Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can strain relationships. Setting boundaries or limiting contact can help a person manage their relationship with a parent who has NPD.

Having a mother or parent with NPD can affect a person in many ways. For example, the behaviors of a parent can directly affect their children’s development. A person’s self-esteem can also become linked to the approval or disapproval of their parent with NPD.

This relationship can lead a person to experience mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. It can also lead to isolation and issues regulating emotions and maintaining relationships.

This article explains the signs of a parent with NPD. It also defines NPD and discusses its impact on relationships. Finally, it goes over some tips for coping with a parent with NPD.

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The signs of NPD can vary from person to person. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), a handbook mental health care professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions, states that NPD includes a persistent pattern of:

  • grandiosity
  • need for admiration
  • lack of empathy

These signs typically onset by young adulthood and include at least five of the following:

  • a grandiose sense of self-importance, such as exaggerating achievements and expecting recognition of superiority without completing the achievements
  • a preoccupation with fantasies, such as success, power, brilliance, perfect love, and beauty
  • a belief they are special, including the belief they can only be understood by and associated with other people or institutions that are also special
  • a requirement of excessive admiration
  • a sense of entitlement, such as unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
  • an ability to be exploitive and take advantage of others to achieve their own goals
  • a lack of empathy and unwillingness to identify with the needs of others
  • a belief others are envious of them or a persistent feeling of envy of others
  • a persistent showing of arrogant and haughty attitudes and behaviors

Someone with NPD may also have a sense of vulnerability, including:

  • depressed mood
  • insecurity
  • hypersensitivity
  • shame
  • identification with victimhood

People with NPD are sensitive to criticism and failure. It can make them feel defeated or humiliated. They may lash out with rage or contempt. They may also respond viciously with a counterattack. The person with NPD may withdraw or avoid situations where they may fail.

A note on diagnosing others with NPD

Only qualified mental health professionals can diagnose NPD.

A diagnosis can only be made after a mental health professional thoroughly evaluates a person’s psychological, social, and biological factors. NPD and other personality disorders require mental health professionals to look at long-term patterns of functioning.

If someone, a professional or otherwise, jumps to conclusions or makes hasty judgments about NPD, it can lead to treating a person in a manner that is not appropriate or effective.

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NPD is a complex personality disorder. It often co-occurs with other mental health conditions and personality disorders.

Due to the challenges of diagnosing NPD and the nature of the condition, it is not known exactly how many people have NPD. Some research reports 0.5–5% of the general population may have NPD, and 1–15% of populations in clinical settings may have NPD.

NPD can cause people to have difficulty regulating their self-esteem. This may mean they require constant praise. They may also tend to devalue others to maintain a sense of superiority.

Conditions that commonly co-occur with NPD include:

  • major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • persistent depressive disorder
  • anorexia nervosa
  • substance use disorder
  • another personality disorder, such as:
    • histrionic personality disorder (HPD)
    • borderline personality disorder (BPD)
    • paranoid personality disorder (PPD)

Having a parent with NPD can affect a person in various ways. These can include experiencing a fawn response, low self-esteem, and mimicking certain behaviors.

Fawn response

A fawn response is when a person acts in ways or does things to please or appease another person. This response is often born out of trauma or persistent rejection.

A child with a parent who has NPD may often feel rejected by that parent. This may be from NPD causing the parent to devalue the child or reject their needs due to a lack of empathy or a sense of self-importance.

Someone experiencing a fawn response may find it difficult or impossible to put themselves and their needs ahead of others. They can also lose their sense of identity in caring for others.

Signs of fawn response may include:

  • an inability to say no
  • fluid, changing values in situations that may be intimate
  • a combined feeling of guilt and anger
  • emotionally blanking out
  • unexpected and unusual eruptions of emotion
  • a feeling of responsibility for the reactions of others
  • the feeling that no one cares

Low self-esteem

A child’s self-esteem can be directly linked to the approval or disapproval of a parent.

For example, if a parent with NPD is happy and showers the child with admiration, that child may have a higher sense of self-esteem. However, if the parent is not as pleased with the child and places the blame for their unhappiness on the child, the child may experience a lower sense of self-esteem.

A constant sense of rejection from a parent with NPD can also make a child feel as though they are not good enough. This can further lower their self-esteem.


To try to please a parent with NPD or to cope with the situation, a child may begin to mimic certain behaviors. For example, they may try to make themselves feel or appear as superior and important as their parent.

Mimicking feelings of superiority can make the child feel as though they are sharing something with their parent. They may also feel as though mimicking these behaviors will give them the acceptance and love of their parent.

A person can learn various ways to cope with a parent who has NPD. These may include avoiding or limiting contact with them. However, some people may want to maintain contact with their parent with NPD. There are safe and healthy ways to do this as well.

Avoid or limit contact

Someone with a parent who has NPD will generally learn problem-solving skills at some point to help cope with their situation. These skills may come from therapy or be self-taught.

One way a person may cope with their parent who has NPD is through isolation. This may be via geographical isolation, such as moving away from the parent. It may also be from isolating the parent from the individual’s life. For instance, a person may block all contact from the parent.

Isolation from a parent with NPD may be helpful in healing. However, it can also be difficult because it can cause conflicting emotions. A person can work with a therapist to overcome these challenging emotions and begin to heal.

Tips for maintaining contact

For some people, isolating themselves from their parent with NPD may not be the right choice. There are ways a person can maintain contact with the parent in a safe and healthy manner.

Build a support system

People may not get their emotional needs met by a parent with NPD. This is where a strong support network comes in.

A person can foster healthy relationships with people they can trust and lean on for support and community. These may be friends, other family members, or mental health professionals.

Set boundaries

It is important to set and maintain boundaries within the relationship with the parent who has NPD. For example, a person can tell the parent that if there is an outburst, negative attack, or other unhealthy behaviors, the person retains the right to walk away or pause the relationship.

It can be difficult to set boundaries, especially with a parent. Again, working with a mental health professional and leaning on support from others can help.

Gray rock method

Gray rocking, or the gray rock method, is a method some people use when managing abusive or manipulative behavior. The idea behind gray rocking is that a person makes themselves uninteresting and unengaged to the point that the other person loses interest.

This may mean refusing to engage with the parent with NPD. Examples include:

  • keeping interactions short and limited
  • giving one-word answers
  • distracting oneself to make it easier to disengage or show little emotion
  • offering as little personal information as possible

If a person chooses to try gray rocking, it is important that they do not let the other person know they are doing it. This can cause gray rocking to lose effectiveness.

A person who has a parent with NPD may find that it affects different aspects of their life. It can affect their relationship with their parent as well as their own mental health.

There are ways to cope with a parent who has NPD. These may include avoiding or limiting contact, setting boundaries, or trying gray rocking.

A person with a parent who has NPD may find speaking with a mental health professional can help them learn ways to manage their relationship and cope with the effects.