The Topsy Turvy World of a Child of Narcissists
When is being ignored a positive thing?
When you’re the only child of two narcissists.
I’ve read a few pop psychology takes (which would probably not consider themselves to be the pop’ kind of psychology) on what an only child is like…
…and I tend to conclude that they were written by those who have never experienced what it is like to be an only child.
The descriptions of the personality which develops due to being an only child… are predominantly negative in tone and bias.
“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.” ― Gore Vidal
They get way too much attention!!! Who do they think they are and how dare they think that! They think they’re all that when they are not! – is what tends to scream out from between the lines.
Perhaps those who write these sort of descriptions wished they were an only child (due to having to fight with their siblings for their parents’ attention, and maybe lost the fights more often than not) and their description is tinged with, dare I say, envy or something along those lines. It definitely smacks of something dark and complex underneath the easy way they expound upon (often critically) something they have not experienced (from the inside).
Perhaps those who have never been an only child are better suited to write about what an only child is like. How would an only child know such a thing, they have never experienced anything else so they have no point of reference other than as they are.
Perhaps those who are not only children can see those who are more clearly because they know what it is like to not be an only child and therefore have a greater understanding of the fantasy of such an experience. To view it from the outside and have illusions about it based on their external judgment of what they perceive only children to be and to have.
Kind of similar to how others perceive the life of a child of narcissists. It looks different on the outside to how it is on the inside. The outside is a fantasy… created by the narcissist parents and then supported by the child to keep up appearances (upon penalty of retribution should they not do the job which is expected of them).
And since fantasy plays a rather significant part in our relationships, and living life, maybe their fantasy of the only child experience is more real than the actual experience of being an only child.
People often wonder what attracts them or others to narcissists – it’s the fantasy over the reality. The ideal over the real. Perfection glossing over flaws. They offer you your ideal of the perfect man or woman, the perfect parent, perfect friend, perfect life… and you want to believe it because it is your dream seeking to become real. The place where happiness lives ever after…
“The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears.” ― Erich Fromm
Of course being an only child to parents who are not narcissists is different from being an only child of narcissists, so maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be an only child. I just know what it’s like to be this only child of those narcissists… and even that knowledge is debatable.
Why is my own experience something debatable?
Because when you’re a child of narcissists it can be very difficult to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and anything and everything. We tend to live in the cracks (which don’t exist) between things, stumbling around in a void, bumping into things, breathing the air in a vacuum.
Sometimes life just goes blank and so do you. A blank screen with maybe a bit of flickering on it to give it a semblance of life in motion.
From the moment you are born into a family of narcissists, and even before that moment, you’ve been written into a story, a play, a drama of probably epic saga proportions.
If my mother had been inclined to do so, she’d have claimed that I was an immaculate conception. That’s the sort of thing narcissists say, and since what they say is also doing, that which is said is a done deed… until they un-say it and therefore undo it. If they say that they never said it, it was never said, even if you have proof of it, that proof is a lie – your lie, not theirs.
If my father could have undone my birth with words, he would have. He often claimed that I wasn’t his, mostly to poke and prod my mother where it hurt (a regular feature of the narcissist household). He knew I was his, he just didn’t want me… except when he did, then it was an entirely different story which became action through words, which could be undone when more words created new actions that negated previous ones.
“What are you talking about?” Narcissus demanded. “I am amazing. Everyone knows this.”
“Amazing at pure suck,” Leo said. “If I was as suck as you, I’d drown myself. Oh wait, you already did that.” ― Rick Riordan
A child in a world dominated by narcissists, is a scribble in a picture to which the narcissists are constantly adding and taking away – you might get erased in the process (which is a relief of sorts, like being ignored). But you might get drawn in again, and what form you take depends very much on what form they need you to take. They then have to point out to you that the scribble is you, because you’re too stupid to recognise yourself, their version of you.
If you’re one of more than one child in a narcissist’s family, then your scribble may become a permanent feature. This is you – the scapegoat, and this is your sibling – the golden child. Or vice versa. Don’t like your scribble? Don’t like your sibling’s scribble? What exactly are you going to do about it… you’re not allowed to adjust what the narcissist has drawn as that would upset the hyper-sensitive artist that they are, and when the artist is upset, they make all kinds of scratches with their pens and pencils, stab the page, then erase everything compulsively, tearing the paper to shreds.
And then it all starts again. They are reset kings and queens.
If you’re an only child of narcissists, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug, good luck trying to figure which one you are at any given moment because it changes as rapidly as their eyes blink and mood switches from happy to sad, glad to mad, good to bad, tantrum to euphoria.
Which in some ways is more liberating than having an assigned and fixed role in their never-ending drama.
If you’re an ever-changing squiggle in a never-ending drama… at some point they lose track of who you are too. Too – as in you never quite take shape, have a fixed form, so you have no idea who you are either. They don’t know you and you don’t know you. At least not where the world which includes others is concerned. You’re a shape-shifter, a scribble which can become anything or anyone just by reorganising your lines. Mind you, you don’t have to do that either, you can remain shapeless, others will provide you with a shape – and those others don’t have to be narcissists to do that.
People are always giving others shape, it’s what we do, we fill in the blanks, expand on a sketch, colour it in until we like what we see and it fits our view of the world, fits it around us.
“I must try to see the difference between my picture of a person and his behavior, as it is narcissistically distorted, and the person’s reality as it exists regardless of my interests, needs and fears.” ― Erich Fromm
A child of narcissists learns mostly about who they are according to others, who others need them to be. They also find that society outside of their family does something similar. So there is no escape from this identity/non-identity game even if you get out of the family nucleus. In fact society may have a worse effect than the family, because it wants to know who you are… and when you don’t know who you are because it’s never been something you were supposed to know, you could be anybody… but which anybody are you?… how do you answer – who are you? Quick! The music is about to stop, find a chair or get thrown out of the game!
So you wander around in search of who you are (an answer to that question), for your self, your identity and get caught in many webs offering to help you do this. Some of which encourage you to invent your own identity and then create it. Basically – be a narcissist. Only it’s a positive thing! Think positive and eradicate all negative thoughts – also something narcissistic. Go towards the light and avoid the dark side at all costs! Shove the dark onto something, someone else!
“Since [narcissists] deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil, on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others.” ― M. Scott Peck
Pick an identity, just like a card in a magic trick. Pick any identity and make it real. Hey presto! That’s you and now you can become a member of society. Something you can’t do if you don’t pick an identity, because not having a defined ‘This is Me’ card makes society and all the people who make up society nervous. They can’t judge you and your status, your place in their version of reality and life and such if you’re just a squiggly line which is sometimes not squiggly, which means you’re not even a squiggly line.
I’ve learned a lot by being a scribble, more perhaps than I would have learned by being a drawing of a person.
I’m more a drawing of a person now, drawn by my own hand to reflect how I see myself from the inside out…
I sometimes miss being a scribble, until I bump into a narcissist, particularly the ones I know well, and then I remember why I don’t miss being a scribble – one in pencil which they can rub out and redraw to suit them.
I use indelible markers. For myself and for my view of others. If others want to adjust my view of them, I give them a different colour, so I can see the difference between my view of them and theirs. If they want to add to my sketch of me, they can use a different colour and then I can see where the lines diverge and where perhaps a new line needs to be drawn.
A child of narcissists often struggles with where to draw certain lines between self and other.
Not in the way that empaths do… speaking of empaths, this – NDad thinks he’s an ’empath’ – is a rather insightful conversation amongst children of narcissists on a reddit forum for ACoNs (Adult children of narcissists) upon which I stumbled, and which concurs in some ways with my own experience of narcissists, and not just my parents.
When someone states that they are an empath, I have to confess my first reactive thought before I think things through and think about the person who is saying this, is – narcissist.
Narcissists can see all sorts of people when they look in the mirror, be it a real mirror or a pretend one. They prefer pretend mirrors, as the reflection is are more easily manipulated to suit what they want to see.
“A mirror is like my own personal reality TV show—where I’m both the star and only viewer. I’ve got to get my ratings up.” ― Jarod Kintz
So while the world is looking at them and deciding that they lack empathy… the narcissist is crowning themselves the king or queen of empathy. Labeling themselves an empath… without really having a clue what empathy is, they don’t need to know what it is, they can make it up as they go along, stealing a bit from here and a bit from there, the magpies of all that shines in others, and making it theirs, all theirs. No one else is allowed to be ‘it’, whatever the trendy ‘it’ is of the moment is for them, and for others as viewed by them.
If they say they’re an empath, then so be it. The saying is the action and deed confirmed. Their word is… everything, reality. But they do like others to confirm it, they need an audience or their drama and performance dies – only people-pleasers need apply as audience members. Nay-sayers will be ignored and pilloried if required and even if not required.
Being a child of narcissists… when an actual child or when an adult… is at times… sort of stalling in neutral wondering what’s real and what is fantasy.
Never sure if such a thing as reality can ever truly be known as so much of the human experience is… always shifting like sand caressed by wind or water, making shapes, then unmaking them, then making other shapes… but what is that shape that has been made?
The eye fills in the blanks and creates a picture.
But what is that picture…?
“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.” ― Jean-Yves Leloup
I titled this image – it’s all a blur – and when I posted it on my deviantart someone commented that I should take some photography classes to learn how to focus. That made me chuckle… in an abstract way they were sort of right, yet sort of wrong, they kind of missed the point, but made another through missing it. Such is life… and interacting and stuff…