Although it really is hard to believe, my father has been gone for five years now. And, while he certainly had his fair share of flaws and missteps (as we all do), if there's one thing that I found to be really refreshing about him, it was his signature raw candor. Sometimes he would say things that would even leave me taken aback (I've been told that he and I have that in common). But even when what he said came off as jarring or super uncomfortable, at least I knew where he stood, and where I stood as it related to where he was at. And, if there is one thing that he used to constantly warn me about, it's that I had narcissists all up and through my bloodline. On both sides.
Actually, more times than not, he didn't refer to them as "narcissists"; "arrogant assholes" was his phrase of choice, but after getting my heart broken by a narcissist, drawing some clear boundaries lines with a few family members due to mind-boggling toxicity, and doing about 12 months of research on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (for the record, a lot of people have some of the traits; it's another matter entirely to be officially diagnosed with the disorder), I have to admit that he was right.
I can't remember who said it, but there's a quote that says something along the lines of, "Once you've had an epiphany, you can never go back to who you were before it. It totally alters your being." Now that I know what a narcissist is, I get why I struggled so much with my self-worth while growing up, why I tolerated some of the abuse that I did from people in and outside of my family, and just how many individuals around me have suffered at the hands of narcissistic abuse—some from their very own mother or father.
If you're someone who doesn't have a healthy sense of self; you lean towards codependent relationships; disappointment absolutely devastates you; you know you've got trust issues that you just can't seem to shake; you constantly battle with anxiety and/or depression; you feel empty inside; you don't have any real personal boundaries; you feel guilt or shame for telling others "no"; you still think you have to run major life choices by your parents and/or you have absolutely no clue what you want out of life because you've been doing what others want you to do since forever—while seeing a professional therapist is recommended, what I will say for now, is those are all side effects of being raised by a narcissist.
Wow and ouch, right? Now let's go a little bit deeper.
How Can You Know If Your Parents Are Truly Narcissistic?
Narcissism: selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type
There's no way around the fact that, if you have a narcissist parent, that means you also have a toxic one. But because not all toxicity is narcissistic, let's briefly touch on some pretty telling signs that your mom or dad falls into the narcissism parent category (I'm putting these in past tense, but that doesn't mean that it might not still be happening; chances are, they are):
- You grew up feeling controlled (even if it was via passive aggressive behavior)
- They always laid guilt trips on you
- They seemed to compete with you and/or "own" your accomplishments
- You constantly had to walk on eggshells
- They had alter egos—they seemed perfect to those outside of the house yet all-over-the-place at home
- They lied a lot
- They had unrealistic expectations
- They gaslighted you often
- They manipulated religion in order to get their way or justify their questionable behavior
- They made you feel bad for making choices without them
- They always made you question your own thoughts and feelings
- They displayed very little compassion or empathy
- They were possessive
- They were neglectful
- If they were physically or verbally abusive, somehow it was everyone else's fault but their own (they didn't take ownership for their actions)
You know what's crazy about this list? I could actually put about 30 more signs on here, but there's simply not enough space to keep going. Anyway, as you're processing everything that you just read, it's important to keep two things in mind. One, a parent having one or two of these qualities does not automatically make them narcissistic; however, if you can pinpoint a consistency of five or more, you've definitely been affected—if not flat-out traumatized—by a narcissistic mother or father. Secondly, the reason why your parents are this way is typically due to some sort of trauma they experienced themselves while growing up—and by "trauma", I mean there's a pretty good chance that they were raised by a narcissistic parent too, although I should put on record that that is not always the case. Sometimes it's due to other issues.
If you check out articles like "Childhood Roots of Narcissistic Personality Disorder", you'll see that narcissism can also be "birthed out of" childhood bullying; being spoiled and developing a sense of entitlement; arrogance; selfishness; not being taught how to co-exist with peers; not knowing how to handle criticism and correction (or being overly-criticized and corrected); creating a fantasy world where you lie to yourself rather than accepting reality and/or not knowing how to have a healthy sense of self-worth. Something that all of these things have in common is healthy parenting works to make sure that these things do not transpire. When that doesn't happen, the innocence and natural trusting ability that children have becomes tainted. As a direct result, they try and figure out ways to no longer feel vulnerable; they take extreme measures to protect themselves from any more harm. Sometimes those measures are extreme. One of those extreme measures is narcissism—putting themselves above everyone else, at the expense of everyone else. Even their own children.
The reason why it's so important to know the backstory on narcissistic behaviors and tendencies is because, while the actions of a narcissist can oftentimes be perceived as pure evil, they are oftentimes victims (including self-victimizers) themselves. There are very few individuals who "want" to be narcissistic. At the same time, because it is a form of mental illness (especially once someone has been diagnosed with this disorder), it's not something that someone can just turn on or off like a faucet. Narcissism needs professional help in order to work through; that starts with having enough humility and self-awareness to admit that one needs assistance. Ironically, because of the arrogance (which is usually a low form of self-esteem) of a narcissist, rarely does this happen.
So, you know what that means, right? If you one or both of your parents are narcissistic and they refuse to get professional help—tell them that an altar call at church ain't gonna cut it; they need to see a therapist; even the Bible says "Seek wise counsel" (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15 and 12:20)—they are going to remain narcissistic. If that is how it all goes down, what exactly should you do?
How Can You Heal from Being Raised by Narcissistic Parents?
If the narcissistic parent that you happen to have is your mom, do yourself a world of good and read "10 Signs You Might Have Unhealthy Boundaries With Your Mom" (you can't change what you're not fully aware of). Then follow that up by watching a great YouTube video on the topic, "The Problem with Being The Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother, and How to Fix It". In the video, not only does the coach touch on some other signs that you've been infected/affected by a narcissism parent (including not knowing yourself well enough to be aware of your true likes or dislikes, constantly feeling incompetent and not having a clue what self-care looks like), she also talks about how to get onto the road to healing. Between her video and some other research that I've done (and implemented), if you're ready to heal from being raised by a narcissistic parent, here are some of the things that you should do.
1. Take a "vacation" from your narcissistic parent.
The best thing that you need to do is probably the hardest. Since narcissistic parents cultivate such a perfect storm of control, manipulation and playing the victim, announcing to them that you need some time apart, is not going to sit well with them. Not at all.
But I can promise you, sis, that if you clean break, even if it's just for a couple of weeks, it will give you a new perspective on your parents as well as yourself.
At the same time, I'll also say that if you don't do this part, you might as well click out of this article because everything else won't be all that effective. The reason why I say that is because remaining in the presence in or even around the energy of a narcissistic parent is like…trying to get over the flu when someone who has it is kissing you in the mouth. In order to heal, space from what's hurting you is required.
2. Journal what your needs, likes and goals are.
A part of the reason why you need your narcissistic parent out of the way is so the world around you can get quiet enough for you to hear your own thoughts. If in the silence, you have absolutely no idea where to begin dreaming for your own life, that's another sign that your parent was probably narcissistic. The remedy to that is to get a journal (or vision board or create box) and start thinking about what you want for your own self. Stop worrying about what they will think if you change career paths, move to another city, or choose to break-up with someone they really like. Now is the time to put your voice before their own. They have a life to run—theirs. It's time to take back control of yours.
3. Set firm boundaries.
Even the healthiest parent has to adjust to letting their child go. But a narcissistic one? Chile, they wouldn't know a boundary if it kicked them in the face. You're an adult now. This means that you don't need their permission to do…anything, really. And while it would be nice to get their support in your decisions, boundary-setting teaches you that you shouldn't be so caught up in how they feel that you don't live the life that you want to lead. When writer Anne Lamott once said, "'No' is a complete sentence", she didn't say "except when it comes to your parents". Everyone applies. And here's the thing—if a parent loves in a healthy way, they will also respect the boundaries/limits that their adult children have set. If yours doesn't, well.
4. Say what you mean, mean what you say.
One of the narcissistic relatives that I have? It's like the only thing they listen to is what they want to hear. And so, in order to get them to really honor my limits, I've had to be a bit excessive. For instance, there is a particular thing that I requested they do for a year. For three years now, they haven't followed through. So, every time they've violated the request, I've reset the clock. This past year is the first time when they've gotten the memo. That's the thing about boundaries—in order for (some) people to honor them, breaking them needs to come with consequences. Extreme ones, if necessary.
5. Avoid other narcissistic relationships.
Since our parents have such a significant amount of influence in our lives, a lot of us end up with other narcissists in our space; not because we want to but simply because it's familiar to us. I'll tell you what—ever since I've be detoxing from narcissistic relatives, a lot of my social circle has shifted too. That's because I realize that I gravitated to narcissists by proxy. But once you start to love on yourself, set your own life terms and live without permission or apology—you get super picky about your relationships. As you're figuring out how to deal with your parents, be intentional about the other people who are in your life too. Read books likeBoundaries andSafe People (same authors).
Check out two of my favorite YouTube channels that are devoted to healing from narcissism (The Royal We and Divine Truth). Take in the wisdom of articles like "Why Narcissists Struggle With People Who Practice Self-Compassion" and "7 Healing Affirmations For Victims Of Narcissistic Abuse" and videos like "The 3 Stages of Narcissistic Abuse + My Experience" and "The 5 Most Common Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Mistakes". Surround yourself with individuals who not only love you, but will totally allow you to BE you.
I know what it's like to have narcissistic relatives. Because I do, if you have them, I wish I could hug you right now; you've been through a lot. But please don't allow their issues to continue to take over your own life. You deserve to heal from narcissistic abuse and then live freely and fully. My hope and prayer is that this article is a step towards helping you to do just that.
Feature image by Shutterstock
- How parents create narcissistic children - The Washington Post ›
- "YOU'RE NOT CRAZY. IT'S YOUR MOTHER" | Signs That Your ... ›
- Surviving a Narcissistic Parent - Noteworthy - The Journal Blog ›
- Narcissistic Parents Are Literally Incapable Of Loving Their Children ›
- 19 Signs You Were Raised By a Narcissistic Mother or Father ... ›
- The Legacy of a Narcissistic Parent | Goop ›
- How Being Raised By A Narcissist Damages Your Life And Self ... ›
- 10 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent | Psychology Today ›
- 6 Signs You Were Raised By A Narcissist | HuffPost Life ›
After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic,’ though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let's do first things first — let's define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of "What does platonic mean?", the first thing that you're (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of "of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex" (Merriam-Webster), "designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity" (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, "purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes" (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I'll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word "platonic" actually come from? From what I've researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled "Symposium." In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire, one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: "Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry." A write-up on Merriam-Webster's site stated that "The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships." Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that's another article for another time, though (check out "We Should Really Rethink The Term' Casual Sex'").
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word "platonic" is kind of used in "broad strokes" these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be "just friends," I'm going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I'm pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I'll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He's super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often, and some have told us that they assume that we've had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: "I told him, 'He's my brother. We would never mess around.'"
My Friend: "Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it."
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: "Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives." (That reminds me: check out "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?" when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: "Girl, yeah. If I didn't want to keep you in my life long-term, I would've tried to holla a long time ago!" And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these "for real?!" exchanges is even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn't mean there isn't a "dormant seed" lying around somewhere…whether it's one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life; we've had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren't exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you're not sure about "his"…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you, yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other, and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article, yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship, yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you've got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you've never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he's someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it's one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who's been together for more than five years and I'll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out "Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?").
Yeah, just because you've filed someone in the "I see him as a good guy" category, that doesn't automatically mean that y'all's friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels, yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don't get it twisted — I've considered him because, on so many levels, we "fit." So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are "good friends," yet it's not exactly platonic.
I'm not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would've been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn't make you want to throw up in your mouth, there's a pretty good chance that it's not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there's a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive, yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic, and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way, too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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