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Will Narcissists Hurt Their Children?

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC

Narcissists are notorious for their extreme cruelty when things don’t go well with significant others, work associates, friends, neighbors, just about anybody.  But what about their children?  Will a narcissist hurt their children?

In truth, every narcissist will hurt their child.  But to what degree?  When a narcissist is low on the narcissism spectrum, abuse of their children will be significantly less than someone who falls much higher on the spectrum.  Because narcissists have no empathy for others, it is nearly impossible to make them understand the harm they are doing and stop doing it.

Of course, there is much more to the answer to this question than a couple of sentences.  Let’s take a look at what narcissists hurting their children looks like in the real world and the issues that arise from it.

Why Do Narcissists Hurt Their Children?

The simple answer to why narcissists hurt their children is that they don’t even see them.  They can only see themselves, what they are trying to obtain, and what means they are going to use to get whatever it is.  

So, in effect, not only do they not see their children as people, they DO see them as a means to get what they want.  Let me give you an example.  Do they want credit as the best parent?  Then they will treat their kids so amazingly in public.  Nobody will have a clue about what goes on behind closed doors.  And the children will be afraid to say anything because they know nobody will believe them when they see their parent(s) being so wonderful in public.

When a Joke Really Isn’t a Joke

My ex used to “joke” about our kids being slave labor.  I would laugh along with him.  Until one day I realized he wasn’t kidding.  While I have no problem teaching children how to work and do age-appropriate chores, it isn’t their responsibility to do the parents’ work because parents don’t want to.  One of the things I did with my kids was offer them money to clean my room.  I would never assign it to them.  But if they wanted extra money and were willing, I was happy to pay.  

On the other hand, my ex would force them to clean up and organize our huge oversized two-car garage.  I would tell him he can’t do that when he is the one that messed it up.  He would reply that I would have the kids clean my room.  Except that I didn’t make them do it.  It was by choice.  And my kids considered cleaning the garage they didn’t mess up to be torture on a Saturday family day.  Especially when their dad wasn’t helping them get it done.

How do Narcissists Hurt Their Children?

Narcissists hurt their children in pretty much the same ways they hurt other people.  They have scapegoats and they have golden children.  Both end up with psychological damage, regardless of whether they are the narcissistic parent’s favorite or least favorite.  

For the scapegoats, narcissists will get angry with no warning.  The children won’t know what caused the outburst.  Anything can set the narccissist off.  If the children don’t respond in the way he wants them to in his anger, he will escalate things until they are absolutely unbearable.  The narcissist can display his anger with physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, or financial abuse.  It is generally a combination of several types of abuse.

When in a verbal altercation with their children, they will demand answers from them.  When the child(ren) don’t answer the way they want them to (even though the answer was totally honest), they will then attribute the answer they want to the child.  They will assign motives based on their own thinking and not what the child was actually thinking.  And they will be angry that the child didn’t read their mind and answer correctly.  There is no winning.

A father yelling at his young daughter while she hangs her head in fear and shame, representing the concept of will narcissists hurt their children.

Even Golden Children Don’t Escape the Hurt

As for the golden children, things may be a little bit easier, but they do not escape the abuse.  They are used as an example of the narcissist’s “perfect” family in public.  The pressure to look perfect is impossibly hard.  When they don’t live up to the parent’s expectations, there will be hell to pay.  Then they will surely live up to the expectations next time.

The golden child is an extension of the narcissistic parent.  They don’t get to make their own choices.  They will go to the college that their narcissistic parent chooses.  And they will study the major that the parent wants them to.  Once they graduate and begin their career, it will be according to the preferences and approval of their narcissistic parent.  They will always live under the scrutiny of the parent.  The pressure will be unbearable.

Children of Narcissists Don’t Get to Live Their Own Life

That is IF they get to go to college.  Often, children of narcissists are expected to stay home as a young adult to help hold down the fort.  They will take care of the home, the younger siblings, and any other work that the narcissistic parent demands of them.  

Unfortunately, because they have been made to feel guilty if they choose to move on, they stay in the home, trapped and unable to live an independent adult life.

And finally, there is the narcissistic parent that virtually ignores their children.  It is up to the other parent to raise them.  And as adults, they will never be in touch with them, unless there is something they need from them, or they are trying to impress someone with their relationship with their children.  The only time they will relate to their children is when someone is watching and they have something to gain (or lose).

Do Narcissists Hurt Their Children Intentionally?

While the things narcissists use to hurt their children are intentional, I don’t necessarily believe they are saying to themselves, “I think I am going to hurt my kids and make their life miserable.”  I think they may say that when they have been offended by the less-than-perfect behavior of their children.  But that is because in the moment they have to get rid of the shame they feel from being offended by their children’s words or behavior. 

As soon as that shame is gone, the world feels wonderful to him again.  It’s as though he doesn’t remember what he just said or did to his kids.  Just that he took care of things and now life is good again.  

Under some circumstances, I do believe narcissists hurt their children intentionally.  But I don’t think they concentrate on the fact they are hurting their children.  They are just thinking about what they want to get out of their children.  There is no humanity involved.  Just his need to transfer his own shame to his children.

Trying to Avoid Narcissistic Abuse

Children who are victims of this narcissistic mentality will try to stay under the radar.  They will try to predict what the narcissistic parent wants, and then work hard to get it done so they can avoid the anger they will incur if they don’t perform up to standard.  They grow up to be people pleasers that are extremely stressed out and frazzled.  And they feel like they will never measure up.  The psychological damage is extreme.  

I have not even addressed the issue of physical abuse.  Often physical abuse comes quickly, and the children do not see it coming.  In our home, there were face slappings as he would walk casually by.  He intentionally caught them off guard so they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from his slaps.  

Additionally, when the children were younger, he would punish them in embarrassing ways.  Again, he was transferring his own shame to them.  

As the kids get older, the anger and punishments got angrier and more severe.  I think it was because he was feeling that he couldn’t control them as well as he could when he was younger.  So he would step up the consequences of their behavior (not even necessarily bad behavior) so they wouldn’t “cross him” again.

A father standing over his teenage son, who is sitting at a table.  The father is yelling at him, showing one way that narcissists hurt their children.

How do Narcissistic Mothers Hurt Their Children?

Interestingly, the way narcissistic mothers hurt their children is very different than how narcissistic fathers hurt their children.  Even more, how each treats daughters versus sons is also very different.  Let’s take a look at the details.

First, the narcissism itself is virtually the same, whether it is a mother or father.  It is all still about control, lack of empathy, and lack of remorse for the abuse.  The difference is in how it manifests.  

As a general rule, mothers don’t have the ability to physically intimidate their children into submission in the same way that fathers do.  So they need to make up for that lack, usually in the form of persuasion.  Additionally, women tend to be more manipulative, sneakier, and deceptive in craftier ways.  The psychological damage that comes out of this behavior can often be harder to heal from than the more straightforward physical intimidation that characterizes how fathers hurt their children.  Often, “hidden” abuse is harder to tie down and treat than physcial abuse that has obvious proof.

A Little Bit of a Rabbit Trail (Sorry!)

As an ironic side story, my ex used to get so irritated with me when he got home from work and found out that the kids had not been very cooperative with me during the day.  He felt like I should just be able to spank them into submission, “just like he could.”  Or he felt like I could sternly speak to them and they would quake in their boots like they did with him.  I never had that influence over my kids–nor did I want to.

In spite of the fact I wished my kids would listen to me better during the day, I did see them as autonomous people who had dreams, thoughts, and ideas of their own.  I was not the puppet master, and they were not my puppets.

How do Narcissistic Fathers Hurt Their Children?

As I mentioned above, narcissistic fathers hurt their children in much more physical ways than narcissistic mothers.  Children, especially when they are small, are naturally intimidated by the strength and size of their dads.  While mothers are generally thought of as the nurturing part of the parenting team, men are considered the strength and protection.  

In a narcissistic relationship, however, the strength is there but without the protection part.  And kids learn from a very early age to avoid that strength without protection.

The way our home handled the narcissistic father was by avoiding him when he was around.  Sadly, that was not difficult.  He liked his time without the interruptions of the kids.  And over the years, he became less and less involved in life with his kids.  He stopped going to most sports practices, a lot of games, and didn’t play with the kids or talk to them most of the time.  Maybe for a couple of minutes once in a while, or when someone was watching.  

My Kids’ Experiences With Their Narcissistic Father

One of my son’s memories was of his dad asking him a question in our kitchen during an extended family birthday party.  As he started to answer, in the middle of his first sentence, his dad turned around and walked out of the room.  He didn’t even get a small part of the question he asked answered.  It was more about being seen as “interacting” with his son that actually interacting.  And as soon as the thought was gone from his head, he was off to bigger and better things.

Another son would bravely and honestly answer his dad when in a confrontation with him.  Mind you, this was a 15-year-old, nearly 6-foot tall boy at the time.  And in one very mean sentence, my ex would have him silenced, with tears welling up in his eyes.  From the time my ex was removed from our home by our church, this son has never once talked to his dad.  It has been 4 years. 

I will not go into any of the physical incidents that happened between my kids and their dad for the sake of privacy for my kids.

How do Children Heal From Narcissistic Abuse?

I remember telling my counselor that I always thought that as long as I loved my kids to the best of my ability, they would get what they needed to feel loved and well-cared for.  In her very wise words, she explained to me that no matter how many people treat someone well, if they are being abused by someone, it is impossible to not be hurt or damaged by that abuse.  This was so true, especially as my children got older.

So, what do you do for your children?  First of all, if they are in any physical danger, you must get them to safety immediately.  Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  Or you can visit online at

If physical danger is not an issue, counseling is the best and first line of defense.  Giving your children someone to talk to that they know they can trust and confide in them will be life-changing for them.  

If they love to read, get some great books into their hands!  Here are a couple of great ones:



There are a few things you can do at home with your children to further help.  Here are some of the most notable things:

  • Give them grace–life is not black and white for kids any more than it is for us adults!
  • Dedicate time for them, especially when you see they are stressed out.
  • Learn to recognize their signs of being stressed out so you can help them find comfort before the stress gets too big for them to handle.
  • Tell them often that you love them.  Don’t forget that hug!
  • Make sure they know that they can tell you ANYTHING and you won’t be judging them.  And then don’t judge them!
  • Listen to them.  As in hear what they are trying to tell you, not just the words at face value.  Ask questions to make sure you really understand them.  This could be the single most important thing.  If they know that you genuinely care, it will make literally a world of difference for them.


So, this is what I learned about will a narcissist hurt their children and how they will do so.  Don’t blame yourself for the position your kids are in.  But help get them through it!  You can’t relive the past, but you can help all of you find healing for the present and future!

Did you have a narcissistic parent?  How did you handle it?  How has it affected you as an adult?  Feel free to share in the comments below or contact me here if you need to keep your comments private!


Blessings, hugs, and prayers for you,

If you found this article valuable, I think you will also find the following articles valuable:

How Can You Tell if Someone is a Religious Narcissist?

Can Two Narcissists be in Relationship With Each Other?

Understanding the Tactics of a Religious Narcissistic Father 

Dealing With the Trauma of a Religious Narcissistic Mother

When Narcissism Becomes Pathological

Will God Punish a Narcissist?

What to do When Your Narcissist Threatens You

The Bible Used as a Weapon Against You:  You Can Overcome! 

What Does the Bible Say About Abusive Husbands?

The Link Between Spiritual Abuse and Narcissism

Why Narcissists Want to Apear Godly

What Healing From a Narcissist Looks Like

Why Narcissists Love Going to Church 

How Religious Narcissists Think

Are Narcissists Evil?

Narcissistic Behavior:  What to Look Out For

Praying for Your Narcissistic Husband

Are Spiritual Narcissists Overt or Covert? 

Religious Trauma Syndrome:  How to Preserve Your Spiritual Journey

How to Navigate Religious Narcissistic Parents

What Happens to the Soul of a Narcissist?

How to Heal From a Spiritual Narcissist

Can You Maintain a Relationship With a Spiritual Narcissist? 

Can Narcissists Have a Spiritual Awakening?

How Will God Judge a Narcissist?

When the Church Says to Move Back in With Your Narcissist

What Can we Say to a Christian Friend Who’s Divorcing?

Why Does God Hate Divorce? 

12 Ways the Church Helps Narcissists Abuse Their Victims

When Your Church Believes the Narcissist’s Lies

23 Reasons Why Narcissists are Drawn to the Church

What Does the Spiritual Narcissist do When You try to Leave?

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

Are Narcissists Demon Possessed?

What Does the Bible say About Narcissism?

Can a Narcissist be a Christian?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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