Narcissistic people come in all different shapes and sizes with a diverse range of 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.