may have been punished harshly for expressing emotions. 

You might now experience frequent anxiety, depression, or C-PTSD symptoms as a result of the emotional trauma. Emotional triggers that remind you of the narcissist can lead to emotional dysregulation, manifesting in mood swings, anger outbursts, tearfulness, or emotional withdrawal.

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Open the door to healing - It's never too late to begin therapy for narcissistic abuse

9. Hypervigilance and Sensitivity to Criticism 

Hypervigilance is a typical trauma response to the unpredictable and often volatile environment created by a narcissistic parent. Adult Children of Narcissists are usually on constant alert, scanning their surroundings for any signs of emotional danger or potential criticism.

This hypervigilance can be exhausting and contributes to feelings of chronic stress, fatigue, and anxiety.

You might also find yourself becoming acutely sensitive to the moods and reactions of others, a common trait in those who have experienced narcissistic parenting. This can lead to social anxiety, difficulty trusting others, and a tendency to take things too personally.

10. People-Pleasing Tendencies

In addition to perfectionism, Adult Children of Narcissists tend to have people-pleasing tendencies. They have a strong desire to please others, often at the expense of their own needs and desires.

This people-pleasing behavior stems from their upbringing, where they learned that their worth was dependent on meeting the needs and expectations of their narcissistic parent.

Unfortunately, excessive people-pleasing eventually leads to resentment, burnout, and depression.

11. Trouble Identifying and Expressing Emotions  

The emotional neglect experienced in a narcissistic household can make it challenging to connect with and express your own emotions.

You might feel numb, disconnected, or struggle to identify and articulate your feelings. This can hinder your ability to build healthy relationships and create intimacy.

ACoNs often have difficulty expressing their emotions authentically because they have spent their entire lives suppressing their needs and desires to meet the demands of their narcissistic parents.

12. Physical Health Issues

Chronic stress and emotional dysregulation associated with narcissistic abuse can manifest in physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, digestive problems, painful and difficult menstrual periods, and sleep disturbances.

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the link between childhood trauma and an increased risk of chronic health conditions later in life.

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Adult Children of Narcissists may struggle with health issues like migraines & fatigue

13. Chronic Self-Doubt and Insecurity

The constant criticism and lack of validation from a narcissistic parent can leave you questioning your own worth and capabilities.

You might grapple with chronic self-doubt, a tendency to downplay your achievements, and a fear of failure (or success.)

This insecurity can also manifest in seeking external validation and fearing abandonment in relationships.

14. Difficulty Trusting Others and Forming Relationships

Trust issues are prevalent among Adult Children of Narcissists. Growing up, they learned that trust could be easily broken and that their emotional needs were not a priority.

This early betrayal of trust can make it challenging for them to form secure and healthy relationships, as they are constantly on guard for signs of mistreatment.

Adult children of narcissists often have complex and conflict-laden relationships. They may find themselves in a repeating pattern of seeking partners and friends who mirror the dynamics they experienced in childhood.

15. Resilience and Strength 🩷 💪

Despite the challenges they face, Adult Children of Narcissists often display remarkable resilience and strength.

Having overcome significant adversity, they possess a deep understanding of human nature, empathy, and a strong desire to help others.

By acknowledging their past and seeking support, they can transform their painful experiences into sources of personal growth and strength.


The Path to Healing for Adult Children of Narcissists 

Reclaiming your happiness after growing up with a narcissistic parent is an ongoing process, but it is absolutely possible.

If you resonate with some or all of the traits listed above, remember that you are not defined by your past.

Seeking professional help can truly be transformative and I invite you to reach out today.

Psychiatrists and psychotherapists with experience treating narcissistic abuse can help you:

Break Free: Escaping the Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse

Breaking free from the cycle of narcissistic abuse is a crucial step for Adult Children of Narcissists to reclaim their lives and establish their own identity.

Recognizing the toxic patterns and dynamics of their relationship with their narcissistic parents is the first step towards mental liberation.

Seeking therapy and psychiatric help can provide you with the tools and resources you need to heal and move forward.

Through therapy, Adult Children of Narcissists can learn to recognize and challenge the negative self-beliefs instilled by their parents, potentially mitigating the impact of gaslighting and insecurity that these caregivers may have caused. They can develop a stronger sense of self and redefine their own worth outside of the approval of others.

With time and support, they can break free from the legacy of narcissistic abuse and forge their own path towards happiness and fulfillment.

Rebuild Self-Esteem: Nurturing Self-Worth in Adult Children of Narcissists

Rebuilding self-esteem is a vital component of the healing journey for Adult Children of Narcissists. It involves challenging deeply ingrained patterns of negative self-talk, self-doubt, and self-criticism.

By developing self-compassion and practicing mental self-care, you can begin to cultivate a healthy sense of self-worth.

Part of the healing journey is about reclaiming and rediscovering one’s identity. This can involve exploring personal interests and hobbies that were previously suppressed by the narcissistic parent.

Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment, surrounding yourself with supportive and friendly people, and practicing positive affirmations daily can also contribute to the restoration of self-esteem.

It is through these consistent efforts that adult children of narcissists can learn to appreciate their unique qualities and recognize their inherent worthiness. 

Establish Boundaries: Learning to Set Healthy Limits with Narcissistic Parents

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial. This might mean limiting or even ending contact with the narcissistic parent, or it could involve setting emotional boundaries to protect one's well-being.

Boundaries allow ACoNs to define what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, allowing individuals to prioritize their needs and protect themselves from manipulation and abuse.

Still, learning to say "No" can be challenging for Adult Children of Narcissists, as they have been conditioned to prioritize their parents' needs over their own.

However, setting clear boundaries is essential for personal growth and overall well-being. Therapy can be instrumental in assisting individuals with identifying and implementing healthy boundaries in their relationships.

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Adult Children of Narcissists can sometimes have trouble setting boundaries - therapy can help you learn how and when to say "No"

Build Healthy Relationships: Overcoming Trust Issues as an Adult Child of Narcissists

Overcoming trust issues is a significant aspect of the healing journey for Adult Children of Narcissists. As a result of their upbringing, they often struggle to trust others and may fear being hurt or manipulated. However, with time, patience, and therapy, it is possible for these individuals to build healthy and fulfilling relationships.

Rebuilding trust starts with learning to trust oneself. By acknowledging their own intuition and setting boundaries that align with their needs, Adult Children of Narcissists can begin to rebuild their trust in themselves.

With the support of a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, they can gradually learn to extend this trust to others, allowing for deeper connections and more meaningful relationships.

Learning to form and maintain healthy relationships is a crucial part of recovery. This involves understanding what a healthy relationship looks like and actively working to build connections that are based on mutual respect and kindness.

Thrive Beyond Narcissism: Embracing Resilience and Empowerment

Thriving beyond narcissism is absolutely possible for Adult Children of Narcissists, no matter what their age. Through therapy, self-reflection, and self-care practices, Adult Children of Narcissists can heal the wounds of their upbringing and develop a stronger sense of self.

They can reclaim their power, redefine their worth, and forge a new path forward, free from the psychological limitations of their narcissistic parent(s).

Treatment Options for Adult Children of Narcissists:

  • Trauma-informed therapy: Trauma-informed therapy provides understanding, validation, and support for the narcissistic abuse you endured. It involves learning techniques to address the emotional and psychological consequences of narcissistic abuse, including coping mechanisms for managing negative emotions and flashbacks.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help you learn to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and self-beliefs that stem from your emotionally-abusive childhood experiences.
  • Communication skills training: Developing healthy communication skills to express your needs assertively, set boundaries, and build stronger, more fulfilling relationships is a vital part of the journey to wholeness.
  • Psychoeducation: Read books, watch YouTube videos, and attend workshops about narcissistic dynamics and their impact on adult children. This knowledge can empower you to recognize patterns and break free from harmful generational cycles.
  • Support groups: Connect with other Adult Children of Narcissists in a safe and understanding environment to share experiences, receive validation, and learn from each other.


Moving Forward: Cultivating Inner Peace and Happiness

As Adult Children of Narcissists embark on their journey of recovery, it's important to remember that healing is not a linear process. There will be setbacks and challenges, but each step forward is a move towards a healthier, happier life.

The pain of the past does not have to dictate the future. With the right support and resources, individuals can overcome the challenges of their upbringing and lead rich, rewarding lives.

For those who are struggling with the impacts of being raised by a narcissistic parent, know that you are never alone.

Help is available, and with commitment and courage, it is possible to break the cycle and build a life defined not by your past, but by your own choices and desires.

Keep going, keep learning, and keep growing - you've got this! 🩷😊

If you're ready to begin therapy for narcissistic abuse, Contact Dr. Ambardar today and discover how she can help you reclaim your happiest, most authentic self through integrative, holistic psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Books for Further Reading + Support for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents

Contact The Happiness Psychiatrist Today and Begin Healing from Narcissistic Abuse

Ready to begin your own therapeutic journey towards healing parental narcissistic abuse? Contact The Happiness Psychiatrist® today and discover how award-winning, holistic psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr. Sheenie Ambardar can help put you on the path to your most authentic, honest self.

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