See column on the right side of this website labeled Narcissistic Personality Disorder for a complete list of all NPD related articles and videos.
Excerpted from my May 2, 2013 show on A Fine Time for Healing, Narcissistic Personality Disorder: The Family Portrait
Abuse suffered from a parent with NPD is one of the most insidious, horrendous, and treacherous forms of child abuse.
Because children depend on their parents for all their needs, they are defenseless when it comes to these narcissistic monsters—there is no way to escape. No one from the outside comes to rescue them because the abuse is invisible to the outside world. As a result, the subtle, craftily designed abuse these children are subjected to damages them for the rest of their lives.
Children in families with narcissistic parents understand that their family operates by a set of unspoken rules—rules that feel confusing and painful. The only stability these children know comes from adhering to the agenda of their narcissistic parent.
The feelings of these children are never recognized—it is demonstrated over and over by the parents that their children’s feeling do not matter. These children never know where they stand with an unpredictable, unaccountable, and inconsistent parent.
Since they have to find a way to shield their selves from these surprise attacks and have never had healthy coping skills modeled for them, they build dysfunctional walls inside as a way of coping and for protection. With no boundaries between their selves and their parents and no acknowledgement of their feelings, children do not learn how to process their emotions in a healthy way. The assertion of feelings, rights, or thoughts can lead to much bigger problems for them—rejection, isolation, anger, and violence—so they learn to repress these things as a way to keep peace in the home.
Children internalize and absorb whatever they are told by their parents. If they are told that they are at fault, they believe that they are at fault. If they constantly receive messages that they are not good enough, that they are stupid, or that they are bad, these things become their truths and define them for the rest of their lives.
Another source of confusion for these children is that the parent can sometimes be nice. But these children quickly learn that any kindness shown to them has strings attached. They are forever feeling beholden to their narcissistic parent—anytime the parent is nice or generous the child will owe something to them. The message is that love has conditions—they are never loved for who they are, just for how well they please.
Sensitive children of NPD parents become people pleasers, a pattern that continues for the rest of their lives. They strive never to deny anyone anything while sabotaging their own self in the process. They feel as if they have to earn the love and acceptance of others to get it while feeling overly responsible for the needs and feelings of others. That is the making of a codependent adult.
Children who are less sensitive or put up high walls of protection may take a different route. They may vow to never trust or be vulnerable again so they will never be hurt again. It becomes them against the world. That is the making of the false self of a pathological narcissist.
As a result of having been raised in a smoke and mirrors, crazy-making lifestyle, adult children of narcissists have a very difficult time trying to figure out what is wrong with them. They may be filled with repressed anger, suffer from bouts of anxiety and depression, and may feel empty, defective, and inadequate.
Adult children of narcissists grew up being told and believing that they were not good enough. This translated in their head as, “If I was good enough my parents would have loved me.” To come to terms with that thought they keep trying to recreate their childhood, unwilling to accept that they never really had one, or that the one they had was not grounded in reality.
Adult children of narcissistic parents feel as if something if always missing within them. They are always looking for the self. They feel flawed and unaccepted, and never quite know where they stand with other people. They may place a great deal of importance on what other people think of them. These weaknesses may make them vulnerable to victimization by other narcissists or others with similar agendas. Having had their parent dictate to them how they should act and feel, they grow up without autonomy. They have difficulty making their own decisions. They lack the sense of knowing what is right for them and are unsure of what they like or want out of life.
Though they are adults they never feel like they are, because no matter how old they are their narcissistic parent never treats them that way. There is always the underlying message that, “You comply with my wishes and do it my way or I will make your life a living hell.” Adult children of narcissists struggle with feeling love for their continually difficult parents. The confusion never stops. Deep down inside they may hate their parent or parents, yet feel guilty because they do. It is not seen as acceptable for children to hate their parents, especially when everyone else loves and sees nothing wrong with them.
It is important to understand that narcissistic parents suffer from an incurable mental disorder and are never going to change. Whatever love seemed real or hopeful is or was an illusion. The love never existed and never will. This parent has no capacity for love. The relationship will never be healthy or satisfying. The offspring of these individuals mean no more to the parent than merely being a source of narcissistic supply, whether they are children or adults.
Just because someone has a mental disorder does not mean they do not have to be accountable for their behavior. They do not deserve to be let off the hook. They may have a disorder but narcissists know full well what they do. And what they do is extremely cruel. Contact with them always results in abuse.
There is no known cure for narcissistic personality disorder. These people rarely enter treatment because they see nothing wrong with themselves. On rare occasions when they do go for therapy, they do not respond to it because all they see when they look at their selves is perfection. No one, not even the most skilled therapist, can convince them otherwise. It is impossible to convince a narcissist that they are a narcissist. They may be able to see narcissistic qualities in others but never their selves. That is because it is painful for them to acknowledge, even to their selves, that they are not the perfect image they believe everyone sees them as—that they may potentially have a flaw.
If you are the adult child of a narcissist you are not alone. They are many of us and we are all survivors—survivors of the most insidious form of child abuse. Adult children of narcissistic parents are commonly referred to as ACONS. Those outside your family will not be able to support you or understand what you are going through. They will be probably be a source of great frustration and make you feel even worse about yourself. So it is very beneficial to gain the support of other ACONS. They are the only people who will be able to relate to your experiences and feelings.
The pain you feel is real. You were severely abused. And the future may seem hopeless. After having your emotional needs unmet for so long, healing from this traumatic childhood is difficult. It may seem impossible to do but it is not. With persistence and time, full recovery is absolutely possible.
Many NPD survivors seek therapy; something I believe is absolutely necessary for anyone who really wants to put their past behind them and live a happy life in the present. That is how I recovered. I could not have done it without the help of my therapist. Without therapy you may continue to suffer and fall into the same painful, confusing trap over and over; buying into the manipulations of the narcissistic parent just to get a few crumbs of love and attention.
If you have siblings, it is time to come together in support and as allies against the narcissistic parent’s behavior (against their enabling spouse too if that applies). Your parent tried their hardest to divide you and your siblings when you were younger, but now that you are adults who are armed with the truth it is time to put an end to the destructive pattern of abuse. This is an opportunity to create trust and bonding among you and your siblings. You will need each other to stand strong against such a formidable opponent.
It is time to reclaim your life as your own. You may see your narcissistic parent as a big, powerful monster, but he or she is actually small, weak, and no longer has any power over you. The only power he or she has is the power you give them.
You are an adult now and you do not have to answer to anyone but yourself. It is time to embrace self-love. It is time to nurture your inner child and take good care of yourself. You are worthy, you are lovable, and you matter. It is time to start working through your feelings.
Allow yourself to start grieving the parent you never had. Understand that grieving is a painful process. Allow yourself feel the pain and take all the time you need to get through all the stages.
It is time to stop hoping that your Narcissistic Parent will change. He or she will not.