“My mother trained me to tell her everything she does was right. And when I did not agree with her, I was a bad son who betrayed her and then used guilt to keep me. A thought of my own was forbidden. The word “WE” was used a lot as in “We like that person” or “We like that color” there was no “I”. My mother took credit for all my accomplishments. And then manipulated me to do what she always wanted to do with her life so she could live her dreams through me. I confronted my mother and told her to stop using me and she told me I had been abusing her ever since I was a child and my abuse of her is now “Stopped!” I life has never been better.” – the words of the child of a Narcissist in a comment on one of my posts about my own Narcissistic parents. This comment means a lot to me, I hope they don’t mind my using it this way (will delete it if they do).
I am the only child of two Narcissists. I didn’t always know they were Narcissists. I didn’t always know there was anything wrong with the way they behaved. I didn’t always know that they were not like everyone else. However something felt off kilter, but I didn’t know what it was.
Children take everything personally. They are deeply connected to the world around them. The boundaries between self and other have yet to be formed. It is during the early years that those boundaries are formed. The structure of those boundaries depends on the experiences of the formative years. So, if their parents fight, they think it is somehow their fault. If someone they know gets hurt, they believe it might be because of them. Magical thinking has many uses and many forms it takes.
And so I concluded that my feeling of something being wrong was because of me, that I was defective. My parents agreed. Because they were Narcissists, nothing is ever their fault. They are faultless.
There are many similarities between being the child of a Narcissist and being a Narcissist. A child of a Narcissist does not necessarily become a Narcissist. If both parents are Narcissists, the likelihood of the child becoming a Narcissist decreases significantly. The child is caught between conflicting ambitions which the parents have for it, to succeed and to fail simultaneously, and they are programmed to self-destruct should they ever threaten the power and control, the self image, of the Narcissistic parents. SInce Narcissists feel permanently under threat, the child lives in a constant state of tension. The child’s primal instinct urges it to survive at all costs, but their parental programming tells them to sacrifice their life to save the parents.
A child of a Narcissist may not become a Narcissist themselves, but they do absorb the behaviours of their parent, because that is what children do. They are giant sponges dedicated to learning, their brains are super processors, taking in all the information in their immediate environment, and they do it with a speed that most adult brains don’t have.
In a healthy parent/child relationship the child mimicking the parent is viewed as a wonderful thing, and occasionally an annoying one. The parent feels a certain joyful pride in themselves and in the child when a valued trait is passed on, when a bad habit gets passed on, the parent feels a twinge of inner conflict. They’re pleased and slightly displeased. In a moment of frustration the parent swears, the child repeats it… oops.
One of the traits most children of Narcissists share is a sense of being completely alone. This is due to the isolation which Narcissistic parents create for the child, and it is also due to absorbing the fundamental loneliness of a Narcissist.
All families have family secrets. In the family of a Narcissist the secrecy becomes a prison of silence.
Most children who are abused keep quiet about the abuse. The child of Narcissists does this to protect their parents, to protect themselves by protecting their main caretakers, but also because there are usually no bruises or broken bones or any other tangible signs of abuse.
Narcissistic parents tend to look very good on the outside, they project the perfected image of the perfect parent who happens to have an imperfect child. They cover their asses efficiently, using their charm, their power to control how others perceive them and those whom the Narcissist considers an enemy (which is how a Narcissist views their child – the child knows too much) and their ability to hypnotise those who come into contact with them, in such a way that there is no escape for the child.
So if the child of a Narcissist speaks up and out against their parents, they will not be believed, and they will most likely be scolded by society for doing it. Their feeling that they are the bad one, defective, is reinforced. They retreat into silence. They are alone in a world full of people who are against them.
If you meet the child of a Narcissist, you will not pick up on any of this unless you are very sensitive and perceptive, and even then you won’t know what it is or why it is. You will probably conclude that there is something wrong with them, perhaps you’ll even brand them a Narcissist. It’s a trending accusation.
The child of a Narcissist will probably accept the accusation. They are used to be accused of things they are not, they know the simplest thing to do is accept it. A real Narcissist will not accept any accusations at all. They’re not the Narcissist, you are! Everything that they are which is bad is what you are, and they’ll use you to prove it! Everything about you which is good is what they are, not you, you’re all bad!
Want to be completely messed up in the mind? Have a relationship with a Narcissist.
Want to feel like a Narcissist, sure of yourself, perfect, beautiful, powerful, with no regrets, and omnipotent? Have a relationship with a child of Narcissists. They know how to bring out the best in people, it sometimes backfires and turns into the worst. If I had monetary compensation for every time I thought – Oh dear, I’ve created a monster…
People are starved of encouragement. Give them too much of it when they’ve had too little… and you can turn pretty much anyone into a Narcissist even if it is temporary insanity. They’ll get over it once you get out of their life. Or maybe they were an inverted Narcissist who needed a nudge.
Hard to tell sometimes, we live in a Narcissistic age. Society’s obsession with Vampires is society’s obsession with Narcissism in archetype form. What about Zombies… perhaps an archetype for the inverted Narcissist. With more Narcissists in this world, it means there are more children of Narcissists… but they always get forgotten.
The children of Narcissists are used to being invisible. Being invisible does not mean that you can’t see what is both visible and invisible.
The child of a Narcissist has absorbed all the ‘skills’ of a Narcissist, plus a few more which are the gifts the child of a Narcissist must develop to survive being the child of a Narcissist. They can pretend to be who they are not and do it very convincingly. They do this to deceive, but not in the way a Narcissist does. They are not deceiving to get anything from the deception or the one deceived by it… other than to be left alone.
They do not trust anyone. They are alone. They have learned that the world is hostile to them. They deceive because the world wants to be deceived and does not want to know the truth. They learned this when they tried to speak up, ask for help, and were rejected as liars and worse than that.
You do not care, you just pretend to care, you have an ulterior motive for caring and it is all about you, getting me to care for you. I am alone in a world made of you.
The children of Narcissists tend to attract Narcissists more than anyone else. Why?
Not because they were trained to be highly empathic, to meet others’ needs and sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others. This is a skill which attracts, but not just Narcissists. Everyone in the world hurts, and children of Narcissists are tuned into this pain. They feel it and understand it, they also understand that that pain needs to be acknowledged and that the person in pain wants to be protected from what is hurting them. They offer a safe haven.
Tell me your pain, I will give you balm. I will protect you from seeing what you do not want to see, how you are the one causing your own pain. I will help you deny what you want to deny, and offer you an ear to talk into. I will listen to your pain talking and never react to it even when you hurt me. I will remain detached. I will empty myself so that you can fill me with your projections, your worst and your ideals. You need to express yourself, your pain. I do not.
What Narcissists find most attractive is the ability to bury a secret in a silence so profound no one will ever know it is there.
Tell me a secret and even you won’t know I know it. Unless I remind you, and I won’t do that. Your secret is in a safe so safe no one will ever find it.
Children of Narcissists live in silence. Alone. Sometimes lost. Sometimes they are the least lost person on the planet, but that is not a consolation. They are still alone in a world full of lost people. People who are lost are seeking to be found. Those seeking to be found don’t always like being found. Hide and seek… do you win if you are found or lose?
I know how to find you because I have been lost and know the nature of being lost. But you don’t seem happy about being found. I’ll pretend that I haven’t found you so you can find another hiding place…
When you abandon me because I know too much, see too much, feel too much, I will accept it. I don’t blame you, the fault is mine.
I am the child of Narcissists. It’s not their fault they had me, it’s mine. It’s not your fault I can see you, it’s mine…
I’ll close my eyes… Shhhh… one, two, three, four… one hundred and two… ready or not… I’ll wait a bit more to give you more time…
Please note: Don’t ever feel sorry for or pity the children of Narcissists… Just Don’t! Being alone makes us very self-reliant. We don’t need your pity, we see what lies behind it. It also reminds us of things we’d rather forget… our memories are better than elephants.
If you want to give us something, give us space to break our silence. Stop judging us. Give us love, we long for that, but not the kind which constricts, censors and burdens, the kind which acknowledges we exist, which frees us to express ourselves, and which encourages us to reveal what we keep hidden, what keeps us in our prison of silence.
For more on being the Child of Narcissists:
Being a Child of Narcissists – what we need to give to ourselves – a related post on my blog written by MM, offering a powerful and inspiring perspective on being the child of narcissists.
The story of a relationship with a Narcissist: I Am Not Special by Hope – A guest post on my blog by Hope, which offers an insightful perspective on how our childhood experience with our parents affects the path we take as adults and our adult relationships. It gives an inspiring way to view a relationship with a Narcissist.
Raised By Narcissists – a forum on reddit for children of narcissists.
The Child Victim of a Narcissistic Personality Disordered parent – an insightful and concise perspective on being the child of a parent with NPD. It covers the effect this has on the child, explains why this kind of abuse goes unseen by those outside of the family, and how difficult it is to speak out about it or confront it.
Narcissism – Living Without Feelings – A very long and detailed analysis of NPD, which explains how someone develops the disorder, what goes on behind the facade, how the disorder affects the individual who has it, and its effects on others, on children of narcissists, and so much more. If you want to understand NPD, this is an excellent article. Comprehensive and insightful.
Surviving the Narcissistic Parent: ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists) – a superb account of what it is like to be the child of a narcissistic mother, also applies to a narcissistic father.
The Narcissistic Family Portrait – this link takes you to a selection of articles on Psychology Today about the dynamics of growing up in a narcissistic family.
Narcissistic Single Mother and Only Child – a good overview of the dynamic of being the only child of a Narcissist.
Narcissistic Mother – a detailed insight into the narcissistic mother as well as a superb list of the different types of narcissistic mothers and their behaviour and intentions.
Selfishness and Narcissism in Family Relationships & The Drama Triangle by Dr. Lynne Namka – different ways to view and understand the effects of growing up with a narcissist, being in a narcissistic (abusive/unhealthy) family or in a relationship with a narcissist.
Energy Theft: Toxic Forms of Shame and Guilt – Very insightful insight into the dynamic of being a child of a Narcissist, and how it can cause depression, shame and guilt which sucks the life out of you.
How Do You Forgive Yourself – an article giving an overview of guilt, the different types and uses of guilt, and offering ways to work through it.
Out of the Fog – Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – an excellent resource for information on NPD. There is also a forum.
Scoop.it – Victims of Narcissistic Abuse – A great resource for articles and posts on the internet collected in one place.
Henriette Lazaridis Power: The Narcissist and the Difficult Mother – Beautifully poignant article and personal tale for the Huffington Post, which I found via Scoop.it.
This Boy – This post expresses beautifully, evocatively and succinctly what it is like to be a child of a Narcissist.
How To Be An Adult Child Of A Narcissist – A humorous and poignant story of living with the legacy of being a child of a narcissist, and looking for a way to heal.
Narcissism and the Fruit of Suffering – – the blog of my favourite author, whose book Going Mad to Stay Sane helped me to figure out and explain many aspects of my own experience with narcissistic parents, especially my tendency to be self destructive.
If you want to add a link… use the comments.
And finally, thank you to the other children of Narcissists who have connected with me by commenting on my posts. You know how you have inspired me because you have seen how your inspiration has been absorbed into what I am doing, breaking my silence and understanding it, in my posts. I am grateful, and you know… what that means.