The Topsy Turvy World of a Child of Narcissists

When is being ignored a positive thing?

When you’re the only child of two narcissists.

I’ve read a few pop psychology takes (which would probably not consider themselves to be the pop’ kind of psychology) on what an only child is like…



Only child according to who?this has been doing the Pin rounds on Pinterest, with quite a few only children saying ‘nay’ to it.



…and I tend to conclude that they were written by those who have never experienced what it is like to be an only child.

The descriptions of the personality which develops due to being an only child… are predominantly negative in tone and bias.


“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.” ― Gore Vidal


They get way too much attention!!! Who do they think they are and how dare they think that! They think they’re all that when they are not! – is what tends to scream out from between the lines.

Perhaps those who write these sort of descriptions wished they were an only child (due to having to fight with their siblings for their parents’ attention, and maybe lost the fights more often than not) and their description is tinged with, dare I say, envy or something along those lines. It definitely smacks of something dark and complex underneath the easy way they expound upon (often critically) something they have not experienced (from the inside).

Perhaps those who have never been an only child are better suited to write about what an only child is like. How would an only child know such a thing, they have never experienced anything else so they have no point of reference other than as they are.

Perhaps those who are not only children can see those who are more clearly because they know what it is like to not be an only child and therefore have a greater understanding of the fantasy of such an experience. To view it from the outside and have illusions about it based on their external judgment of what they perceive only children to be and to have.

Kind of similar to how others perceive the life of a child of narcissists. It looks different on the outside to how it is on the inside. The outside is a fantasy… created by the narcissist parents and then supported by the child to keep up appearances (upon penalty of retribution should they not do the job which is expected of them).

And since fantasy plays a rather significant part in our relationships, and living life, maybe their fantasy of the only child experience is more real than the actual experience of being an only child.

People often wonder what attracts them or others to narcissists – it’s the fantasy over the reality. The ideal over the real. Perfection glossing over flaws. They offer you your ideal of the perfect man or woman, the perfect parent, perfect friend, perfect life… and you want to believe it because it is your dream seeking to become real. The place where happiness lives ever after…


“The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears.” ― Erich Fromm

Of course being an only child to parents who are not narcissists is different from being an only child of narcissists, so maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be an only child. I just know what it’s like to be this only child of those narcissists… and even that knowledge is debatable.

Why is my own experience something debatable?

Because when you’re a child of narcissists it can be very difficult to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and anything and everything. We tend to live in the cracks (which don’t exist) between things, stumbling around in a void, bumping into things, breathing the air in a vacuum.

Sometimes life just goes blank and so do you. A blank screen with maybe a bit of flickering on it to give it a semblance of life in motion.

From the moment you are born into a family of narcissists, and even before that moment, you’ve been written into a story, a play, a drama of probably epic saga proportions.

If my mother had been inclined to do so, she’d have claimed that I was an immaculate conception. That’s the sort of thing narcissists say, and since what they say is also doing, that which is said is a done deed… until they un-say it and therefore undo it. If they say that they never said it, it was never said, even if you have proof of it, that proof is a lie – your lie, not theirs.

If my father could have undone my birth with words, he would have. He often claimed that I wasn’t his, mostly to poke and prod my mother where it hurt (a regular feature of the narcissist household). He knew I was his, he just didn’t want me… except when he did, then it was an entirely different story which became action through words, which could be undone when more words created new actions that negated previous ones.


“What are you talking about?” Narcissus demanded. “I am amazing. Everyone knows this.”
“Amazing at pure suck,” Leo said. “If I was as suck as you, I’d drown myself. Oh wait, you already did that.” ― Rick Riordan


A child in a world dominated by narcissists, is a scribble in a picture to which the narcissists are constantly adding and taking away – you might get erased in the process (which is a relief of sorts, like being ignored). But you might get drawn in again, and what form you take depends very much on what form they need you to take. They then have to point out to you that the scribble is you, because you’re too stupid to recognise yourself, their version of you.

If you’re one of more than one child in a narcissist’s family, then your scribble may become a permanent feature. This is you – the scapegoat, and this is your sibling – the golden child. Or vice versa. Don’t like your scribble? Don’t like your sibling’s scribble? What exactly are you going to do about it… you’re not allowed to adjust what the narcissist has drawn as that would upset the hyper-sensitive artist that they are, and when the artist is upset, they make all kinds of scratches with their pens and pencils, stab the page, then erase everything compulsively, tearing the paper to shreds.

And then it all starts again. They are reset kings and queens.


norman rush



If you’re an only child of narcissists, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug, good luck trying to figure which one you are at any given moment because it changes as rapidly as their eyes blink and mood switches from happy to sad, glad to mad, good to bad, tantrum to euphoria.

Which in some ways is more liberating than having an assigned and fixed role in their never-ending drama.

If you’re an ever-changing squiggle in a never-ending drama… at some point they lose track of who you are too. Too – as in you never quite take shape, have a fixed form, so you have no idea who you are either. They don’t know you and you don’t know you. At least not where the world which includes others is concerned. You’re a shape-shifter, a scribble which can become anything or anyone just by reorganising your lines. Mind you, you don’t have to do that either, you can remain shapeless, others will provide you with a shape – and those others don’t have to be narcissists to do that.

People are always giving others shape, it’s what we do, we fill in the blanks, expand on a sketch, colour it in until we like what we see and it fits our view of the world, fits it around us.


“I must try to see the difference between my picture of a person and his behavior, as it is narcissistically distorted, and the person’s reality as it exists regardless of my interests, needs and fears.” ― Erich Fromm


A child of narcissists learns mostly about who they are according to others, who others need them to be. They also find that society outside of their family does something similar. So there is no escape from this identity/non-identity game even if you get out of the family nucleus. In fact society may have a worse effect than the family, because it wants to know who you are… and when you don’t know who you are because it’s never been something you were supposed to know, you could be anybody… but which anybody are you?… how do you answer – who are you? Quick! The music is about to stop, find a chair or get thrown out of the game!

So you wander around in search of who you are (an answer to that question), for your self, your identity and get caught in many webs offering to help you do this. Some of which encourage you to invent your own identity and then create it. Basically – be a narcissist. Only it’s a positive thing! Think positive and eradicate all negative thoughts – also something narcissistic. Go towards the light and avoid the dark side at all costs! Shove the dark onto something, someone else!


“Since [narcissists] deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil, on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others.” ― M. Scott Peck


Pick an identity, just like a card in a magic trick. Pick any identity and make it real. Hey presto! That’s you and now you can become a member of society. Something you can’t do if you don’t pick an identity, because not having a defined ‘This is Me’ card makes society and all the people who make up society nervous. They can’t judge you and your status, your place in their version of reality and life and such if you’re just a squiggly line which is sometimes not squiggly, which means you’re not even a squiggly line.

I’ve learned a lot by being a scribble, more perhaps than I would have learned by being a drawing of a person.

I’m more a drawing of a person now, drawn by my own hand to reflect how I see myself from the inside out…




I sometimes miss being a scribble, until I bump into a narcissist, particularly the ones I know well, and then I remember why I don’t miss being a scribble – one in pencil which they can rub out and redraw to suit them.

I use indelible markers. For myself and for my view of others. If others want to adjust my view of them, I give them a different colour, so I can see the difference between my view of them and theirs. If they want to add to my sketch of me, they can use a different colour and then I can see where the lines diverge and where perhaps a new line needs to be drawn.

A child of narcissists often struggles with where to draw certain lines between self and other.

Not in the way that empaths do… speaking of empaths, this – NDad thinks he’s an ’empath’ –  is a rather insightful conversation amongst children of narcissists on a reddit forum for ACoNs (Adult children of narcissists) upon which I stumbled, and which concurs in some ways with my own experience of narcissists, and not just my parents.

When someone states that they are an empath, I have to confess my first reactive thought before I think things through and think about the person who is saying this, is – narcissist.

Narcissists can see all sorts of people when they look in the mirror, be it a real mirror or a pretend one. They prefer pretend mirrors, as the reflection is are more easily manipulated to suit what they want to see.


“A mirror is like my own personal reality TV show—where I’m both the star and only viewer. I’ve got to get my ratings up.” ― Jarod Kintz


So while the world is looking at them and deciding that they lack empathy… the narcissist is crowning themselves the king or queen of empathy. Labeling themselves an empath… without really having a clue what empathy is, they don’t need to know what it is, they can make it up as they go along, stealing a bit from here and a bit from there, the magpies of all that shines in others, and making it theirs, all theirs. No one else is allowed to be ‘it’, whatever the trendy ‘it’ is of the moment is for them, and for others as viewed by them.

If they say they’re an empath, then so be it. The saying is the action and deed confirmed. Their word is… everything, reality. But they do like others to confirm it, they need an audience or their drama and performance dies – only people-pleasers need apply as audience members. Nay-sayers will be ignored and pilloried if required and even if not required.



people pleaser

Being a child of narcissists… when an actual child or when an adult… is at times… sort of stalling in neutral wondering what’s real and what is fantasy.

Never sure if such a thing as reality can ever truly be known as so much of the human experience is… always shifting like sand caressed by wind or water, making shapes, then unmaking them, then making other shapes… but what is that shape that has been made?

The eye fills in the blanks and creates a picture.

But what is that picture…?

“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.” ― Jean-Yves Leloup



It's All A Blur by MoonVooDooI titled this image –  it’s all a blur –  and when I posted it on my deviantart someone commented that I should take some photography classes to learn how to focus. That made me chuckle… in an abstract way they were sort of right, yet sort of wrong, they kind of missed the point, but made another through missing it. Such is life… and interacting and stuff…


21 thoughts on “The Topsy Turvy World of a Child of Narcissists

  1. i do agree with you, the intention is the most important feature of any comment. But i personally fell most of the times that i am all bruised from my parents’ continuous criticism and it doesn’t really matter the intensity or the weight of what I hear, i just switch to a defensive mode Inside and although i don’t feel attacked by my friends(even that one who made that comment is a lovely person) but i plunge into a deep mood where it’s like hearing their voices;it’s like being branded as a cow, forever! i do share what CZCZ wrote, boundaries, what are they? So i end up concentrating on whatever i am not able to do-plenty indeed. But in some situation i am able to discriminate and i can perceive the difference, usually when it’s not touching a sensitive spot.


    1. That is you, a part of you, and everything which is a part of you it goes into making up the adventure of being you and living your life. In this case the boundary is one which needs to embrace the aspects of yourself which sometimes, maybe often, disturb the peace within. They’re a sort of inspiration which asks you to accept them, and explore them, and explore beyond them, but don’t explore so far that you reject them. Rejecting aspects of ourselves is a broken boundary that needs repairing in some way, a way which works with who we are.

      A child of N’s need to integrate being a child of N’s into their life. You can’t be a ‘not child of N’s’ and perhaps it is better to be one than not to be one. This is something which we can’t unknown or un-be. Not being one is a thing of our fantasy, our fantasy of not being a child of N’s can make being who we are, the parts of our life that we find hard to accept, something which becomes an obstacle rather than a supportive influence. Perhaps if we had actually not been one – we’d been fantasising about someone else whom we are not.

      If that makes sense – it’s something that I use for myself to get a grip on the real and the unreal as best as I can. To stop getting too caught up in the fantasy of what could have been and appreciate what is from a feet on the ground level. Let the fantasy inspire, be careful that it doesn’t go from being an ally to being a foe. Keep an eye on those boundaries.

      We are who we are… our task is to be that, yet also to allow for fantasy of who we could be, and see how that inspires. The ideal is an ideal… the real is the real and is our treasure. It takes a while to appreciate that in ourselves.

      Your defensive mode is a treasure, not just a defense. Explore it and everything else about who you are here and now, and everything which is a part of you.

      Ogni cosa ha cagione. 🙂


  2. Reblogged this on The House of Hale and commented:
    This… This is everything I’ve been struggling with, and the description of your place in a family as a scribble? The most apt description I could ever think of.


  3. I love the way you described growing up in a narsisitic home as being a scribble. It is so apt a description. I still feel a bit scribbly from time to time, especially recently. Thank uou for sharing.


    1. Thank you 🙂

      There is a good side to being a scribble too, especially once you take hold of the pen or pencil and begin to work with the original scribble. It’s an insightful way to discover yourself. Always respect the original scribble of you, it has a story to tell, one which is deep and meaningful.

      This post, the idea behind it, was partly inspired by a cartoon I used to watch as a child – La Linea ( ). I think when I watched it, I kind of saw myself in it, although the character made out of a scribble in that was always rather confident and I didn’t see myself that way (although others sometimes did, and thought I was out of line because of it).

      I’m a bit odd… but it sort of works 😉


  4. The more I read about the children of narcissists, the more I feel that my mom was likely also a narcissist, or perhaps BPD with some narcissism thrown in for good measure. I am very familiar with much of what has been said here. I was frequently told, as I was growing up, what I was; as a teenager and young woman I struggled horribly with trying to develop my own identity and boundaries. I often felt that she was devouring me – and the anger that erupted when I fought back! Thanks for these posts, Ursula. You are so helpful. And btw, I think that your “blur” photo is terrific. 🙂


    1. TY ❤

      There is a theory that if we find ourselves gravitating towards a relationship with a narcissist (or otherwise disordered) that we may be repeating a pattern from our childhood, attracted to what is familiar (in some ways to bring closure to something hidden within – Thomas Moore has written quite a bit about this side of love). I've read many articles about this type of dynamic in recent times, there are more and more popping up everyday as people connect the dots and realise that perhaps their adult relationships have been influenced by their early conditioning.

      It takes us a while to connect those dots because when we become an adult we put away our childhood in a separate place, and slap on a label with a formulaic story, and leave it that way. It's only really when we're forced to dig into those files that we find that maybe our – happy childhood – with our – loving parents – was not quite what we keep saying it was, and that we maybe have not left it behind when we became an adult. It can be so subtle an influence, yet have such a profound effect on us, our lives, our relationships. And it can be quite shattering to look back and delve into it as we may end up rewriting our history… which can have a potent ripple effect into the present and the future of us. So… we sometimes hesitate to go there and review it.

      Quite a few other disorders have narcissism as a layer to them, and it can be confusing to sift through what is what. For instance my mother fits much of the criteria for Histrionic personality disorder, however that fit is more about how I experienced her narc rages and the life or death dramas. NPD fits her better, but the criteria for that used to focus more on the Overt narcissist, which she was at times, but mostly not, and it wasn't until I came across descriptions of Covert narcissists that I recognised her actual MO. Fit like a glove and explained everything, not just my experience of her but the behind the scenes of her, as I delved into it.

      There are a few comprehensive online summations of the narcissist mother which I've come across: – this site has a list of variations of Narcissist mothers – – and other interesting 'facts'.

      It helps to explore your child self and the perspective which you had then and how you developed from there, it can be a relieving experience for the adult self to do that, and can be a release from things you didn't know were holding onto you or which you were holding onto 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am the only child of the most horrific, narcisstic mother, there are comparisons to many article i’ve read. starting out with discoving your not crazy it my mother website back in the day. my mother portrays with great advancement , malicious and forethought every mean evil description there is for npd, there are really no words that I can say in a few sentences to describe what it is like except to take every scenario there is to describe the life of a daughter of narcissistic mother and that is my life times to many to count. im 60 yrs old and im still very unfortunalty placed right in the middle of her madness, where I fight everyday of my life for some, sort of validation etc for my existence, for a life ive been deprived for hope, peace happiness or just the acknowledgement I exisit, even within my childrens lives which she gobbled up many years ago. help me if you can.


    1. Thank you for sharing 🙂

      I, and many children of narcissist mothers, know that kind of devouring mother. Her hunger is never satisfied, and usually gets worse with age. It never lets up. The viciousness of it is usually a reflection of the inner world of the narcissist mother which is a very despairing place. The more she hates her own life, the more those around her must suffer for her misery.

      What kind of help were you seeking?

      I am familiar with the desperation which a child of such a parent feels. I’ve lived it, and still live it. My mother is still alive and still kicking up a chaotic hungry beast of a storm. I do my best to keep my distance, and stay No Contact. However that is not always an option.

      I used to reach out hoping someone outside would help me, but the help never really materialised, because others are in many ways as helpless as we are when it comes to a narcissist and their ways, especially when that narcissist is our parent. The mother is sacred even when she is a narcissist, perhaps more so because she is. People try to help you, then get sucked in and eaten alive… they learn to stay away, but you’re still stuck there, still being eaten alive. So what do you do?

      You have to help yourself, that’s where the real assistance comes from. Of course it is easier said than done. How do you help yourself when you feel powerless… when you’re in the narc’s waters being eaten alive and your last vestiges of energy are being used up to stay afloat.

      Have you connected with other children of narcissists, perhaps online on a forum or through a local support group. There seem to be a lot of us out there, all trying to figure things out and help ourselves, perhaps helping each other in the process.

      The question remains, what is the help which you are seeking from others? And is there any way to give that to yourself?


    2. what kind of help is to be free or validated for some small thought or belief that is mine. to even have my own thoughts beliefs and feelings are truly a unbelievable feat that I fight to keep every day (all alone) to get up and go again.. I’ve spent this day being asked questions from it, and then dismissed by my answers (which I must admit because of simple common sense) I usually have the correct answer or solution to a simple problem. but it doesn’t accept simple anything. simple must be dragged through the dirt of life until she finds the most improbable solution that causes the most disruption and chaos. everything I suggest or say must be validated by someone else something as simple as it that light turned on if I say yes she has to ask my son, the housekeeper or anyone else is it really on. and on and on I go trudging through everyday of my life as such, GOD it is exhausting


      1. It is indeed exhausting. I dragged myself into adulthood from childhood, repeating the mantra – I’m not going to survive another month of this let alone another year of it. The narcissist parent sucks the life out of you and into themselves, and then keeps sucking even when you’re empty, getting angry at you for not generating more energy for them to feed on.

        One of the things I had to face, and face it cold, stark and painfully, was that my mother was never going to change, have an epiphany, give a damn about me or anyone other than herself. With a narcissist, it is all about them and that is that. No one else exists, not as a real person. You are only allowed to exist for their benefit, as an extension of them, playing the part they need you to play for them – and that part is created for you and controlled by them. End of. You as a living breathing real person do not exist and if you challenge them about that, they can kill you off until you come crawling back and accept their omnipotent rule over you and your life.

        The sort of help you’re seeking is the kind which only you can give to yourself. You can perhaps find support from others (that’s why I suggested an online forum for ACoNs or joining a local support group), but the bulk of the work of helping you has to come from you. Use your exhaustion, pain and desperation as an ally. If you’re too knackered to keep going, then stop. Break the cycle – it’s a vicious cycle which is excruciating. It’s hard to do, but it is necessary to sometimes do the last thing you would consider doing. As long as you keep feeding the beast, the beast will keep growing and feeding off of you. It’s a harsh thing to consider and face, but it is helpful to understand that in a relationship with a narcissist, you are the one with the real power you’ve just been brainwashed by the narcissist into believing that you’re powerless. They need you more than you need them – but you have to be willing to see that.

        Some reading which may be informative:

        You have more personal power than you know, it is perhaps time to realise that and own it. It will hurt, but not as much as you are already hurting as it will help you to help yourself.

        There are many resources online about NPD, about being an ACoN, make the most of them. Knowledge is power when dealing with a narcissist.

        Focus on yourself, and give yourself what you are seeking from others. Take care of yourself.

        Giving yourself the help which you need, seek and want, is a powerful act of self-validation, self-acknowledgment, self-affirmation. You’ve been trained not to do this, so doing this breaks the cycle, bit by bit, and frees you, bit by bit. It will take time. Be gentle with yourself.


  6. Hi Ursula,

    I read your post this morning and it’s stuck with me all afternoon. Scribbling is how “I” came into being. Just a scribble of experiences and feelings and thoughts without a clear outline. Understanding my right to establish boundaries for myself, (Boundaries? What’s that?) pulled all my scribbles into shape. This isn’t how you were using the term exactly but the word “scribble” has deep meaning for my process coming into being as an autonomous and yes, very different person than the woman my parents hoped I’d be. I just felt like a scribbled mess until defining myself by saying NO. As you wrote and I totally agree, “A child of narcissists often struggles with where to draw certain lines between self and other.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi CZBZ,

      Thank you for reading and sharing, it’s always inspiring and insightful when you do 🙂

      The scribble is very adaptable, it doesn’t have to be how I thought it as being, it is whatever it becomes to those who consider it. Our creative mind takes over and we discover our world from there.

      I used to play a waiting game as a child, whereby someone would make a scribble, then someone else would add to it, and eventually it became an image. Sort of like making pictures out of numbers, turning a 2 into a swan and so on. Drawing has many faces.

      Your scribbles have become a source of personal power for you and for all those whom you have shared them with. A small scribble became a beautiful and inspiring masterpiece!

      Your pain has become a voice of healing!


  7. The blur picture, as your post, is really great, and that comment shows the kind of reasoning which makes me angry.
    Some people know better than you what you had in mind when you took it and are photography pandits, as everybody is when they can take a selfie. It’s very difficult to take a picture like yours, as the blurred effect is something you have to look for and it unveils with grace, not as a mistake but as in a painting, the features, the expression, possibly adding something more which is the result of the sum of each part.
    It is an effective metaphor of what I have always felt when my parents judged me-they knew me and my thoughts better than I knew myself. It happened all the time and I was filled with rage and found shelter in the privacy of my thinking and imagination which, like a fortress, they couldn’t invade. One day, I was seven I think, I remember coming home desperate and hopeless as in our Italian class, our teacher made us read “The glass city”, a chapter of “The invisibles cities” by Italo Calvino ( I loathe his writing, but I guess my attitude has been triggered by the following passage). The short story described in a cold and emotionless way a place made of glass, where everybody could peep into your room simply looking as walls made of bricks didn’t exist and could also read your mind as everything was transparent…What a hellish place I thought, my parents could rob me of my own thoughts!
    In a way, that’s what they do, they rob their children of so many unvaluable things.


    1. TY ❤

      I understand why that kind of scenario makes you angry, I used to get that way and sometimes still do, it very much depends on the intention behind the comment. I tend to focus my attention on the intention of the speaker, rather than on my reaction. It stops fuses from blowing things out of proportion. When people say things to you about your creations or of you yourself, more often than not it's a statement about themselves rather than you. They're using you as a means to an end, and that end is to get something for themselves about themselves. It's a very human thing and for the most part it is fairly innocuous and the norm. So, when they criticise you it compliments them. When you're wrong it means they're right. Et cetera. So their criticism isn't about you, what you've done, created, it is about them giving themselves an ego boost… at your expense but you're not really the target of their arrow, they are.

      Therefore if someone says – you're stupid or this thing you did is stupid – they're not really talking about you, what you did, or your level of intelligence, they're aiming at feeling clever. It's all about their level of intelligence, but to feel clever they need others to be less clever, to be stupid, so they apply that label, but it's all about them, not you.

      With narcissists this is ramped up.

      That's a very intriguing story about Italo Calvo's work and your impression of it, and insightful, deeply so. Reminds me in some ways of The Glass Menagerie.

      N=parents do try to steal from their children… because it was what was done to them and they're repeating what they learned through experience. It's a hellish place, and it is where they live and where they drag all those with whom they have relationships. They drag us in as a way for them to get out, like trying to climb out of a pit but the walls are made of sand or dry dirt. In the end, everyone gets buried. Or not…

      Thank you for sharing, always, you are a gifted observer!


Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: