If this discussion interests you, please read my book Unloved Again.
Your narcissist does not feel empathy. If anything helps you decide whether your parent is a narcissist, this is guidepost number one. Although many of our cultural values are narcissistic: “look at me… at my car… my possessions… where I vacation, etc., these are superficial attention getters. The heart of the show-off may still beat in tune with yours.
The narcissist suffers from a far more serious mental absence. Their attention is encased in a psychological hall of mirrors, wrapped up in “it’s all about me.” As a result, the narcissistic parent cannot know you, their child (or friend or lover). One has to feel the “other” person to know them. The narcissist may speak words of caring if they have caught onto saying these as a required social image but their heart is not in it.
You, their child feel that emptiness until you start pulling the wool over your own eyes. The child of a narcissist usually falls in line with their parent illusory need to be seen as loving. The child does this in hope of one day receiving the parent’s real love. The child imagines the parent is capable of feeling love but is withholding it because, you, their child are faulty. The child cannot stand the grief of knowing they have a forever love-deficient parent. Instead, they take the blame. The notion of courting a love-withholding person guides their love-life ever after.
The narcissistic parent may utter words of sympathy when their child has suffered some kind of injury, for which they congratulate themselves on acting caring but words said do not mean that they feel your pain. Every word uttered reflects on their need for glory. In like manner, they attack their child for failing to be perfect at something because it casts a negative light on them or, even after they scold the child, are secretly exulted since their child’s failure puts them on a higher plane. I am above you because I lack that fault. Whether praising or attacking, all felt and done is self-referential. You do not exist for them in your own right.
Narcissistic parents are fakes who make their child into a fake. They put a false image onto themselves with which the child must fit. The child initially knows that it is only a “pretense” like pretending to be a ghost at Halloween, but over time, the child loses awareness of it as an act, forgets how to find/be/know their own true self. A feeling of emptiness follows. A child needs its parent’s accurate (and loving reflection) to develop a sense of self.
Your narcissistic parent revels in vanity as do all children in their early years. All children need to be seen as great at least during the terrible two’s until reality cuts it down to an acceptable self-image. The narcissist never leaves this stage of self-adulation. It is his shelter and defense against knowing himself to be a hollow man or woman.
The narcissist’s feelings are easily wounded. You, their child are expected to applaud, to build them up and support them. Once grown, the only way out of this un-loved affair is to leave it. You will be met with a barrage of objections, called selfish and self-centered after all “I have done for you.’ You need to take a gigantic step of not accepting the parent’s accusation that you are abandoning them since in the narcissistic parent’s unconscious mind, they remain your child.
The “sponge self” you developed under their barrage of projection and need has to be recognized and discarded. A sponge cannot say here I am and here I am not, regardless of what you say about me. The sponge self automatically agrees with the narcissist’s idealization or denigration. The narcissistic parent will never stop asking you for more. Do not fight with them to see you as you are since they can’t do it. Fighting is a form of attachment. It is a demand the parent set you free rather than you freeing yourself. Gracefully as possible move into the wonderful confusion of owning your own life.