Child Abuse?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Abuse is a loaded word. Because it is so loaded, we have to qualify it in order to know what it means. For example, if I say that someone is abusive, you might ask what kind of abuse. It isn’t enough just to categorize someone as abusive. Should you be frightened of such a person? Should you consider calling the authorities? Or should you just ignore my accusation because I am angry or feeling offended? If I add that the person is guilty of child abuse, your mind will go in one direction. If I change it to spousal abuse, you will think something else. If I add “sexual” to either of those, we have yet another dimension.

We have identified abuse as a “cause celebre.” If you want attention, tell people you are being abused. If you want to raise money, do it for someone who is abused. If you want to be elected, claim that your opponents are abusers. However, because it is used in these ways, many people consider it to be phony, just a tool to get sympathy. And real abuse goes on without the attention it should get. And real victims continue to suffer.

I was faced with a question recently: is narcissistic parenting child abuse? Before you say yes or no, consider the problem. Some people believe spanking is child abuse. Some believe that not spanking is child abuse. Some see no problem leaving younger children in the charge of a ten-year-old sibling. Others would consider that to be neglect, a form of abuse. Some will let a fussy child go to bed hungry rather than give in to childish demands. Others would consider that to be abuse. So how do you answer whether you think that narcissistic parenting is abusive?

Who asks this question? Perhaps the adult child of a narcissist wonders if their strange and painful childhood was abusive. That might explain the difficulties that have come with adult life, the indecisiveness or the PTSD symptoms. Perhaps the mother who is beginning to realize that her husband is narcissistic. She wonders if she would be able to get custody in a divorce, so that the children would be protected. Perhaps a counselor or attorney would ask such a question to determine the best way to help a client.

This short post will certainly not answer the question, if it can be answered at all. Instead, I would like to share a couple of thoughts that might help those who are seeking an answer.

First, our culture defines abuse as an event. In other words, it has to be substantiated and chronicled as an event in time. What happened; when; where? The culture does not see a person as abusive all the time. Instead, they see and acknowledge abusive actions in time. I knew a lady who hit her child with a board. It was not an accident. It happened at a certain point in time. There were bruises to prove that it happened. It was determined to be abuse. If you want to consider something as abuse, you will have to tell a story with specific details. For the court, you will have to keep careful records and make charges to authorities in order to be believed. If you can substantiate the abuse, but did nothing to stop it (calling the police, for example) then you will be doubted. If you called the police, but have no evidence, they will probably do nothing.

Second, narcissism is a disorder, not an abusive act. You and I may understand that narcissists use people and care nothing about the pain they cause, but others will not see that. To claim that someone in your life is a narcissist is not the same as saying that person is an abuser, no matter how much that makes sense to us. In fact, it is the narcissism that allows the abuse. Because the narcissist cannot and will not connect with the pain of others, he/she simply does not care about what hurts them. The manipulations and emotional neglect of the narcissistic parent are cruel to the point of damaging, but most of what the victims experience would be hard to explain to others.

Some narcissists are also sociopaths. Some are destructive and actually enjoy the pain of others. For these people, physical abuse brings a perverted pleasure. But most narcissists do not abuse physically, according to the professionals. Narcissistic abuse is much harder to see and understand—unless you are on the receiving end. Sometimes even then.

Finally, sometimes the determination of abuse can only be found in the relationship. What I mean is that some forms of abuse are only understood by the two people who experience it: the abuser and the victim. If a mom hits her child with a board, we understand that to be abuse. If the same mom calls the child lazy, we are not so sure. Even the child may not understand at the time. But later, the adult child may understand that the mom was manipulating and abusing her. If a father makes a promise and fails to follow through, no one outside the relationship may see the act as abusive, but the son may understand one day that his father only used promises to control. Sometimes a third person, close to the relationship, can see the truth, but that person will have difficulty convincing others. Even more so if that third person is the only one who will consider the actions abusive.

What all of this leads to is that you might have to determine for yourself whether you were abused by narcissistic parents. If you examine the characteristics of narcissism and determine in your own heart and mind that your parent(s) fit the description, you may be able to see their actions as abusive. That might help you understand your present struggles a little better. You may not be able to get any legal or official action against them, or even be able to convince others, but you can know more about yourself. A good counselor can help you see how that abuse led you to a certain dysfunction in your life.

If you are the spouse of a narcissist, you may have to determine for yourself whether your husband/wife abuses the kids. Don’t expect others to understand what you know. You may have to act on what you know to be true, even if others don’t see it. Lawyers, pastors, even most counselors may not see what you experienced as abuse—only because they were not there and not you. A quality counselor, who understands narcissism, can help you to deal with your feelings and may also be able to help you see the dangers facing your children.

What actions can you take if you believe your spouse exhibits narcissistic abuse? I worked with a woman whose husband read horrible, true stories to the children before bed, stories of torture and murder. She believed his actions were abusive, damaging to the children. When he refused to stop after she expressed her concerns, she gathered the children and left. Counseling and time supported her concerns. The authorities today respond almost only to physical abuse and serious neglect. Narcissistic parents usually abuse in other ways. You may have to make the hard decisions without help from authorities.

If at all possible, build a small support structure: friends, family, counselors, etc. Let others know what makes you afraid. Let them help you make wise decisions about how to handle the situation. You don’t want to put the children in danger yourself. Living in the car, going without food, leaving them alone—these things could make you look like the abuser. If you have a place to go and money to get there, you can provide the safety you and the children will need.

Is narcissistic parenting child abuse? I can say that parents who abuse are almost always narcissistic. I can say that narcissism causes the depersonalization that allows the abuse. I can say that narcissism, by definition, hurts others without sympathy. But, without examining specific actions, I cannot say that narcissistic parents are abusers. Self-focus, lack of empathy, even manipulation of others is not necessarily abuse. So, I would say that narcissistic parenting is not, by definition, abuse. But it sure is not good.

Was your childhood with narcissistic parent(s) abusive?  Perhaps.  It may be worth talking with someone about that.


Filed under Narcissism

20 responses to “Child Abuse?

  1. I would say that your conclusion is absolutely wrong. I would say that lying every day and placing your sins on a child , is abuse. Mobbing that comes with abuse by proxy ,,,in order that the narcissist looks free of sin,,,is the sin of omission. Daily love of self done by the N parent is child abuse.

  2. I believe abuse to be any act or behavior that misuses a living thing in a way that it was not intended by God. We all know that sin, according to Scripture can be an act of commission (something done wrong) or an act of omission (something that wasn’t done that should have been). Abuse can be subtle or it can be overt, so abuse can be many things, depending on the motis operandi of the “abuser.” Lying, manipulating, backstabbing, mental cruelty (playing mind games), verbal assault, physical violence….they are all examples of abuse toward another.

  3. Mark

    I think this is very, very insightful. I will add to this that the church dimension is similar. Many things are behavioral patterns that only become issues when there is some specific event. For example, drunk driving, texting while driving and often cell phone use while driving are illegal. However, there are drivers who don’t understand the implications of other forms of inattentive driving. The drive is the time to tie the tie, put on makeup, mentally process the workday. Those drivers are more likely to get into an accident, but they are probably much more likely to have close calls, fail to stay in their lane, run lights, etc. – things that don’t necessarily end in an accident.

    In the same way, if abuse stems from narcissism, there will be an overall pattern, but perhaps not glaring instances of that pattern – no accidents. Now, if there is a long-term pattern where there are some events, going to the church is often fruitless. The church leaders want to see one clear, documented example and a verse that proves it is sin. Then they might be interested in understanding what led to that sin. However, bringing ten instances of mistreatment that aren’t so black and white and heinous is more likely to get you labeled as a busybody than accomplish anything. In an abusive church, members were constantly reminded that “love keeps no record of wrongs”. That was to preempt those who might bring charges against some of the leaders who had abusive patterns.

    The theological tradition behind my church background was an attempt to swing the pendulum away from anarchy. Thus, there was no desire to ever question abusive leadership, be it in the home or church.

  4. b. t. k.

    Maybe not abuse by society’s and the court’s standards (obviously in our case, because I tried,) but definitely by the Lord God’s standards. Ephesians 6:4 New International Version (NIV) Fathers,[b] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

    • UnForsaken

      Yes, I believe Dave meant to convey Society’s view of abuse. Each of us who have been raised by a Narc will likely conclude we have been abused, although in more covert cases it will also be likely we cannot prove it. We have to be honest with ourselves, seek guidance, and believe in our own knowledge of this even against the denial of others. We need to know how others will see this, but then we need to trust our own instincts. We are the ones who can Really see!

  5. Anonymous

    About a year before she died, my (co-dependent) Mom apologized to me for “failure to protect you(me) from your (narcissistic) Father’s ABUSE.”
    I have PTSD stemming from my parents’ bullying and co-dependency and from working for and with and attempting to be friends with Malignant Narcissists.

  6. Anonymous

    Narcs are bullies. Bullying is a form of abuse.

  7. Fern

    For those who are wondering if they were abused, I found this article extremely helpful:

    • UnForsaken

      Thank you, Fern! I also like to remember that verbal abuse isn’t always verbalized. It can be an insinuation, a glance, a sneer behind your back or to your face, a poisonous behavior meant only for your understanding… many things. It can be the general lack of goodwill and the likelihood that they hate / loath you, or wish to destroy you, while their public behavior can be almost saccharine sweet. Of course the authorities will never acknowledge this kind of abuse, but we need to, for our presence of mind and health.

      Bless you for sharing this helpful guide to determining abuse. ❤

  8. As a Christian, I believe that God exists, and that God is love. I believe we were created by God, made in His image.

    According to the New Testament Bible, Christ Jesus told His followers that the greatest of all the commandments is the commandment to love. He said that when we love God, and when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we thereby fulfill all of the law. (As His parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates, our neighbor is anyone whose path crosses our own.)

    I believe that being created by a God who is love, and being made in His image, means that we were created to love and be loved. When we fail to treat others with an attitude of loving kindness, we are failing to live up to the purpose for which we were created.

    Being made in the image of a God who is love, means that we NEED love. Studies have found that perfectly healthy babies, when left alone in an orphanage without loving interaction, will fail to thrive — sicken — and even die, despite being well fed (with propped up bottles), and kept clean, warm, and dry. This is irrefutable evidence that love is a basic necessity of human life, no less necessary to our well-being than water, food, shelter, and air to breathe. Lack of love kills the spirit, damages the mind and emotions, and can ultimately kill the body.

    A true narcissist cannot love. Not loving your child is abusive. Not loving your husband or wife is abusive. Treating anyone in a consistently unloving, unkind, and disrespectful way, is abusive, because we were created for love.

    I endured several episodes of extreme trauma and abuse as a child and young adult. I have been beaten on my bare back with the buckle end of a belt, until I had bloody welts all over my backside. I have been knocked unconscious three times by physical abuse. As a child, I witnessed my dad trying to murder my mother. He came so close to killing her that I thought she was dead. My father was arrested the next day. Without his income, my mother and my 4 preschool siblings and I soon ran out of food, our only car was taken, and our house went into foreclosure.

    That was when our mother tried to gas us all to death. And there were many other abuses too, including some sexual abuse.

    However, at the age of 64, after years of therapy and after reading a small library’s worth of self-help books, as I look back over my life I can clearly see that the abuse that caused me the most harm by far, wasn’t the occasional huge horrible traumatic violent episode — it was the day in, day out, utter lack of tender loving kindness that damaged and devastated me the most.

    We were created by a God who is love. We were made in His image. We were created to love and to be loved.

    Without love, we have nothing.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for sharing your horrendous experience(s). I am SO sorry you had to endure what you endured. (I can relate to your accounts of physical abuse and the daily “lack of tender loving kindness.”)

      Much Love and ((Hugs)) for you.

      • Thank YOU — with much love and hugs in return. Your kind words blessed my heart and brought happy tears to my eyes. ❤

        What I failed to mention in my comment is that the number one best way that I have found to heal from trauma is through the gift of Christ-like LOVE.

        I am very sorry that you can relate to my accounts of physical abuse and daily lack of tender loving kindness. I hope and pray that you can also relate to my experience of healing through love. ❤

    • I can relate to your being abused as a child! I am sorry that this was your experience! No child should ever have to endure that! I thank you for your honesty as I’ve found it difficult to find others who can be so brutally honest about their childhood physical and mental abuse.
      If it wasn’t for God I would not be here today! He is awesome and I am grateful for this extraordinary life HE has given me! Stay blessed

      • Thank you so much, touched2mysoul, for your gentle, loving, and affirming words! I really needed to read this right now!

        In a few hours I am scheduled to have surgery, my second surgery in two months, and I am a little stressed over it. Although this surgery is not major, it involves a biopsy, which is a bit unnerving. Plus I will have to be under general anesthesia again, which I really dislike, as I have had life threatening anaphylactic shock reactions to anesthesia in the past. I had no problems with the anesthesia two months ago, which makes me feel less worried, but still…

        I stayed awake until midnight, as that is the final time I can have anything to eat or drink until after my procedure. Now, as I am getting ready for bed, I decided to check my blog reader before going to sleep, hoping to find something encouraging to lift my spirits. That’s when I found your very precious reply to a comment that I left here on Pastor Dave’s blog in May, a few days before my last surgical procedure. Wow! Timely words!

        I am so sorry, too, that you can relate to being abused as a child. But how glorious is our God, who gives us beauty for ashes, if only we will seek Him with all our hearts! God is so gracious and so good.

        I want to leave you with the Biblegateway (dot) com verse of the day, which I read right before clicking on my blog reader and finding your sweet comment:
        “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” –Philippians 1:6 NKJV

        Amen! Thank You Lord Jesus, our Rock and our Redeemer!

      • Amen! God is good! All the time! Hold HIS hand and know that He’s got you today as you go thru your procedure! Prayers going up for you! God bless!

      • Thank you!! Here is a ((HUG)) if you want one.
        This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. 🙂

      • Amen! Sending you a 🤗right back. Hope all is well. Stay blessed!

  9. Anonymous

    I am a Christian and have experienced (and continue to experience) healing through the grace and mercy and power of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love. 🙂

  10. Another ACoN

    Narcissistic abuse is the perfect crime. It annihilates the personhood of its victims while the narcissistic perpetrators are unlikely to ever be prosecuted. That is exactly the way they like it.

    As an ACoN, I find this lawyer’s viewpoint very accurate:

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