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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 like Boundaries and Safe 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.
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