Is it you or is it me? Is a narcissistic parent causing your depression?

Have decided to post this as people on this site may be looking through information and reading posts to try and understand how they are feeling (I know I did) For years and years I just felt I was just suffering from depression for no reason and that I was weak and it was "my fault" that I was like this. It was then suggested that I had borderline personality as the depression and suicidal feelings and the feeling of "just not being enough" went on and on.

I do not believe I have borderline personality. I believe I am the victim of someone with narcissistic personality and that is different. There is not much mention of narcissism on the site ,but I certainly believe that in my case that my false beliefs about myself, in fact the whole of the way I feel (or don't feel) and think and behave can be explained almost in one by reading up about narcissism and the effects that this can have on children.

I understand that everyone on here is different and I am not suggesting for one minute that this will "fit" everyone's situation, but it does fit mine and it has taken me a very long time to fully believe it; so if you're wondering "am I weak" "why do I sometimes feel that there is not enough of me?" " why do I sometimes feel like I don't exist?" " I am bad" "I am wrong" " I am a big mistake and damned" "I am trapped; I can't get out of who I am and its bad" "I upset people"

Or if you are constantly monitoring how other people feel and are acutely tuned into how they feel but not tuned into how you yourself feel. Or you are constantly afraid of "upsetting" people just by making a remark, get confused and feel guilty if you talk to someone that person knows and they don't know about it; like you will really be punished. Or sometimes feel you go out of your way to help them because the narcissistic parent is desperate and then when they are ok again they minimize the whole thing and completely dismiss you; you just feel confused like its all within you and they've done nothing, but they have; they have manipulated you.

Point I want to make is that some "depression" may be the result of things like this. When we realise what it is it can help. I looked up about the "compliant response" to a narcissistic parent and it completely fits. The feeling of "not being enough" is true in that they never allowed you to be yourself and that you parented them when you needed parenting. (it is called parentification) However "not being enough" is not a fault but an indicator for taking action to help yourself.

I am starting to believe that I am nice and not bad. (I was never bad) I will continue to be nice but will set boundaries with some people who take advantage of that. A lot of people comment that I "keep things in" or am "very self controlled". I believe I have learned to do this and learned to minimize everything, learned not to overshadow or provoke rage (the slightest thing can provoke rage). I realise that this was just the situation at the time and I can start to be more myself with other people and take more risks.

Reason why I am posting. If you are depressed and have been depressed for a long time is it possible that a parent you think you admire and is strong is actually damaging you in some way? It may not be deliberate on their part. They can't help it; they have a personality disorder which means they don't see you as an individual which is why you don't feel like an individual as they've never allowed you to develop. We feel we are bad for being normal and having normal needs. Is it really you??????

Gemmalouise xx

27 Replies

  • Hi

    I agree that parents who have themselves missed out on healthy reflection of themselves by their parents does leave us with a feeling of many things lacking and I know from my own experience that it is incredibly hard to move beyond and does leave some behaviours and feelings that can easily be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder - that diagnosis is only a handy way of saying that at times the person mis-attributes things to other people that belong to themselves and so has a tendency for unstable relationships and acting out - the difference depends upon whether there is insight and an ability to control the feelings and behaviours.

    It's good that you are thinking about where your difficulties come from - in other words WHY you are like you are. Have you seen a therapist or counsellor - it sounds as though you would find it helpful to speak with someone with a psychodynamic understanding as they would enable you to share the feelings in such a way that you would come to terms with them and grieve the effects of your past.


  • Hi Sue and many thanks for replying

    Yes Sue, I have had quite a lot of counselling from the age of 18 till now at the age of 55. (please ref; my previous posts!) Sometimes I have felt "bad" because I couldn't "do without" counselling, but I am reading a lot of self help now which is helping.

    I wanted to post this in case it rings any bells with anyone on here.

    Sometimes in my experience counsellors and mental health people fail to point out the obvious to people. After over 20 years of counselling/psychotherapy it had never been suggested to me that my "depression" could be due in part to family influences. It took an outsider, someone who was ill himself to point this out to me. I had a sneaking suspicion which I thought was probably just a "story" and an "excuse" in my head that my mum had caused me some damage. He actually met her and said straight away that it was blatantly obvious that this had happened. For a long time I still I wondered whether he was telling me a story and in fact we were both making up the story and it wasn't true. The reason for this being that my mum has never been in therapy , had a good career (she was a teacher). I was the one in therapy I was unable to work due to a phobic anxiety about work, she was thriving seemed popular, had people at her beck and call and I was not thriving and was down and low. She had never seen a psychiatrist whereas I had been seeing a psychiatrist since the age of 18!

    I have recently met up with a friend of my mums and it was such a relief when she said to me that it was no wonder I felt how I felt with parents like mine and though she does admire my mum in some ways she finds her "offloading" completely exhausting,the way she treats my dad like dirt completely apauling, that she is the most "powerful" person she has ever met and an arch manipulator; (she did hesitate before telling me this and said she felt "disloyal"; an emotion narcissists are very good at getting you to feel if you talk to anyone about their bad behaviour) ; and really to be honest she hasn't seen the half of it as my mum keeps most of her "tantrums" within the family. Going on these sites has helped me understand eg. it says that these people get worse just before and just after important events, which is absolutely true. It says they leave you drained as they suck up the things they want and just reject the parts that are of no use to them. They can leave you feeling completely confused when they have invoked anger in you as anger is one thing you cannot express to them and they sort of "dump" it all on you and then move on and expect you to have no reaction to being yelled and screamed at. My mum will have "massive explosions" over perceived unfairness (ie. anybody else gets anything); she has a completely twisted logic but always believes it is right and punishes ruthlessly and relentlessly if you disagree with her over the most minor thing. She is never wrong. There is the contrary side as well in that she is extremely charismatic, very attractive physically and exuding a sweet charm a lot of the time; and quite entertaining ; when she decides you are special you feel very special and you feel nothing in comparison to her as she is such a "big" person and she has left you "small" and unable to cope.

    One feels small and dependent and lacking as I said and so "the story" must be wrong, it must be you. However see below information as to how narcissists actually encourage this dependency:- so once again it hasn't all being my fault!

    I know I sound bitter but really I am not, I am sorry she has affected my life to such a dramatic extent and have missed out on having family and children, but I know I have to move forward and value myself now, not living her life but my own and I am ready to take responsiblity as I always have for my own growth. Link is:-



    Narcissists keep their children very dependent. But it goes way beyond the normal dependency of childhood where the child is dependent of the parent for warmth, food, shelter etc.

    A narcissistic mother will often keep their children naive and gullible, telling them how dangerous the world is and reinforcing constantly (in subtle and not so subtle ways) that the child could never manage in the world alone.

    And it often goes even deeper than this. The children learn that if the parent is in a good mood, then it's ok for them to be too. If the parent is in a bad mood, the child feels bad too (but obviously for different reasons!). The child ends up depending on the parent to know if they are ok or not.

    And because there are so few boundaries between the parent and child, the child may even depend on the parent to know who they are. The combination of praise and criticism from a manipulative parent further increases dependency.

    'You're nothing!' 'You're useless!' 'You are worthless!' These expressions, said in anger with the intention of hurting, followed by a sudden change of mood and a stream of words designed to placate and make the child feel good, create and maintain dependency. And even adult children of narcissists will continue to respond in the same way to this pattern.

    Add to all this the fear of abandonment, which may be deliberately evoked by the cruel and ruthless narcissist, and it's no wonder that the adult children of narcissists don't have a well developed personality of their own!


  • This is my Dad

  • It's my mam x

  • My dad too!

  • Hello Gemma

    BOB here

    I just read your script, you seem to be now trying to relate where you came from, my family was very controlling and I was told when ten that that was me brought up, Then when I was thirteen again I was told by my mother that I would be always in trouble. My childhood was effected throughout my formative years and even when I became adult it would have not mattered if I was alive or dead, throughout my life from 10 years old my father would preach to me that women were dirty and could not be trusted, this sort of conversation went on until his death in 1985, so I was piggy in the middle, this effected my married life and I was lucky to marry a wonderful person who took all of this in her stride

    Now I have alienated myself from all of my family and am living the life that both of us could not have thought possible.

    We have managed to discharge our feeling from not only my Mother but also two sisters who are past masters in sibling rivalry, You never mever guess we are happy together , No family of our own because of the disruption in the past

    We have our dog a Welsh Collie that chases evnything he sees, He anticipates cuddles from all people he sees. It is a new life.

    What I am trying to say to you is, it is never never too late to begin your life again, many people with Stress/depression I have known in Mental Health have managed to split and begin again, the world is out there and there are some very nice people who are waiting for friendship like all on these pages.

    Remember there are good and bad out there all you have to do is make correct choices, good folk are there doing the same. Now we live in the countryside, we have a cottage with half an acre of garden to keep dog and wife happy. No I have just finished planting an orchard and will be assisting as much as I can with little jobs my wife dictates.

    Keep thinking what you want, like our Pax go fetch, life can be an adventure even when in later life.


  • Hi Bob that is such a bright post. You are happy now with a great wife and life and a little dog. Sounds great. You deserve it all.

    I love your honesty too.


  • Oh Bob, thank you so much for this. It is a lovely sentiment and you support in such a lovely honest and direct way. I agree with you totally that once one has self esteem if one looks then one will automatically meet the good people as I will put up with no less!! (and like you say they are out there doing the same:) )

    Gemmalouise x

  • That is a very interesting story Bev, thanks for sharing xx

  • I am so very grateful for this post and to everyone replying with their stories....I never grew up with my mother, I only started living with her at ages 17 after years apart. From the beginning it was hell, I was so in need of her love and affection I took anything she threw at me...I never knew bad feelings until I started living with her. I stayed with it for my entire adult life...I never contemplated suicide but sometimes she made me feel like I wish I was never born, or that I would be better off dead. She would say and do stuff them make the excuse that she was mad when she said wat she said. I would get the 'u'll never amount to anything', 'I shuda had an abortion', 'ur worthless', and other stuff like that. I never once heard 'I love you'....not once...even today...

    I haven't seen or spoken to her in over a year now and she lives bout 20 minutes from me...thing is she has waged this war on me since I decided that enough was enough and I wanted nothing to do with her...she has all the extended family believing that I m keeping my son from her to hurt her, that I am doing this and doing that....she is all up on Facebook trying to mess with me, her and her sister who lives in America...

    I have gone thru counselling numerous times and the last time I did CBT which helped a great deal...but I still get affected by it and sometimes the stress causes these unbearable headaches....

    Now my 16yr old brother gets it too, she shelters him, he don't go out with friends, he has this paranoia that someone is trying to get him cause his mother has put in his head that ppl are gonna get him, just so he will stay at him with her forever...

    After reading the initial post of this thread, I am wiser now...need to do some reading...thank u poster...


  • Hi, stilltrying,

    Thank you so much for posting this, you've said exactly what I'm going through but have been unable to talk about it. I had a very strict upbringing, I was pressured and expected to go university. I was very scared of my parents growing up because of the fear of being physically punished (which I understand now was actually violent abuse) if I did anything wrong. My parents were very over-protective of me and I ended up being a loner, having no friends at school and being bullied because I wasn't allowed to go out and socialise. My parents were never big on cuddles or hugs, I felt very unloved, yet they were completely different to my brother, he could do no wrong. During my time at high school, things got progressively worse, my father became increasingly stressed with his job and would come home late and get drunk, so I spent most evenings out of the way in my room stressed myself that he would fly off the handle. I was so scared of doing anything wrong, everything was my fault and my mother often said she wish she had never had me nor my brother. Unfortunately my parents moved 400 miles away from my extended family so I never had anyone to talk to or have respite from my parents.

    Even today I am still anxious when my father drinks and/or is stressed or angry.

    My former counseller has said to me that I need psychotherapy to deal with these issues because they are causing my chronic depression which I have had for over twenty years now. The difficulty now is not being to able to have contact with them when I do have therapy and the unknown of how I will towards them afterwards. My parents are all I have in this world, I have no family of my own (I can't have children) nor do I have any friends.

  • Evee, I suggest going and looking at "Out of the Fog" website to help you deal with some of this - they have some awesome resources and "get" the challenges of growing up with difficult parents. Alternativly, you may benefit from going to Alanon - which is support for family of people who drink.

  • I am really good it is proving useful :) xx

  • I'm really glad you posted it, I don't feel quite so alone now. To know there's someone else out there who hasn't been able to have children or there own family because of their upbringing gives me perspective on my own life.

    Take care


  • Dear Gemmalouise,

    I realise this thread is 10 months old but I would love to ask you a question if you don't mind. I have no idea if you still view this thread. Your post (and the comments people added) have really struck a cord with me. This is such a big relief and comfort so I'd like to thank you for posting it.

    My particular question though is would you mind describing your 'phobic anxiety' about work in a bit more detail?

    To give a bit of background on myself, I too experience a phobic anxiety to work (and voluntary) situations. I worked full time for 11 years but really struggled. Like you say in your original post I too believed my life-long anxiety and depression was mostly due to my own weakness. My mum suffers from depression too so, for most of my life, I believed it was probably hereditary or maybe a learnt habit.

    My life has been massively consumed with my Mum's problems, to the detriment of my own life. But it is only in the last year or so that I have realised that she is probably narcissistic and has 'set-up' this constant drain upon me.

    I realise the narcissistic behaviour and parentification I have experienced have contributed to my feelings of extreme anxiety around work, but I do not know the exact reasons why one would cause the other. I would be very interested in your thoughts of how this happened in your case.

  • Really glad it was useful to you CeePea :) Regarding the work thing I think the whole thing for me was tied up with expectations. My narcissistic mother was overly ambitious and pushy for everyone around her and I think I have unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a human being. It is like you have to be perfect; perform perfectly at work like you've tried to do at home which means "scanning everyone" anticipating and providing for everyone's needs and not showing yours; getting it "right" all the time which when there are a myriad of people to please and not just one can become very difficult as your "chameleon like" character can adapt to individuals but what about when you are trying to adapt in two competing ways because there are two people with opposing needs and then you get really messed up about how to be and the anxiety is huge.

    I'm not too gemmed up at the moment but did want to reply. Would recommend the following link by Ross Rosenburg who is a pyschotherapist. Listening to what he said is like listening to the most accurate description of myself and my life and how I came to be as I am that I can think of. There is follow up stuff as well though explaining how to overcome co-dependency; (basically you have to set new boundaries; "unthinkable" until you are ready and understand what it is that has made you this way but when it "clicks"; oh my ! And yes DO expect the rage if you start setting any sort of boundary because of course this is why we never did it before; as experiencing our parents rage as an infant is terrifying so we do everything to try and stop is which then shapes our whole personalities.

    Here's the link.


  • Wow - this has really struck a chord with me. My Dad was an alcoholic who died 4 years ago and my Mum was always dependent on me to look after her before and after my Dad's death. Several people have recently commented to me that "your Mum has never been the easiest person". I thought it was me, but now I realise that others have felt the same. I will definitely look into this as a way of helping me out of my feelings that I am never good enough and need the approval of others to validate myself. I don't want my two sons to feel the same about me.

  • So glad it has helped. It's really good when one manages to put the pieces of the jigsaw together (or even start to) and it was such a massive thing for me ;so if I can help anyone else to make sense of what has happened to them then I am really happy about that.


  • I can agree with this. I had undiagnosed ASD as a child and my parents never let me be who I wanted to be and even sort of chose my university degree such was their overall desire for me to achieve like all the kids of their teacher friends. My dad is a Nasscisist and my mother the Apath with N Tendencies too. My depression manifested in SAD. I think because as a young child to young adult my paents went for a month in Spain in July. It has been established that trauma affects the development of the hipocanthus and I am traumatised with definate PTSD. It may have been this pattern early on that established the possibility of Winter Depression.

  • I know that this post is a little old now, but I have just read it and burst into floods of tears. I have always had the little idea in the back of my mind that the way I am is because of my controlling, emotionally neglecting and physically abusive father, but have mostly blamed myself. I have NEVER read anything that I can relate to so much in my life. Reading about all your stories has made me sad that anyone else has had to go through these experiences but has also helped me to feel less lonely. I am 19 and have had severe depression since I was 14, and have had symptoms of anxiety for three years, both conditions are undiagnosed. I have great difficulty and shame in talking to ANYONE about how I feel and have difficulty articulating how awful I feel inside...

    I wanted to ask you how I can talk to my doctor about how I feel, because I know that I need help?? I'm scared and need help because I feel like I might hurt myself if I don't

    I also gather that the effects of your parental treatment have been very long-term, is there anything that I can do now that will make it better. I don't know if I am making any sense? I mean how can I stop/decrease the damage that is being done to me before I end up even worse than I am now??

  • Hi

    Having realised the things in your past that have contributed to the depression and anxiety you have been feeling you have already made the first step. Now I think you might ask your GP to refer you for counselling or psychotherapy as that will enable you to move on from the past while you are still young. Hope it goes well for you, do let us know.


  • I have always thought that a lot of depression is caused by outside influences, actually 'depressing' one's psyche. However we often look for the immediate circumstances, such as a medical condition, lack of a job, bad weather etc, and in reality the seeds were sown many years earlier. The hardest thing to overcome is depression caused by someone you love, as to survive you have to cut the ties that have been built up over so many years, and in the process you feel lost.

    I want to learn to love my parent but step away from the situation so that I am no longer controlled by my past. The penalty though of doing this is possibly rejection by the family who feel they have been cheated of their prize (aka as family doormat). If I do manage to change my role in the family, will another person have to take my place?

    Is it possible to renegotiate the family dynamics, or is it always a case that one must cut ties, as Bob had to? And if you merely go off and build your own family unit, will you slip into forming similar relationships with your new family members? I suppose the question is, does your family background form your personality irrecoverably?

  • This is very true Findingme. I have been reading about "emotional neglect" , a concept which seems to completely fit what has happened to me; parents can cause this not by deliberately setting out to hurt but by virtue of their character faults or their own backgrounds neglecting some essential things for healthy emotional growth of their children. It is sins of ommision rather than sins of commission . I for example was well fed and clothed and in a lower middle class sort of environment, parents with "good " jobs (professionals), but my mother was narcissistic and my dad just very limited himself emotionally and all for the quiet life. The damage done is untold; it's like an emptiness and a sadness; never having myself as a person with my own needs reflected back properly to me I still often feel suicidal. I am reading a good book on this and I know all the theory; self nurture etc. The cap fits completely in what they describe. I am prone to self anger, self criticism. emptiness, empathy for others but not for myself. More than anything there is that terrible "alone" feeling and the fact that at 57 I have never been married, children or that close family situation. I am really working at the practice of self compassion as it is the only way but I think that gap will always be there. I guess it is horrible to admit that we are like we are with no hope so we keep trying to find solutions; we have to; we have no other choice except the one I don't want to take so I do try and count my blessings and say that things will pass and that I can have good days.

    Sorry to hear of your situation. I know it has been very ongoing for you and a terrible choice to make. We get attached to things because they are familiar and it is the way we have formed our connections; realising that these are bad connections but not having anything to replace them with is to me that terrible thing that I face; what I had wasn't good but there's very little to build on ; the foundations were rocky; but I'm trying brick by brick placing it carefully down and trying to be kind to myself.

    Gemma x

  • You and I are so alike.

  • What a thoughtful post! This certainly struck a chord.

    I have similar traits, with an overactive guilty conscience, a desperate need to seek approval from everyone, a fear of making mistakes or making a fool of myself. In my case I'm sure it dates partly from school, but I have always had a strange and rocky relationship with my mum, who is also a retired teacher (I discovered recently she was asked to leave because her harshness upset the children in her care) and is widely regarded as being 'difficult' - a supreme manipulator with a high regard for her own intellect and general superiority, by turns fiercely strict and dotingly maternal, sometimes strong and confrontational and occasionally pathetically vulnerable (often when she wants something). When I was growing up she pushed me hard, had high expectations and also tried to instill a lot of her own class biases in me, via a mixture of spoiling me with treats, or furious punishments (usually meant a good smacking, occasionally worse things like having my possessions burned).

    I was always much closer to my father, but they finally divorced when I was in my teens, he moved abroad and she went to pieces, so I stayed with her because I felt it was my duty. When I was 22 I met my former fiance and she hit the roof, calling me a whore and saying if I left to live with him then I should never come back. Of course, when I went she instantly changed her mind about that!

    I am now 36 and she will be 70 next year. She still treats me as though I were 12 years old, alternately cajoling and disapproving.

    About 5 years ago my longterm relationship broke up and I had a nervous breakdown and ended up living back with her for several years, during which time she decided I was online too much and would take away the router and hide it, allowing me half an hour's daily supervised internet access for work, then bribing me with little presents if I got angry - hopefully that gives you an idea!).

    I realise all this gives a terrible picture of her, and indeed she has few friends and many people have warned me that she's not good for me. However, I believe that a lot of her attitude stems from her own insecurity and self-doubt, as well as a disastrously unhappy 28 year marriage health problems which cause her constant physical pain, and 10 years of alcoholism, and it is sad, because behind all this is a loving, creative and spiritual woman, occasionally you catch a glimpse of her in the right light! I have stepped back and put up barriers for my own defence, although it took years for me to finally snap and do that. I do, however, pity her, and find it very hard to let go of my sense of guilt and responsibility for her. It's as though we've both undergone a lot of knocks in life, but hers gave her sharp edges, whereas mine made me soft and compliant. I found that it made all the difference looking at her with fresh eyes, seeing her as another frail human being who, by accident of birth, happens to be my mother. I realised that her will and opinions carry no more weight than mine, which was a big step towards breaking free of the chains she'd put on me.

    My apologies for the long post - I hope it's of interest! :-) xx

  • Yes it is very interesting and thank you; there are definately some similarities with myself and my background. Thank you for sharing so much about you and your life. it sounds like you have and will continue to make positive progress and your insights are very valuable for me to read. Gemma Xx

  • I feel that as a child of a narcissist did not fully develop parts of my personality, such as leadership, imagination, self-determination, self-discipline. Instead I fell into relationships which provided the missing parts, previously provided by the narcissistic parent. I am now learning more about my co-dependent behaviour, and I hope that it is not too late for me to work on becoming more of a whole person. Rather like the brain, which can be compressed by fluid on the brain into a very small space, but once the pressure is released it has been shown that it can expand and become normal, although maybe requiring some physical therapy in order to regain full functionality, I believe ones personality can expand once the pressure is off, especially if you follow advice on how to expand your horizons. The problem is that I have become mentally very lazy, allowing others to make decisions, to think of how to spend my time, to instigate new activities and provide the energy to get up and do things. Blocking this narcissistic energy takes mental energy in itself, putting up boundaries against negative comments and attempts to retake control of me, is exhausting.

    I was becoming more of the person I wanted to be, when I was living alone after my divorce and before my daughter decided to move back to live with me. I was building new friendships, learning new skills, going out at night, learning to say no to people who tried to exploit me, even planning to work abroad for a while, but what I was not doing was learning how to do this whilst living with other people.

    I have found it all too easy to fall back into old habits, to respond to a call for help, to get the 'high' from pleasing others and meeting other peoples needs, but having known what it feels like to be my own person and free of the guilt trips and controlling behaviour, it is now much harder to accept it. I don't think I can ever really be happy now until I can live my life the way I want to.

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