3. Try not to be confrontational, but do set clear boundaries
Confronting a narcissist with a laundry list of their parenting mistakes isn’t likely to go over well; narcissists are notoriously bad at taking criticism. It may even make the situation worse, said Karyl McBride, a family and marriage therapist and the author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.
“Narcissists don’t hold themselves accountable and are usually not able to provide empathy, so a confrontation is a set-up for more pain, disappointment and angst,” she said.
Still, you need to communicate your need for some space. McBride recommends stating clearly in an email or phone call that you need to do this for your own well-being and personal growth.
“Own it as something you need, make your point without blame or accusation, and then just stick to it with solid boundaries,” she said. “But it’s important to work on yourself during this time, so you are making the best decision possible for yourself and your mental health moving forward.”
4. Accept that your parent may make it extremely difficult to initiate a break
Keep in mind that there’s a high chance your parent won’t respect your desire for some time apart. That’s because narcissists typically see their children as extensions of themselves rather than individuals with their own unique needs, said Darlene Lancer, a marriage and family therapist and the author of Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.
“Cut-offs can lead to an insidious feeling of guilt for the child,” she said. “What’s more important than initiating a break is learning how to be assertive and set limited boundaries when parents are inappropriate, controlling, invasive or abusive.”
Once you’ve set your boundaries, don’t backtrack on them. Don’t succumb to nagging, self-pity, threats, guilt-tripping or any other forms of manipulation.
“Setting boundaries is the outgrowth of honoring oneself,” she said. “This process takes time and includes the ability to identify and believe you’re entitled to your feelings and needs, and learning to assert them.”
5. Don’t blame yourself for the state of the relationship
Children of narcissists usually have a long history of self-blame and finding fault within themselves, said psychologist Craig Malkin, author of Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — And Surprising Good — About Feeling Special.
That’s because their parents manipulated them to get that reaction, he said.
“Narcissistic parents are very good at lashing out or collapsing in tears whenever their children express needs of their own, training their kids to point the finger at themselves whenever they felt hurt, lonely or angry over the abuse,” Malkin said. “In turn, their kids grow up thinking, ’I’m too needy, too sensitive, too selfish.’”
Now that you’re an adult, it’s critical that you lift the guilt off yourself and recognize it’s your parent’s behavior ― not anything you did ― that has forced you to take a step back from the relationship.
“If you don’t place responsibility for the hurt where it belongs — with those who hurt you — you’ll find reason to let a narcissistic parent back into your life every single time,” Malkin said.