If you were raised by a narcissist, then you were taught to put them on a pedestal. Full stop. That’s just how narcissistic parents raise their kids.

There’s just one teensy, weensy little problem with that. You may, unconsciously, keep putting everyone on pedestals, even after growing up and moving on. It’s your modus operandi and, take it from me, it’s a very unhappy way to live.

Worse still, because your parents overtly or covertly taught you to put them up on pedestals, you never learned to be savvy about people. You don’t possess that moxie that alerts you when someone has ulterior motives. We just don’t see the game-playing going on because your entire upbringing and all your relationships were just one long game. This makes you and I “sitting ducks” for every user, every game-player, every abuser, every alcoholic, anyone who wants to exploit us.

Let me explain.

Like all children, I naturally put my parents way up on marble pedestals. But the narcissism in the home exacerbated their elevation in my mind. Where other kids are aware of their parents’ character flaws, I ignored my parents’ faults and foibles, blindly clinging to parent-worship. Where a normal family tolerates each other’s faults and foibles with a wink and a chuckle, narcissists demand to be taken deadly seriously at all times. And where most kids kick their parents off the pedestal during their teenage years, I never did.

Heck! To be honest, they wouldn’t have allowed it. Nor would they have tolerated being treated with a grain of salt, a wink or a chuckle. Every word a narcissist speaks must be taken as Gospel. Every exploitation ignored as we blindly trust their convoluted motives. Every temper tantrum regarded as serious, something we caused, our fault.

Meanwhile, narcissists tend to viciously criticize co-workers, neighbors, relatives and even each other, generously throwing around the label “idiot”…which further confirmed the parental elevated status. The one social skill I learned was to trust no one except my nuclear family. But, oddly enough, I did not learn how to use discernment when it comes to people. I didn’t learn to trust my gut. My intuition was dulled and ignored. My natural penchant for closely observing people denigrated. I went into adulthood with no savvy. No moxie. No street smarts. No boundaries. No common sense. No sense of normalcy, what is “okay” and what is “not okay.” No limits to what I would tolerate. No “enough is enough” reflex. And I was too traumatized to even pronounce the word “no” outloud. Literally.

Naturally, it comes as no surprise that, like many of you in similar circumstances, when I entered the adult world, I ended up being exploited six ways from Sunday. Because the narcissists expected me to be honest, and I was, it never occurred to me that others would willfully lie! And I felt wildly inferior to everyone else…for some inexplicable reason. All of this made me vulnerable and naïve.

The workplace exploitation began at one of my first jobs as the Receptionist at a printing company. I wasn’t allowed a lunch break until my co-worker came back from her lunch so she could cover the switchboard. But on one particular day, she and a male co-worker took a suspiciously long lunch together. And I mean looooong! Yeah, use your imagination.

Where a normal person would’ve said, “Screw the switchboard. I’m starving and I’m going to lunch now,” I waited almost two hours, becoming more hungry and more angry by the moment, until they slunk back into the office, silently, avoiding eye contact. But I said nothing.

A few years later I found myself promoted to the IT department of an international corporation. Within two months, I became aware that my coworker was utterly inept in her position of software trainer and technical writer. Let’s just say that she wrote as incoherently as she spoke. I mean, it was bad!

Stupidly, I took it upon myself to rewrite every software guide she wrote so our clients could actually figure out what the hell the software did and how to operate it. This went on for four…long…years. I did her work while she pulled down a generous salary while claiming my work as her own and garnering all the perks…travel, promotion, etc. Of course, I still maintain her ineptitude would’ve been dealt with by management much earlier if she hadn’t based her career success on her performance in the hotel room instead of the boardroom, but whatever.

No, I’m not having a pity party here! Actually, I’m kickin’ myself in the, well, y’know. But my astonishing lack of moxie and utter lack of boundaries can be traced directly back to a narcissistic upbringing. If you can’t be honest about your nearest and dearest’s faults, foibles and exploitation of you, how can you be honest about anyone else’s? If you can’t trust your gut at home, you can’t trust it anywhere else either.

When I married, without overtly realizing it, I attempted to install my new husband on the pedestal my father had vacated. Luckily, my husband wanted no part of being on any pillars or pedestals. He’s a humble, down-to-earth guy who wanted no part of my admiration. And secondly, well, he wasn’t perfect and made no bones about it.

That’s when I finally realized what was going on. If you can acknowledge someone’s faults, foibles and eccentricities, then you can cope with them. Learn when to turn a blind eye. Give ’em space. Laugh it off. In other words, have a happy, relaxed marriage.

You can’t do that with a narcissist who’s up on a pedestal!

If you too were raised in a narcissistic family structure, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have an “enough is enough” reflex?
  2. Can I speak the word “no” outloud?
  3. Am I terrified of everyone? Am I too scared to ask questions?
  4. Do I recognize game-playing when it happens?
  5. Do people often take advantage of me?
  6. Am I carrying other people’s workload at the office?
  7. Is my “hero worship” making my relationships difficult?
  8. Do I take everyone deadly seriously?
  9. Do I often/always ignore my gut intuition about other people?
  10. Did my parents elevate themselves and denigrate everyone else?

If those ten things are going on, watch out! You may have everyone in your life up on pedestals and that dynamic may be screwing up every single relationship in your life…parents, spouse, co-workers, friends, relatives, neighbors.

Lower those pedestals…all the way down to ground level. Listen to your intuition. Develop some savvy, learn to use your moxie. You won’t be taken advantage of anymore. Your relationships (at least, with non-narcissists) will be much more relaxed, more playful, less serious and dour. Take it from me, you’ll have a much happier, easier life!

Photo by Amio Cajander.