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Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Long-term consequences of being raised by a narcissistic parent: By Robert Frank Mittiga Recovery Coach
You know that feeling you get when you’re visiting your mother for holidays, you bring her gifts and all she says to you is ‘I don’t really know if this shirt will fit me. Couldn’t you get me something else?’ Then, you help her set the dinner table and she controls your every move-you should use these plates and not those or this set of forks, they’re new.
This is how it was for me to be around my mother. Even though, I love her, our relationship was turbulent, much like the one between Charlotte and Eva, the two protagonists in the 1978 movie, ‘Autumn sonata‘.
Charlotte is a renowned concert pianist who comes to visit her daughter, Eva, after a seven-year absence. During the visit, she discovers that her second daughter, Helena is slowly fading from a degenerative disease, while Eva is torn between loving and hating her. It was eerie to see Charlotte’s cold behavior in the movie and her lack of empathy towards her daughter’s pain. It reminded me of my mom.
However, even though the effects of being brought up by a narcissistic parent are long-lasting, it is possible to handle the anxiety that comes from such experience. Here are seven ways on how narcissism impacts adult children negatively:
1. People-pleasing behavior
It is common for an adult child of a narcissistic mother for exanmple, to become a people pleaser. The explanation of why this happens is this: when the child is raised by a mother whose main concern is her unresolved issues and pain, the child becomes enmeshed with her.
The child will often ask himself what is wrong with him for making his mother so upset. He’ll think that, if he will extend himself to his mother, then he’ll receive the love he yearns from her.
2. Low self-esteem
Very often, children of narcissistic parents grow up feeling not good enough in everything they do. This is because they were corrected since young age and told that they always do the wrong things. I would often hear from my mother how I do things the ‘wrong’ way. For example, she would show me how to fold clothes and if I did it wrong, she’d say that she rather do it herself because, I can’t do it the way she wants me to. A narcissistic mother is never pleased with how others are doing things.
She sets high standards for herself that only few people can reach. That’s why, the child will feel like he’s lacking something. After years of being told that he’s doing things wrongly, he ends up thinking that it must be something wrong with him. He’ll not feel comfortable in relationships and will try to make others love him by ‘performing’ for them.
At one point in ‘Autumn Sonata‘, Eva performs for her mother a piece of classical music. Due to the fact that playing piano was not her forte but writing was, the daughter’s interpretation sounded bland.
But, instead of letting this go, her mother Charlotte took the spotlight and showed her how to play Chopin like a pro. She didn’t need to say anything to Eva so she would feel inferior and unworthy. Her hurtful actions were enough to show her daughter how she is not good enough. For a narcissistic mother, being competitive is a way of life. She wants to be better than everyone else, to win at all times, even during arguments.
3. Lack of a sense of self and direction
When you are raised by a narcissistic parent (s), you might realise you have no self. During childhood, even though your parent might have tried to give you attention and care, there wasn’t any opportunity for you to express yourself. The narcissistic parent needs to live through his/her children, thus, the children are not allowed to have different thoughts, values and dreams. If they show signs of being different, they are made to feel guilty. Thus, the child needs to be what the parent wants him/her to be. That’s how the child ends up denying their own self.
4. Lack of boundaries
A narcissistic parent makes you become enmeshed with them, much like how Eva was enmeshed with her famous mom. She had no idea who she was, why did she learn piano at an early age, why was she trying to impress Charlotte by playing Chopin for her.
There is no clear distinction between you and your parent, you have the same needs and aspirations. That is why, the child grows up thinking that everybody can ask anything from him and he/she will have to comply. The adult child will be upset with other people’s boundaries and feel insecure about his own abilities to support strong and healthy relationships.
5. Anxiety, panic attacks, addiction or depression
Because there is no sense of self in the adult child of narcissists, the adult will often ask him/herself what do they want to do with their life. Is it OK to do say this and that? Is it allowed to feel like this? This insecurity becomes stressful in time. The adult child can’t trust themselves, thus, it will be difficult to trust others, as well.
In relationships, the adult child won’t know how to express his/her own needs and feelings. Due to this frustration, he/she might resort to drinking, gambling, eating, obsessing or panicking in order to cope.
6. Difficulty in establishing healthy relationships
The adult child of a narcissistic mother for example, would be afraid of being abandoned or rejected by the person he loves. Although we’re all afraid at some level, to be left by our partner with whom we share so many great things, the adult child of narcissists is constantly terrified of saying or doing something wrong. He believes that, if he does something wrong, his partner will pack their bags and hit the road without them.
The adult child of narcissists would be attracted to emotionally unavailable partners or highly critical of others. If he/she enters a relationship with someone who offers them unconditional love, they will feel anxious and undeserving. The adult child also feels that he/she needs to keep the partner happy and fulfilled, even if this means to ignore his own needs. Sometimes this can lead to domestic violence.
Generally the adult child of narcissists will ignore their needs in relationships with friends and significant others. It is an automatic and unconcious behaviour of putting everyone first. In recovery you have to learn how to acknowledge your needs and look at relationships as being two-sided. Both partners should give and have a chance to express themselves, without judgment.
7. Narcissistic personality disorder
Therapists say that, if you can’t fight a parent while growing up, you will choose to become like them. Why? Because that is the easiest and most convenient option. For a child to survive in an abusive environment, he needs to become similar to the people around them. It’s like a defense mechanism.
We will imitate the narcissistic parent and often find ourselves manipulating others or putting them down. If we don’t question our actions and seek HELP, we might develop an unhealthy type of narcissism that will hurt those around us.
N.B: We must remember that we all have a narcissistic side in us. It is important to have it so we can develop a healthy self-esteem. However, there are two other types of narcissism that are not helpful.
There are people who are likely to manipulate others to get what they want. They are approval-seeking and depend on the need to feel special. These people like to provoke negative reactions in others and use them to fulfill their needs.
Another type of narcissism that is less discussed in the media is ‘echoism’. Echoism manifests through people pleasing behaviors and a poor sense of self. People with high levels of echoism put others first and think more of how to make others happy than how they feel.
What can you do?
There are some things to consider if you were raised by a narcissist. First and foremost, seek therapy or counselling. It will help you discover how the world really is, how relationships should function, what is healthy mature love, how to self-soothe and create better opportunities for yourself.
Secondly, do your research. The more you read and talk about narcissism with others, the clearer the subject will become. It is not an easy topic, I know.
If you’re dealing with the psychological consequences of being raised by narcissistic parents, I want to tell you that you’re not alone. We will help you to accept that you weren’t given the love that you needed and deserved and move forward, towards healing.
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