Raising a Narcissist

The idea that parenting can contribute to narcissism is one that goes back to Freud. While our understanding of narcissism has evolved since then, the basic theory that certain parenting styles can produce more narcissistic adults has stuck around.

There’s an intuitive sense to this way of undertanding narcissism: it’s not so far-fetched to think that children whose parents instill a sense of being special and entitled will become narcissistic adults.

In recent years, several empirical studies have taken this idea as a starting point, looking for hard evidence linking parenting and narcissism.

Most recently, a paper titled Parental Invalidation and the Development of Narcissism involved surveying 442 people, asking them specifically about memories of being invalidated by their parents. It found that those with stronger memories of being invalidated by either parent tended to have higher levels of narcissism. One possible interpretation of this result is that children who feel invalidated by their parents become more narcissistic adults on average.

On the other hand, if too little validation causes problems, too much might not be good either. Research done in 2015 showed that children who were overvalued by their parents were more narcissistic as a group. The authors suggested this might indicate that the children were “internalizing parents’ inflated views of them.”

Finally a 2014 study found that parents who were more psychologically controlling tended to raise children who scored higher on narcissism. The same study found that parents who were colder produced less narcissistic children, which highlights why it’s good to be cautious interpreting results from these kind of studies: this association between colder parenting and lower narcissism likely has some significance, but it’s not as simple as saying that coldness is a value parents should aspire to!

Still, we probably can conclude that parenting strategies characterized by invalidation, overvaluation and psychological control do more harm than good and may create narcissists. Even Freud wouldn’t argue with that!

Image: Flickr/Kevin O’Neill


  1. Nola Johnson on November 30, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    It seems to be that doing surveys about ‘invalidating parents contributing to raising a narcissist’ could never provide an accurate outcome, because a narcissist will always feel invalidated by their parents, unless (and sometimes, even if) the parent grovelled at their feet.

    • Neil Petersen on December 1, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Yeah, this is one of the limitations of studies based on adults’ memories of their parents’ behavior: you can’t say for sure how much the differences have to do with what’s being remembered and how much they reflect actual differences in parenting styles. From this perspective, the study that found an association between parental overvaluation and narcissism seems to have a more solid design because it asked for input from both parents and children. Of course, even then, self-report is self-report, so you can’t be 100 percent sure. (But you can always run more studies!)

  2. Sarah-anne Lake on September 3, 2019 at 4:33 am

    I dated a man for years who’s mother invalidated him when he was growing up and his father was very controlling. My boyfriend was always trying to please his dad and had a false belief about his father, always putting him on a petastal while always blaming his mother for everything. He would constantly break dates with me if his dad asked him to help him around the house hoping maybe his dad would do something with him. He would always exaggerate his relationship with his father as a really close one, which I believed at first till I realized that it was far from the truth. He was always putting others down while making himself look good. He always talked about himself and never cared about me and things that would go on in my life, which took me sometime to come to terms with. Everything always revolved around him, always wanting me too feel bad for him and if I tried to tell him about my problem’s his always were worse than mine. He never let me meet his parents or go to their house where he lived, nor would he meet my family. When I met him he made it sound like he moved back home to help his dad as he said that his dad had diabetes and so he had to give up his good job to help take care of him, none of that was true. His dad did have diabetes but it later came up that he moved home as he was having problems at his job as he found it too stressful. He always made himself sound like the people at his job couldn’t do without him and when something would go wrong at work it was always the other person’s fault, “not his”. The longer I got to know him I realized that I was dating a Narcissist.

    • Neil Petersen on September 4, 2019 at 4:21 pm

      Hi Sarah-anne, glad to hear you have moved past that relationship. It’s always sad when adults have these types of relationships with their parents that prevent them from enjoying their independent adult lives. Ultimately, it’s something that the person who is affected has to solve, with the help of a therapist, and if that doesn’t happen sometimes the people around them just have to move on.