9 Low-Key Signs That You Dealt With Narcissistic Abuse As A Kid

These tells suggest childhood narcissistic abuse.

Signs you dealt with narcissistic abuse as a kid Stan Horia's Images, ridvan_celik | Canva

In certain scenes I’ve been in, it’s almost a given that you have (or had, in my case) serious issues with your family. Most of the people in these crowds were runaways. Those who were able to get out and make a living were low-to-no contact. If I had to guess, I’d say that around half of the people in these crowds had a narcissistic parent. How did I know? After drinks, they’d always open up about it. Or, they’d flat-out tell me.


Over time, I started to notice something interesting about the kids of narcissistic parents. They often had very similar traits. These are the things that usually tip me off to a childhood spent around a narcissist.

Here are 9 low-key signs that you dealt with narcissistic abuse as a kid:

1. Perfectionism

Narcissistic parents tend to view their children as extensions of themselves. Since narcissists demand that everyone sees them as perfect, that often means that their children have to be “perfect” too.

I’ve seen a lot of young adults have meltdowns over bad grades in college. I’ve also seen these same young adults struggle with eating disorders while also doing their best to be the popular “in” kid at school. Even when they go no-contact, kids of narcissistic parents often end up having a perfectionistic streak. It’s not uncommon for them to have mini panic attacks over a bad review.


RELATED: 4 Ways To Stop Letting Your Perfectionism Control Your Life — For Good

2. People-pleasing

Being exposed to narcissistic abuse seems to be the easiest way to turn someone into a people-pleaser. This is because narcissists train you to believe that love should be conditional — or that you have to “earn” it as a kid. Narcissists have this weird way of getting you hooked on validation. Your internal self-esteem is nonexistent after a while. If you ever met a person who has a hard time saying “no” and does a lot of people-pleasing, this is probably what made them that way. Children of narcissistic parents don’t want validation. They need it. And trust me, a lot of them will go to crazy lengths to get it.

3. Deadbeat behavior

So, there seem to be two types of outcomes for kids of narcissistic parents. The first one is perfectionism. The other one deals with the type of people I clicked with in this scene: deadbeatness. In other words, these are the kids who either “were perfect” or just wanted to rebel against a narcissist’s image by any means possible. A lot of the people who I met in this one particular music scene were “deadbeats.”


On paper, they had nothing wrong with them. Up until high school or college, they had good grades. Then, they rebelled against the image their parents had. Then, it became a matter of them just being unwilling to do anything with their lives. In theory, they should have been able to get a job and lead a normal life. In practice, they often did little more than use drugs, get in trouble, and get angry at anyone suggesting any form of self-improvement. I don’t think they even realize that they might be acting out against their parent's expectations.

4. Avoiding relationships

I noticed this the most when I’d get into relationships with the child of a narcissist. Because they saw how their family’s dynamics were, commitment was rarely a possibility for them. I’d always hear the same thing, “I saw how my mom treated my dad. I don’t want commitment. It scares me.” Yep. You can thank a narcissistic parent for that.

RELATED: How Your Mom's Narcissism Inadvertently Destroys Your Love Life


5. Little narcissist

This is a more tragic outcome, but I’ve seen it more in fundie families where one parent (or both) is an extreme narcissist. Narcissists have this way of breeding more narcissists. I’ve noticed that this most frequently tends to be the case when spiritual abuse is mixed with narcissistic abuse. When you’re indoctrinated by a narcissist who makes it seem like they somehow hold the key to getting into heaven, they are going to do everything possible to act like their parent. These people can be so deep in the rabbit hole they truly believe everything they say. It’s a wild thing to see. But it doesn’t just happen with religious narcissists.

Excessive criticism (or praise) and high standards can also create narcissists. All of these actions are often done by narcissistic parents to their kids. So … it’s a thing. (No. This is backed by modern science.)

6. Substance use

Maybe it’s just because it was a scene that was notorious for drug use, or maybe it’s because I was just that into hard drugs. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t help but notice how often drugs and alcohol are used as a way to cope with things. A childhood wrecked by narcissistic family members is no exception to this rule. From what I saw, many (if not most) adult children of narcissists go through a phase where they get hooked on something. Anything that can offer a chemical hug is going to be crazily alluring to a child of a narcissist. This is why I noticed that both ecstasy and benzos tended to be unusually popular with them. Be careful who you offer that benzo to!

7. Fawning on abusers

Narcissists crave validation and attention. They yearn for applause. When they get abusive, children often learn to calm them down by (you guessed it!) fawning over them. Watch what happens when someone is mean to them or talks down to them. Does that person fawn over that person or give them even more preferential treatment? That’s often a “tell” that they had a narcissist in the family.


A narcissistic parent tends to train people around them to get fawning behavior or enabling behavior. This behavior tends to bleed over into other scenarios — especially at work or in bad relationships. A child of a narcissist often ends up in abusive or codependent relationships. It’s not just bad luck; it’s their view of that behavior being normal in life. After seeing these people “in action,” I don’t believe the common trope that they hate themselves. Rather, I believe that they haven’t figured out how to stand up for themselves or whether they’re in the wrong. I see it as the result of extreme gaslighting and a lack of training on how to maintain healthy boundaries. I mean, that’s literally what narcissists do. They take away your self-defense skills (or prevent you from learning them) and make you think it’s your fault.

RELATED: 8 Long-Lasting Effects Of Having Narcissistic Parents, According To A Harvard Psychologist

8. No talking

When you’re dealing with a lot of trauma, chances are high that you will not want to talk about it unless you feel you have to. And even then, it’s often done with a smattering of mind-altering substances. People who were abused by their parents will often avoid discussing family stuff. If they do bring up their parents, not a nice word will be said. Or, you might hear the classic phrase, “We don’t talk anymore.” More than one person I knew in this cadre admitted to me on the down-low that they lied and said their parents died. Their parents were alive. They just refused to see them again.

9. All apologies

Yes, I saw this too. Most people who were children of narcissists (or just dealing with a lot of narcissistic people) apologize at the drop of a hat — often for things totally out of their control. Narcissists blame others for their problems, even when it doesn’t make sense. This results in the type of person who apologizes constantly for things that have nothing to do with them. Oh, your team lost? “Sorry!” Oh, you got sick? “I’m so sorry!" Did you get fired by a higher-up? “Sorry. Sorry! SORRY!” Of course, the person in question doesn’t have a reason to apologize. It’s a defense reflex, just like everything else on this list.


If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse at the hands of a narcissist, you are not alone. 

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong. 

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.


RELATED: Narcissistic Parents Assign Roles to Their Children — Which Is Yours?

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer based out of Red Bank, New Jersey whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, New Theory Magazine, and others.