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Counter Parenting - Reducing the Damage, Part Three

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Narcissistic parenting leaves our children quite confused!

Counter parenting is when you are needing to spend incredible amounts of energy undoing the damage done by the other parent. Before you can make healthy steps with your child, you first have to do some repair work. I am doing a mini-series of posts on specific aspects of that damage and how to counter parent it. The damage we will look at today is that children of narcissistic parents sometimes struggle to know what reality is. As every situation is different, some of the aspects of damage might apply to one child and not to another, just like every narcissistic characteristic does not always apply to every narcissist. 

Damage - The child does not know what reality is.

Children of narcissistic parents can hold quite a bit of confusion inside themselves. Some of them have an extremely difficult time merging the love the narcissistic parent has for them with the way that parent makes them feel.

My covert narc husband has said to me, several times, “How can I hate my dad? He loves me.” And turn right around and say, “How can I love him after all the horrible things he did to me and my mom?” He told me that to the outside world, they put on the appearance of being a perfect family. They “had to.” But on the inside, it was a disaster. He told me that he never knew what reality actually was. Were they a perfect family or were they a disaster?

It is so clear to me that they were a disaster. Yet my 46-year old husband still has not come to grasp with reality. He just can’t do it, and that inability has destroyed our marriage and damaged our own children.

A Child’s Struggle

My 17-year old son struggles today with the two extremely contradictory things going on. He believes that his dad loves him. He believes that his dad has done the best that he knew how to do in raising him. At the same time, he is angry at how his dad has treated him all these years. He struggles with how his dad makes him feel day after day.

So what is reality? Does his dad love him or not?

When our son was much younger, he used to ask me, “Why doesn’t Daddy like me?” I immediately responded, “He does like you, son. He just doesn’t know how to show it very well.” Many times he asked me this question. Each time, my heart broke for a son so badly wanting his dad’s approval. As his awareness grew, he started answering his own question. “Why doesn’t Daddy like me? Mom, he doesn’t like anyone.” Eventually, he even realized that Daddy doesn’t even like himself.

For a long time, I defended their dad to the boys. I would make excuses:

  • He’s tired tonight.
  • He is stressed from work.
  • He doesn’t feel too good tonight.
  • He’s got a lot on his mind.

But the excuses wore off. When there is always a reason why a person is being mean, you just might have to stop and consider that maybe they are actually mean. If there is always a reason why they are being a jerk, maybe they are just a jerk. At some point, the excuses fall aside.

Don’t Bad Mouth the Narcissistic Parent to the Kids

One word of advice is that no matter how easy it would be, don’t bad mouth the narcissistic parent to the kids. There is no reason to, and it only confuses the kids further. I’m not saying to make excuses for that parent either. That also doesn’t work.

Simply let the truth speak for itself. Your children are not blind. They will see it for themselves. You can ask how they feel. You can listen to their thoughts. Let them talk and express what they see. When my son asked why his dad doesn’t like him, it might have been better for me to answer something like, “He didn’t show it too well right then, did he? How did that make you feel?” You can follow this with, “Do you think you have ever made someone feel that way?”

By all means, get them talking about their feelings. Their feelings are their current reality more than anything else in their world. But you don’t have to add any fuel to their anger at the other parent.

Changing Your Perspective

Changing one’s perspective changes everything. I have said this many times. If you change your perception of something, then everything about it changes. So what is reality? It is your perspective. How you feel about something is your reality. You may love spiders, and this is your reality. Your friend may be terrified of spider, and this is their reality. Reality is subjective.

Don’t try to tell your kids what reality is. Your reality is only your own perspective and might be completely contrary to theirs. Part of why narcissistic parents confuse their kids so much is because they push their own perception of reality onto their kids.

Examples of Narcissistic Parenting

My narc husband said to our young boys, “I know you are sitting there thinking I am an idiot.” Our young boys looked puzzled and unsure. I don’t believe for a minute that they were sitting there thinking this. But now what is going through their little minds? Perhaps something like, “Was I thinking that? Maybe he is right. Do I really think he is an idiot? Is he?” He pushed his messed-up version of what he thought was reality onto his very young children. They were not old enough to grasp a version of reality for themselves.

Narcissistic father to his son: So what are you studying in history right now?

Son to father: Oh, everything! (In an exhausted voice from all the homework)

Before he could continue, his father jumped his back: You never answer me with real answers. Can’t you ever just answer my questions?

Our son told me later that he thought he was answering his question. He was feeling overwhelmed at the amount of work he was doing, and so it felt like they were studying everything. When his dad flared up, he shut down and avoided the conversation. So here lies the confusion in his mind: “Do I not answer him with real answers? Are my feelings not real answers? What is a REAL answer?”

What is Reality?

Reality is not some truth out there that we all are searching for. I am sure that the reality of the Cold War is different for Russian students studying it than it is for American students. Reality is based on your own perceptions of life, and these are based on your current knowledge, awareness, feelings and other extremely subjective things.

Your reality might be that you are dealing with a narcissistic spouse. You have the knowledge and awareness to understand this reality. But your kids don’t and thus this is not their reality. It certainly isn’t the reality of the narcissist. Your kids’ reality is that they are trying to grow up and learn what life is all about. Their reality might also include that they are struggling to get along with their parents, one or both, but they don’t have the life-experience to grasp narcissism (at least not in its entirety).

Work on learning their reality. It lies inside them, not outside. Dig in to their feelings and perceptions. Don’t judge those feelings and perceptions. Don’t tell them that they are wrong. Feelings aren’t wrong. They are just feelings. They also aren’t permanent. Help your kids to start seeing their own reality. Help them to voice how they feel. Encourage them to voice their own perceptions.

Reality changes constantly, and so do feelings. As the young teenager knows, one day “she” loves me and one day “she” loves me not. Teach them that reality is fluid and life is like a river.

Life is Like a River

A river constantly twists and turns. Sometimes it is deep and other times shallow. Sometimes calm and other times extremely rough. You cannot describe it only one way because somewhere else it is certainly the opposite.

Flow down the middle of that river. Ride whatever comes your way. If you get too close to the edges, you might find problems. You might beat yourself against the rocks in a fast flowing part. Or you might stall out and get stuck in the stagnant water of a calmer part. Don’t float on the edges. Find your way in the middle of the river. But don’t think that once you find the middle your work is done. The river turns, and the middle moves. You have to stay engaged with the river. You have to stay aware and actively directing your boat.

Such is life. Don’t coast. Be purposeful about your course. Don’t drift to the edges. Life will shift around. Stay engaged with it and accept it. Stay on course in the middle and ride the river of life.

I am writing a mini-series of posts on how to reduce the damage done by the “other” parent. If you would like to receive these by email, simply join my mailing list. Your email will not be shared with anyone, but this will ensure that you don’t miss any of this series.

Feel free to reach out to me if I can be of help in any way. You are not fighting this battle alone!

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