As a result of my personal and professional experiences, I've done extensive reading and training on various types of narcissistic wounding and abuse. Most victims and survivors I work with either experienced this abuse in the context of a romantic relationship or within their family of origin, the latter being the most common scenario. There are two books in particular on the topic of narcissistic families that have been invaluable to both my clients and me. I've witnessed many clients go through profound movement, growth and healing after reading these books on my recommendation. (Progress that might have taken years to achieve had they not had access to this material.) Links to both books can be found inline below. I first wanted to address a few of the concerns and themes inherent in working with those who come from narcissistic family systems.

Narcissism is a loaded term with pejorative connotations. This is only reinforced by its frequent, casual, use in everyday conversation. Narcissism, as a clinical term, can serve as a useful shorthand in some instances but, in others, it doesn't begin to cover the full range of nuances, complexities and meanings attached to it. This can, and does, result in a lot of confusion and reluctance for clients when it's applied to their family of origin. As a result, it requires extra care and effort on the part of therapists when broaching this topic. It's not uncommon for clients to initially feel guilt, reluctance, or rejection when narcissism is used to help name and explain the conditions of their early childhood. I cannot stress enough that one's family of origin experience shapes one's life in enormous and pervasive ways that make it all the more important for adult children of narcissistic families to understand how their upbringing contributed to many of their current struggles. Identifying narcissism or narcissistic traits in a family system does not mean that value judgments are needed or ill intent is assumed; nor does it mean that positive qualities or experiences (if they did exist) should be diminished or dismissed. But it does mean that adults from these types of families are faced with a number of overlapping, serious challenges that need to be addressed in order for necessary healing to be possible.

Narcissism can look like a lot of things in spite of the common perception that it only applies to grandiose, selfish, individuals who lack empathy. Like any other trait, it exists on a spectrum and can differ in both quantity and quality from one individual (or family) to the next. A defining feature of a narcissistic family system would be what's known as an "inverted" family structure. If you were a child who had to manage a parent's (or both parent's) emotional state rather than the other way around, you may be a product of a narcissistic family of origin. If you were primarily valued for your role in the the family or for what you could DO rather than who you WERE as an individual, you may be a product of a narcissistic family system.

Some of the most common struggles of adult children of narcissistic parenting are confusion around, and inability to set, boundaries, a tendency toward unhealthy levels of people pleasing, or, conversely, discomfort around getting close to others. Healthy boundary setting is also common and can manifest as a lack of boundaries or overly rigid boundaries. A lack of trust in oneself, insecurity around one's worth as an individual outside of prescribed roles, and workaholism, are other commonly shared struggles.

Identifying your family of origin as narcissistic in nature does not mean your parents did not show love, care, or concern in the ways they were able. (Although there are plenty of instances in which narcissistic parents were not not able to provide these things in any real ways.)

Almost all narcissistic parents are the product of damage done to them in childhood and are also likely the product of generational trauma. Calling attention to this is not intended to diminish the damage they inflicted nor to excuse it. But generational trauma does need to be taken into account for a deeper understanding of all the dynamics involved and the interplay between them.

Discovering that your upbringing involved being part of a narcissistic family does not necessarily dictate the need to cease contact with family members (although that is sometimes the case in very toxic dynamics). It is not assume or require that you stop loving your family after clarity is gained around this issue. That being said, it does usually require you to reframe your childhood and current relationship with your parents in whole new ways based on a newfound understanding of their limitations and what can reasonably be expected of them. This results in an altering your expectations of them in a number of ways. There can also be a grieving process involved when you realize the parents you thought you had never existed and, in fact, will never exist for you. Sometimes there is a sense of empathy based on a greater understanding of their shortcomings when seen through the lens of their own adverse childhood experiences. If you are a product of a narcissistic family, your parents may have provided for many of your needs but, unfortunately, their efforts were not enough to create the kind of environment that supported your development as an individual. And, in cases involving serious abuse and neglect, very few, if any needs were appropriately met.

If you think that you may be the adult child of a narcissistic family (or, as the author's of the second of my recommended books on the subject call them, "emotionally immature" parents) then I cannot overstate the value and insight these two books provide. Both are invaluable in their respective ways. Each offers many real-life examples of the variety of ways narcissism can manifest from family to family. They both illustrate the various effects on children living in these families as well as the types of struggles these children experience in adulthood. They outline various steps toward healing as well as advice on how to protect yourself from ongoing emotional pain and damage that is often inherent in relationships with these families as an adult.

I would recommend reading both books in the order of the links I provide. The first, The Narcissistic Family Diagnosis and Treatment, provides an overview and introduction on the topic of the narcissistic family. The second, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, goes into deeper detail and nuance around childhood experiences, adult struggles, and also breaks out and defines the four main types of narcissistic families. Again, narcissistic parenting can manifest in a variety of ways that I have found makes this topic particularly confusing for client's when initially confronted with it. If you know or suspect what you experienced in childhood was narcissistic parenting or you are curious and need more certainty, these books stand out as the best tools I can offer you.