Books for Children of Narcissistic Parents

A Reading List / Bibliotherapy for [Grown] Children of Narcissistic Parents

Maira Kalman. Bread and butter was all she served., 2004. Gouache on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery. © Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman. Bread and butter was all she served., 2004. Gouache on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery. © Maira Kalman

Calling any self-absorbed person a “narcissist” is fairly common, colloquially, but narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a real mental illness that can cause problems in many areas of life for the people suffering from it, as well as others close to them. Mayo Clinic identifies the following signs and symptoms of NDP (the severity of symptoms vary). People with the disorder can:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance

  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration

  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

  • Exaggerate achievements and talents

  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate

  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people

  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior

  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations

  • Take advantage of others to get what they want

  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others

  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them

  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious

  • Insist on having the best of everything

It is not known what causes NPD, but scientists and doctors believe that like many disorders, it is likely a result of a combination of factors: environment, genetics, and neurobiology. One of the most frustrating aspects of the disorder is that the resulting inflated sense of self-importance and underlying fragile self-esteem—leading people with NPD to react intensely and negatively to any perceived criticism—mean that many people who suffer from NPD avoid the one treatment available: psychotherapy. This also means that many cases go undiagnosed.

Being in a close relationship with someone who suffers from NPD can be emotionally draining and psychologically damaging, and it can be particularly challenging to be the child—even the grown child—of a parent who suffers from NPD, for myriad reasons. Dr. McBride, a psychotherapist who specializes in the treatment of adult children of narcissistic parents, points out that NPD parents are so self-absorbed and emotionally-needy that they are unable to give unconditional love and emotional support to their children; as a result, children of NPD parents are often raised without sufficient empathy, and may feel in their core that they are not good enough. They can find it difficult to identify their own values and beliefs, and are often oriented toward accomplishment as the basis for their self-esteem, which is unfulfilling over the long-term. Children of NPD parents have grown up learning that they must put their own internal growth on hold in order to pay attention to and please their parents.

If you think your parent might be suffering from NPD, you likely will not be able to convince them to seek treatment; the best thing you can do is release any expectations of them, and instead focus on seeking professional help to deal with the potential impact this dynamic has had on your life. Additionally, bibliotherapy might be helpful: Bibliotherapy is defined by the American Library Association (ALA) as “The use of books selected on the basis of content in a planned reading program designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance. Ideally, the process occurs in three phases: personal identification of the reader with a particular character in the recommended work, resulting in psychological catharsis, which leads to rational insight concerning the relevance of the solution suggested in the text to the reader’s own experience. Assistance of a trained psychotherapist is advised.” Bibliotherapy can be especially useful for grown children of NPD parents because it can promote problem solving, increase compassion, develop empathetic understanding, and enhance self-awareness.

As mentioned, NDP people often refuse therapy, but if you are suffering the emotional repercussions from having an NPD parent, psychotherapy and bibliotherapy are both great options for you. The following books are organized by most to least specifically-relevant for [grown] children of narcissistic parents.


Fiction

  • “Starfish” by Akemi Dawn Bowman (YA)

  • “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

  • “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

Memoir

  • “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel

  • “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel

  • “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover, PhD

  • “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls

Nonfiction

  • “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, PhD

  • “Why is it Always about You?” by Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW

  • “Mothers Who Can't Love” by Susan Forward, PhD

  • “Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life” by Susan Forward, PhD

  • “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by Alice Miller, PhD

  • “The Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom” by Miguel Ruiz Jr.

  • “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher, PhD

  • “Eastern Body Western Mind” by Anodea Judith, PhD

  • “I Thought it was Just Me (But it isn't)” by Brene Brown,  PhD

  • “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown, PhD

  • “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz

  • “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo

  • “The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self” by Alice Miller, PhD

  • “The Wisdom of No Escape” by Pema Chodron

  • “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington

  • “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed

  • “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödron