How the Child Survives Narcissistic Parents part 1

Narcissistic people come in all different shapes and sizes with a diverse range ofthJAMA4L71 personalities, each driven by self-obsessed motives and an arrogant belief in their own self-righteous perfection.

Narcissistic parents seem to possess a cold-hearted ability to adopt either a possessive or a passive aggressive approach to parenting. Both tactics aim to achieve authority and control over their children, regardless of age.

In my own experience, they will swing precariously between the two states of tyranny and switch mercilessly through a wide spectrum of manipulative methods, predetermined by a child’s ability to please and feed their ego.

When I finally severed contact with my own narcissistic mother, we were already on the far end of her passive aggressive scale and had been for many years. While my email contained only 100 words, the honesty was unprecedented, unforgiveable.

Narcissism doesn’t like the truth because it threatens to burst a carefully constructed bubble of perfection and there is always a risk of exposing controversial disciplinary tactics at home, as well as other kinds of abuse. They then expect us to collude in concealing the shame behind those secretive solid doors.

Peel beneath the fragile layers of perfection and you will find self-centred people who manipulate their dysfunctional family with intimidation and fear. They stop at nothing to get their own way, while maintaining a position of control and righteousness. The only time a disagreement can be resolved is when we finally see the error of our ways.

Growing up within an unstable environment can be a very scary and bewildering time for small children and teenagers. Even when bullying and abuse is prevalent at home, children believe they are solely to blame. ‘If only I hadn’t made mummy cross… if daddy loved me more… if I was better behaved… had better grades … if only I hadn’t answered back.’

When we experience manipulative abuse by our trusted caregivers, many of us don’t know how to ask for help. Riddled with guilt and self-blame, it’s like confessing all the nasty things our parents ever said about us, which is a clever tactic that helps to seal our silence.

“You only have yourself to blame,” is a statement familiar to many of us. It’s similar to when a paedophile warns the victim, “no one will ever believe you… you made me do this… bad things happen if you tell.”

I branded myself with every derogatory name they used; selfish, nasty, horrible, I was inconsiderate, disrespectful, and ungrateful, oh and a failure who would never amount to much in life. There was an eternal echo of the narcissistic voice playing out inside my head and it felt suffocating.

I imagine that every child of a narcissistic parent grows up with a belief in their own self-centred nature, while they experience a confusing sense of reality in the dynamics. The parent’s idealistic voice saturates their developing mind, professing impeccability and unconditional love.

Meanwhile, the child secretly harbours guilt when their interpretation of the experience is far from perfect and they slowly realise that the term ‘unconditional’ has intricate and volatile limits.

There is no winning with a narcissist parent, no bending, or negotiating and never any chance of them easing up on their obsessive need to control every inch of dust under their roof.

To a hot-blooded teen, this was a toxic and explosive mix. I was homeless as a teenager on a number of occasions, but I would gladly crush my testicles in a nutcracker than live under their roof ever again.

During those early years of pretending to be independent, mum had enormous influence over everyone and was never shy with her opinions. It feels strange to think of how I still idolised her and longed for love and acceptance.

I would call her daily and visit every week for dinner, hoping to fulfil their expectations of the perfect son. This only gave them unlimited access to the day-to-day events in my life, which invariably came under criticism and interference. Rather than recognise my own strength and courage for sensing something wasn’t quite right, I could only see weakness and foolishness.

When dad could no longer control his son with intimidation and violence, he transformed into a passive aggressive parent overnight, whereas mum continued on the dominant pathway to our ultimate destruction.

Most people who come from happy functional families would probably find it difficult to comprehend a mother or father being a source of so much negativity and I imagine it might be difficult to grasp why anyone would eventually wish to cut all ties with their parents. This is what I will cover in part 2.

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43 thoughts on “How the Child Survives Narcissistic Parents part 1

  1. edwinasepisodes

    Some people have a lot to answer for. They should never have become parents in the first place! I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must have been for you as a child, never knowing what to expect from your parents.

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  2. Priceless Joy

    I agree with Edwina, Cat, you must have had a terrible childhood. I’m so glad you are working through all of these negative memories so you can rid yourself of them. It will feel like the weight of the world is off your shoulders. This was very good information and something I can relate to. I look forward to reading Part 2.

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  3. lynettedavis

    “They then expect us to collude in concealing the shame behind those secretive solid doors.” In my case, it was demanded, although never verbally. (The psychological hold that a narcissist parent has over a child is indescribable.) And because of the guilt that I felt, I did–not because I didn’t understand that what my mother was doing wasn’t right. I was sure that other people would blame me. When I think about how deep maternal narcissism is on a psychological and spiritual level, I totally understand why a child of a narcissist parent (or parents) would cut ALL ties.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Lynette… They never need to tell us to keep certain things quiet, we are well trained and even after years of being away from them, their critical voices still play out inside our head. When I was a child, I thought every kid was leathered by their parents and it wasn’t until I was at least 14 did I realise few of my school friends were ever assaulted by their parents. Thank you for commenting 🙂

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  4. D. Wallace Peach

    Knowledge and insight, Cat, will help set you free. Everything you’ve written here is true, the physical and emotional violence inflicted on children is internalized and crazy-making. But it isn’t you at your core. Like every human being you were a beautiful child, worthy of love and kindness, meant to make mistakes, play, grow, learn, love and be loved. You are still that person and deserve to be with people who appreciate and enjoy the real you.

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    1. Cat Post author

      The knowledge of this is truly life changing, validating and healing. The beautiful child you refer to is only just coming into focus. Thank you

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  5. therabbitholez

    To abuser secrecy is their power over you, because when they leave the house they’re paragons of virtue, so who will believe you the child? and those who do see through the abuser are quickly dispatched with,because cannot ever allow anyone to see them as they really are except for frightened children( cowards!!).

    You did the right thing told the truth and with no further contact her manipulations can longer hurt you, so let her seeth, she has no power over you, your free from the tryranny of being that boy, that man, you are your own person now, enjoy your life, you deserve it.

    Take Care xx

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      1. ~meredith

        (you know… it took me forever–and i do mean forty-something-ever to understand the dynamics of narcissistic couples in relationship to “offspring.” you nailed it. mechanically, i severed all ties with my parents when I started therapy… and stuck to it because it was like a magic ticket to wellness offered me… but it took forever to realize the ‘why’ of all that i did as the doing unfolded. i cycled with confusion over it until it occurred to me everyone is dead, now… and i’d wondered over things i don’t understand long enough. 🙂 this is me, nodding my head, with thumbs up, thanking you.)

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        1. Cat Post author

          Do you think so? I had never read about narcissism until just recently and haven’t really read a lot. My first experience of reading info was amazing. Not only were these websites saying similar things to my own mother, they were identical statements and behaviours. My parents are the kind of narcissists that you think butter would not melt in their mouths, so everything is subtle and behind closed doors, but with extremely damaging consequences. Nevertheless, similar to you, I cannot deny the relief to have finally told the truth and have them out of my life. I doubt there is ever any going back.

          Did you say that your parents are now dead? Did no one try to tell you at the time? It is early days for me and I am still debating what my response should be to family tragedy. I am very aware that taking just one call or text could turn my “recovery” on its head.

          Thank you for such a nice comment, it means so much, especially today 🙂

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          1. ~meredith

            Any time we break a pattern, the established order regroups. It’s called shunning, and it’s a tribal, instinctive response to keep the order intact.

            You broke the pattern. This is a decision you made to protect your internal order. Honor the decision you made to protect yourself every, every, every, every time you even wonder if “this” moment might be the exception.

            The external order already regrouped in response to you saying, “no,” and if you think about it, you already know that. You described it in your post. The rest of the story is that it involves more than parental complicity… it’s a group dynamic of agreement. It’s everyone not presently involved in your well-being path (which you’re rocking, by the way). So… that’s the reality that culture dances around because we don’t like to admit or recognize pack mentality, within.

            I left my family of origin because I wanted to get well. Most of that family was still living when I made the decision. Most of their deaths I learned about via legal notification, and that’s hard. It’s harder feeling like there’s something wrong 24/ 7, though, shouldering the weight of added triggers and unnecessary shame as I try to imagine wellness.

            Everyone has their own, unique way of being. I don’t know any way but the one I’ve walked, and I’m not a knower of ways for others, but for what it’s worth, you came to Earth to rock your life,.. don’t get hung up in the details of terminology. You’re awesome.

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            1. Cat Post author

              You are right, they did regroup, just as they always did. I’m aware of the dangers of falling for “this moment might be an exception” and I hope I remember the insight if I ever come face to face with temptation.

              I can imagine how hard it was to be notified of their deaths, but I do appreciate how much harder it was to live amongst it.

              Thanks for your kind words. I’ve yet to find that awesomeness, but the glimpses are becoming more regular!

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  6. kat

    this is my mother to a T. luckily for me, my father was a constant support of pride, believing in me, and true unconditional love. unluckily for me, he moved out. In any case, i am like you, and cut ties with my mother and her side of the family 7 yrs ago and have never looked back nor regretted the choice. Unfortunately, I married a man who was also a narcissist, but much more on the passive aggressive side where mom had been on the dominant ‘lets steamroll you into everything/anything’. luckily i also divorced him. you are certainly not alone in your experience with your parents as narcissists, and are not the only one to have severed ties. at some point, one Must protect themselves, claim their life back.

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    1. Cat Post author

      `If children are lucky, they may get a “normal” loving parent to ward off the narc abuse, but they usually either leave or bow down to the narcissist. Unfortunately, both my parents are narcs and in their eyes I am the big bad wolf. It’s sad fact that we then tend to attract narcs in relationships and friendships, but thankfully, we both seen sense in the end and will always be better off without them in our lives. Thanks Kat

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  7. Anxious Mom

    As a kid, it’s one thing to be labeled with all the negative crap, but trying to figure out how reality supports those labels when you get to be old enough to understand them, jeez that’s a toughie. So much self-doubt and wondering whether you’re (well I) was crazy for seeing things so differently.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I know, all these years I thought it was me who was the crazy one. It’s a lot to unravel and I imagine I am just at the beginning. Thanks E

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  8. Ellen

    Really tough for you. Also hard to see the truth about the family – we’d rather blame ourselves. I think my father is a narcissist, though not as stark a situation as in your case. But I’ve always felt like a failure in his eyes – when you said that, it rang a bell. And he is very controlling. So I think he is one.

    Great work figuring this out and taking steps to heal yourself from all this.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I have wondered about your dad being a narc. People refer to some narcs as “distant” and maybe that is a better way to describe your dad. However, I feel there is nothing distant about a quiet narc because they still control us with their silence and disapprovals, this was why I refer to them as ‘passive-aggressive’

      Learning about narcissism has been a turning point, hence the posts. Thanks Ellen 🙂

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      1. Ellen

        Yeah, when controlling fails him, he becomes passive aggressive. I feel guilty discussing him like this, but man, he did a lot of damage. Glad you are finding the topic a turning point for you. cheers.

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  9. raphaela99

    So much love for you. My parents (whom I escaped a long time ago), are on my blog. I can only banish them if I choose to make my blog private. I wont! I led a childhood in secret and ashamed. I am sadly careful what I put up as I know that they read it all, but I wont hide myself, not anymore. I have banned them from being able to email me comments to moderate so I am relieved about that! xxx

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    1. Cat Post author

      I would find it difficult if I knew my parents or sister were reading my blog. I have always kept it top secret from everyone, apart from Therapist and I only write anonymously to protect abusers, but that may well change during the journey. Thank you for commenting

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  10. mandy

    Those who have experienced narcissist parents won’t question your desire to divorce yourself from them, Cat. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, to cut your ties from your roots. I guess it’s both terrifying and liberating at the same time. Whenever my loneliness gets to be too much, I find myself ruminating about how I might have tried harder to change the situation. But that would have meant changing me and not them. They were willing to sacrifice me to keep their secrets. I think you’ve got Part 1 down perfectly, and will probably open the eyes of some who are struggling with their own narc parents. Good post, Cat.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I remember in the very early days I said to Paul, “Maybe when I finish my therapy, I might just get along better with Dracula and her companion.” Of course, I thought the answer lay only within me, I was the one who had to change. Now that concept seems absolutely ridiculous, which is wonderful!

      I understand those doubts, Mandy, but even if we were in touch, would we feel any less lonely? I’ve never felt as lonely as I did in their company. Even still, you’re right, it’s hard to severe ties with our roots… is it a small price for our peace of mind? Mmmm. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for your kind comment, much needed today 🙂

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  11. RisingSong

    Thank you for sharing this Cat. As someone else commented, it is good to see you work through it.

    While I hardly had the fairy-tale childhood, I have always been very close to my mother, and I find it difficult to fathom how a mother can act the way that yours did (and still does)…but it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it.

    To hear you speak your truth is refreshing. I am so happy that you are this point in your healing. I am convinced that I married a narcissist man, and if I had nuts, I would feel exactly the way that you felt about living under your parents’ roof again! This is how I feel about EVER living with my husband again.

    As I read your writing, I try to stay focused on your experience and not get hung up what kind of parent I am…but as a mother, I can’t help but think about how I talk to my own children and what kind of messages do I send to them with my words and my attitudes. I wonder if my words and my own hurts may damage them somehow. I hope not…I hope not…I hope not.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I also think you married a narc man and I am still full of admiration for how you changed your own life.

      By what I know of you, I feel you are too aware of your children’s needs to be damaging them with words and the awareness is what makes you a good parent.

      Thank you for commenting, it’s so nice to hear from you. How are you?

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  12. Glynis Jolly

    Not all children of a narcissist parent end up being introverted and self-loathing. Some end up being just like the parent. However, I’ve noticed that when this happens, ‘outside’ family members (aunts, uncles, cousin, etc.) start realizing, if they haven’t before, that the narcissist parent and that child turning out to be the same are full of crap. The narcissist family members no longer have the influence they crave.

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    1. Cat Post author

      You’re spot on, they crave all the influence and will go to great lengths to sabotage other family members relationships to make sure they’re at the top of the communication chain.

      Thanks Glynis

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  13. D.G.Kaye

    An accurate and concise description here Cat. For a moment, I almost thought you were writing about my mother. It’s really sad to know that there are so many of us out here who have lived with these people. And it usually takes decades until we can build enough guts up to face their rants to walk away. Sadly, many never find the path of escaping them. Ironically, after living in fear of my mother for 48 years, it only took one final comment from her to set me off the edge to an explosion of words. Pent up feelings spilled effortlessly; the proverbial ‘last straw that broke this camel’s back’. I hung up the phone and never spoke to her again. But let me tell you, the guilt never left me. 🙂

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Debby, I haven’t started reading your book yet (it’s next on list), but I had a sneaky preview when I first bought a copy. It sounded like you were writing about my mother! Narcs come in all shapes and sizes but each are driven by those same self-absorbed narc characteristics. When I first started reading about narc mothers, not only did they present something similar, but it was identical to the things my own mum would do and say. To society, they are wonderful people, but to their children, they’re deadly. It somehow feels wrong to say that I am pleased you finally found strength to get out because we cannot fill the gap and the guilt is never far away. Only another child of a narc can truly appreciate why we had to do it. Thanks Debby

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