When you tell someone that one of your parents is a narcissist, most people don’t really understand how big of a deal that is. They probably assume that you mean they spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, or perhaps trying to make everything about them, but that’s just not how it works.
Of course, I think the idea of having a narcissistic parent or partner is becoming more mainstream, thanks to the age of mental health openness and all us millennials blogging about our problems.
I grew up under the hand of a man who was controlling, but not just in the “Here let me do it” kind of way. In the, “You act, speak, live, dress and feel only how I tell you. If you don’t, not only will I lash out, put you down and punish you, but I will make sure everyone else feels that way about you too.”
I was never good enough unless I achieved perfection, which was defined by a standard that was unachievable. Not because I didn’t want to be that perfect person for him, but because I just didn’t have the ability to be that person. I wasn’t smart enough, talented enough, strong enough, fast enough; I had too many of my own ideas, too much of a backbone.
As a child, before I hit puberty, I was an angel. I was easily molded, manipulated and crafted into the perfect child. I didn’t have the nerve to fight back or to question his authority, and that meant peace, for me, was usually possible. As long as I behaved well, made him look good, and didn’t question him, I was the picturesque little girl.
But, as I grew up, I started to feel the wrath of breaking outside of his ideal mold. His fits of rage over small moments were unpredictable, yet strangely predictable. He would resort to physical violence if he felt raising his voice wasn’t enough to make a point. He’d throw things, break things, take things, do whatever he could to prove he was not only the alpha, but he really didn’t appreciate you making him feel less than the perfect man he thought he was.
Once I got to the age where I could tell I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, my parents were already separated. I had weekend visits, and it got to the point where I didn’t want to go anymore. He didn’t respect me, he didn’t respect my siblings, and I didn’t want to be around someone who felt the only way I could gain his love was if I fit into his ideals of perfection. It was his way, or the highway.
And I chose the highway.
At the age of 15 I was disowned by not only my father, but by all of his family. They resented me, cut me out of holiday gatherings, and I was no longer supported by any of them. I was fortunate to have a mother who didn’t let his vicious ways beat her down, and an amazing boyfriend who kept me sane during a time in my life that was very, very hard to understand.
I had fallen from grace. I was no longer this cherished person, but someone cast aside because I dared to have my own voice. I had been demoted from the daughter he was proud of to, “Oh, her? We don’t talk about her.” At 15, that’s a hard realization to grasp.
This story line is, of course, just a small snippet of what life was like with him. There’s not enough space in the internet world to write down every moment he put me and my family through. But, I think it’s something that if you grew up with a parent like this, or have dated someone who is like this, you just get it. I don’t need to give you details, you just know that feeling.
You understand the fear that came from them coming home after work and not knowing how they were going to respond. Were they happy, sad, mad? Should I give them space, or should I approach them like any normal person would?
You understand the relief, happiness and guilt you felt when you knew they were leaving for a business trip and wouldn’t be home for a week. Knowing for one week, you could relax, sit back, and do your best to not stress every moment they were gone. There was a part of you that was happy they were gone, but at the same time, you had become so dependent on them telling you how to be and what to do, that it almost felt wrong not having them there.
You just get how everything you say, do, and believe is scrutinized, picked apart, and destroyed. How nothing you do will ever be good enough, because even when you’ve finally gotten to the top of the summit, you didn’t do it just right.
Most of all, you just know the feeling of the life draining negativity that radiated from their presence, and the long road to recovery that comes from suffering through that for years. The unconscious reactions to seemingly normal moments that create issues in relationships, both romantically and platonically.
For those of you who dealt with it as a child, you know just how much living under a roof with that person day in and day out has shaped your view on the world. My mental health would be in a much different state if I had grown up in a family without that daily turmoil and stress.
But there is just something about knowing that if none of this had happened, I wouldn’t have the skills, knowledge and strength that I have today. So as much as I hated what he put me and my family through for years, I almost have to thank him. He taught me a valuable lesson of how to stand strong for what I believe in when it would have been easier to cave; he showed me the kind of person not to be.
And that’s the biggest reason I can find to be thankful.