How Narcissistic Parents Create Boundary Deficiencies
Ask any child of a narcissistic parent if they felt loved by their parent and you will get a resounding, “NO!” Narcissistic parents are focused on getting their own needs met and are heavily invested in their image of themselves as a parent and the positive feedback that mirroring a “golden” child gives them, but they are NOT invested in that child as a person in our own right.
Boundaries don’t exist to a narcissist. The narcissistic parent feels entitled to transgress the boundaries of their children because they feel that they “own” us. They do not recognize that their children (or anyone else) are separate from themselves.
Here are some of the common ways narcissistic parents cross our boundaries as children:
a) Physical boundaries: The childs physical space and person.
How we’re violated: Our right to be protected from unwanted touch or unwelcome hugs are ignored, negative comments about our physical appearance are given without being asked, our personal space is violated, or they exert power over our physical movements, bodily functions, sexuality, sexual preference or how a child dresses and presents themselves. Narcissistic parents idolize children who are physically talented or gifted in sports. Narcissistic parents focus on appearances. If you were a cute kid, your narcissistic parent likely gave you a lot of praise and attention for your looks – giving you the feeling that you are only lovable based on how cute or good looking you are.
One example from my childhood, where my narcissistic mother repeatedly crossed my physical boundaries was when I would be using the bathroom. She often would barge in without knocking or if the door was locked would stand outside and threaten to leave me if I didn’t stop what I was doing in the bathroom and leave immediately. I recall many times, we’d take trips to the library, a time I looked forward to spending with my mother. She’d often interrupt me while I was in the bathroom, so I’d spend the first 15 minutes in the library in the restroom finishing my bathroom time, due to my mother’s interruption. To this day, I cannot walk into a library or book store, without first stopping to use the bathroom.
How we’re affected:
We put up with uncomfortable touching, unwanted sexual attention or focus, people getting too close, too fast or pushing us to begin a physical relationship before we’re ready or comfortable. We put up with people judging our exterior. We place too much emphasis on getting attention through superficial means; the type of appearance attention our parents gave us. We are left with the feeling that we’re not allowed to say, “No!” Or that we are not suppose to feel uncomfortable when someone encroaches on our physical territory. It sets us up to be used and exploited both sexually and physically without telling those around us we’ve been violated because we internally believe we either deserve it or didn’t have the right to say NO!
b) Mental Boundaries:
Our ability to be in control of our own thinking, opinions and beliefs.
How we’re violated: Narcissists cannot tolerate disagreement. For the child who expresses their own thoughts freely, we will be met with much friction from a narcissistic parent. “You don’t think that!” “That is NOT what we think in this family!” Defectors from the narcissists delusional reality of perfection and being the perfect parent or family, will cause the narcissist to act out, typically with rage, to squash the independent thoughts of their children. The child will be called names, ostracized, shut down, shut out, and/or ignored. The resulting feelings will be that the child is not safe to freely share their opinions or thoughts about any topic that goes against the narcissist’s reality. The child is not allowed to experience or express their own reality. To take it a step further, it is typically the child who won’t stop thinking for themselves and expressing the truth they witness, that will become the “scapegoat” in the family; the person on whom all the problems and dysfunction of the family will be blamed for or deemed the cause of.
Scapegoating within the narcissistic family is in effect an innerfamilial smear campaign. The child who’s got the courage to face down the narcissist’s attempts to squash the truth of the child, is bullied by the group to bring the child under compliance with the group’s (the narcissist’s) mentality lest the child face the ostracism of their family unit.
How we’re affected:
We doubt our own thoughts. We need validation of our thoughts from others we perceive as “stronger”. We fear our independent thinking. This can set us up for abusive relationships or to acquiesce to narcissistic and domineering individuals because they seem “more sure” of themselves and seem to “know better” for us than we do for ourselves. We learn to be meek and take the passenger seat in our own lives which leads us to feeling powerless. We become people pleasers. It sets us up to choose people who want power over us, because we’re accustomed to that and we doubt ourselves. We give our power away and this sets us up for disastrous results because allowing a narcissist to control us, will run our lives right into the ground.
c) Emotional Boundaries
Our ability to have and be in control of our own feelings, opinions and beliefs.
How we’re violated: Narcissists are out of touch with their own emotional state. They’re only driven by their wants and desires. The people around them are there with the sole purpose of meeting the narcissists wants and desires; NOT to be a separate person with their own feelings. Feelings of others conflict with the narcissists desire to be the focus and be in control. Children who express feelings of sadness or other feelings of “needing” the narcissistic parent causes great frustration; because the narcissist views the child as serving the parent’s feelings not the other way around. The child’s needs are competing with the narcissist getting their own needs met. The narcissist tries to downplay the feelings of the child if they are in direct conflict with their own needs. The child will be told they “don’t really feel that” or to “Get over it” or to “stop being such a baby!” – Any means which gets the child to stop being so “needy” and requiring the narcissist to put the child first will be the narcissists goal.
The child learns that their feelings are:
1) Not important and dont matter (insignificant)
2) Can’t be trusted or relied on by the child (untrustworthy)
3) Are not cared about by their parent (dishonored)
4) Of secondary importance to the narcissist’s feelings (come last)
How we’re affected:
This sets us up to feel comfortable in the presence of another narcissist who minimizes, denies, belittles and ignores our feelings. We put ourselves, our feelings and needs last, because of the constant messages that our feelings don’t matter. It’s why we don’t listen to and trust our intuition (our feelings) about narcissists in our adult lives who are taking advantage of us. It’s why we extend benefit of doubt to a predator who is attacking us rather than respond to our feelings and escape them. We learn to put selfish people, like the narcissist, who demands their needs be met, first to ourselves. We spend most of our time in adulthood catering to the needs and feelings of others while ignoring our own. We don’t learn to trust ourselves and we don’t learn how to protect ourselves because we were punished for doing so by our caregivers. We become out of touch with our own feelings and thus remain stuck, depressed and hopeless. We’re at a loss for how to get out and think and feel for ourselves because we’ve been so accustomed to a narcissist doing it for us. Getting back in touch with our own feelings becomes a scary endeavor that we feel overwhelmed by. We feel desperate for validation.
Here’s the good news:
With hard work and honestly exploring each area of your personal boundaries and how your internal beliefs were shaped by a person who was heavily invested in serving themselves, you can begin to take your power back for rewriting the messages from your narcissistic parents.
Ask yourself how your boundaries were violated by your narcissistic parents. You will likely find that the way your narcissistic parent violated your boundaries are areas in your life now, where you are a target for exploitation by another narcissist. Learning about your own vulnerabilities will teach you where you need to shore up the holes to prevent further abuse.
Re learning the proper boundaries for ourselves is liberating to our identities. The more we identify and assert our limits in each of the areas mentioned above, we will begin to feel that the new boundaries are protecting someone of WORTH: OURSELVES!