“Self-trust, self-love, and self-knowledge can be taught to a daughter only by a mother who possesses those qualities herself.” – Dr. Karyl McBride, from Will I Ever Be Good Enough
A child of a narcissistic parent is taught conditional love…they are loved if and when they “perform” perfectly up to the expectations of the parent. Just when they are enjoying the moment of feeling loved, that love is yanked from them, mostly when they least expect it – causing insecurity, fear and a deep sense of shame.
Young children do not have the mental capacity to understand that their parent may have a problem, their parent may not know how to love correctly; So they internalize the problem and think they are the problem, they are unlovable, unworthy, never enough.
A child of a narcissistic parent never tastes unconditional love.
Unconditional love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves.
A narcissist is unable to love unconditionally because they do not care about the happiness of others, not even of their family members. In fact happiness is viewed as a threat to a narcissist.
When a narcissist sees genuine happiness reflected in the eyes of their family members they react in the same way I react when I see a roach, I scrunch my face in disgust and do all I can to stamp it out of existence.
Therefore children of narcissistic parents learn not to shine, not to laugh or feel genuine happiness. They are conditioned over time to feel uncomfortable with happiness, after all, any time they felt it as a child it was accompanied by rage by the narcissist.
It’s important to help children to overcome this avoidance of happiness even if they are no longer living with the narcissistic parent. Because they have been conditioned to associate negative feelings with happiness, because they have lived their life feeling as if everything is a funeral, they need to be taught how to be happy. Sometimes children of narcissistic parents will create caos when life is calm, simply because calmness scares them; after all it was always right when everyone was calm and “happy” that the narcissist would rage. It’s a coping mechanism, it helps them to not feel so out of control – they think – if all goes crazy at least I will be expecting it since I am causing it!!!
If your children are doing this after the relationship with the narcissist has ended, please be patient with them. Children of narcissistic parents are not used to calm, healthy, happy lives and sometimes they take on the role of the narcissist even after the narcissist is gone simply because that has always been their “normal.”
Something that was helpful with my family was practicing gratitude. Each day we made a practice to write down 3 things we were happy about that day. It didn’t have to be big things, it’s often the little things that happen on a regular basis that bring us the most happiness. And instead of overlooking those little things we made it a point to seek them out, to write them down, to share them with each other. This practice slowly helped my children to learn to be comfortable with happiness until now happiness is their normal.
I hope this technique of writing down 3 things you are greatful for, or things that made you happy each day is as helpful for your family as it has been for mine.