We Learn Harmful Lies From Narcissistic Parents
Recognising Narcissistic Parents
Childhood trauma, especially emotional neglect or abuse, can have startlingly powerful consequences on our psyche as we enter adulthood, even rewiring the brain (van der Kolk, 2016). Children of narcissistic parents, those who match the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are all too familiar with this, having been reared by someone with a limited ability for empathy and an exaggerated feeling of grandiosity, false superiority, and entitlement (Ni, 2016). The message that they can only maintain their value by how effectively they can “serve” their parents’ wants is internalised by children of narcissistic parents, who are socialised from an early age to seek validation where none exists, believe their worth is linked to the reputation of their families, and believe their worth is tied to their reputation. They had lived in a world where love was rarely, if ever, unconditional.
This is not to say that childhood victims of narcissistic abuse are powerless to overcome their upbringing; in fact, they can become stronger survivors and thrivers due to the resilience they can cultivate and the ways in which they can use their trauma to transform themselves (Bussey and Wise, 2007). To face any retraumatization as adults and to unravel the traumas we had to experience as children, it takes great guts and inner labour. Understanding our behavioural and interpersonal patterns as well as any negative self-talk that has developed as a result of the abuse can be revolutionary in dispelling the myths and misconceptions we’ve been told about our value and potential.
Children with narcissistic parents frequently pick up on the following lessons from an early age:
- Your worth is always conditional – As the child of a narcissistic parent or parents, you were taught that your worth depended on what you could do for the narcissistic parent and how obedient you were, rather than that you were intrinsically valuable. In families with a narcissistic parent, attention on beauty, status, and reputation is at an all-time high. You were undoubtedly raised in a family where abuse took place behind closed doors but was ‘presented’ in the best possible light due to the narcissistic parent’s grandiosity, false mask, and drive to be the best.
A different story was being told inside the home than what was being told to the outside world: you might have witnessed the horrifying dynamics of one parent verbally or even physically abusing the other, experienced the abuse yourself, or seen both parents conspire to undermine you and your siblings. You were probably punished if you ever ventured to speak out against mistreatment or threatened the ideal fake image. The emotional and psychological toll that children of narcissistic parents take when defying the family’s expectations and beliefs can be extremely detrimental and have a lifetime impact on their self-image, sense of agency, and self-belief.
They are taught that they are objects that exist to further the ego and selfish interests of the narcissistic parent rather than being free agents.
- You must be successful and flawless, but you must never feel “enough” or be rewarded for it.
The art of changing the goal posts is a skill used by narcissists to ensure that nothing their victims achieve is ever adequate. We are not an exception to that rule because we were victims of child abuse. Unless they satisfy an arbitrary standard for “what looks best to society,” or they support the narcissistic parent’s own grandiose fantasies, our accomplishments are rarely acknowledged. Unless our abusive parent can take credit for that specific accomplishment, they will never truly be happy for us. When a child achieves achievement that puts them outside of their parents’ sphere of influence and authority, some narcissistic parents may even feel jealous of or superior towards them.
These parents frequently try to undermine their children’s happiness and success if it in any way contradicts their lofty ideals of what happiness should be (usually whatever makes them look good rather than what makes their children feel good) or their need to micromanage and control every aspect of their children’s lives. The narcissistic parent believes that it would be better for their children not to exist than to be unable to carry out their instructions, “perform,” or attain the precise objectives they have set for them. Even if they were the model sons or daughters, the narcissistic parent would continue to move the goalposts, and no matter how flawless they were, they would never be good enough.
- You must surpass everyone who is better, starting with your own siblings.
Children with narcissistic parents frequently compete with their siblings for the attention and love they have always desired but never been given. Children of narcissistic parents are well recognised for being “triangulated” against one another in an effort to pointlessly compare, denigrate, and enhance their own sense of superiority and control over their offspring.
According to what the narcissistic parent needs to further their goals, there is typically a golden child and a scapegoat, though the roles can occasionally be reversed (McBride, 2011). Scapegoated rebellious kids are frequently truth-seekers who long for a genuine relationship with their family members but refuse to keep quiet about the abuse that takes place when they fall short of their parents’ unrealistic expectations. On the other hand, the golden child is typically praised as the “standard,” but this too can swiftly change should the golden child ever assert his or her agency and do something that is not under the parent’s control.
We learn at a very young age that we will never measure up to others, that we must constantly compare ourselves to others, and that we should never recognise our own intrinsic worth and value. Adulthood teaches us that we don’t have to compete with anyone or be the greatest at everything in order to be valued or worthy. Combating these negative internalisations from abuse and replacing them with a healthy level of pride and self-sufficiency can be accomplished by cultivating an unconditional love for oneself as well as an appreciation of our special talents and abilities.
- Disrespect is ‘natural’ in a relationship and is a sign of affection.
When their children need them, narcissistic parents may idealise them for brief moments before treating them with scorn and terrifying narcissistic wrath when they ‘disobey’ and jeopardise their excessive sense of entitlement (Goulston, 2012). The narcissistic parent’s disdain, scorn, and hatred towards their children rewires the mind to accept abuse as the new normal, which is extremely hurtful (Streep, 2016). Love is unstable, frightful, and ultimately unpredictable, as this process of idealisation and depreciation tells us. We tend to tread carefully out of concern that we could offend someone. In later adulthood, it also de-sensitizes us and renders us tone-deaf to verbal abuse (Streep, 2016). Despite the fact that we may learn to recognise emotional and verbal abuse, we will be less likely than someone who had a healthy upbringing to understand how hurtful or how inadmissible it truly is because it is, regrettably, “familiar” to us as the only example of love we have seen. Our abusive parents may cause us to develop “trauma bonds” with them, making us more likely to bond with abusive relationships as adults (Carnes, 1997).
Some of this may be hypervigilance, but a lot of it is self-protection and intuition about the behaviours that have traumatised us in the past. We may even go to the opposite end of the spectrum and exclude anyone who has a tone or attitude that matches our parents. By addressing their people-pleasing tendencies, practising healthy boundaries, and replacing outdated stories of unworthiness with empowering ones about the kind of love and respect they truly deserve, children of narcissistic parents can help themselves re-sensitize to the fact that abuse is never healthy or normal in any relationship. In a secure environment, they can basically “reparent” themselves (Walker, 2013).
- Your feelings are not real
Similar to narcissistic abusers in relationships, narcissistic parents pathologize and invalidate our emotions to the point that we are left without a voice. We go to extremes because we are not allowed to feel: either we become repressed and numb, or we turn into disobedient kids who “feel” too much, too soon. Our grief is not processed in a healthy way beginning in childhood, which causes our feelings to become overwhelming. As we get older, we have the chance to understand the validity of our own feelings and realise that they have always been valid. As kids and teenagers, we learn how to deal with our feelings, our trauma, and the pain of being unloved.
We discover that there are ways for us to distance ourselves from our violent parents, including Low Contact (minimal contact only when necessary) and No Contact at all. In an effort to free ourselves from the identity erosion that has taken place since childhood, we experiment with employing our agency. We learn to distinguish between our own developing faith and the damaging views held about us by the narcissistic parent. Most importantly, we learn that it’s normal to have confidence in ourselves and to open ourselves up to positive experiences. We come to understand that we are worthy of everything nice.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that, despite the fact that we have inherited our scars from our narcissistic parents, these wounds can also serve as entry points for a deeper and more complete healing. We can use our trauma to nourish and validate future generations rather than burdening them with our pain. We have choices on how to use this pain for our own development rather than for our demise. These wounds cannot mend if we ignore them or if we choose to remain asleep. At the same time, our healing process will take time, and we cannot compare our journey to that of others. More than ever, self-awareness and self-compassion are essential.
Children with narcissistic parents need to develop self-protective skills and develop a strategy for improving self-care. False claims that parents are always caring and have our best interests in mind fall flat in the face of controlling, toxic, and abusive parents. These parents lack empathy and are more likely to ‘hoover’ you back when they need to utilise you as a source of narcissistic supply (Schneider, 2015). The best way we can “reparent” ourselves is to practise empathy, compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. Our parents may not have loved us or wanted the best for us, but we can still “reparent” ourselves in these ways. We must allow ourselves to grieve for the loss of our childhood and embrace this fact. Make no mistake: believing that you never earned this affection as a kid of a narcissistic parent is probably the biggest lie of all.
Listening to your heart while making choices can mean different things to different people. For some, it means tapping into their emotions and intuition to guide their decision-making process. For others, it means connecting with a higher power or spiritual force to seek guidance and clarity. Regardless of the interpretation, the idea is to trust your gut and follow your inner guidance when faced with tough decisions. This can lead to more authentic and fulfilling choices, as well as a deeper connection with oneself and the world around us. This book tells you how. Grab your copy of my new book here – https://a.co/d/hYZNvyt
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