The Well-Versed Child of a Narcissist

light in the darkThe well-versed child of a narcissist knows never to get his hopes up.  He grows up believing that it’s better never to count on people.

If he trusts at all, he’ll only trust a handful of folks.  Often he’ll choose to trust only a few close friends instead of relations.


The well-versed child of a narcissist develops a wicked sense of humor.  She’s been laughing at dysfunction since she was old enough to understand it.

She’s able to see what makes people tick.  She knows who to stay away from, and who to develop relationships with, believing that her energy ought to be saved for a select group.  She won’t have a lot of friends.  She doesn’t want to risk being vulnerable.  But for those in her inner circle, she’ll give her whole heart.


The well-versed child of a narcissist learns at an early age that his preferences don’t matter.  He’ll grow up making excuses for liking certain things.  He’ll often apologize for taking up space, or taking too long to tie his shoes, or say he’s sorry for wanting a different book.  It’ll take a special person to convince him that he matters, that his preferences are as important as the next guy’s, and that he’s entitled to take up as much space in this world as anyone else.  Until that person comes along, he’ll feel like an inconvenience.


The well-versed child of a narcissist sees through image.  She isn’t impressed by status.  She wouldn’t walk across the street to meet a pop star.  She grew up surrounded by smoke and mirrors.  Only authenticity speaks to her.  She is not at all interested in the games people play.


The well-versed child of a narcissist can walk through a crowd and immediately identify the martyrs, the drama queens, the victims and the narcissists.  He grew up with the dark side of the human psyche.  Nothing surprises him anymore.  If he’s lucky, he won’t always expect the worst out of folks.  If she’s wary, she’ll pass up many relationships, believing she has to dig deep before she finds the good in a person.


If the well-versed child of a narcissist calls you his friend, you are unique.  You’ve passed his tests.  You’ve proven you can be trusted.  You’ve shown that you are genuine.  You are true to your word and your sense of humor can keep up with his.   If you are the trusted friend of a child of a narcissist, you’ve been given a rare opportunity to witness courage, strength and resiliency.

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  1. I hope that’s the case. The alternative (“poorly read child”?) is the one that:
    a) doesn’t trust anyone, because he/she has had their trust broken too many times, and/or
    b) is over-eager to please, and becomes a magnet for future narcissists, and/or
    c) becomes a narcissist themselves.

    Given the alternatives, the cautious, grounded, and resilient child that you describe sounds like a pretty great outcome.

  2. M,

    Yes, cautious, grounded and resilient are the better alternatives. Unfortunately, those qualities won’t just happen without the guidance and support of a role model who takes the time and puts in the effort to help the child navigate narcissism.

    It’s a lot easier to “pretend” there isn’t a problem.

  3. M,
    The child being described was pretty much me. These qualities are good in the end but what child should go through any of what the narcissistic parent does to them just to have them.

  4. michael siletti

    I know I can do this. But lately it is still harder than it’s ever been.

  5. Hi Michael,

    I know those times – it’s a roller coaster. I hope you find peace in the knowledge that you can do this.

  6. This is so me. My mother was a narc and later I married one for sixteen years totally unaware of what the problem really was. Once I found out it explained everything in my childhood. This is exactly who I became because of it but I don’t count it as a bad thing. I like me and even if this is who I am it’s okay. Took a long time to be able to say that and actually feel it. Narcissist are emotional vampires that do nothing but destroy anything they can’t have or be. Even their own child. All narcissists are jealous of their victim. We have something in us they want but can’t get because they are emotionally ill. They don’t feel things like we do and they hate us for being able to have what they can’t. Normal

  7. There is another response. The child disappears. They learn to shut it all off and they live life through a mask persona which protects them from ever feeling or really experiencing what it is they are experiencing. Life becomes like traveling down a freeway you only experience where you’re going but the environment disappears.

  8. Hi Bobbi,

    Thanks for writing! I love hearing from survivor/thrivers who have moved on and figured it out!

    And I completely agree with you – I don’t count the skill set of the child of a narcissist as a bad thing either. They (you) are equipped to deal with all the varied personalities out there. At least that’s what I hope for my kids. ;)

    All the best to you.

  9. Jason,

    Hello. I hope this isn’t your existence.

    I do know of some cases where – having survived being “raised” by a narcissist – the individuals cut themselves off from everyone and everything in an attempt to lessen perceived potential harm/pain. I can’t blame them. It’s nearly impossible to learn to trust after any kind of experience with a narcissist.

    I wish you well, Jason.

  10. My son’s father is one and it’s extremely hard dealing with him. After reading this i think it may be better if he leaves our lives all together.

  11. Hi Lindsi,

    If that isn’t an option – and for many, it isn’t – then it might help to arm your son with the tools he needs to cope. Your son is blessed to have you looking out for him.

    Take good care, and thanks for writing.

  12. They also become very skilled at assimilating into the Ns life then turning it off as soon as they are in a safe place to be themselves. It’s a survival skill that amazes and scares me at the same time.

    I took a brief narcissism test the other day. It put me in one of the most desired groups exhibiting healthy narcissism. I had to attribute my experience with a NPD spouse as a contributor. Even though I am the same person as before, I am highly conscious about how I relate to others and care for myself now, including avoiding toxic people. I am sure that influenced my answers. The good and bad of NPD…

  13. Hey Z,

    Thanks for writing about the good of NPD. You know, I can remember a time that I was explaining to Will and Jen that there is a good kind of narcissism. They looked at me like I was from Mars, so I didn’t get far with my explanation. Another time …

    Oh, and I know that survival skill… well. I’m betting all survivor/thrivers do, especially if they’ve not been able to go No Contact.

  14. Dr. Craig Malkin is good at balancing that view. He has a new book, Rethinking Narcissism, which is about the good and bad of it all. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds interesting.

  15. Jesse,

    This is so true in so many ways! I can certainly see that humor and intuitiveness are very sharp in each of my kids. They can see through people in about two seconds. They lived with duplicity and cruelty–though I tried to shield them from as much as I could. This definitely made them aware of how untrustworthy people can be–and people who are supposed to be the most trustworthy! Thankfully, we got out when we did–I hope seeing our life now and getting help in place will serve them well on into their lives as they enter adulthood.

    Wishing you and yours healing and peace . . .

  16. Z,

    Thanks for the tip. I just saw a blurb about his book this morning. Hm ….

    And thanks a million (I mean it) for all your input on this blog. You are helping so many others. Trust me on that. ;)

  17. Lynn,

    It’s been awhile since I’ve said it, but I so admire you for making the scary decision to move on and get out.

    I also have to tell you that at least twice a week, I receive letters from other Thrivers who make the choice to leave. Thank you, Lynn, so much, for highlighting your experiences here. Others desperately need to see what it’s like on the other side.

  18. Thank you Jesse!!

    You are inspirational to me!! I have found so much solace and strength from your writings here and have shared it with those I meet in life who are walking similar paths.

    Blessings and all kinds of good wishes to you!!

  19. This is so spot-on. It’s my life on a page. Since my divorce in 2010, I’ve been woefully underemployed. I need to move up or move on, but resumes and job interviews are a special kind of Hell for me. To have to sit face-to-face with strangers and speak, ALOUD, my strengths, or skills, or accomplishments, is beyond terrifying. Even putting them down in writing paralyzes me. Because it’s like saying I deserve something. Or I’m worth something. Or I should be chosen OVER SOMEONE ELSE. I’m getting anxious just writing ABOUT it here. It’s only recently I realized from where these reactions stem.
    Additionally, I’m afraid to leave my current employer and trust a better future somewhere else, even though I’m working far, far above my pay grade and the people who pay me are perfectly okay with that. I’m just realizing that THOSE feelings come from what you stated above about never counting on people. This job is the only thing that has remained stable and consistent since my marriage ended. It’s so scary to picture that piece of my world changing. But we can’t live destitute forever, and I’ve been trying to push reality aside but yesterday it finally hit me that I’m attached to a place that is not attached to me.

    On another note, one of my biggest challenges is to live transparently and be authentic (because GOD, who would do such a thing??? You don’t SHOW who you are, ever. You HIDE!!!), remaining the same me regardless of who I’m with or where I am, because my main survival mechanism as a child was my chameleon impression. I was so good at reading a person, or a room, or an audience, that I was able to instantly give them whoever they needed me to be. I think it’s like dissociation in a way, because I find myself having to consciously pull back from immediately getting into character in certain situations, and I have to remain mindful of my actions, and my breathing. Because I can’t live a dichotomous life. Not anymore.

    Like you said, authenticity is everything to me. I tell people that the only thing that matters to me is that you are who you say you are, and that you do what you say you’ll do. If those two things are present, I can get past almost anything else.

  20. Aww…thanks for saying that. I cannot express in words how much you have helped me with this blog. I could not have thrived as well without you. xxx

  21. Lynn,

    That’s the best we can hope for … that our journeys shed light for those who walk a similar path.

  22. Hi Elizabeth!

    Welcome and thanks for writing.

    I can relate to so many things in your comment. A history of never putting yourself first makes it damn near impossible to speak up for yourself when it comes to advances in employment.

    And do you find that after years of being a chameleon, it’s difficult to know for sure who you really are, what your preferences are, and what it is that really makes you happy? So when it comes to the authenticity, for me… it took awhile to figure out who I was before I could present my authentic self. And then it took a good long while before I decided I even liked her… I mean, me. ;)

  23. Z,

    And that reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    We’re all just walking each other home. – Ram Dass

    love ya, Z :)

  24. Yes, I definitely struggle with who I am, and what I like. And I find that as my self becomes more defined and I become less likely to alter it to keep other people happy, the number of people expecting me to keep them happy shrinks. I wish it were because they were happy to see me achieving some level of autonomy. Usually it’s because I’ve gone no contact. Lol. The hard part is that I don’t know what gives me joy. My whole life, everything I did I did to keep the wolves at bay. And it’s just not enough anymore. :) Anyway, I’m working on that part.

  25. Elizabeth,

    I can’t believe how much your words sound like the thoughts in my head. While I’ve always said that Narcissists act from the same script, perhaps survivors do as well?

    Funny how when we stop accommodating/catering/facilitating and take a breath, we look around and see only a small group of folks standing by us. All those who moved on did so to find a new source.

    Trust me on this: the slow, steady discovery – of yourself – is a very rich process.

  26. Wow, it’s amazing that so many people out there feel the same as i do after growing up the child of a narcissist parent. One who things came to a head with earlier this year. I made the decision to never let him be part of my life again. My mother died a year ago this Sat and after being married for 46 years my father organized a mail order bride within two months from the Philippines. We had no funeral for my mum and my sister and i were not even allowed to spread her ashes, the funeral home was tasked with that job. So no closure for us, its as if she went shopping and didn’t come home. Apparently children have no say when the next of kin is the husband. Anyway, I said all that to say that narcissists don’t change, they don”t mellow with age, they stay rotten to the core living off controlling other people. Well he no longer controls me, never again. But thanks to his “superior” child rearing skills i possess every trait described in this text. I choose to use them as coping mechanisms, but i will not let them define who i am, i did that for way too long.

  27. Hello Narelle,

    Thanks for writing. My condolences on the passing of your mother. And I’m sorry you and your sister didn’t get the closure that is so necessary after such a life-changing event.

    You sound strong, Narelle. Maybe that is the silver-lining. You’ve come out the other side and now you see your childhood without blinders. Now you are free to define yourself in whatever way you choose!

    I couldn’t agree more … they NEVER change. Good to see that and put as much distance between you and them as is possible.

    All the best to you.
    Take good care.

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