by Stephanie Kriesberg

Worryland:  Familiar Territory for Women with Narcissistic Parents: Caroline’s diamond solitaire glitters on her clenched left hand.  She’s engaged to Ryan, a man she truly loves.  However, Caroline’s happiness comes with a warning:  her mother, Trudy.  Already Trudy has told Caroline that if she invites her future mother-in-law to go wedding dress shopping with them, then Trudy is not coming.  She’s the mother, and it’s her day.  Worry keeps Caroline awake at night. Maybe she and Ryan should just elope.

If you’re a woman who has a parent with narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic traits, then Caroline’s story  might feel familiar.

Why do women with narcissistic parents often feel so anxious? Second guess themselves?  Why do they disregard their own needs?

The Emotional Inheritance for Women with Narcissistic Parents

Parents with narcissistic traits have difficulty understanding and accepting their children’s feelings.  Research has found that people with narcissistic traits have difficulty handling their own emotions.  They become anxious, depressed, or angry when they feel rejected or even slightly criticized. On top of it, narcissistic parents lack self-awareness and can’t take responsibility for how their behavior impacts their children. Their children stand guard, reading their parents’ emotional temperatures.  Growing up like vigilant, undercover CIA agents, it’s not surprising that children of narcissistic parents become anxious adults.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.  When you learn to set boundaries with your narcissistic parent, over time your worry will start to diminish.  This is not an easy process!  It takes practice, patience, and courage.  With the right tools, learning to set boundaries with your narcissistic parent is like establishing other healthy habits, such as exercise and getting enough sleep.

The Beauty of Boundaries

What is a boundary, anyway?  Simply put, a boundary is an acknowledgement of what you want and don’t want, and how you are willing to be treated and not treated. 

Setting boundaries can be very anxiety-producing for women with narcissistic parents, especially when they are setting those boundaries with their parents.

Here are the steps:

1. Identify what you want. This step might be easier said than done, since putting other people’s needs before your own could be your default setting.

Remember Caroline?  Caroline wanted to enjoy wedding dress shopping.  She wanted to include her fiancé’s mother.  Caroline decided to write down how she felt and what she wanted.  This helped her see that what she felt and wanted was reasonable and understandable.  

2. Identify the feelings that come up when you identify what you want.

Core feelings for women with narcissistic parents are often guilt, anger, and shame. Remind yourself that no matter how you feel-- FEELINGS PASS.  To most people, happy moments feel fleeting; negative moments feel interminable.  

When negative feelings come up, notice where you feel them in your body.  Your knotted neck?  Your sour stomach?  Your hot hands?  In your mind’s eye, find a color that is soothing to you. Breathe that color into those parts of your body. Next,  allow the negative feelings to flow away, using an image that works for you-- waves flowing out to sea, clouds drifting away in the sky, a bird soaring in the sky.

3. Decide what the boundary is.

Caroline told her mother when she was going wedding dress shopping with her future mother-in-law.  She told her she was welcome to join them. She also told her mother how she expected her to behave and that she would have to leave if she violated Caroline’s code of conduct.

It’s hard to try out new behaviors, especially ones that make us feel anxious.  It can help to remember that anxiety is actually a very predictable process.  It tells us change is too hard.  Something terrible will happen.  And worst of all, we certainly don’t have the capacity to deal with whatever that terrible thing is.  

The goal is to change your relationship with worry. The relationship is no longer “me versus worry”-- a relationship with a winner and a loser.  Instead,  as you accept your feelings and know what you want, worry becomes something you can face and handle.  

Dr. Stephanie Kriesberg In The News: 

About the Author

Stephanie Kriesberg_0.jpgDr. Stephanie Kriesberg is a licensed psychologist with twenty-five years’ experience treating children, teens, and adults. She has a private practice in Concord, Massachusetts. She is an expert in treating adults with narcissistic parents.

Dr. Kriesberg provides individual therapy and family guidance, and offers workshops on issues related to narcissism.

I realized after my divorce that I married my mother. She was a narcissist and so is my ex. I think since I grew up in that atmosphere, it felt “normal” and somewhat “comfortable”. Would you agree?

I realized years ago that my mother is a narcissist. It was very sad and difficult for me to accept. It does change all your other relationships. Personally, I developed serious trust issues and it almost made me lose faith in humanity. It also made me vulnerable to other narcissist, because being "raised and "loved " like that became the norm for me. The saddest part is realizing and accepting the fact narcissist are incapable of love. Being raised by a narcissistic parent gives you a warped sense and meaning of what love really is. Its confusing. Thanx to my therapist I'm picking up the pieces and making myself whole. Its extremely difficult and I sometimes get angry because it's so unfair that I have to fix myself not ever been whole, but I acknowledge those feelings and then I pick myself up and hope and pray that one day I will finally be whole

I totally would agree, I find myself a people pleaser and I enjoy making my abusive boyfriend happy with no expections of anyone doing anything for me. Yes I am used to it and feel comfortable there.

I've been where you are. People pleaser, allowing others to walk all over me . Insecure, indecisive, etc, the list goes on. I recently turned 37 and for 36 yrs of my life I too was somewhat comfortable with it. I say 'somewhat' because my soul didn't agree with me. I was complacent because I was brainwashed to believe my narcissistic mother's lies. But something deep inside of me said " this is not ok, you're not happy", this is abuse! No one can tell you what to do ,only you have the power to change things if you really want to and if you're brave enough to stand firm because, trust me, walking away is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life and everyday comes with more challenges because they won't let you go without torturing you to the point of wanting to go back, the guilt , shame and sadness can consume you

I was engaged recently to a man I thought understood and loved me enough to support me, knowing that I was raised by a narcissistic mom. A few months later he started showing his true colours, he was overly dominant, made decisions for me, controlled me, isolated me from my family and friends. I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells. I realized that he never listened to anything I said but only heard what he wanted to hear. He claimed to know me better than I know myself and believed that I was incapable of doing anything on my own. He has a grandiose image of himself and never apologized for anything. I would apologize for everything, most of the time things I knew I was not at fault for. He constantly contradicted himself and if I confronted him, he would get blazingly angry or use 'silent treatment '! I woke up one day and realized that I was in love and about to marry my 'mother'. Seeing a therapist made me realize that I fell for him because I was used to being treated like that and it felt normal. As humans we become used to certain things because we don't know any other way of being treated, even though deep down inside we know it's wrong. I left my him and although I never thought about 'going no contact ' with my mother, one day I suddenly had an out of body experience and I exploded. I have not seen or spoken to either of them since that day, and it's been very difficult but although I still have bad days I continue to grow stronger everyday. I recently found out that my ex visits my mom and stepfather regularly lol . I'm glad I ended things before we got married, i dodged a missile for sure because he also has severe anger issues and threatened me twice. I've made peace and I've forgiven my mother, she just cannot be apart of my life anymore. As for my ex, I still harbor some anger because he was so convincing and I trusted him

Thank you for sharing your story. It was powerful, beautiful, and inspiring. Glad to hear your doing better without them! Sending love 💕

I'm 3/4 the way out, but not yet okay with being happy. Gonna get there, without the narcissists.

To this day I feel like I should defer everything (money, etc) to my narcissistic mother's benefit, and that the dementia she has trumps my wellbeing. I was almost ready to give her my resources and realized... no, that's not okay, she threw me out when I became inconvenient to her relationship with husband number whatever and had a pattern of giving "not enough" to everyone, even the last spouse who just died.

I don't want to admit it but I hate her. And I hate myself even more.

That sounds EXACTLY like my story. Grew up with an abusive mom, had a string of bad relationships & one particular guy I fell in love with I was ALWAYS the blame & the one apologising when I didn't do anything wrong, if I got mad at him or called him out on something I would get the silent treatment he was VERY controlling emotionally. He was NEVER there for me when I need him the most. I eventually got tired of being treated that way & left. & put the pieces together & realized he was similar to my mom & he was a "lesson" in my life for the childhood trauma I went through. I forgave my mom for my childhood, tried to "start new" basically but came to the realization im better off without her in my life so I don't talk to her anymore & don't ever want to again. Im now healed & whole & just want a better life & healthy relationships

That's the saddest thing, it becomes normal to worry about things and feel anxious, on doing that we overthink instead of relaxing, trusting your own judgement, and realising we can cope with whatever life throws at us, and find solutions to problems, that cause us to have a negative take or opinion about a subject or way forward. I was worrying too much and stressing myself out about my maths class, overthinking and trying too hard. In other words overworking myself
I found out that this was the fastest way to loose not win when studying a subject like this. This year I am more chilled out about it, I don't try too hard, or let maths intimidate me or make me think it got the better if me by me worrying to much. I am doing well now, that I am more relaxed and it's all good. I am learning more by doing this, mind you it also helps to have a good teacher, that takes it slow and steady away. A teacher that does not move too quickly on to another topic, until the class has understood the topic at hand.

I live in the same home as my narcissistic dad (not really by choice) when ironically I've been trying to get away from him for my entire life. Everywhere he goes he causes conflict and then manipulates you to think you're in the wrong when you confront him with your feelings. My entire life I was bullied into doing what he wanted me to do. I really loved track, but he wanted me in theatre so he would ignore me and treat me poorly if I didn't comply.

When I was about to go to college, he came out of the closet as a homosexual and I wasn't allowed to have feelings if they were negative. I wasn't mad at him for being gay, but I was mad he lied, broke up my family, and lost my home. I know being gay isn't a choice, but he dragged other people into his misery. He trashed our family's finances prior to that and sent me off to college dazed, confused, and broke.

I resent him deeply for all of the pain that he's caused. Every decision he has made in his life was done because he chose it. The rest of us had to suffer through his mental health problems, drinking, and anger.

I am now an incredibly anxious, depressed woman and I feel trapped and hopeless that I have to deal with him, but reading this article has given faith that I can and am completely allowed to set boundaries since he doesn't have any. I know this will cause some discourse, but reading this has made me realize I'm not a bad person for wanting to take care of myself.

Thank you all and best of luck in your endeavors!

I have a question. Do you know or maybe know info to find resources and possible intense treatment in this exact type of abuse and trauma? I am having to move to Chicago just to escape all this, and the little southern state I live in doesn't recognize or believe in this type of abuse so I can't get help here. I have to be the one after an already lifetime of abuse leave the only place I've ever known just to be safe. So my own state is helping revictimize me because I've spent countless hours trying to get help. So if anyone has suggestions or information on the best places to get help I would certainly appreciate it so much. As of this moment I chose Chicago because it is the closest big city to where I am from but I have to move to a big city that has major public transportation because I don't have personal transportation. I would love and be willing to go to New York but I've never been there so I would need someone or a place to definitely help me learn to navigate through that type of life. I am a little southern girl about to walk into the unknown in hopes of finding what life is like and hopefully heal and for the first time feel safe and happy.

Any city has bus . and Now UBER. You need to be careful their is new device it's a button screamer... Help is just where you are. Online.. Keep reading about Narcissist. And stay away from Drunks

Your identity was based on that identity given by your father. Same thing I had to go through with my parents. They are both narcissistic. But, hey! As Jesus says: the truth shall set you free! Now you know what your problem is! Is not you, it was your dad!
If you ever need someone to talk to, there is a church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Journey Church, not so far away from Chicago. I’m Ivana Mendoza. We could ask for help from people in the church. Many understand very well what happens when you are born to a narcissistic family. I hope everything goes well with you!!!

I have a mom that treats me like Cinderella and treats my sister like a Queen. When she comes around me it's like she hates me always rolling her eyes and be ready to pick a fight and go tell my sister i started it and then my sister text or call me and curse me out. She always tell me i look and act just like my father and she couldn't stand him he passed away in 2013. She tried herbest to turn me against my father once upon atime i did until i found out the truth. It was her the entire time. My uncle left me a house a
Which is her brother a
In the year of 2001 and she got fighting mad about itand told me i should have given the house to his sisters and brothers but i didnt

I am the scapegoat of my family. I have two sisters and two brothers and they have nothing to do with me unless I allow them to bully me so I spent a decade searching for my Godmother (who I hadn't seen or heard from for 30 years) with the hope that I could have a relationship with her to replace the family that I was born into. As soon as my mother died my father pursued a relationship with my Godmother and they are now a couple. It feels like he has replaced me in her life. She no longer calls or bothers with me and now he is friends with her children. I hoped I could be friends with them since I knew them when I was a child. No one seems to understand how I feel about my father dating my Godmother. I will never be able to have a relationship with her except through my narcissistic father. He had a temper tantrum on Friday night and he was yelling at me that I need psychiatric help because he said I am the only one that isn't happy for him.

Thank you Stephanie for your article. Today I had the all too well familiar crisis with my mom. She lives far away on another continent but a 5 min talk can take me to a roller coater. After a fight about how she thinks I have to lead my life I feel so depressed that I feel suicidal. She can kill me in the heart saying how weak I was and how I can't manage my husband and my family. Also another argument is that my husband has made me bad but when I used to live with my parents I was so good person but now I turned into a bad person. I am so frustrated. If I confess about my fights with my mother to my husband he gets so furious that it doesn't get better. When my mother does not acknoledge my feelings I try to be respectful because I will regret later if I hurt her feelings, but my heart is bleeding. After today's fight I told her that she won't hear from me soon. I know this is also cultural problem because I have lived in North America for 12 years and I became more indivialistic in a sense I don't comply with other peoples' opinion but my parents live in eastern Europe and they expect from their kids to be obidient and respectful without the other way around. However my husband's parents are from eastern Europe and are not the same. My mother is the boss in my family and she thinks that I should boss around my husband. If I am not leading the family, I am powerless in her eyes.

This is my sad experince. Thanks again for your good words. At least writing you about my frustration Is helping me to relief my sad heart.


Lets be grateful that work brings money to families.
Unfortunately, I have been someone who left the family die to a bully of a brother that male psychiatrists were willing to overlook. He has apologized in poor health since our younger years, but continues to lie and manipulate due to legal and addiction counselor education.
Our father likes to make friends of people by sharing the negatives of each family member with another. I have declined to listen about my brother; however, when I explain that my brother treats me awfully in words when no one else is around, and when I am passionate and push the limits and stand assertively up for myself during disagreement, my 80 year old father, who lives near my ailing 50 year old brother, says that he so “loves” me and that during our email discussions I must have a split personality or bipolar disorder. Guys and dolls, this is crazy-making by a 1960s parent/doctor who wants only happiness in his life, instead of strife and disagreement. He removed me from my 21 year olds insurance policy without discussing his thoughts, this decision, his grandson’s plan or anything after I clearly stated this was my contribution to the situation. My son used laced drugs and got a diagnosis of bipolar. I choose never to use drugs, but have had true disagreement and concerns over this “power over” attitude. And then I am told that “love, you must clearly have a split personality or bipolar disorder”. Uh. Nope. ‘Just was assertive to you father about needing collaboration about this decision before you made it. Sickness of power is wrong here.

Being aware of the problems is the first step to clarity.

My father recently died, and only that made me realize what a narcissitstic mother I have. She was only interested in transferring his money to her account when he lay dying, and claimed they had agreed that he should have no gravestone. I used to be the golden child, but recently my unemployed brother has become one, and I am now the scapegoat. However, I have been able to start therapy finally, and feel like I have a chance at recovery. My father was far from perfect, but I feel bitter that my mom sabotaged our relationship by constantly maligning him. However, I have started to feel sorry for my mom, with age she has lost her court, and sounds like a broken record now. I see through her manipulation attempts, and I do not really care for her that much any more. Oh, and to top it all, she was a psychologist. It would be funny if it were not so sad.

I've just learnt I'm the scapegoat of narcisstic parents n my sister the golden1. We both struggled a lifetime or heroin-meth weed-alcohol-law breaking from before adolecant hood in early adulthood then short & long relapses since. Thanku so much for ur insight educated point of veiw. Until last wk I had no idea about wat had been going our whole life-i did but I couldnt word it being quite uneducated. I started study narcism n other physcologocal stuf about a wk or so ago now I cant stop. Now I have to continue so much more to understand. Especially considering my sister studied phcyscology at uni- so did my mum but mum dropped out. Anyhow I'm rambling now-but if u anything particular I hope I find it- I'm sure to be reading more


October 28, 2019

In reply to by Gemima Hunter

I was the golden child and my brother the scapegoat. I studied psychology too but dropped out and move out of the house when my brother sexually assaulted me. I think he was trying to get my narcissistic mother's attention. He did, she completely abandoned me emotionally and till today pretend that that never happened. That's when I realized who and what she is. I continued having a distant relationship with her but she would always insist I make peace with my brother. I did forgive him yrs ago but kept a safe distance from him. He acknowledged what he did and asked for forgiveness. Silly me , I thought he had changed only to find out recently that he still has a sick obsession with him. I almost married a narcissist recently, I left him as soon as I realized that I was about to marry my mother. My brother still cannot stand the thought of me with any man and will threaten men that even shows the slightest of interest in me . Our mother is well aware of everything but still covers our family secrets with the most outrages of lies. Long story short - I left my ex( who by the way still visits my mother), I went no contact with her and my brother. I have an amazing psychologist, if it was not for her I would probably be dead. Unfortunately narcissism can be hereditary. I told my psychologist about my fear about possibly becoming like my mother. As long as you're honest with yourself about these fears and you can acknowledge the possibility, you're still ok. I inherited some of my mother's DNA, and would sometimes get worried when I say or do something like her ( omg, I sound just like her ) etc. Thats is normal because she is my mother but I know I wont turn into her as long as I'm honest with myself and others and acknowledge those moments .

My mother will not engage with me as she feels I have treated my father badly. He has controlled and bullied people all his life and I decided not to tolerate this any more. He tried everything to get to me and when he failed shouted and screamed. Then begged. Then cried and got angry again. At no time did he admit his faults. He hasnt been honest with my mother and she is not interested in hearing my side of the story. I am sad but relieved at the same time that I have had the courage to break ties. Naturally he has been charm itself to others and of course I am the ungrateful daughter.

I have had limited contact with my mom for 8 years. My mom's narcissistic behavior is extreme. She has been trying to control my life and the decisions I make for many years. When I was 38, she became so jealous when I would spend time with my boyfriend. When I chose to spend time with my boyfriend, she got so angry, she called up my employer, at the time, performed a smear campaign and got me fired from my job. A few months after that, I told her that my boyfriend, son & I were moving a few hours away. She told me she would " get me " . She took me to court and she has shared custody of my son. My mom lied to the Judge about me. She had an attorney. I did not. I am 48 and my Mom is 73. Although she shares custody with me, the Judge awarded her primary physical custody. I am on here today, since yesterday, out of the blue, she started talking about what my autistic son will be doing when he is 21. She knows that it hurts me when she mentions about that. There is no good reason why my son shouldn't be with me. My mom has hinted on several occasions, that I can always move back home. I miss my son so much, but I will never move back home with her. I told her that keeping my son will not bring me closer to her. It has done the opposite. My Mom is trying to control me, by keeping my son. My son is the true victim in this situation. My mom keeps me in the dark about my son. She refuses to send me school reports and his medical records to me. At this time, I decided to go no contact with my Mom. My mom may have gained a grandson, but she lost her daughter. I pray that I can reunite with my son someday. I will not permit my mom to use my son as leverage to get me to do what she wants. My mom loathes my independence.

None of your b…

November 9, 2019

I’m sorry but it didn’t help me. I’m 16. You used a woman. Did you not take in consideration they like to criticize you and shame you when you try to be defensive for your feelings ? It’s no point in setting boundaries. She will always win. She will make me feel like I’m stupid for even trying because what she says is true. How then can you defend that? You can’t. You just try everything you can to make her Shutup and leave you alone. Even though she will always find something to say. Don’t you understand that? Maybe not because you never been in the position of a narcissistic daughter.

I feel alone, ashamed, saddened, depressed, feelings of guilt and no way out. I am 47 I live with my narcissistic mother. My husband lives with me as well but we are not permitted to live as so and must sleep separately. We both work but I must come home afterwards or I get screamed at. I get told everyday how she hates my job I should be there taking care of her and I should get more money for her. I dont get any of my check she controls the bank account, I did try and put in my own account and I got screamed at for trying that. When I say scream at it is not your normal scream it is full on verbal attack.
My husband and I went out one day as we never get to spend time together and she literally called every half hour yelling at me where am I the dogs need to go to bathroom I need to get back here now and so on. I have contemplated suicide before my husband in name only had been my rock and friend through all this and if it wasnt for him I wouldn't be here.
I want to break away from her I dont know how, with all the years of brain wash, verbal assaults, temper tantrums, threats and so forth I dont know what to do.
Everyone outside of the house thinks she is normal, but she shows a different side. Shw constantly puts me n my husband down with name calling, I have tried helping around the house and just get told I'm stupid dont know how to do things right, and I get told I'm fat.
I want to.break away but dont know how, dont think I even have courage it.

8 months ago I left my mom and didn't really want to take her phone calls. I even blocked her sometimes... She was super annoying by putting me in a situation to make me feel guilty if I don't want to do whatever she wants.

She's very religious as well, therefore whenever I pointed her weirdness she will say it's not her. Its the spirit.

I said, what? How come you threatened to suicide and it's the spirit? Are u got possessed? I don't think so...

The most interesting that everything I said about her problems, she always able to manipulate it and blame me. I was like... What?

Right now, I still live with her, but actually eagerly to move out. But, I'm worry she will call me an unrespectful daughter because she's sick and I don't want to live with her.

Omg! It's hard to have a NPD parent. Hoping I can solve it soon.