Narcissists can do quite a bit of psychological damage when they become parents. Boundaries are a problem for them. Manipulation is their M.O. Their own needs are the primary needs of the whole family. In a sense, the other family members are like moons revolving around a large planet.
So, to meet these parents’ needs, children learn they must reflect the perfect image the narcissist wants to project. They must comply without complaint and fulfill their parent’s wishes. If they fail? Well, then a whole host of emotional punishments may ensue, not the least of which is a loss of parental affection, neglect, and withdrawal.
To restore connection, the child of a narcissist learns to perform, put their own needs aside, and cope with unrelenting demands to be as talented, attractive, and charismatic as their parent requires. Sometimes, they learn to be invisible so as not to draw the narcissistic parent’s wrath to them.
Can you relate? Looking back, do you wonder if a parent’s narcissism is at the root of your current relationship or emotional problems? If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, then it’s likely that you were exposed to a few of the 10 Aces of Trauma.
If so, you might have unresolved trauma; and you wouldn’t be alone. Often, people who struggle with complex trauma symptoms were raised by a narcissistic parent. Many children of narcissists are connecting the dots of their childhood and seeking trauma treatment to recover.
First, let’s consider how you might be affected by such a relationship. Then, we’ll consider the benefits of trauma therapy.
Signs You Had a Narcissistic Parent
Negative relationship patterns are the norm
Are your relationships short-lived or consistently mired in troubles and conflict? Are your romantic connections anything but stable or secure? Safety in relationships may not even feel like a possibility. If you have siblings, your relationships may be marred by competitiveness and envy as you were forced to compete for approval.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent shapes how you attach. Generally, it’s not uncommon for children of narcissistic parents to shut out the people they care about the most. Or they cling so hard that they suffocate the connection. You may crave love and attention but sabotage it as soon as you get it.
Poor boundaries and a limited sense of identity persist
Do you have trouble saying “no” or being told “no”? Does it bother you to engage people who prize autonomy? Children of narcissists aren’t encouraged to set boundaries. Narcissistic parents tend to trample boundaries. They may be enmeshed and discourage their kids’ individuality. They are easier to control that way.
As an adult, you may now have trouble expressing your own thoughts, making decisions, or managing conflict. Feeling unheard and “invisible” may be a frequent experience.
Self-blame, shame, and low self-esteem are a way of life
Is your self-talk critical and harsh? Do you often wonder “what’s wrong with me”? Life with a narcissistic parent means the child is always performing. If this was your childhood, then your life may feel like just a series of successes or failures. There is no sense that you can just “be.”
You were groomed to see your behavior as the seminal reason your parent was happy or unhappy. You likely bring this to your current relationships. Such a low self-image makes you vulnerable to opportunistic or abusive people.
Personal needs seem burdensome, inconsequential, weak
Have you come to despise your own needs? Are you annoyed by the thought of self-care? Children of narcissists are often quick to neglect themselves, opting to organize their lives around the perceived needs of others. Making others happy at their own expense and heading off other’s discontent with sacrifice is an exhausting daily campaign.
Emotional regulation is sorely lacking
Are you anxious and reactive? Do you have “anger issues” or sink quickly to depressive lows? Your parent’s narcissism left little time for your emotions or learning how to regulate them. Your emotions may feel overwhelming and uncomfortable, particularly when facing criticism, conflict, or disapproval.
Narcissistic emulation is often the key to coping
Do people accuse you of narcissistic behavior? Are you prone to showing off, drawing attention to yourself, or manipulating others to maintain your image? Your narcissistic parent was your role model. Because narcissism is a form of abuse, it can be passed down. It may be that you followed in your parent’s footsteps to win their love first, and now the cycle simply continues.
Relationship PTSD is Real & Trauma Therapy Heals
Abusive parents traumatize their children. The seeming charismatic nature of the narcissist can confuse others, including their children, into thinking that the abuse is not real or pervasive. But the fallout speaks for itself. The resulting symptoms are very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you experience anxiety, sleep disruption, eating disorders, depression, and more, please seek help. It’s time to work through your parent relationship for the sake of recovery and your future relationships.
Trauma therapy can help you confront, accept, and process the past without retraumatizing you. In a safe space, your therapist can help you form a healthy therapeutic attachment. They will then help you learn how to form healthy boundaries for beneficial connections going forward.
Dealing with your trauma and lack of self will foster a new perspective. Finding your voice, expressing yourself, and choosing your path forward will afford you freedom and agency you may have never felt before.
This of course takes time. You’ll need a trusted, experienced therapist and patience. But, with your commitment and support, you can survive your parent’s narcissism, heal, and thrive. Let’s work on this together. Read more about trauma therapy and contact me soon.