In 2011, I wrote the article The Child of the Narcissist and since this time, I have grown quite a bit as a psychotherapist and as a person surviving this type of parent. The reasons for this is that I worked on taking my power back from this person, in order to be able to help other people do the same thing. I also did this because I felt as if I were out of integrity as a therapist not being able to do so. I still felt like a child around this person and, as a therapist, I needed to grow up personally to be a better professional.
I won’t be able to do a step by step plan in this circumstance because it really depends on who this person is to you. You know them. You know what it might take intuitively, so standing up to this person will vary. It is important though, for your own healing process, to not only understand what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is but to understand how to heal from this. How to move forward in your life without continuing to be a victim. So I am updating the original article here from a more mature, healthier perspective. You can read all types of pop psychology books that will make you more “in the know.” Reading these books will only give you tools to make you believe you can now diagnose this person and prepare you with a suit of armor. This is not healthy – to only read about them. It is important to read about how to heal from this parent and for you to become a healthier person.
One thing I want you to understand before you continue reading is that you are not changing the Narcissist here. You are changing yourself.
Firstly, focus on taking your power back from the Narcissist.
1) You have to stand up to them in whatever way makes sense with this person. Maybe you confront them head on (sometimes this can be dangerous though, especially if you are unprepared for the outcome. I know people who have been assaulted by the person as a result.) In my case it was spontaneous, without warning, somewhere deep inside of me I just snapped (unlike the TV show no one was killed or harmed in anyway). It helped in my case because the placater in the family stood up for me and the hero just remained aloof. Everyone else just stayed quiet. After this person (the Narcissist) threw a temper tantrum and saw they would receive no attention from anyone, it just ended right then and there.
I have also known people who stood up to their parent and the family abandoned them. This is something you have to be prepared for and reconcile this within yourself.
2) You have to set boundaries with this person and continue to set boundaries, and continue to set boundaries and continue to set boundaries.
3) Be prepared not to take the bait – there are going to be times when you are with this person. I have found that, in my circumstance, a long time passes without criticism and then out of nowhere I am hit with some strange comment, an insult, or some type of questioning that I know is going to lead to trauma in the family. I know if I am not careful answering this question, to deflect the intended result on their end, people will be hurt.
Example: Lets say you mention something to the Narcissist. You are with other family members, whom you said something about. The Narcissist says something out loud “outing” what you said. You are suddenly caught between a rock and a hard place.
In this type of situation you could get caught up in defending yourself, or you could just be honest. Yes I said that. Then you talk to the other family privately on your own, without the Narcissist in the room.
4) Work on detaching yourself from this parent or family member – You have to be in a place where you no longer need them or their nurturing. This means you get your mother/father from a surrogate. Find an elder or older friend that you look up to. It is also important to heal from these wounds by focusing your attention on yourself and building your ego.
This last part is the most important aspect of healing from the Narcissistic parent. You don’t think of this parent as being dead. You just don’t worry about what they say or do because you are not invested in gaining something from them. You know longer need them for validation, love, support. You have separated and individuated (become an individual separate from your parent) and are behaving like an adult now. This is very important because what I have learned is that until you are able to do #4, you will continue to behave like a teenager around this parent, no matter if you are 30 or 60. Until you individuate, (let go and mature) you will find that when you are around them you continue to act like a child.
Now that I have individuated from my parent fully, I find I am actually able to listen to them differently. Sometimes I actually learn something from what they say. Sure, there are moments, such as #3 above but I recover from this more quickly because I realize they have no power over me.
In 1980, I ran away from this mess and during this time lost an ability to grow with nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. I missed out on so much simply because I could not bare being around this parent anymore. The emotional abuse was so overwhelming to me. I had a “parent” in California, where I was living for 30 years. This woman guided me, protected me, taught me, nurtured me and I was able to grow as a person. However, I returned to Ohio in 2010 because I realized, as a therapist, it was time to heal from the Narcissistic parent. I did not really understand this until I became a psychotherapist. I knew it would help me in my practice and help me to teach others as well. I was guided to this process intuitively.
*To understand separation and individuation a little more, here is Murray Bowen’s philosophy which I kept trying to read and understand in my graduate program, until I finally got it one day. It also helped that I worked with a clinical supervisor during my internship who focused on Bowen’s theory of family systems. (a selection from Wikipedia)
Differentiation of self
Differentiation of self is one’s ability to separate one’s own intellectual and emotional functioning from that of the family. Bowen spoke of people functioning on a single continuum or scale. Individuals with “low differentiation” are more likely to become fused with predominant family emotions. (A related concept is that of an undifferentiated ego mass, which is a family unit whose members possess low differentiation and therefore are emotionally fused.) Those with “low differentiation” depend on others’ approval and acceptance. They either conform themselves to others in order to please them, or they attempt to force others to conform to themselves. They are thus more vulnerable to stress, defined as stressor(s) and psycho-physiological “stress reactivity,” and theirs is a greater than average challenge to adjust/adapt to life changes and contrary beliefs.
To have a well-differentiated “self” is an ideal that no one realizes perfectly because, like with Abraham Maslow’s concept of “self-actualization“, it is a concept without literal physical or material example. Even if total self-differentiation is achieved in a given moment or context, it is, like feeling states or thoughts, temporary and ephemeral. Those with generally higher levels of “self differentiation” recognize that they need others, but they depend less on others’ acceptance and approval. They do not merely adopt the attitude of those around them but acquire and maintain their principles thoughtfully. These principles, morals, and ethics help them to decide important family and social issues, and to consciously or unconsciously resist lapsing into emotional reactivity and feelings-based—-usually impulsive—-thoughts and actions. Thus, despite conflict, criticism, and even rejection, those with greater capacity to “self differentiate” can stay calm and rationally “clear-headed” enough to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotion. What they decide and say matches what they do. When they act in the best interests of the group, they choose thoughtfully, not because they are caving in to relationship pressures. They’re more objective observers, more capable of calmness under relationship and task pressures. Confident in their own thinking, they can either support another’s viewpoints without becoming wishy-washy; or, they can reject another’s opinions without becoming hostile with them, or passively disconnected from them. This is especially relevant to the family of origin, and as we grow and develop maturity, also with extended family members, friends, or associates.
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