The damage that kids often experience from narcissistic parenting can be extremely debilitating. It can haunt them and their relationships for the rest of their lives. But it doesn’t have to. This damage can be reduced. It may never go entirely away, just like scars that always remind us of the injury.
If you are in a narcissistic relationship, chances are you have become extremely good at not acknowledging your own feelings. We learn not to trust our feelings or at the very least that those feelings are not worth the price we pay for them. We are not alone. Our kids learn these lessons too.
Damage - The child’s feelings are not acknowledged. Thus the child easily learns to not trust their own feelings.
When living with a narcissistic parent, the child’s feelings are often telling them that something is wrong. Yet most kids want to live in a fairyland world. In an unconscious attempt to maintain a carefree childhood, the child learns that their own feelings must be wrong. They don’t want to always feel like something is wrong, so they just turn those feelings off. This is especially true if one or both parents are telling them life is wonderful and nothing is wrong.
Awareness is Key
For everyone involved, awareness is huge! Of course, we all know that awareness for the narcissist will never happen, so forget that piece. If you are in the phase of your relationship where you are still convinced that you can help them see it, I can honestly say that I completely understand. I’ve been there too. It took years of intense effort, a ton of energy and buckets of tears before I was finally willing to say that he will never see it. So do what you need to do. When you hit rock bottom, you will know it. Then you will be ready to pour all your effort into yourself and your kids.
You can’t force the awareness in your kids. You can’t “make” them see it. They already do. Kids know that something is wrong at very young ages. They don’t understand what necessarily, but they don’t like the feelings they have in their system. They respond to what feels good to them and what doesn’t. They just don’t understand it yet.
At a very young age, they learn that some topics are not safe to discuss or that some things are not safe to say. A few sharp snaps from a parent teaches them a ton. “I’ll never bring that up again,” runs through their heads. It is amazing how young kids learn to not be honest about their thoughts and feelings. We think they learned this from society, but they learned it from us. We are very good at teaching our children how to “sweep the dirt under the rug.” Many of us teach by example.
Be a SAFE Parent to Your Kids
As we all do, kids need a safe place to talk and express their feelings. They need a place where they will not be judged or analyzed. They need listeners who will not be offended and quickly defensive. They need a safe parent with whom they are free to talk out loud.
Why is this so hard?
For lots of reasons. Being aware of these reasons will help you so much! If you are trying to break a bad habit, bringing it into your own awareness will almost immediately stop that habit. I’m a martial artist, so I will give an example from that world. Let’s imagine I am training for a fight (yes I still do, only now I am in the old folk division). Let’s say I have a habit of dropping my left hand when I throw a right hand jab, but I’m not aware of it. This will continue forever until my awareness changes. My instructor can tell me, my trainer can tell me, my opponent can even take advantage of it. But if I don’t put it in my awareness, it will never change. The good news is, though, that the instant it comes into my awareness it starts to change. All I have to do is actually realize it. Once I am aware, I will keep that hand up almost without any effort.
So what are some of the reasons we are unable to provide that safe place for our kids? Here are some, but I am sure you can add more of your own.
Maybe we are still trying to sweep the dirt under the rug, still trying to keep peace with the narcissistic parent.
Having our own kids pointing things out does not make it easy for us to stay in denial, which, let’s face it, is a comfortable place sometimes.
Maybe, with the best of intentions, we are trying to help them build a relationship with the narcissistic parent. We want our children to be “good” children, so we are still trying to teach them to respect their parents. We don’t want to let them talk bad about their father/mother. Therefore we try to convince them of good qualities and shove the bad qualities back under that same old rug.
Maybe their feelings scare us. Anger in our own child is not a pleasant experience. So we shove their dirt under the rug too. We sure do have a lot of dirt under all these rugs.
Perhaps we are overwhelmed and just plain don’t know what to do.
What should we do?
The best advice I can give you is to let them talk. Let them express their feelings, even uncomfortable ones. Toughen yourself up so that you can handle it. They may say some hurtful, angry and painful things. That’s okay. If they can’t express their feelings to you, who are they going to express them to? Try to remember that kids don’t mean a lot of what comes out of their mouths.
Kids speak from their feelings way more often than adults do. When they yell, “I hate you,” try to remember this is coming from their feelings. Most often this has more to do with the fact that you just told them they can’t go to their friend’s party tonight than with how they actually feel about you. When they are all depressed and stating, “I hate my life,” it might have more to do with how their narcissistic parent just made them feel than with how they actually feel about their life. Realizing this might help you to not over-react to their words at the moment.
I found my 14-year old son on the floor of his closet one night. He was curled up in a little ball, laying on his old stuffed animals from childhood, crying. He was repeating over and over, “I hate myself. I hate myself.” Why?? Because his dad had trapped him in a lengthy circular conversation that came as a result of our son wanting to watch a different tv show that his father that evening. These horrible conversations, that aren’t conversations, leave you feeling drained, worthless and responsible for all the world’s problems. I knew he didn’t hate himself, and yet it still took a lot of effort to keep myself from flipping out at this scene.
I simply sat with him, on the floor of his closet. I didn’t ask him what had happened. I didn’t ask him what all had been said. I just sat with him. He mumbled for a bit about how much he hates his dad. I don’t even remember what all he said, but I do remember the pain in his voice. He asked if he could go downstairs to our workout room, and he punched on a bag for awhile. I kept him company, but again did not push him to talk. I simply made myself present to him and his pain.
Kids need to know that not talking about an issue is okay too. What I have found is when they realize that it truly is okay to not talk, then that is when they are often the most willing to talk. But you have to mean it when you tell them that they don’t have to talk with you. That has to be okay, and that is hard to do when you want to help them more than anything else in this world.
Don’t “fix” them, but rather accept them
Resist the urge to “fix” their feelings. Feelings aren’t there to be fixed. Feelings aren’t wrong or right. Feelings are feelings. They simply need to be felt. It was perfectly okay for my son to be upset about what had happened. His anger and hurt were justified. If I had tried to persuade him to not be upset, this would only succeed in communicating that I didn’t think it was okay for him to be upset. It won’t change the fact that he is upset and would probably make him more upset.
Instead of trying to fix their feelings, accept their feelings. Validate them. This makes it far easier for your child to feel the way they feel. Once validated, feelings often burn off and settle back down. They just seem to have a overwhelming need to be heard.
Internal World meets External World
When a person shuts their feelings off, this can cause crippling self-doubt. Their self-confidence takes a constant beating as long as their feelings stay closed up. Helping your child open their vault of feelings is one of the best things you can do for them. Scary! But best!
I was in my 40’s when I declared, “It is time for my internal world to meet my external world.” Up to this point, I had been a different person on the inside of me than the one I showed the world. The internal conflict this causes is intense, and yet easily overlooked. Slowly I started dropping the inhibitions and opening myself to the world around me. I quickly realized that it was extremely freeing and that no one was out to get me.
Give them the freedom to explore their feelings. It might be a tough ride, so hang on. But it will be so worth it in the long run!
Counter parenting a narcissistic parent is extremely challenging and exhausting. It will test your patience and your stamina. You are strong enough to do this. Approach it one day at a time. Sometimes maybe even one hour at a time.
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This overwhelming effect of narcissism is simply not okay. We must join together and stand up for ourselves. This abuse, this insensitive treatment, this entitlement, this complete disregard for other people's feelings....This Is NOT Okay!!