Maybe I’m just weird, but I loved going back to school. As an only child, I adored being around other kids and observing them, just as I love to people-watch today. It was endlessly interesting. Someone was always losing a tooth, throwing up, getting a nosebleed or wetting their pants. For me, the chilly nip of Autumn always brings a thrill of excitement from schooldays gone-by.
But when you’re the child of an engulfing narcissistic family, back-to-school can be fraught with drama.
I know. I was there.
Engulfing VS Neglecting
It might behoove us, in the words of C.S. Lewis’ tutor, to “Clarify our terms.”
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Narcissists are shockingly similar to each other the world over. Lack of empathy, need to always be right, projecting their vices onto others, etc. But they do come in two basic flavors: vanilla and chocolate.
The vanilla ones are completely self-absorbed, to the exclusion and neglect of their children.
The chocolate ones are wrrrrraped up, tied up and tangled up in their kids. Their identities are mushed up together. No boundaries exist, nay, they’re forbidden. Schooltime is especially hairy for the kids of engulfing narcissists.
Your Grades, My Grades
I guess every parent’s ego gets a boost when their kids get good grades on their Report Card. But for narcissists, this boost is on steroids. Their kids’ grades are really their grades. Their proof, in black-and-white, of being a good parent and thus a valuable human being. It fills the void where their self-esteem ought to be.
They’re the parents who check their kids homework before it’s turned in. Naturally, their kid gets good grades…artificially enhanced.
They’re the parents who are too involved in special projects. Naturally, their kid wins top prize. After all, their project looks “professional.” Kids who actually did their own work can’t hope to compete. But they learn a whole lot more!
They’re the parents who have their kids in every extra-curricular activity known to man — ballet, piano lessons, voice coaching, acting lessons, beauty pageants, soccer and Spanish. Naturally, their kids of have deep, blue rings of fatigue under their eyes.
By the time their parents are done “giving them every opportunity,” as if it’s impossible to learn anything independently after the age of eighteen, they’re kids are sick and tired of learning. After years of German, Greek, Hebrew, law, drafting, etc. in High School, my brain had seized up, lost its love for learning, had chronic fatigue. I’ve only recently begun to study, to learn and to enjoy it again at the ripe ol’ age of thirty-six.
Bullies VS Mama Bear
“Man’s inhumanity to man” is just part of life. And kids can be especially cruel to each other. Unfortunately, narcissists don’t handle this too well. Because of their inherent lack of empathy, their reaction is less, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry they hurt your feelings,” and more, “How dare anyone hurt my wonderful, beautiful, precious child!”.
They take it personally. And get mad, like a Mama Bear protecting her cub.
Unfortunately, as Mama Bear charges off to do battle, she tends to trample over her cub in the process. The cub just wants empathy. What she gets is anger. As a kid, I often misinterpreted this to feel like I was in trouble. It felt like she was mad at me, when she was actually angry at those who were hurting me.
A natural part of school is the interactions between schoolmates. And yes, the occasional puppy love and schoolyard romance. It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s okay…
…but not if you have the misfortune to be the kid of a narcissist.
Narcissists don’t value social skills. It’s not a “thing” to them. People are for using. Not for enjoying, studying, treasuring, and loving – foibles and all.
This is even more true if you just happen to go to a private school, and your parents are paying out-of-pocket for the tuition. They’ll be damned if you “waste” their money by the distraction of friends or, even worse, puppy love. Nose to the grindstone. Learn all you can. And if anything distracts your mind, it’s banned.
Practicing For Life
As I see it, school is a microcosm for practicing adult life. Granted, I found adult life easier and kinder than the sometimes vicious atmosphere of the classroom. Adults tend to couch their cruelty and disguise their cheating, while kids are just blunt and honest about it.
School is not just about learning and clinching the highest GPA in the class. No! It’s about learning how to learn. It’s about discovering ones special interests and fascinations, not becoming an equal expert in both art and math. It’s okay to be “bad” in a particular subject. It’s okay to be disinterested in some classes.
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And yes, it’s important to study fellow students. To learn to “peg” types of people and identify patterns of human behavior. To develop friendships that may last a lifetime. And to dabble in romance. Hey! A lot of my classmates married each other and are happily married to this day!
But if you’re the kid of a narcissist, school is not about you, Honey. It’s about the Pater’s ego and the Mater’s self-esteem.
I know. I was there.
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