Children of narcissistic parents are always deeply damaged people. Because it’s a genetically inherited disorder (at least to some degree) but also because narcissism is a defense mechanism to protect and isolate oneself from abuse, many victims of narcissistic abuse become narcissists themselves. Those who do not become narcissists suffer from all manner of mental disorders, especially PTSD, avoidant personality disorder, schizoid and schizotypal personality disorder, depression and bipolar disorder, the whole gamut of anxiety and dissociative neuroses, and even psychoses like schizophrenia. And it’s entirely possible to be a narcissist and ALSO suffer from those other disorders. Being a child of a narcissist is the ultimate mind-fuck. There is no way to escape its effects, unless you are removed from the disordered FOO at an early age and adopted and raised by loving parents. Even then, the child will be scarred (“Child of Rage” Beth Thomas is a good example of a child who was severely abused and adopted by a loving family at age one and a half, but still needed years of therapy to overcome the damage that was done to her.)
I see signs of this happening in my daughter due to her MN father’s psychological mind games and mental abuse, but I don’t think it’s deeply entrenched in her because she also suffers from guilt and remorse and does have empathy or at least seems to, so I may be wrong. I hope I am. I still see signs of the sweet child she was, and her currently relationship seems to be bringing that out in her more and more often; she told me sincerely she wants to change her behavior and stop doing things that sabotage herself and hurt others.
Sam was an abused child, the oldest son of a malignantly narcissistic, thoroughly evil mother. He is an ACON, like we are. This is an interview he gave to a writer for Psychology Today, in which he describes what his childhood is like. It’s an excerpt from this journal entry from his website.
Interview granted to Elizabeth Svoboda of Psychology Today
Q. Could you briefly describe your relationship with your parents growing up? What were some of the high and low points?
A. My mother was by far the dominant presence in my life. She treated me as an extension of herself. Through me she sought to settle “open scores” with an indifferent world who failed to appreciate her gifts and to provide her with the opportunities that she so richly deserved. My role was to realise her unfulfilled dreams, wishes, and fantasies. I thus became a child prodigy.
But this was a vicious circle. The more successful I was, the more insidious envy I inspired in her and the more she attempted to subvert me and my accomplishments. Moreover, she resented my newfound personal autonomy. Smothering and doting turned into undisguised contempt and hatred and these fast deteriorated into life-threatening physical and psychological abuse.
Apart from savage beatings, she hit me where it hurt most: tore my poems, shredded my library books, invaded my privacy, humiliated me in front of peers and neighbours. Instead of being her prized possession, I now came to represent the much despised “establishment”. To avoid this disorienting predicament, I made myself into a juvenile delinquent, a gang member, a truant, a rebel with one cause: to regain my mother’s attention. But to no avail.
I hate the words “physical abuse”. It is such a clinical term. My mother used to burrow her fingernails into the soft, inner part of my arm, the “back” of my elbow and drag them, well inside the flesh and veins and everything. You can’t imagine the blood and the pain. She hit me with belts and buckles and sticks and heels and shoes and sandals and thrust my skull into sharp angles until it cracked. When I was four she threw a massive metal vase at me. It missed me and shattered a wall sized cupboard. To very small pieces. She did this for 14 years. Every day. Since the age of four.
She tore my books and threw them out the window of our fourth floor apartment. She shredded everything I wrote, consistently, relentlessly.
She cursed and humiliated me 10-15 times an hour, every hour, every day, every month, for 14 years. She called me “my little Eichmann” after a well known Nazi mass murderer. She convinced me that I am ugly (I am not. I am considered very good looking and attractive. Other women tell me so and I don’t believe them). She invented my personality disorder, meticulously, systematically. She tortured all my brothers as well. She hated it when I cracked jokes. She made my father do all these things to me as well. This is not clinical, this is my life. Or, rather, was. I inherited her ferocious cruelty, her lack of empathy, some of her obsessions and compulsions and her feet. Why I am mentioning the latter – in some other post.
I never felt anger. I felt fear, most of the time. A dull, pervasive, permanent sensation, like an aching tooth. And I tried to get away. I looked for other parents to adopt me. I toured the country looking for a foster home, only to come back humiliated with my dusty backpack. I volunteered to join the army a year before my time. At 17 I felt free. It is a sad “tribute” to my childhood that the happiest period in my life was in jail. The peaceful, most serene, clearest period. It has all been downhill since my release.
But, above all, I felt shame and pity. I was ashamed of my parents: primitive freaks, lost, frightened, incompetent. I could smell their inadequacy. It wasn’t like this at the beginning. I was proud of my father, a construction worker turned site manager, a self-made man who self-destructed later in his life. But this pride eroded, metamorphosed into a malignant form of awe of a depressive tyrant. Much later I understood how socially inept he was, disliked by authority figures, a morbid hypochondriac with narcissistic disdain for others. Father-hate became self-hate the more I realized how much like my father I am despite all my pretensions and grandiose illusions: schizoid-asocial, hated by authority figures, depressive, self-destructive, a defeatist.
But above all I kept asking myself:
Why did they do it? Why for so long? Why so thoroughly?
I said to myself that I must have frightened them. A firstborn, a “genius” (IQ-wise), a freak of nature, frustrating, overly-independent, unchildlike Martian. The natural repulsion they must have felt having given birth to an alien, to a monstrosity.
Or that my birth fouled their plans somehow. My mother was just becoming a stage actress in her fertile, narcissistic, imagination (actually, she worked as a lowly salesperson in a tiny shoe shop). My father was saving money for one of an endless string of houses he built, sold and rebuilt. I was in the way. My birth was probably an accident. Not much later, my mother aborted my could-have-been-brother. The certificate describes how difficult the economic situation is with the one born child (that’s me).
Or that I deserve to be punished that way because I was naturally agitating, disruptive, bad, corrupt, vile, mean, cunning and what else.
Or that they were both mentally ill (and they were) and what was to be expected of them anyhow.
And the other question:
WAS IT REALLY ABUSE?
Isn’t “abuse” our invention, a figment of our febrile imagination when we embark upon an effort to explain that which cannot be explained (our life)?
Isn’t this a “false memory”, a “narrative”, a “fable”, a “construct”, a “tale”?
Everyone in our neighbourhood hit their children. So what? And our parents’ parents hit their children as well and most of them (our parents) came out normal. My father’s father used to wake him up and dispatch him through hostile Arab neighbourhoods in the dangerous city they lived in to buy for him his daily ration of alcohol. My mother’s mother went to bed one night and refused to get out of it until she died, 20 odd years later. I could see these behaviours replicated and handed down the generations.
So, WHERE was the abuse? The culture I grew in condoned frequent beatings.
It was a sign of stern, right, upbringing. What was different with US?
I think it was the hate in my mother’s eyes.
You can read about the daily reality in our home:
Nothing is Happening at Home
Q. Once you became an adult, how did your relationship with your parents change? What are some of the unique difficulties of being an adult child of narcissistic parents? Feel free to give examples or describe specific situations you found yourself in.
A. Adult children of narcissists adopt one of two solutions: entanglement or detachment. I chose the latter. I haven’t seen my parents since 1996 (Actually, since I left the army in 1982). I avoid the encounter because it is bound to stir up a nest of emotional hornets which I am not sure I could cope with effectively. I also refuse to subject myself to repeated abuse, however subtle, surreptitious, and ambient. Absenteeism is my way of neutralizing my parents’ weapons.
But the vast majority of grown up offspring of narcissists find themselves enmeshed in unhealthy permutations of their childhood, caught in an exhausting dance macabre, developing special semiotic vocabularies to decipher the convoluted exchanges that pass for communication in their families. They compulsively revisit unresolved conflicts and re-enact painful scenes in the forlorn hope that, this time around, the resolution would be favorable and benign.
Such entanglement only serves to exacerbate the corrosive give-and-take that constitutes the child-parent relationship in the narcissist’s family. Such recurrent friction, unwelcome but irresistible, deepens and entrenches the grudges and enmity that both parties accumulate in sort of a bookkeeping of hurt and counter-hurt.
Q. What effects do you think your parents’ personality problems had on you–as a child and as an adult?
A. I owe my multiple personality disorders – narcissistic, borderline, masochistic – and my depression to their unhealthy upbringing and to the nightmarish atmosphere that they have instilled in our home. I owe them every single self-destructive and self-defeating act I have since committed (quite a few). I inherited from them and via their flawed version of socialization my paranoid delusions, my antisocial behavior, my misanthropy, my a-sexuality.
I am fully accountable for my conduct. My parents cannot be held responsible for my choices at the age of 46. But that I react the way I do, that I am the sad vessel that I am, is their doing, no doubt.
Q. When we become adults, what are our responsibilities to parents who have personality problems? Do you think we’re obligated to put up with them as a kind of payback for everything they gave us when we were young, or are we justified in cutting them off if the situation gets too intractable?
A. Our first and foremost obligation is to ourselves and to our welfare – as well as to our loved ones. People with personality disorders are disruptive in the extreme. They pose a clear and present danger both to themselves and to others. They are an emotional liability and a time bomb. They are a riddle we, their progeny, can never hope to resolve and they constitute living proof that not only were we not loved as children but are unloveable as adults.
Why would one saddle oneself with such debilitating constraints on one’s ability to feel, to experience, to dare, and to soar to one’s fullest potential? Narcissistic parents are an albatross around their children’s necks because they are incapable of truly, fully, and unconditionally loving.
Q. Now that your parents are no longer part of your life, have you compensated by putting together your own “adopted family,” so to speak, of people you care about and that care about you? If so, could you talk a little bit about what effect doing this has had on your well-being?
A. In my late teens and early twenties I was still making the mistake of looking for a surrogate family. Soon enough, I have discovered that I cannot but import into these new relationships all the pathologies that characterized my family of origin. Ever since then I am careful not to get involved with family structures. I haven’t even created my own family. I am married (for the second time) but am repulsed by the idea of having to parent children. In general, I am trying to avoid relationships with an emotional component.
further reading: The Narcissist is Looking for a Family
Q. How can we try to manage difficult parents’ behavior, if at all—or at least, minimize its impact on us? Q. What advice would you give others who find themselves in a similar situation with their parents? What were some of the strategies that worked for you?
A. At the risk of sounding repetitive: disengage to the best of your ability. Make it a point to limit your encounters with these sad reminders of your childhood to the bare minimum. Delegate obligations to third parties, to professionals, to other members of the family. Hire nurses, accountants, and lawyers if you can afford it. Place them in a senior home. Move to another state. The more distance you put between yourself and your personality disordered abuser-parents and their radioactive influence, the better you are bound to feel: liberated, decisive, empowered, calmer, in control, clear about yourself and your goals.
These points are crucial:
Do not allow your parents to manage your life any longer
Do not allow them to interfere with your new family: your wife and children
Do not allow them to turn you into a servant, instantaneously and obsequiously at their beck and call
Do not become their source of funding
Do not become their exclusive or most important source of narcissistic supply (attention, adulation, admiration)
Do not show them that they can hurt you or that you are afraid of them or that they have any kind of power over you
Be ostentatiously autonomous and independent-minded in their presence
Do not succumb to emotional blackmail or emotional incest
Punish them by disengaging every time they transgress. Condition them not to misbehave, not to abuse you.
Identify the most common strategies of fostering unhealthy (trauma) bonding and the most prevalent control mechanisms:
Guilt-driven (“I sacrificed my life for you…”)
Codependent (“I need you, I cannot cope without you…”)
Goal-driven (“We have a common goal which we can and must achieve”)
Shared psychosis or emotional incest (“You and I are united against the whole world, or at least against your monstrous, no-good father …”, “You are my one and only true love and passion”)
Explicit (“If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion, values, if you do not obey my instructions – I will punish you”).