Tag Archive | Mental disorder

The Child of the Narcissist

(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!

CD Cover

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.


Running from Crazy – For Families with Mental Illness

This is a trailer for the film “Running from Crazy.” A documentary about Mental Illness as told by Mariel Hemingway. After watching the trailer, you can download it from Netflix. It is worth watching if you have someone or several someones in your family who are mentally ill or an addict. If someone in your family is an addict, they are merely covering up what lurks deep beneath in the cesspools of their mind. Mental Illness, whether it is wrapped up in street pharmaceuticals, alcohol or prescriptions, is still mental illness.

Don’t be afraid to discuss your families problems. Out loud. Take the shame out of these words, stop the denial and help turn the family legacy around to a positive. With treatment, love, support and communication, this goes from being a stigma to a managed solution.

**Muriel will be here in Ohio with this movie shown at the McCoy Center on October 8th (2015) at 7pm for free. She will also be speaking that coming Tuesday, October 13th (2015) but you have to buy tickets on the website or through Capa Tickets.

Coping with a Mentally Ill Parent (or child)

Your childhood was bad enough, having to behave like an adult, caring for your parent. Now your siblings are either sick as well or not willing to take the burden on. You are stuck being the financial legal guardian or the one with the power of attorney. When is it your turn to be a child and take a break?

NAMI.org stands for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Click on the link and then find the local chapter near you.  The local chapters are available to help families who are dealing with adults or children that have mental illness. This is not limited to any topic in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), call and ask them about your family’s situation. Generally speaking they provide education and also outreach through family support groups.

Disability – Is your parent (child) getting disability for their illness? It is much easier to get with children then it is with adults. Again, check with your local NAMI office to find out if they can assist you in understanding the system.

Social Services – There is an adult social services (as well as for children). They would much rather help a family before there is a crisis then when it happens. Prevention is a goal with these workers. Educating the public is their hope to make sure they don’t ever see you on their caseload. This is generally run by the county that you live in. Look up your county on-line and search for social services. Call them up and talk to them to find out what type of support is available to you. Don’t be afraid to let them in your home. If your situation is THAT bad, it is better that you invite them in then have the embarrassment of someone else doing it for you. And, it might not be as bad as you feel it is.

Respite Programs – Ask to see if daycare programs are available in your area.

Nursing Homes – It might be hard to do this and they may not want to go but if your family member is someone you are afraid to leave alone, they need assisted living. It is time you had a life of your own. These programs, social services, NAMI, they can all provide support on what is the best option for your family. They can also give some advice on financial assistance.

In the case of children, you would be look at very highly structured group homes or residential treatment facilities. If you or your families’ safety is at risk, you need help of an outside solution.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t become the martyr. Your own mental health is at risk when you are trying to play doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, and child at the same time. There are resources to help people and it is important to take advantage of them. While this is your parent and you love them dearly, their situation does not get better. You owe it to yourself and to your family member to make sure they are getting the best treatment available. This means working with professionals. It is time to let them go and accept that you have done the best you could. After you have got them into treatment, it is important that you then take care of your own mental health and get support for all this stress you have been under!

Finding your Passion

Bellagio Artist

Bellagio Artist (Photo credit: metamerist)

Not all writers start out in life dreaming that they will one day become novelists. Especially if your life begins with a lot of trauma. Or if you are spending your childhood taking care of a narcissistic parents needs.  Or if you are dealing with a mental illness and your childhood is caught up in being diagnosed, becoming a guinea pig for psychotropics and in an out of hospitals. And then there are the addicts who spend their childhood getting high. Developing your inner self, part of this is finding what you are passionate about.

The first thing you have to do is not say NO to an exercise. If you are in a workshop and the speaker wants you to draw something that says something about you, don’t say “I am not an artist.” How do you know you are not an artist? Perhaps you are not a painter but maybe you are a writer, a musician, a dancer, or you are good at crafting purses or knitting baby caps.  If you spent your childhood and even part of your adulthood in some cases, dealing with mental health issues, a bad marriage, parent needs, whatever, you have blocked the creative you from emerging.

I am 50 and I have written two novels. Right before my birthday a few weeks back I purchased my first Djembe. I like making collages – the inner teen.  Once I even designed a house that I would like to live in one day.  I am not an architect and my friend who is, said it wasn’t half bad. She did point out it would be quite difficult to hook up the electricity and the plumbing. The point is not that I am doing these things to become a famous artist, drummer or architect – though I would like to be well known for my novels, the idea here is that I continue to explore and go within. What happens at the end of these journeys is that I have had a lot of fun, meet interesting people and fulfill a need to express myself.

To often we feel trapped in our world views, our expectations that only artists who are celebrities are allowed to play. If this were the case we would have never have seen a Van Gogh, a Frida Kahlo, or read a poem by Emily Dickinson. In case you aren’t clear why I am including them Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive, Emily was published (12x) but heavily edited and the bulk of what we read today was found after her death. Frida while she had Diego, lived in his shadow her whole life and though she struggled to stay alive from one surgery after another, painted in bed with a full body cast.

While I do include famous people here, I do so not to say that your mission is to become famous. They were lucky. I do so to bring up examples of people whom you have heard of.  You haven’t heard of all the people who are working on their talents, unleashing locked potential. Not everyone becomes famous for being an artist, it isn’t necessary or it isn’t part of why you are doing this – fame is pure luck and not always a measure of how good you are.

Why must you do this? People who do not tap in to their inner genius, who do not explore what might fascinate them end up hating life. They end up attracting negativity around them, as they feel unloved. They feel miserable and this leads to dis-ease. They become a burden on others; in their dependency for attention. You must do this to live!

Take a class at a city college, an adult school or neighborhood community group.  Take a few classes. Try everything that seems to be of interest to you. If you are not interested in anything (oh come on, really???) just pick one. Pick two or three and do it for research on yourself. People who tell me they are not motivated by anything are people who are holding themselves back by their worldviews. We are all interested in something. We are all capable of creating art.  If we aren’t held back by our worldviews than we are held back by the thought that what we consider art; others will think is stupid.  So what! Who cares if other people think it is stupid. Some people will relate and think it is great. Believe me I have been to modern art museums and I have seen so pretty ridiculous things that are purchased by galleries. Who ever thought that taking human skin from dead people would become an international exhibit? Its gross but this person has probably made millions from it.

Finding your passion in life is the key to healthy living. This allows you to unleash what is unlocked inside of you and become something more than your self. It allows one to step away from their sadness, their chaos, their anger and bring to life your soul where others can view what you can’t say out loud.

Teenage Angst

This is a time when the child is dealing with separation and individuation but they are at cross purposes.  The child wants to be on their own but they are so dependent on family for financial needs as well as emotional (whether they ask for it or not).  They want so much to be themselves but they really don’t know who they are.  There is bound to be experimentation based on things they are curious about: God/Goddess, self, sexuality, bad vs. good, substance curiosity, and other things.

You are the parent – if up until now you have been very consistent in setting rules and boundaries, you still might be running out of patience, because no teen is perfect even if you have done a good job.  Try to remember that your teen is going through a struggle to cope with life after hormones have set in and the knowledge that in a few short years, they are out of there on their own and have no clue what they will do.  Lots of fear.  But always remember that at one time a couple of decades ago, you too were in the same spot.

If now all the family dynamics have changed or there has been chaos all along, try to look at you and the father [figure’s] role in this situation first before blaming the teen.  It is not easy when your stress appears to be exaggerated by your child’s antics. It is not.  Your child’s life is actually being effected by what you and the father figure are dealing with on top of what they are trying to understand (as I noted above in relationship to their curiosity). In other words, you the parent are the adults – you have already been a teenager.  Try thinking about what your own family life was like when you were a teen and what your child’s family life is like now that they are a teen. If the dynamic is different, so will their ways of coping with things.  Your teen may or may not be like you, because they weren’t raised by the same one or two people as you were.  And times were different.

Teens in Crisis generally are dealing with many issues:

1. Being bullied (or peer pressure) that can take on emotional, psychological, and even physical abuse.  A Teen is not going to come to you – in most circumstances – and say “I am being bullied at school.”  They are now trying to cope with life on their own and feel that a mature person would do so, so they try not to come to you if they don’t have to.  Or “Only babies turn to mommies and daddies. I don’t need them I can deal with this on my own.” (hint: I am a big boy/girl now, I should be able to do it)

2. Family issues that just began or have been there all along. A. New family problem in otherwise healthy family – Divorce or death for instance.  The child is now having to cope with his/her own self individuation process AND abandonment of a family member. B. Old family problem in unhealthy family – Child is having to cope with individuation process, hormones, AND is still being raised in a family with addictions, and/or other mental health problems, violence in the home, or other on-going stressful situation.

3. Child’s sexuality – Sometimes kids know earlier on if they are interested in the same-sex, other times they are not so sure until hormones begin. Attractions begin.  They might be interested in the same-sex and confuse this with being gay or a lesbian.  And they might be but they might also just not be ready for relationships with the opposite sex.  If they appear to be very confused about this topic or are exploring it, you can bet they are being bullied at school.

4. Self-esteem – No matter how beautiful a child is to you, they are going to deal with feelings of being too fat, too ugly, too short, too tall, too skinny, something is going to bother them about their appearance just as it did with you.  Teens are dealing with acne, pimples, glasses – some for the first time, braces, development of breasts, size of penis, erections, and so forth.  Prior to this there were jokes about farting, nasal secretions and other gross things.  Now when it happens there are concerns about who’s looking, who knows it was me? For boys – does everyone know I have a hard on? For girls – cleavage and bumps – the angst of having people look at their chest for the first time.  Men are looking at girls in a different way in public (as well as school).

5. Academic Stress – for the teens who are trying hard to get into college through SAT or sports/music scholarship, there is so much anxiety when they fail a test or realize they just aren’t that good at the sport (good enough). Lots of trials and tribulations here that will affect their future.

6. Mental illness – Lastly there will begin to be symptoms of mental illness (if the child really has one) once hormones kick in.  Sometimes parents have known by now that something was different about their child, other times not.  If mental illness does run in your family, don’t second guess your instincts.  Of course you should never second guess but when it is in the genes, it is more likely than not that it has been carried down.  If there is no mental illness in the family – this doesn’t mean it does not exist.  Either way, consult with a psychotherapist first.  I say this because a psychotherapist does not have medication on the mind, whereas a doctor will.  However, if a psychotherapist suspects a child needs to be further evaluated with a psychological evaluation they will let you know.  It can be pretty clear to a psychotherapist that a child needs to meet with a psychiatrist soon for a medication evaluation.  My experience with doctors and what I have heard from many many others is that they will consider medication first.  A psychological evaluation determines what exactly is the mental illness – or their opinion based on tests accrued.  This is done by a psychologist and the results might include seeing a psychiatrist for medication.  A medication evaluation is completed by a psychiatrist to determine which medications to prescribe based on a psychological evaluation.  A psychological evaluation however is not necessary for medication evaluation.  Sometimes teens need to see a psychiatrist immediately due to the fact that a crisis has occurred, for example: teen is seeing or hearing things that others do not, teen has attempted suicide, teen is engaging in very odd behaviors that you have learned about.

My advice is that as a parent, it is always best to start with a psychotherapist for consultation before going for medications.  Most of the time I have treated teenagers (and I have heard this from my colleagues as well), it is for family issues not teen issues.  The first thing out of a teenagers mouth will be parental: substance abuse, abandonment, loss of family member through death, violence in home, etc…  These issues effect a teen more than their own issues.  That is because while they are trying to figure them self out, there they are having to take care of the one who should be taking care of them.

Sometimes it is a teen problem and they need to talk to someone about the issues mentioned above.  Never hesitate to bring a teen in for counseling but don’t be shocked and surprised if the therapist feels a need to see both the teen and the family, or just the parent (s).  Also, keep in mind that family therapy is not to chastise the teen, it is to deal with family issues in the home.  The goal is a healthy and happy family.  If the teen isn’t happy, no one will be.  However, if the family is already in a crisis, it is easy to blame the one who causes the most attention OR is trying to get it.  The reality is they just want your love and the safety of knowing you will be there no matter what. If a child feels unloved or unsafe – where does the responsibility lie?