Those of us who were scapegoated and rejected by our own families often feel like orphans in life, forever being buffeted to and fro by the winds of a seemingly heartless world and hanging on to what seems like a brittle tree branch for our lives. We were trained and groomed by our families of origin to continue to be victimized throughout our lives, always treated as though we were less than everyone else, deficient in some way. We were not given the tools other children in our families, or the children of normal, loving families were given to do well in life. We were tossed out “with the wolves” so to speak, and told to “sink or swim.” Unfortunately, too many of us sink–into abject poverty, drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, abusive marriages, and mental and physical illness of all types. Everything that others seem to obtain with ease–a wide circle of friends, financial success, material goods like houses, cars or vacations; respect and closeness within their families, a relatively easy climb up the corporate ladder–seems to elude those of us who grew up programmed to believe we were defective.
We may not have literally been orphaned by our parents, but functionally we are no different than orphaned children. Children who lost their parents young to death or abandonment also grow up without any sense of belongingness and no loving, close attachments to anyone. How can you when you are treated like a number at some orphanage (more so in the past or in foreign countries like Romania) or are constantly being sent from one foster home to another, where the foster parents may mean well (but sometimes not) but have too many other charges to take care of to fulfill your need to belong and be loved. Orphans learn not to get too attached to anyone because any attachments they may form are impermanent. Getting close to others hurts too much, so they learn not to get close to anyone, not to trust anyone.
When orphans become adults, they are sent out into the world ill-prepared for adulthood with no emotional or financial help to guide them in their journey. With no one to truly care for them, and no families to turn to in times of need or crisis, they must either sink or swim. Those that swim do so at a cost. They may become successful in life, obtaining the trappings like money or status, but they never really know what love or real self esteem is. They don’t even know who they are. They just know they must survive–at any cost. It’s my belief that orphaned kids who take the swim route become narcissistic–how could they not? Adopting a false self and a fighting mentality is the only way they know to survive in a harsh, uncaring world where they seem to have no place.
Although narcissistic abuse survivors may have been raised in actual families, we were emotionally and spiritually orphaned due to rejection and emotional abuse. We were compared unfavorably with siblings, other family members, or just about anyone else. We were raised to believe we had no rights. We were punished for having opinions. Our boundaries were constantly being violated; we weren’t even allowed to have boundaries. We were called names, belittled, gaslighted, threatened, and stunted and stifled in every imaginable way. Our efforts to be approved of and small victories were belittled or sabotaged. We were refused financial or emotional help where other children or young adults from normal families (or even our own families) would have received it (my family refused to pay for my college education although they could have afforded it). We were trained to believe we were undeserving of success or love. We developed a strong Inner Critic who continued to live on inside us long after we left our families of origin, continuing the abusive message that we are less.
We become adults who are afraid to take any risks, afraid to speak our minds, afraid to stand up for ourselves, afraid to just be. We feel guilty if we do succeed in something and sabotage ourselves just like our own families sabotaged us. If we were bullied by our families of origin, we develop dismally low self-esteem and internalize the message that we deserve nothing and are nothing. We develop a victim mentality that makes sure the bullying and rejection continues throughout our lives. We develop C-PTSD and are handicapped on almost every level for finding our rightful place in the world. We were programmed by our narcissistic families to be targets for other abusers and narcissists, who smell our vulnerability and our lack of emotional defenses. I can’t tell you how many childhood victims of narcissistic abuse were also bullied in school or even as adults in the workplace, were always passed over for promotions or raises, or married narcissistic spouses who continued the abuse, sometimes taking it to new levels of cruelty. I know because I was one of them.
Even if we somehow managed to find some small place in the world, we still feel like we don’t belong. We still feel isolated from the rest of the world, different in a bad way. We feel like we don’t deserve to have anything good. In their desperation, some narc-abuse victims sell their souls and turn to narcissism as a way to cope. They escape the enemy by becoming the enemy. Their attitude is fake it ’til you make it (or just pretend you made it). Their self esteem isn’t real; inside their prison of narcissism they are screaming in agony, but God forbid anyone ever know. They’d destroy you first to avoid being exposed as vulnerable and defenseless as they really feel. They sacrifice their very souls to survive.
For those of us fortunate enough to have escaped narcissism, there is more hope. Although we may appear to have much less than someone who turned to a narcissistic defense, spiritually we have so much more. We haven’t jettisoned our souls to survive. We may have lost everything else–we may have poor physical or mental health, live in poverty, feel isolated from everyone, have difficulty getting close to others, always seem to have less than others–but spiritually we remained intact. Our quest to reclaim our humanity is a hard journey, filled with pain, but the moments of self-discovery and emotional and spiritual growth are so worth it. In the process of healing from narcissistic abuse, I finally found the family I know will always accept me unconditionally: God’s family. There is always a place at His table, where you will never be judged and always accepted for the person you are, instead of the one you can never be. In God’s family you are never an orphan.
Sometimes something as simple as music helps you get there. Here is a song that helped me (and at least one other narcissistic abuse survivor I can think of) in the early days of starting this blog:
Why Family Scapegoats Become Lifelong Victims
We Were The Lucky Ones
(I wrote this over a year ago, and I’ve changed a lot since then, but I think it still fits)
Adult Poverty and Scapegoathood: A Connection?
The Reason We Became Adult Victims: What Can Be Done?
It’s All About Image: The Skewed Values of Narcissistic Families