Narcissistic Family Dynamics – Playing The Hand We’re Dealt
Hindsight is an amazing tool for survivors.
When you grow up with a narcissistic parent, there are realities about our environment that don’t exist in a non-narcissistic household. These realities are our healing points, our own issues, that as an adult we realize require healing for us to go on to have healthy adult relationships.
The narcissistic parent, incapable of meeting a childs needs because they conflict with their own, becomes the recipient of the child’s care and affection. The npd parent flips the roles and demands that the child be the sacrificial, giving caretaker. Of course in hindsight, its easy to see the error in this behavior, but as a young, impressionable child the modeled behavior has an impact on the things we’ll need to unwind and reparent later in life.
What this does is set us up to be the caretakers, the responsible ones, the fixers, the glue that holds the narcissist together. It sets us up to GIVE caretaking love to a narcissist, while not complaining or making much of a fuss about receiving nothing in return. Because we’re so used to this treatment from the narcissist in our younger years, we don’t put up much resistence at all to this treatment as adults.
Narcissists do NOT possess the ability to respect boundaries. They’re boundary busters. Crossing over mental boundaries to tell you what’s going on in YOUR head or what your motivation is, crossing over physical boundaries to touch and hug us when we don’t wish to be touched or hugged, taking our property without permission, crossing over our emotional boundaries to argue with what we feel, why we feel it or if we “should” feel it, when only we can know those things. Sharing secrets we’ve asked them to keep, talking about you as if you’re not in the room, reading your diary without permission, eavesdropping on private conversations, wearing your clothes without asking, triangulating and talking to others in the family or office about you behind your back, all are examples of violation of boundaries and is a list too lengthy to document. If you feel exhausted reading about the many ways narcissists cross their childrens’ boundaries, imagine LIVING IT.
Children of narcissists grow into adults who are accustomed to having boundaries busted quite frequently; so much so, that this feels “familiar” / “like home”. Adult narcissistic predators looking for the perfect “victim”, senses and spots this ingrained trait and automatically realizes that there will be no consequences for exploiting the target. They’ll bust over our boundaries, without much of a fight and realize that they can ‘get away’ with their bullying and aggressive behavior.
When faced with hopelessness, human beings will resign themselves to a future that resembles the present, same ole same ole, maintenance of the status quo is exactly what happens as a child grows in a narcissistic family. The narcissist never changes, the child learns that their own needs and desires are inferior if not completely non existent to the narcissists needs and wants. What’s the point if your needs are never tended to? So the child adopts the caretaking role of worrying about the narcissists needs, not their own. We resign ourselves to selflessness / needlessness.
It’s a result of both the parentification of the child as well as the sheer inability the narcissist has to think of anyone other than themselves. Even though a narcissist is good to put on a big show to others about what a great parent they are, the kids are the benefactors of this twisted truth:
NARCISSISTS DO NOT CARE ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN REGARDLESS OF THEIR SUPERIOR ACTING SKILLS
We learn that we don’t matter. It’s not that we aren’t worthy of this attention to our needs or care & understanding, but that’s what our translation is. We personalize it. We do think it’s because we’re unworthy. It becomes our self concept. We go about giving and loving the narcissist, trying to please them, or prove ourselves giving / caring enough that the narcissist will finally find us “worthy” of some scraps of genuine affection that never come.
This sets us up to be the perfect adult doormat. With no needs, an adult child will feel comfortable when partners demand that their needs be paramount in the “relationship”. It teaches us not to expect reciprocity. It teaches us that a 100 / 0 relationship is “familiar” and “normal”. It’s not normal at all, but when you’re used to someone riding rough shod to get all the goodies, you simply step aside as opposed to telling them to cut it out.
Apologizing for our existence:
Its a sad state of affairs that a child would feel the need to assert their right to be here or have a childhood drive to PROVE that we’re worth loving, but that’s the reality of a narcissistic family dynamic. The things that narcissists say out of rage for their children, in the presence of no witnesses, is beyond appalling. I recall having thoughts in grade school about being so thankful that abortion wasn’t legal in the 60s. It’s not that 5th graders really care about such lofty matters, its just that the person I depended on and loved most, my mother, let me know repeatedly that I was very lucky abortion wasn’t legal, because I wouldn’t have been alive. Recalling this reality in hindsight, allows me to feel the remorse and empathy for myself that I deserved. What my inner child went through was unfathomable.
What these messages, whether overt as in my above account, or insidious and covert, the message is the same: WE MAY EXIST, BUT WE OUGHT TO FEEL LUCKY WE DO.
When you constantly feel you’re being treated as an inconvenience or interruption to the perfectly supply driven life of a narcissist, you learn that the best way to live in that regime is to step aside and let the narcissist have the limelight.
No, a home is NOT a stage in a play or melodrama for normal people, but in a narcissistic family, the main seat at the table, the one who “earns” our keep, the top dog in our lives….is the narcissist and WE ALL KNOW IT. We’re all there to fill our part in their play. We will behave however the narcissist has decided our role will be and we will NOT deviate from that, unless we want to incur the narcissist’s rage.
Let’s stop down for a moment and pay a brief word to “the narcissist’s rage”. Many people who don’t live within the narc home, don’t have a clue that the narcissist has a two faced personality. They see the “kind” “giving” blah blah image the narcissist presents to strangers and can never fathom that the same narcissist would be a terroristic tyrant at home.
Narcissistic rage isn’t always the typical big, loud mouth event. It’s more cruel than that. Narcissistic rage is more subdued and insidious. They’d much rather punish people by WITHHOLDING AND REFUSING TO GIVE what they know those people need from them. A narc parent will be subtly aggressive (raging) by showing the child, that they can disconnect emotionally from the child as if the child doesn’t exist. They’ll not show up, be on time. or give full attention to the things that are important to the child. They’ll disappear emotionally until the child begs for attention through acting out or acting up.
When children who have learned to feel that they don’t want to rock the boat by “existing” grow up, they will not question or stand up to behaviors that cause us to feel unimportant or invalidated by others. Cheating will be tolerated, invalidation will be turned a blind eye to, a narcissist’s double standard for treatment won’t be questioned.
Since narcissists don’t possess empathy, how do we ever get to relax as children and FEEL that someone else really cares about the things that we do at times. When we’ve lost a pet, or been teased at school, if our parent is incapable of really feeling what we feel in response to these events, we are going to feel really disconnected from intimacy. When we are excited about that boy or girl that we’ve been crushing on, returns our affections – its going to hurt when we can’t get our parent off social media or to stop taking pictures of themselves long enough to listen to us fully.
It hurts to have feelings about our parents behavior that we know we can’t ever be heard on. That we know deep down, this person, our parent, doesn’t care enough about us to really hear us is so isolating and disconnecting. We start to realize on a deep level that, we will ONLY have the narcissists full attention or care when it is convenient for them.
Lack of empathy strikes at the very feeling of being loved and cared about that it’s impossible to feel the love of your parent if they are empathy impaired. The narcissist would argue that “they really care” about the people around them, but those people know that the narcissist only “cares” when it behooves them and that, that is not a genuine love for them in the least.
The key to reparenting ourselves in this area is to recognize the disorder for what it is and not internalize this inability to care/ love on the narcissist’s part as being a defect of our own that makes us “unlovable”.
Trouble with Developing our True Identity:
Much like the narcissist, targets who grew up in a narcissistic regime, don’t get a chance to fully explore who we truly are, until we are no longer under the influence of the narcissist’s boundary busting methods of “telling us who we are”. What the narcissist tells us we are, is skewed anyway. We know that through projection, the narcissist casts off the traits hated in themselves onto those closest to them, so when we’re told we’re SELFISH, it’s nothing more than the narcissist accusing us, of what they are guilty of themselves.
But you can see, as a child, with such impressionable identities, being told again and again that you are something you’re not, is going to make you believe it – whether it’s true or not.
As a young child, I was told repeatedly by my narcissistic mother that I was “selfish”. In fact, I was told I was selfish so frequently that I sometimes wondered if my name wasn’t really “selfish little bitch”. What this did to me, was gave me the message that selfish was bad, and I should never be “that kind of bad”. I went on to consider my own selfishness in every interaction with everyone I had; and still do. I don’t want to hurt others. I empathize with how hurtful it is to be selfishly shut out by someone’s blindingly grand ego.
I didn’t learn the important lesson that there is a certain level of “selfishness” that doesn’t hurt anyone, that is a normal part of self care and isn’t bad at all, I felt that it was my “duty” to never be selfish to others. The result? I couldn’t say no to others and never questioned what that did to myself. In fact, I barely thought of myself at all and was continually frustrated that I gave unselfishly but rarely received that from others. I learned that it was not MY JOB to take care of myself but that through unselfish service to others, someday I’d be loved.
If you are not allowed to be who you really are I think this is the pivotal identity issue that either creates a personality disordered identity vs a strong, resilient surviving type of personality that rises through the ashes and thrives to survive despite all the abuse.
In my own case, I sought outside relationships with neighbors, teachers and clergy who allowed me to be my true identity. My strength of character pushed me to broaden my “frame of reference circle” or my “feedback loop” to encompass those who also lived in reality. My ability to tell the truth despite the terrible consequences of being shamed and shunned by a narcissist who didn’t want to hear the truth, caused me to be the scapegoat in my family – my ability to call a spade a spade, allowed my true identity and authenticity to survive.
Its my thought that this resiliency trait that exists in me, exists in all survivors who have found their way here to the page, telling our truths about this abuse, willing to be honest, and accept responsibility for the things about ourselves that played into this abuse and allow us to make changes that prevent this from ever happening to us again as well as our willingness to be there for others who are hurting the hurts we’ve hurt and seek the same peaceful living that we seek.
As you can see in retrospect, the lessons we learned growing up in a narcissistic family are lessons that we need to unlearn now that we’re adults so that we don’t continue to choose partners who will repeat the abuse of our childhood. We also have a responsibility to protect our children from these patterns and do everything within our power to model HEALTHY parenting roles, boundaries, needs, unconditional love empathy and acceptance of who are children really are.