(Originally published May 2011)
Sometimes I get ideas in my head and know that I must get up and type; otherwise I will never get to sleep. Having been one of these children and having recently had very moving conversations with another person who also felt this dread, I knew I must write about it. As a therapist, I feel responsible for airing out all those things which give us torment, so that we have a place to share, cry, and be heard. For having a parent who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you do not get the chance to do so.
A child who grows up with a parent who has NPD, has no parent at all. In fact, they have no self as well. The child’s life is consumed with pleasing the parent in a way that no other child, not sharing the same type of parent, can understand. Your childhood revolves around this parent. The opposite parent must revolve around the NPD spouse. Your needs and wants must be that of the parent with NPD.
If there is more than one child, one will inevitably be the scapegoat. You know who you are. The one who takes the blame for everything because the NPD parent will not. Someone must be at fault for ruining their life. Another child will invariably be the rescuer for this parent and they are the prodigal child. This is the one who does all that was intended, perfectly and in the order presented by this parent. There can also be a child who will have dependent personality disorder. This is the one who will need the parent for anything and everything because they are so challenged by life and the NPD parent will gladly be needed for their mercy. Someone who needs the Narcissist to be at their beck and call, is exactly what they want. The NPD imagines in their head that their brood should be around them at all times, because you are incapable of living your life without them. This is the bird that does not kick the chicks out of the nest because it does not want them to fly.
Thus, if the child of the NPD is capable of getting away and growing up once and for all, they are the enemy to this parent. No one is allowed to leave the NPD’s kingdom unless it is to do their bidding. Most survivors whom I have known are those who have had to push away this parent. Yet even still they live with the lifelong feelings of insecurity and the threat of a phone call which could come at any time – lest you forget the NPD parent is still alive. A call which will put all your time in therapy to shame, as you are ridiculed and punished once more for anything that they happen to make up.
Unfortunately, I do not know of any Narcissistic parent who was capable of going into therapy and there is no medication for this mental illness. Why should they go to therapy when it is your fault after all? At the same time, therapists couches are filled with the children of the Narcissist; most especially the scapegoats. Children who cling to the hope that their problems will be cured so that for once in their life, the NPD parent will love, respect and be able to have a conversation with them. The bottom line that we all must realize is that the NPD parent will never change. Only you can and then you have to figure out how to be in the same room with this person, with your head held high. It is a lesson in reclaiming your power, even though the abuser will never leave your life.
Tips (for the Scapegoat): Find what works for you. The answer is not the same for everyone.
1. Tell this person not to talk to you unless they can say something nice. Be strong when setting this boundary. Don’t get caught up in their sarcastic or overly dramatic response. They have loose boundaries, so you must set high standards to preserve your own.
2. Don’t expect to talk for more than 5 minute sound bites, because they aren’t listening to you anyway.
3. Try to stay out of their way – if you can, don’t attend functions where they are present (unless you absolutely have to). You don’t want to boycott your whole family either.
4. Forget trying to discuss your therapy sessions and what you’ve learned. Remember, they aren’t listening anyway. Don’t bring up the past, it is pointless because it had nothing to do with them. They were there as an innocent bystander.
5. Whenever you start thinking about them in your head, start whistling a happy tune. If you think, you will begin punishing yourself as you remember all the “bad” things they said you did. You will take yourself down and beat yourself up emotionally. If you can whistle, you switch focus in your mind and soon forget what you were thinking. If meditating and their voice comes in, tap your feet, put on music, do something to re-focus and think of something else. It takes time to re-program your mind.
6. Do get into therapy, tell your therapist about your NPD parent. Learn to meditate, take exercise classes, eat healthy, drink plenty of water. Pamper yourself with massage and other holistic treatments. Get so focused on yourself that you look and feel good, which will make you strong.
7. If you fail to do at least #6 let me give you a warning – you will end up finding yourself in abusive relationships whether at the office, the home, or amongst the people who surround you. You have to reclaim your power or be a doormat, or punching bag forever.
8. For young people and adults – it can be helpful to get to know older people who are in your life and whom you can talk to. This is like creating a surrogate parent. Everyone does need a parent. Young people can talk to guidance counselors, grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends of family, whomever seems to take a healthy interest in you. Adults you can do the same – get to know those people in the family who might have been staying away from the same person you are having problems with.
If you are reading this and you are still a young person, you have my sympathies. Do the best you can to follow the tips above and remember – it isn’t you, you are not a bad person. You may make mistakes – all kids do. If you are reading this and you are an adult, remember that – you are an adult and you are free to make choices in your life. Don’t let them control you and tell you what to do. You are not an adult child and you must take responsibility for your life. Of course whatever you do will be wrong (to them), but you must keep in mind that what you are doing is for you, it is your life and you can’t blame anyone for your adult choices but yourself. Let them go, move forward and keep your distance.
Over time, you will begin to heal and make a life for yourself. There will be setbacks now and then when you have to be in their life. You have a mentally unhealthy parent and this comes with the territory. The only person you can change is yourself and if you are strong and set your boundaries – you won’t get a parent but they will leave you in peace.
Now you can read Part Two of The Child of the Narcissist
And purchase the CD: The Child of the Narcissist: Guided Meditations for Healing
Now Available on Download too!
Addition 7/28/12: I found a good book that I want to add to this article. “Will I Ever be Good Enough” by Dr. Karyl McBride. Lots of good case studies to think about.
He Never Says He is Sorry, an article I wrote later about being in a relationship with a Narcissist.
Angry Daughter, Narcissistic Mother written on 1/11/14, is a review of the movie August: Osage County with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.