It’s Narcissist Friday!
A friend asked me to go with him to see his mother as she lay dying in the hospital. He wanted me to reassure her about her faith. He may also have wanted me to understand something about him. You see, I was privileged to witness her last words to her son. At first it seemed like a holy time, one into which I should not intrude. But her words shocked me. The last words he heard his mother say to him were words of anger and accusation, telling him how he never measured up and was such a disappointment to her.
I have always carried a special grief because of that situation. It is hard for me to understand how a parent could leave a child with such words. It is hard to know how I would have handled something like that.
But I have learned since that time that many people have that kind of relationship with a parent. For some reading this, that scenario doesn’t seem hard to understand at all. It may be one you remember or it may be one you expect. After all, why should the end be any different from the whole?
But now that parent is gone. And you bear a peculiar grief. Your grief is not so much for the loss of a parent, but for the loss of what could have been. You could have had a good relationship. You should have received encouragement and praise and guidance. You could have grown up feeling good about yourself and knowing that you had loving support. It could have been the way that relationship should have been. But it didn’t happen. Your loss is something most people don’t understand. You didn’t lose a mom or a dad; you lost the opportunity for things to be right.
And, yet, you know things were never right. Something about your parent was broken. It may have happened way back in childhood, but it had nothing to do with you. The problem was there before you came along. It affected you, took some things from you, left you with conflicted feelings about yourself and life—but it wasn’t your problem.
I once stabbed myself with a meat prong in the palm of my hand. The prong went through and pushed up the skin on the back of my hand. That was a few years ago and no lasting damage was done. Yet, when I think about that event, my hand almost involuntarily closes to protect my palm. Pain leaves a memory.
Yes, you will hear that voice in your ear from time to time. You will struggle against the criticisms and condemnation. You will wonder if you are still being manipulated. You will wonder whether you have the same characteristics or if you have passed them down to your kids. And you won’t forget.
All of this is natural and normal. Nothing is wrong with you. You can’t just forget a parent and you can’t just wash away years of life. You had to learn to deal with a person who was very difficult and the habitual responses will take time to unlearn.
Many people feel a strange mix of relief and loss when a parent dies. The relief comes from the release of a source of stress. This happens even in good relationships. You don’t have to make that trip or do that work or watch the suffering anymore. With a narcissistic parent, the battle is finally over. The relief is normal and not bad.
And you can heal. You can move forward with your own life. You can acknowledge and accept the mixed feelings in your heart and not worry about them. You may have some things to work through, but you can do it.
Find a good counselor to talk with. Find a good friend who will listen and affirm you. Build your own life again. Don’t focus on the negative of what was, focus on the positive of what will be.
One caution: You have had a narcissist in your life as long as you can remember. Even though it was difficult, it was what you saw and felt as normal. Normal has a strong pull. If normal meant being criticized and depersonalized, you may find yourself seeking that again. You may be wide open to other narcissistic relationships. Be careful.
Perhaps for the first time, you are able to look at your parent objectively. You can remember the charm new people saw. You can remember what was said behind their backs. You don’t need a friend or lover like that. Watch for the clues—you will recognize them—and let yourself reject new narcissistic relationships.
There is life after the narcissistic parent. Good life. You are loved and you are valued.
Help me out here. What would you say to someone who is just starting to move past the narcissistic parental relationship?