Counter parenting is when you find yourself needing to spend incredible amounts of energy undoing the damage done by a narcissistic parent. Before you can make healthy steps with your child, you first have to do some repair work. Some of this repair work is simple and minor, while other parts are extensive and perhaps life-long.
Damage - The child exists only to please the narcissistic parent.
If you are in a relationship of any sort with a narcissist, you will quickly find that everything revolves around that person. It is extremely easy to be sucked into their vacuum, and you may not even be aware of it. If you want to see if you are trapped in a narcissistic relationship, one of the best ways is to explore your own feelings and thoughts. Think about these questions:
- Do you have difficulty saying no to this person?
- Do you feel like you must always give in to their requests or pay a high price?
- Do you feel like it is your “job” to help them be happy or stay happy?
- Are you reluctant to voice your own opinion when you know they will differ from this person’s?
- Are you afraid of upsetting him/her?
- Does the quality of your interactions with this person depend upon the mood he/she is in?
- Do you work the schedule of daily life around his/her schedule? Constantly making adjustments to your schedule, but not willing to even ask him/her to make adjustments?
- Are you exhausted from the amount of energy you are putting into the relationship?
If you are answering yes to most of these questions, then there is a very good chance you are in a narcissistic relationship. If you have kids in this relationship, then there is an extremely good chance that these kids are feeling these things too. Your kids are having difficulty saying no to that parent. They feel they must always give in to that parent’s request. They feel that it is their job to keep that parent happy. They are reluctant to voice their own opinion, often whether they know if it will differ or not. They are afraid of upsetting that parent. They become highly alert to that parent’s mood. And they feel exhausted from the interactions. To sum these feelings up, their entire existence begins to revolve around the narcissistic parent. They have simply become an extension of that parent.
Kids Aren’t Aware of It
The worst part is that these kids are not even aware of it! Whatever environment kids grow up in, they believe is “normal.” They think it is just like everyone else. As we get older, we begin to realize this isn’t true. But by then, many of our childhood experiences are ingrained in our personality.
Because your kids aren’t consciously aware of it, they won’t be able to tell you how they feel. A lot of adults aren’t aware of the complexity of these relationships. Especially when dealing with covert narcissists, you don’t even realize you are victim for an extended period of time, if ever. Some people never wake up to it!
How can we help our kids with this one?
This one is tricky. It leaves healthy parents caught in a quandary. If you don’t do anything, you are going to watch as your child is gradually sucked into and trapped in an life-draining relationship. Yet at the same time, if you try to explain what is going on to a child who is too young to comprehend, this can bite you in the backside really fast. A young child will struggle to understand, which can lead to confusion and internal conflict. At the same time, you might be accused of parental alienation, poisoning your child against the other parent.
Focus on Building Your Child’s Relationship Skills
Your child will need some very specific skills in order to someday stand up to their narcissistic parent and speak how they feel. These skills will help them throughout all of their life with every relationship they ever have. So no one in their right mind can argue with you building healthy relationship skills in your child.
Necessary Relationship Skills
- Learn that it is okay to get angry with someone you love.
- Learn to verbalize your feelings.
- Speak how you feel without being unnecessarily mean or attacking.
- Be honest without being rude.
- Be specific and to the point.
- Don’t demonstrate someone else’s words or actions back to them.
- Don’t exaggerate as you talk with someone about their words and actions.
Take a Closer Look
Kids need to learn that it is okay to get angry with someone you love. When my son was 6, we were moving to another state. About a month before our move, he was playing with his best friend. He had gotten mad at his friend over some typical little kid spat. I heard him angrily yell, “I’m glad we are moving, so I can get away from you!” The other mom and I were completely shocked. This really hurt his friend.
As the two moms stepped in to help resolve this, we discovered deeper feelings. Yes they had a little spat, but it actually wasn’t the core problem. Both of them were angry at being separated because we were moving away. Their hearts were in pain, but they did not know how to voice that. As we talked through this, the two boys grabbed each other in a genuine embrace. Through a lot of tears, they told each other how much they were going to miss each other. This was a great lesson that it is okay to get angry with someone you love.
Kids need to learn to speak how they feel without being mean. This is not easy to do, and kids do not do it naturally. They need to learn to be honest without being rude. The best place for them to learn these lessons is in a relationship where they feel emotionally safe. In other words, with you. Encourage them to express their feelings when they are angry with you or hurt by you. Every parent hurts their child’s feelings, many times. It’s okay, we all do it.
Give them the freedom to learn these valuable skills with you. When they tell you that what you did upset them, don’t turn on them. Don’t be defensive or easily offended. If appropriate, simply apologize for hurting their feelings. That is, if they are practicing being honest without being mean.
If they are expressing meanness and rudeness, help them to see that. Don’t REACT back. This does not help them to see! It will only shut their feelings down. Don’t take offense at everything they say. Remember, they are learning! So you must work to be in control of your own emotions as well. Practice what you are trying to help them learn. It’s okay to be angry with someone you love. Speak how you feel without being mean.
What if you think they are being overly sensitive? No problem. You also get to practice being honest without being rude. Tell them what you think. Don’t get angry about it. It is okay to say, “Hey I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That is not what I meant to do. In my opinion, I think you are perhaps being a bit too sensitive, but I am sorry nonetheless.” It is okay to apologize, even when you feel you did nothing wrong. We do it all the time when we accidentally bump into someone. You didn’t do anything “wrong,” but you also didn’t mean to hurt them. The same is true when we hurt someone’s feelings by mistake. Teach this to your kids.
Teach them to be specific and to the point. They need only to express how they feel and then stop, giving the other person a chance to talk. Teach them not to drag it out. You want them to learn to say, “You hurt my feelings,” without going into great discussion and explanation. These discussions and explanations easily get ugly and convoluted. These conversations are the birthing ground for circular conversations.
Teach your kids not to demonstrate back to someone. Picture a child saying to another child, “You hit me like this,” as they swing at the kid. Now how is that strike going to come out? The far majority of the time it is going to be much harder and more aggressive than whatever has happened up to this point. It is not possible to actually demonstrate what has happened without the feelings of being hurt involved. When we try, it never goes over very well. Teach them to say something like, “I didn’t like it when you hit me,” without demonstrating.
Demonstrating doesn’t work in speaking either. When one kid says to another, “But you said, “I don’t have to play” in a squeaky, obnoxious and irritating voice, this only offends the other person. The other kid quickly retorts, “I didn’t say it like that.” It is not possible to actually repeat something back in the manner in which it was delivered. If it has upset you, that state of being upset will cause your voice to exaggerate. So teach your kids not to imitate the voice or actions, but rather to just state how it made them feel.
Teach them not to exaggerate. It is okay to say that something upset you. You don’t have to make it bigger than life in order to justify your own feelings. It is okay to be upset. “You did this 100 times,” never sits well when in reality it was 5 times. Five times is enough, sometimes even one time is enough, to justify being hurt or upset. Don’t exaggerate. Practice speaking the truth, as best as you can.
Don’t Let the Crankiest One Make the Rules
Don’t try to teach your kids to just keep peace because the crankiest one in the house makes the rules!! This is hard. When the crankiest one is happy, then everyone can breathe a little easier. We bow down to their wishes, not because we agree with them, but because we so strongly desire the peace that then comes. But it comes at too high of a price!
Think about what this really is teaching your kids. They will learn that they need to be the crankiest one in the house, so everyone will bow down to their wishes. Kids aren’t dumb. They will do this without even being aware of it. Before you know it, you will be working double time to keep peace, not only with your narcissistic spouse, but with your own child as well.
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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!!