As an adult child dealing with narcissistic parents, normal rules do not apply. Confrontations do not work, reasoning does not work, standing up to them does not work, and family counseling does not work. Your feelings will never be validated. Your parent will never admit he has done anything to hurt you or has ever done anything wrong, period.
If your parents are anything like mine they will deflect what they did by throwing the blame back on you. My parents have told my sisters and me more times than I can count that they went through hell raising us. The truth is that we went through hell being raised, but they will never see it that way.
If your non-narcissistic parent is an enabler you cannot count on her to help you. She will probably defend her partner to the death, even if it means sacrificing her relationship with you. If she doesn’t defend him she will make excuses for him.
That leaves you with only two options for dealing with your parents: measured contact or no contact/total estrangement. In either case you will need to enforce ironclad boundaries.
The decision whether or not to stay in contact becomes difficult when your narcissistic abuser is a sick, infirm or aged parent. That is a very personal choice that you will have to weigh.
No matter the case, no one can tell you what is best for you. Your decision should come after careful consideration.
Measured contact with your narcissistic parent:
Measured contact means having controlled, limited interactions with the narcissistic parent. All of the tips and strategies I have given you for dealing with a narcissist are applicable to dealing with a narcissistic parent. Boundaries must be set up and enforced so tightly that the narcissistic parent is afraid to cross the line. Refer to Chapter Thirty if you need additional help setting your boundaries.
Setting boundaries with a narcissistic parent who does not want them (none of them do) is difficult, but it can be done. Be prepared; it requires toughness and tenacity on your end to pull it off. When you first try to set boundaries with your parent, expect that he will fight ferociously to prevent you from doing it.
It is not a mean or vindictive thing to establish boundaries with your parents. It is the fair and right thing to do in every relationship you will ever have. The fact that your parents do not wish to be fair in their treatment of you should not be deterrence.
Once boundaries are established your parent will continually test them, just as a child tests limits, to see how far he can go. If you keep enforcing the consequences you have clearly laid out, he will eventually comply or back off entirely.
You will never be able to relax your boundaries with your abusive parent. No matter how much time passes, or how long he has been on his best behavior, beware—he will always be looking for a way back in.
The only exception to that rule is if your parent develops senile dementia or another disease that affects his memory. Some adult children finally have the lovely relationships they have always desired with their narcissistic parents, once their parents lose their memory. But I wouldn’t count on that happening.
The following are tips to help you navigate a measured contact relationship with your narcissistic parent:
- Narcissists learn best by reward and punishment, just as children do. Set up clear guidelines for what you will and will not tolerate, advise your parent what those guidelines are, and then be a strict enforcer.
- All measured contact interactions should be strictly on your terms. You control if they will occur, where they will occur, and how long they will occur. The less time spent with your parent, the easier it is to control the outcome.
- Do not let your narcissistic parent rely solely on you. Enlist others to help you. Your parent will probably tell you he has no one else, or that no one can replace you, but that is only to manipulate you and keep you around for narcissistic supply. Relieve yourself of the responsibility of being his one and only, and then watch how fast he replaces you. You will be amazed.
- When interacting with your narcissistic parent, do not confront or criticize him. Agree with everything he says and any advice he gives without voicing an opinion or displaying emotion. When you leave, do as you please.
- Any information you share with your parent should be given on a need-to-know basis. Your narcissistic parent may tell you everything, but you do not have to tell him everything. Keep it generic.
- No matter what he says, do not let him see you react. If he is trying to provoke you and you feel like you might react, just say goodbye, and depending on the situation either hang up the phone or get up and leave.
No contact with your narcissistic parent:
If your parent will not stop the manipulation and abuse no matter what strategies you use or boundaries you set, and every interaction with him is toxic and stressful for you, it is probably best to separate yourself from him entirely. No one should have to put up with ongoing abuse.
Total estrangement means no contact at all. Having no contact may involve:
- Informing your parent that you wish to have no contact with him
- Informing friends and family that you have severed contact with your parent
- Changing your telephone number(s) or blocking your parent’s number(s)
- Not listening to any voice mails or reading any texts from your parent
- Not engaging in any conversations with your parent; no phone calls, no emails, no texts
- Changing your email address, blocking your parent from accessing it, or directing all his emails to spam
- Asking mutual friends and relatives not to share information about your parent with you, unless it is an emergency situation that you should be notified about
- Asking mutual friends and relatives not to share information about you with your parent
- Blocking your parent’s access to your social networking sites
- Storing away any photos or memorabilia that remind you of your parent
When there are grandchildren:
When grandchildren are involved, if at all possible it is best not to restrict your parent’s access to them, unless your children are being manipulated or abused. Your children deserve to have a relationship with their grandparents as long as it is a positive one.
That said, if you were sexually abused by a parent, or suspect you were, do not allow that parent access to your child without supervision. Your enabling parent is not an adequate supervisor—he or she did not protect you.
In most cases parents who were emotionally abusive to their children will not be emotionally abusive to their grandchildren, though one can never be sure. When your children are young it is best to monitor what goes on. If you suspect there is a problem, stop the visits.
The best defense your children can have against any type of abuse or manipulation is a strong boundary system. Start teaching them boundaries as soon as they can speak. Give them age appropriate privacy, independence, and respect, and require they give the same back to you. Be a good example for your children. Have your own healthy boundary system in place. Your children will do exactly as you do.
- Ask your children specific questions about their visits. Make sure boundaries are not being crossed and that there is no inappropriate abuse going on.
- Never say derogatory things about your parents to your children, and make sure your parents are not saying derogatory things about you to them.
- Support your young children’s relationship with their grandparents by sending greeting cards for special occasions with the children’s names on them.
- If it makes you feel more comfortable, ask someone you trust to transfer your children to and from their grandparents’ home. When they are mature enough, let them negotiate the relationship logistics (transportation, telephone calls, greeting cards, etc.)
- All your children should be treated equally. Assigning grandchildren roles as they did their own children is abusive. Favoritism is abusive. If it is happening, stop allowing your children to spend time alone with their grandparents.
- If young children ask why you don’t have a relationship with their grandparents, tell them that some things happened that made you not want to be around them, but that it has nothing to do with their grandchild/grandparent relationship. When they are older you can explain more, but never badmouth your parents to your children.