The first step to recovery is recognizing that there is a problem to begin with. Accepting the problem and letting go of all the perceptions you previously crafted in your mind can be a long and difficult process, but it’s necessary.
Some people never make sense of why their parents were unbearably strict, controlling, overprotective or unreasonable. In my part of the world it’s easy for these characteristics to be automatically labeled as the behavior of a “normal African parent”. However, at times we have to read between the lines and acknowledge that some parents’ actions cross the line and go into the realms of emotional, verbal and physical abuse. When it reaches this point it cannot be justified as “tough love”, or perceived as coming from a place of love and concern…it’s simply abuse.
“When I was a child that my mother didn’t ever want anything to do with me unless she was criticizing me, getting information from me to gossip about or blaming me for something I didn’t do. I also remember often seeing my mother sitting at the kitchen table, smoking countless cigarettes and staring off into space. I remember feeling that something wasn’t right about it,” Andie says.
A lot of people don’t realize it until they are much older, but some like Andie start to see the signs from an early age that there’s something inherently wrong with their parent. Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. Growing up with a parent who has NPD can be extremely unhealthy and destructive. No medications are indicated for treating NPD but treatment for it is centered on psychotherapy.
Common symptoms of a narcissistic personality include:
1. They concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment.
2. Manipulative and exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
3. Lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
4. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
5. Expecting unquestioning compliance with their expectations and demands
6. Behaving in an arrogant manner
7. Exaggerating achievements
8. Difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat
Being in any kind of relationship with a narcissist means you can never expect them to acknowledge their mistakes. Narcissistic parents often have a “golden child” who is favored, praised and relieved of most responsibilities.
On the other hand, they may also have a “scapegoat”; a member of the family who essentially receives all the abuse. If anything goes wrong within the household the “scapegoat” is often blamed even if they had nothing to do with the incident.
Narcissists would much rather blame a ghost before ever taking responsibility for their own actions. This is probably because they want to maintain a “perfect” image that they’ve created in their minds and would do anything to prevent it from being tarnished.
Needless to say, “scapegoat” children are inclined to suffer from depression, anxiety and panic disorder .They live in fear that at any time they could be blamed or scolded unfairly and thus they constantly walk on eggshells in their own homes. Apart from the emotional abuse, physical abuse is not unusual in these relationships.
“Gaslighting” is also a common tactic used by narcissistic parents to manipulate and destabilize their target by eroding their sense of reality and making them question their own memory or sanity.
Parents with NPD tend to project their own dreams or desires on their offspring and feel threatened by their child’s growing independence. They don’t raise children whose emotions, thoughts or goals are valued or nurtured. This stems from the fact that a lot of narcissistic parents often see their offspring only as extensions of themselves thus diminishing the individuality of the child.
They do not respect their children’s choices or opinions and will withdraw their love and support if their child doesn’t have the same views as them. When these children attempt to follow their own paths (career wise etc) ,it involuntarily calls for war with their narcissistic parent. This shows how teenage or adult children of narcissists only experience love that is conditional and they have to behave in a particular way in order to be accepted or supported.
Furthermore, narcissistic parents are likely to feel threatened by their children’s success or potential. They get upset when they see their child doing well or pursuing something they are passionate about. This leads to discouragement, unreasonable judgment, criticisms, unfavorable comparisons and rejection of their child’s success or accomplishments. One can picture how damaging this can be for someone’s self esteem, ambition and self-worth. A lot of these children grow up feeling inadequate and knowing that they will probably never impress their parents no matter what they achieve in life.
“When I was 30 I went for help for my drinking and depression. My therapist told me to tell my old man what I needed, what I thought and how I felt. It took me 10 months to work up the courage to do that. When I did he responded ‘I don’t care what you need, what you think or what you feel. It’s what I want that counts. “I haven’t spoken to him since…26 years,” Kevin says.
Many adult children of narcissists cut off ties with their toxic parents for the sake of their own happiness and mental health. Many of them wonder if they too will become narcissistic or if they already are. These questions and so many others haunt victims of this abuse for a long time.
A lot of narcissists don’t realize the damage they do and how their behavior affects the people in their lives in the long run. It’s a disorder, and that’s the sad part. Sometimes it’s just easier to forgive and heal when you believe that it’s not them, it’s their mental illness. But the first step is to recognize the toxic situation you might have been in for a large part of your life, and then soon you’ll be on your way to recovery.