As a child you had less power and fewer resources than your parents. Narcissistic parents may have used your dependency to take advantage of you for their own gratification.
The following is a list of common behaviors of narcissistic parents. As you read through this list you may wish to identify which of these applied to your childhood:
When you were growing up, did one or both of your parents:
- Deprive you or try to make you feel small?
- View the world in all-or-nothing, black-and-white terms?
- Treat you as a second-class citizen?
- Discount your intuition or make you doubt your perceptions?
- Blame or shame you?
- Love you conditionally or erratically?
- Intimidate or undermine you?
- Exploit your vulnerabilities or betray your trust?
- Criticize or attack you for having feelings they didn’t like?
- Act larger than life and magnanimous to outsiders but ignore your needs?
- Put their own needs first even when it deprived or hurt you.
- Lie, stonewall or hold grudges?
- Rarely apologize or admit they were wrong?
The following table shows possible connections between unhealthy patterns in your adult life and narcissistic parental behaviors in your childhood.
You may want to initially read down just the left-hand side of the table and identify any of the 11 patterns you experience as an adult. Then, for each pattern you identified, you may wish to go back and read the possible connection from your childhood listed on the right-hand side of the table.
|As an adult do you sometimes . . .||Possible connection|
|1) Feel that you need permission to do things that are your perfect right?||Your parents deprived you or tried to make you feel small.|
|2) Assume that you have no good choices, or fail to identify all your viable options?||Your parents viewed the world in all-or-nothing, black-and-white terms.|
|3) Feel undeserving?||Your parents treated you as a second-class citizen.|
|4) Second-guess yourself or find it difficult to trust your instincts?||Your parents discounted your intuition or made you doubt your perceptions.|
|5) Struggle with intimacy or feel uncertain about what true love is?||Your parents shamed you or loved you conditionally or erratically.|
|6) Have difficult with authority figures?||Your parents intimidated or undermined you.|
|7) Feel anxious about depending on someone in a close relationship?||Your parents exploited your vulnerabilities or betrayed your trust.|
|8) Find it hard to express your feelings?||Your parents criticized or attacked you for having emotions they didn’t like.|
|9) Initially idealize people you meet, then inevitably feel let down by them?||Your parents acted larger than life and magnanimous to outsiders but ignored your needs.|
|10) Expect that others will try to hurt or take advantage of you?||Your parents put their needs first even when it deprived or hurt you.|
|11) Accept dysfunction in relationships, thinking that it is normal or unavoidable?||Your parents lied, stonewalled, held grudges or would never admit they were wrong.|
Of course, you weren’t just a passive recipient of parental control and narcissistic behavior. Human behavior is complex and it would be a simplification to say that if your parent did X, you will automatically do Y. But narcissistic parenting is powerful and taking stock of unhealthy legacies is a big part of healing.
If your parents used, manipulated or shamed you, how you not find it more difficult to trust others even years later? If you weren’t seen or valued for who you were, doesn’t it make sense that you might still feel extra-sensitive to bullies, entitled people or even your own inner critic? If you were repeatedly dismissed and devalued, perhaps that is connected to still feeling deeply affected when you are discounted.
However, history is not destiny. You were not responsible for what your parents did to you. You did not make them mistreat you. They chose their behaviors.
At the same time, you are responsible for what you do with your life now. By acknowledging any unhealthy habits in your current life and identifying how they may be connected to your upbringing, you can work to break those unhealthy connections and free yourself from a painful legacy.
There are countless resources that can help you break these connections. Psychotherapy excels at identifying and breaking unhealthy connections with the past. Support groups and 12-step programs provide a community of support and offer opportunities to see how others handle similar situations. Self-help books allow you to explore deep issues at your own pace. Here’s a list of useful self-help books on narcissism.
If you recognize yourself falling into any of the 11 behaviors listed above, keep in mind:
- This may signal that your parents’ narcissism from decades ago is reaching into your present life. Your parents might like their legacy to continue forever. Don’t let it. The last thing you want to do is to treat yourself in destructive ways.
- If you are doing things that aren’t good for you, visualize sending those unwanted influences back to the parents who helped create them. Symbolically box up unhealthy habits and “Return to Sender.”
- If you are unsure of what to do in any given situation, remember: Chances are you won’t go wrong by doing the opposite of what your narcissistic parents would have told you to do.
© Copyright 2017 Dan Neuharth PhD MFT