When Your Child Grows Up To Imitate The Narcissist
Being raised by an emotional predator makes childhood equivalent to a war zone; a word, an accident, a false interpretation, breathing wrong can cause the toxic parent to go off like a bomb leaving a child feeling fearful of their very life. Leaving that dysfunctional, abusive environment represents an indescribable freedom. Sadly however, many that were raised by narcissistic, sociopathic or simply toxic parents wind up recreating their unresolved childhood wounds in the realm of a romantic relationship.
When a child is taught that love is synonymous with manipulation, and without the proper knowledge as to what happened in childhood and who was rightfully to blame, that child, now adult, reenacts manipulation. Depending on their trauma response as children (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) they will either be attracted to people pleasers and imitate blindly the way they were treated, or they will use how they were treated as what NOT to do – but…. often find themselves in relationships with others that treat them exactly how their abusive parent treated them – if not worse.
Often, it’s at this point in a person’s life that they seek help – therapy, life coaching, counseling, etc. A healing journey begins, after googling traits they stumble upon the word narcissist and their search creates a lightbulb effect – suddenly life makes sense, they are not crazy, it was not their fault, they have been abused!! So many spend years, decades in toxic relationships without even realizing they are in abusive relationships – especially with covert abusers who have two personalities – the one they show others, and the one that tortures their family behind closed doors.
The road to recovery takes time, is not linear, rather feels like a one step forward two steps back kind of travel. But little by little victims of narcissistic abuse come back into their skin, they shed the meshed personality of the abuser and finally get in touch with who they truly are at the core.
Everything so far seems so much better, life is so much clearer, we feel so much more in control of who we are rather than feeling like someone is pulling our strings, like a puppet, with the goal of bringing out the worst in us. But…… sometimes it’s only when we are further down on our own journey to heal that we begin to see the damage that was done to the children living in that toxic environment.
There is much debate whether narcissism is genetic or learned; personally I think each child has their own genetic make up and one child’s genetic make up could make them more predisposed to narcissistic behavior – especially children who have a strong fight response, however I genuinely feel environment can either assist in that child’s narcissistic traits or prevent them from ever taking shape. I liken it to cancer cells, we all have them, but they often only turn on when environmental factors assist – such as a persons diet, smoking, stress, etc.
The reality is that some that were victims of narcissistic abuse will leave one nightmare and find themselves in another, even more excruciatingly painful situation – when their child has become the narcissist. In my face to face coaching I have spoken with many beautiful, resilient, compassionate and loving parents who found themselves in this situation.
As a parent I know how deeply the pain of losing a child to narcissism can be – it’s almost as painful as losing them in death, if not more so; in death a child is gone physically, with narcissism a child is gone emotionally – an experience of truly living through death. For that reason I wanted to give some encouragement to those that are in this situation as well as some tips that can help.
1) DO NOT DROWN YOURSELF IN BLAME:
It’s easy to blame ourselves, to find fault within, to be angry with ourselves for not knowing sooner, for not being able to prevent this. But the truth is, as a parent you yourself were a victim as well, blinded by psychological manipulation and confused due to the never ending gaslighting. Without your mental faculties working properly due to abuse, it was impossible to help anyone else – in fact a victim of narcissistic abuse is hanging by a thin strand to sanity. Knowing this does not take away the pain, but it does help ease it a little. If we could all go back and change the past – we would, but marinating on our mistakes only does us harm and helps no one. Be compassionate and understanding with yourself.
2) FOCUS ON THE PRESENT:
It’s never too late to live in a healthy environment. One of the most powerful ways we can help our children, no matter what age they are, is by our example. Some victims make the mistake of trying to show their children fault in the other toxic parent. Just as trying to expose truth to flying monkeys never works, just as trying to reveal truth during a smear campaign never yields good results, trying to point our the other parents mistakes often pushes children to side with the other parent as the “poor victim that’s being badmouthed.” So, the most powerful way to expose truth is revealing what healthy behavior is on a daily basis. If you want your children to be happy, give them the example of what happiness looks like – strengthen the joy within you. If you want children to respect boundaries – make sure that you exhibit strong boundaries and enforce them calmly yet firmly. If you want your children to talk as opposed to yell when making a point, give the example – talk calmly, peacefully – if they raise their voice let them know that you will continue the conversation only if they lower their voice – enforce your boundaries consistently. Many adult children of narcissists DO NOT have NPD, which means they CAN unlearn narcissistic behaviors that they soaked up as children but words will not help nearly as much as your example!!! And for those that do have NPD, by living in accord with you values, morals and self love you can learn to allow yourself to be happy in life and exercise healthy boundaries with those you love who may be dealing with narcissism.
3) BOUNDARIES ARE OUR FRIENDS:
When you’ve grown up with no boundaries and had a relationship as an adult with no boundaries, enforcing boundaries as a parent is foreign, sometimes it even creates intense feelings of guilt. This guilt is often an emotioanl flashback from when we, as children, tried to have boundaries and they were slammed down causing us to suffer emotional distress; our brain then associated boundaries with that distress and we learned to live trying to avoid that distress. We came to view boundaries as the bad guy – and giving in as love and acceptance. But when we give in and have no boundaries, we are unable to teach people how to treat us in a healthy manner. Boundaries are vital if one of your children has been affected with narcissism, an adult child of narcissism who now exhibits those same characteristics has the capacity to learn to respect boundaries – they may not like them, they may try at every chance to see if they can guilt you into bending them, but if you are consistent, kind yet firm…. you can have healthy boundaries even with an adult child that’s narcissistic – unless of course that child refuses to have a relationship with you due to your boundaries – that would be a sad turn of events however, that is how we exercise self love and self respect and teach others to show us the same – those unable to love and/or respect us will leave, but that’s their choice and not due to any lacking of parental love. Loving your children is not synonymous with allowing them to abuse.
4) TAKE TIME TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE:
So many parents that grew up in unhealthy enviornments, only to marry into a smiliar enviornment – spent decades trying to please everyone but themselves. Pouring themselves out, they give and give until one day they feel hollow inside. I encourage you to take time to connect with your passions, to spend time not only existing – but living and appreciating every day of life. There are things that are out of our control – we are not responsible for other people’s feelings and actions – it’s hard to let go of that control, it’s hard to let go of hope – which is why it’s best to hope that one day they wake up and see what’s really going on, but as you hold onto that hope – keep living….keep loving…others and especially yourself!!!