It’s Narcissist Friday!
Children of narcissistic parents usually cannot remember a time when things were different. All they know is that they have wanted to get away for a long time.
Manipulative, controlling, overbearing, uncaring, competitive: these are all words used to describe narcissistic parents.
Remember how a narcissist sees others. I have said over the years that the narcissist sees people as “tools, toys, or obstacles.” In other words, narcissists see others as things to use or to destroy. If they can’t use a person, that person must be pushed into nothingness.
Now, imagine how a narcissist sees his or her own children. Tools, toys, or obstacles. The narcissist categorizes offspring. There is no love, no compassion, no empathy. Either the child serves the narcissist in some way, or the child is abandoned.
So, in narcissistic homes, we find children who are coddled and doted upon alongside children who are ignored. We find children who grow up to be narcissists and children who grow up to be victims of more narcissists. And sometimes the damage is so deep that the same child suffers on both sides.
Some people will say that the children of narcissists grow up to be narcissists. That simply is not true. Since the abuse differs for each child, the response to that abuse also differs. Even more, children in the same family respond differently to the same circumstances. Some may learn narcissistic behaviors from parents without becoming narcissists, just as normal kids learn behaviors from normal parents. Others will decide quite early, usually as a response to the abuse, to shield themselves with narcissistic personality.
It is normal for narcissistic parents to have favorites. One child is rejected while another is chosen. To be rejected is to be neglected, abandoned, or even attacked. Because this began so far in the past, the victim has no cause to which he/she can point. Feelings of inferiority and unworthiness are normal. Even choosing partners who continue the narcissistic abuse is normal.
Perhaps the child of narcissistic parents has a better opportunity to leave the relationship than a spouse, but the damage is deeper. The normal childhood others talk about, the loving parents others enjoy, the close family ties others remember—these things are not part of their background. Everything from family trips to personal privacy has been tainted by the narcissism.
It is one thing to leave mom and dad, but quite another to leave the influence they had since birth. The pain of narcissistic abuse, even when there has been no physical abuse, can be traumatic and lingering. Children of narcissists often wonder why they were picked on or hated, but they find no answers. Narcissistic rejection may seem arbitrary.
Because narcissistic abuse seems so normal to the children of narcissists, they often find spouses or intimate others who are narcissists. The criticism, rejection, arbitrary emotional responses, and lack of love seem normal. Without parents who love each other, children often don’t expect to find the love others talk about. Without parental affection as children, some don’t expect spousal affection. Some suffered a series of narcissistic relationships before they began to realize that their experience is neither normal nor right.
A counselor who understands narcissistic abuse can help work through self-esteem and behavioral issues. As always, be careful. Few church counselors or pastors understand narcissism, especially the depths of emotional scarring children of narcissists have. Reading about narcissism, talking with others who have struggled in the same way, and joining a support group—these can also help.
And, of course, adults can still have their narcissistic parents. The manipulation, rejection, favoritism, and other abuse doesn’t go away once the child becomes an adult. The twisted ideas of family and love affect grandchildren as well.
One of the most successful and practical methods of dealing with parental narcissism is understanding and maintaining boundaries. It may not be possible to establish no-contact with a parent. It may also not be desirable. But firm boundaries regarding visits, phone conversations, etc. can give power back to the child of a narcissist. But, again, prepare for battle. Those who can’t be used must be destroyed—at least that’s how most narcissists think.
It is right to stand up to the abuse of a narcissist, even if that person is a parent. But you will pay a price. Gather your support and be careful. Vindictive narcissists can be ruthless. Still, getting separate from their control is right.
We will pray for you. Seriously.