Last night I read a blog post by another survivor of narcissistic parents , and was astounded by how similar her parents’ values were to mine.
She writes that her father criticized her for being too idealistic. Now that would normally be a compliment, but because her family valued nothing but money, class and image, it was meant to be an insult. My father (who I don’t think is a narcissist, but has always been a huge narcissist apologist and enabler), said exactly the same thing to me.
We live in a narcissistic and materialistic society, that increasingly values traits that are narcissistic and exalt the individual over the community. In fact, studies have shown that a high percentage of CEOs, top executives, Wall Street tycoons, and others of the “One Percent” have narcissistic personality disorder. It’s a disorder that is very adaptive in modern society and whose traits are rewarded with money and material goods. Especially since the 1980s, with its “Greed is Good” ethos, we reward those who act in their own self interest over those who act in the interests of the community and want to help the less fortunate. There’s even a meme that’s become especially popular with narcissistic Baby Boomers: “I’m spending my children’s inheritance,” as though this is something to be proud of.
My family bought right into this ethos. Image was everything to my parents, especially my mother. My parents looked down on our blue-collar neighbors and relatives, and my mother in particular constantly made jokes at their expense and talked about how much better we were because we had nicer things and my father had a better (meaning white collar) job in the city. Appearance mattered, and our clothes had to come from the best department stores, never Sears. We had to live in the most exclusive neighborhoods. To not have a college degree was considered a mortal sin, and even then, it was far better to be successful in the cold-hearted business world than to be a successful teacher, social worker or a nurse. Such things were regarded as jobs for those who couldn’t do anything else, and of course they required a level of idealism that my parents just couldn’t relate to. When my parents split up when I was 14, my extremely image-conscious mother took up public relations as a career, which is all about image. She had so many face-lifts that today her face looks like a mask.
Whenever my parents, my mother in particular, complimented someone else, it was always on their visible, tangible qualities–things like their appearance, home decor, financial status, and taste in clothes. Table manners were of utmost importance, but being a good person was not. I can’t remember a time when my mother ever complimented anyone for qualities such as sweetness, generosity, friendliness and altruism. I do remember her putting down others for having these qualities, calling them “insipid” or accusing them of having no backbone.
My values never matched those of my immediate family, and when I became poor as an adult (because I was never given the tools and self esteem that would have led me to make better choices) I was shunned and rejected by them. I don’t think it’s any accident that when narcissistic parents choose a scapegoat, they usually choose the most sensitive child–the one most likely to be empathetic and have idealistic values. To a narcissist, idealism and empathy are weaknesses. They truly believe that the poor deserve to be poor, and they make no exception for their own child. The child with traits that cause them to become a scapegoat (and who all too often are also bullied at school) would probably become successful if they were raised in a loving, nurturing home, but in a narcissistic home, having these traits is a curse because that child is led to believe they are worthless and this leads to cowardly, “safe” choices that are more likely to lead to poverty. They are constantly told they will fail, that nothing they do is good enough, and then are usually “tossed out to the wolves” at a young age, with no family financial or emotional support to help them get a foothold in the larger world. I have read so many blogs by the scapegoated children of narcissistic families, who were forced to make their own way in the world with no family support, even if their parents could have afforded to help them, and even when other children in the family (who were not scapegoated) did receive support when they entered adulthood.
What is so ironic about all this is we scapegoats are rejected and hated for the very traits that were instilled in us as children! Scapegoated children are not encouraged to think independently or have ideas of their own. In fact, having a mind of one’s own is reason for punishment and abuse. We were trained to be deferent and obedient–and very much afraid. Deference, obedience and fear are not traits that lead to success in modern life. I think this training is deliberate, in that an evil narcissistic parent needs and wants someone they can use as the family trashcan–someone who can take and absorb all the family pathology and carry its burden. This child is then blamed for everything that goes wrong both within the family and in their own lives. When a scapegoated child becomes an adult, their low self esteem and fear almost inevitably leads to a life of material and financial lack, and this gives the narcissist parents an excuse for rejecting that child and refusing to help–for “violating” their materialistic, self-centered values. I think another reason narcissistic parents train HSP (highly sensitive) children to be scapegoats is because they know an HSP child must be silenced: this is a child who sees through their lies and can use the light of truth to blow the whistle on them. If they are encouraged to think and act independently, they might “out” the narcissistic parent and that is a prospect that terrifies them.
Of course, the best revenge for a scapegoated child is to become successful in spite of their upbringing–and of course there are those who have. Even then, narcissistic parents will find reasons to put that child’s accomplishments down as somehow not “good enough.” The few times in my adult life where I had some legitimate tangible success, I was never praised for it, but given some sort of left-handed compliment or told why it didn’t really count. I was also always compared with my more financially successful older half-siblings, who of course never had been designated the family scapegoat.
Narcissistic parents also don’t care if you have a mental disability. I’m a self-diagnosed Aspie (this was later confirmed by a psychiatrist) and suffer from intermittent major depression, but when I tried to tell my parents these were the reasons why I had so much trouble making the social connections necessary to become financially successful, these diagnoses were dismissed. I was told I was “making excuses.” Both my parents are convinced my poverty is my own fault because of the stupid choices I made. While I don’t deny having made dumb choices, these choices were based on the way I had been raised–to be afraid of taking any risks or challenging myself.
The only way to break the narcissist/scapegoat family dynamic (and it is probably the most toxic parent-child combination imaginable) is by cutting off contact with the abusive parent, because as long as you keep trying to please them, they will continue to attempt to break you down and make you feel insignificant. Nothing will ever please them, even if you dare to become more successful than they are. And if you somehow manage to do this without sacrificing your idealistic and empathetic values, that’s the biggest threat to them of all.
Make no mistake: your narcissistic parent doesn’t love you and never will, but it isn’t your fault. They hate you because they envy those qualities you have–empathy and humanity–that elude them. Be a good parent to yourself. Love yourself. You deserve it.