What is Normal?

It’s Narcissist Friday!


What is Normal?

Recently someone asked this question in a comment and I have to admit that I was pulled up short.  For those of us who have encountered narcissism at work or among friends, it is easy to forget the influence of the disorder on victims who grew up with it.  It is also one of the effects of narcissism to cloud memory and fog judgment so that “normal” is lost.  I have been told several times by children of narcissists , “I don’t remember much of my childhood.”  This makes sense if we remember that the narcissist feeds on the identity of others.  Whatever normal was there has been consumed in the narcissistic relationship.

So today I want to give an unfortunately brief picture of what “normal” might look like.  These are random ideas of normal relationships in comparison to a narcissistic relationship.


Normal is:

  1. The understanding that other people are real and have value in themselves rather than only in relation to me.  There is a shift in perspective that comes in early childhood where the child begins to see Mom and Dad and others as people.  Narcissists have difficulty with this.
  2. Parents who find their identity apart from their children.  This means that the success of the child is not seen as the success of the parent and the failure of the child is not a personal attack on the parent.
  3. Being able to state your opinion and then actually listen to the opinions of others without feeling threatened.
  4. Asking how the other person is feeling or doing and listening to the answer.
  5. Accepting blame when something is honestly your fault and giving a sincere apology.
  6. Being surprised and disappointed when you discover someone has been using you.
  7. Being a little wary of jumping into someone’s life. Caution is a good thing in relationships and most people move slowly.  Beware of someone who wants your intimate details very early in the relationship.  Most people want others to earn trust.
  8. Respecting the privacy and solitude boundaries of others.
  9. Not categorizing everyone in your life by usefulness.
  10.  Feeling embarrassed when the whole room is focused on you, but not deathly afraid.  Being hurt when rejected, but not obsessively angry.
  11.  Feeling something of the pain of others.  Grieving when people grieve.  Opening yourself to the emotions of others.
  12.  Having positive but not unrealistic expectations in job and life progress.  Pursuing plans that don’t depend on others in ways that allow you to blame them when the plans fail.

These are just some ideas and I would add that it is normal to do these things 80% of the time. We all have narcissistic characteristics that pop up from time to time and we can give each other a break.  No one is perfect and some of us aren’t even good.  We want attention and have trouble handling disagreements or rejection.  But, most of the time, we are “normal.”

But here’s a question to think about:  Do you like normal when you see it in others?  I think part of the brokenness narcissistic parents pass on to their children is a disrespect of normal.  People who listen are boring.  People who cry at movies are stupid and easily influenced.  People who protect their boundaries are too attached to their time or their stuff.  And people who don’t promote themselves will never amount to anything.  See what I mean?

One of the reasons people are drawn to narcissists is because they are exciting.  They live on the edge in relationships; they push traditions and limitations aside to get what they want.  These are people of power and energy and focus.  Narcissists are fun to be around . . . at first.  The joker, the rebel, the flirt—these are great people at certain times, but their attraction wears thin after a while.  That’s why they have to get their hooks in you as early as they can.

Narcissists are addicting.  They may be addicts themselves, but they have ways of binding your heart to what they provide.  One of the reasons people move from one narcissistic relationship to other narcissistic relationships is because this addiction is never addressed.  Are you willing to be satisfied with normal?  It may take time for the addiction to wear off and for you to see the value in normal relationships.

Just some thoughts on a great question.  What would you add to my list?


Filed under Narcissism

11 responses to “What is Normal?

  1. J J

    One thing I have learned in my counseling. God has created children with a coping mechanism. It is called shutting down. Which results in them not being able to remember things. Abuse as well as the good things. So I used to say that I was so tired raising these 5 kids I can’t remember anything. I am pretty sure that I was shutting down, even as an adult. A shame, because there were some things that I may have forgotten about my kids childhood. But God is also good to protect.

  2. Nothing to add, I just want to say that I so look forward to Narcissist Friday each week. What you’re doing is so needed, especially through the lens of grace. Thanks.

  3. Sheila

    Such a great blogpost. Yes you are so right ‘normal’ can be very boring, especially after the thrill of living on the edge with a narcissist. I had 2 consecutive relationships with narcissists until I realised that they were both emotional vampires bringing me to the edge of personal destruction both times.
    But addiction to patterns of behaviour are deeply rooted and It really is taking some time to break my addictive attachment and accepting that the normality of life really can be just as exciting and rewarding. I thank God every day for bringing me to this place and for the amazing doors which are beginning to open in my life. I view the past 18 years as a very long and necessary step in my spiritual development.
    In March I go to India for 8 days to continue on my journey, something I would never have had the courage to do all of those years ago. Normality almost feels like a cosy blanket!

  4. Penny

    Thank you for this important post. It is so necessary & refreshing to hear someone tell us such basic things that are “normal”. For too long many of us have “turned the other cheek” & tried to honor parents who were abusive & deserved no such honor. I know i did. Personally, I have endured nearly 40 years of marriage w/a classic, malignant, meddling, destructive N mother in law. I recently commented to my DH that other couples we know do not have the constant drama, the energy-draining dissension, the lies, the blood-sucking vampire who ruins every good & decent thing. Finally, I blurted out “this just isn’t normal!” It has become a benchmark for us now, as we still struggle to define “normal”. One day, in much pain & tears, I literally collapsed to the floor & sobbed, ” all I ever did was just get up in the morning & for that she will attack me. All I did was to show up & marry you, & she wants to destroy me for it. I was a good mother to my children but she points out every flaw in my efforts. She demands I apologize simply for being alive & daring to have a life that doesn’t center around her every whim, which I then fail to cater to. She will never, never, ever, ever, stop until she utterly destroys me, destroys our marriage, destroys our children. And I do not know of a single other woman who has has been treated like this by her mother in law. I am a freak to my friends who cannot relate to what it’s like b/c it is so ‘not normal’. All i ever longed to do was to live my life with honor before The Lord, but her life’s work is to condemn me as a failure (& expose me as one), destroy my reputation & my character and publically humiliate me. I can’t even defend myself b/c no one can believe what she does. I cannot do this anymore. I have nothing left to offer her. Stick a fork in me b/c I’m done”. That was a terrible, horrible, scary moment when I finally articulated all that was “not normal”, but it was also amazingly clarifying to be able to say “no more”. While most people enjoy “normal” days, “normal” is a foreign concept that I have had to learn to pursue & recognize. I have also given myself permission to ignore my N, refuse her poison, & keep moving away from her and toward beauty & affirmation & joy–and “normal”. Thank you again–this is a post I will read over & over until I can truly take it in.

    • WTP

      Hi Penny!

      I am so sorry that you have had to endure such abuse for so long. I understand what it is like to have a N parent (in your case in-law but no less devastating) and no one understands what you are going through. At first you think you’re crazy, right? What does your husband say? My Grandmother is a classic N and I saw how awful she was to my Uncle’s wife (now ex-wife). It did seem like the N punished the wife for marrying her son. Sick.

      I have a N parent and about five years ago I put my foot down and said enough. I don’t have a relationship with this parent any more and I HAVE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER! I didn’t realize how awful she was until I didn’t have to deal with her rage, lies and snide comments. Every comment I made was responded to with some sort of knife in the back or subtle dig that I picked up but the “normal” people around me never would. What a sad life she leads, and she’s done it to herself. I still attract other Ns though so I have to figure out how to avoid that. It seems like Ns are everywhere!

      So Penny, I hope that sharing my experiences help you in some way. I will pray for you that God will show you a way to manage this person and help you through this. I will also pray for your marriage. I can only image the havoc your MIL has places on your relationship. Sometimes I think Ns have the devil on speed dial!

  5. Laura


    I know this is a bit off subject but I wonder what your thoughts are about the children of narcissists being used as a form of supply to the narcissist? Have you ever written about this? As I go through my divorce I worry that my two little boys are now being idealized (in replacement of me, whom my husband discarded) and that as soon as they are old enough to develop their own personalities and wills enough to “disappoint” my husband he will horrifically discard them too. Or worse, turn them into little narcissists. Is there any Christ-based thoughts on situations like these? Thank you! Have any of you ever been through being discarded and/or having small children with your narcissist?

    • Hi Laura, I apologize for taking so long to get back to your question. I have written about the children of narcissists, but from an adult perspective. Please feel free to ask more about this, but here are a couple of things.

      First, I don’t think a narcissist can make his children into narcissists. Now, it is not uncommon for children of N’s to have N tendencies, but that is what they learned and that can be unlearned. It seems to me that the people who turn out to be Ns are effectively abandoned and misused by both parents. Sometimes one is just an enabler or so much of a victim that he/she is not a positive factor. Having a mom who is stable and loving should go a long way to prevent that.

      Second, this doesn’t mean that they won’t struggle against being spoiled by his attention and manipulations. You may have to endure being the “bad guy” for a while, but they have to see reality from somewhere. As I said in the above post, narcissism is exciting. Stability and sanity are boring. 😉 Be willing to be boring –and kind, accepting, caring, etc. Eventually, they will see what they have in you. I am watching this in a relationship I am close to and the children constantly test the non-N parent, but they are so very aware that real love and acceptance are there.

      Third, do what you can to keep this from being a competition between you and your husband. The whole point is that he will use them as tools in the battle and have little use for them outside of it. The attention they are getting now is most likely his way of getting affirmation and praise for himself. He must make this all your fault. On your end, you want to minimize the battle so the kids don’t feel the same thing from you. That may be hard.

      Finally, I believe that the Lord loves your little ones more than you do. Pray for them and trust Him. The walk of their lives will be whatever He knows is best for them. Pain and struggle are important in this life, even if parents hate to see it in the lives of their kids. God will build them and prepare them in the best ways. You want to show them how you trust Him. I have a good friend who likes to say, “I trust the Holy Spirit in you.” You will need to trust the Holy Spirit in your kids.

      Please feel free to pursue this further. I know others wonder this same thing. There is a certain fear that creeps in when you think about the N with your kids, especially when you realize how manipulative, uncaring, and hurtful he can be. If the opportunity comes to remove them from him, you should seriously consider taking it. At the same time, it doesn’t help them for you to live in fear. God has already done something very important on their behalf by setting you free and you want to be as healthy as possible for them. Trust that the Lord will care for them and, as JJ said above, trust that kids are able to screen out a lot of their struggles. God made them tougher than we realize.

  6. Mia

    Hi Dave,

    I want to address a particular point you made in this post, namely your sweeping generalisation that children of narcissists disrespect normal.

    You say:

    But here’s a question to think about: Do you like normal when you see it in others? I think part of the brokenness narcissistic parents pass on to their children is a disrespect of normal. People who listen are boring. People who cry at movies are stupid and easily influenced. People who protect their boundaries are too attached to their time or their stuff. And people who don’t promote themselves will never amount to anything. See what I mean?

    Not so long ago, after a very difficult upbringing and a struggle with a number of the psychological issues that arise from childhood abuse, I came to the realisation that one of my parents has NPD.

    So here is my view on normal: I longed for it.

    More than anything else in the world, my greatest wish was to be like everyone else.

    All my life, seeing families where love, understanding, kindness, patience and mutual respect was the norm made my heart ache with the knowledge that this would never be my lot in life.

    One look at the myriad stories of adults recounting their torture at the hands of a narcissistic adult would clearly reveal to you that ‘normal’ was one of the greatest desires of their hearts.

    Unless you’re talking about a child who has acquired narcissistic characteristics himself (which according to anecdotal reports, doesn’t appear to be anywhere near the majority of them), what do you base your presumption on?

    How do you know that we think people who listen are boring? Personally, I found adults that took the time to listen to me were like a soothing balm for my frazzled spirit.

    How do you know we think that people who cry at movies are stupid and easily influenced? Personally, I envied anyone who could be moved to tenderness so easily, and had the freedom to express their feelings without fear of retribution.

    It’s ironic that you’re presuming to know what the thoughts of these people are regarding normality. That’s somewhat narcissistic in itself, don’t you think?


    • Hi Mia!

      Ouch! 🙂 I had to look back over the post to see if I had made a “sweeping generalization” about children of narcissists. I suppose I can see it, but it certainly was not my intent. My intention was to point out that the energy and drama narcissists bring to a relationship, even if negative, can be addicting. That’s why I asked it as a question. I assumed that those who didn’t feel that way would simply understand that some others do. One of the ways to help someone look more carefully at a question like I asked (Do you like normal?) is to offer suggestions of thought and feelings to help people relate. The fact that you don’t find the suggested people boring doesn’t change the fact that many do, nor the fact that narcissistic parents sometimes possess and try to pass on these views.

      So I apologize for not making it more clear that this is not the attitude or behavior I expect in all children of narcissists. It is what I have come to expect in some. It is, in fact, part of the answer of why some people move from one narcissistic relationship to another—even though they hate the idea of narcissism. It is part of the reason they fall back into relationship with the same narcissist repeatedly, in spite of their clear memory of the former pain. I have been told that the narcissist was a “great lover” and “no one else has compared.” I have been told that life seemed so “empty” without the narcissist. Enough people experience this feeling that it is important to bring it up in a discussion of “normal.”

      I am happy that you understand the value of normal, even though you appear to believe it to be unreachable for yourself. Obviously, you have been able to reject many of the characteristics of your N parent and have seen the contrast between those characteristics and normal. Please believe me when I say that this is part of the healing process. The confusion between what was acceptable or regular while growing up and determining what is normal in relationships can be very hard for some people. Making that distinction, as you have, is an important step toward finding a sense of normal in your own life and relationships.

      Part of the problem here is the N ability to transfer or project his/her personality on others. Children of narcissists often (not always!) struggle with empathy and acceptance just like their narcissistic parents. Because the narcissist found unusable people “boring,” that perspective is often passed on to the children.
      I have come to believe that adult narcissism is a learned coping mechanism. In normal families, methods of coping with struggles in relationships are provided which teach the child the value and rights of others. Somehow, narcissists missed this or rejected these other coping mechanisms as ineffective and developed or expanded the narcissistic traits. Children of narcissists have difficulty learning non-N techniques because the N parent(s) simply don’t teach them. The tendency for children of narcissists to struggle with N characteristics is well documented. They may or may not become narcissists, but by growing up in a home where others are not valued and treated as real people, they may have failed to learn how to see people that way. (I do believe that a non-N parent or significant person can help a child find better ways of coping.)

      Thanks for your comment. I am very willing to discuss this or other things more with you either here or offline. I did a quick search for the idea of how those who have experienced narcissistic relationships sometimes find others boring and easily came up with the following quotes. Interestingly, the second article is entitled: “Why do normal people seem so boring?”

      “Given the dramatic contrast between normal people and narcissists, how is it possible for people to attach themselves to narcissists again and again? Well, that’s easy to explain — the relationship between a narcissist and an enabler is intense and perpetual, such that everything else may come to seem boring. Some people are so moved by the intensity of the relationship between a narcissist and an enabler that they assign it the label “True Love”. What constitutes true love will always be a matter of opinion, but as I see it, true love must allow both parties to breathe freely, even to stand apart at times.”

      “Here is what I’ve discovered about myself so far, nothing too ground breaking: nice, normal guys bore me to death. N’s are the only people who GET me and understand who I am. I know that this is something that I should look into more, possibly with a professional, but trust me I have tried. With normal guys (and by normal I definitely don’t mean average, I mean a good looking, intelligent, possibly successful, kind and considerate man)..their normality and everyday activities bore me.”

      • Penny

        Thank you Dave & Mia for digging deeper into the issue of “normal” & I think there may be 2 sides of a coin. In reading each of your posts, I wonder if the question would be better phrased as “Do you RECOGNIZE normal when you see it?” In my experience with N, the N has little to no insight into their own behavior. The N is clueless about normal and they are so self-absorbed that the only normal is their own. The N is “a law [or norm] unto himself.” Thus, the child or partner or friend who begins to push back and expose the abnormal is invalidated by the N for their deep longing and recognition of normal. Perhaps this why Mia says “this would never be my lot in life ” b/c the N simply will not allow it; the N will not give up the throne. Yet, the very longing for normal is deep within the heart of the child, and this longing is an affirmation that the child is NOT a narcissist, that there is in fact something better. It is a hollow victory of sorts b/c the N parent or spouse will do everything possible to negate this recognition and it takes a strong will indeed to press on toward it regardless. The N parent will re-define “normal”as “boring” and demand that everyone else does too. Anyone affected by a N will be exhausted, b/c N is, by definition, exhausting. The N does not allow anyone “to breathe freely”, nor to think too deeply, so no one is allowed to relax. (Thats why a N cannot cry during a movie, b/c it would require thinking about something other than self, which is impossible for a N). The N also cannot soothe him or herself (a basic developmental milestone with infants) and must constantly “stir the pot” to remain in the spotlight. Relaxing is boring, calm is boring, contentment is boring, peace is boring, serenity is boring, “breathing freely” is boring– all because the N is no longer the center of attention. The child or person who can recognize normal can eventually learn to like normal b/c for the first time in their life they can actually exhale and relax. Thoughts??

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s