Not every child of narcissistic parents becomes a narcissist like them. There are a lot of good Adult Children of Narcissists (ACONs) out here. Nice kids of narcissists. ACONs with soft hearts who always try to figure out the right thing to do…even when manipulated into atrociously wrong situations.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably a Good Kid of a Narcissistic Parent. You were raised to be morally scrupulous, honest-to-a-fault, caring, unselfish and humble. Codependent…obviously. But more-or-less normal…whatever that is. Basically the opposite of them.
But that leads to a burning question. A question that underpins the problem of Denial.
“How could my parents possibly be narcissists,
if I turned out nominally normal
and devoted to morality and goodness?”
Implied in that is…
“Why do my parents not follow the ideals they taught me?
How could they be so hypocritical!?!”
Part 1: Why This Article? Why Now?
Well, I just turned forty. It’s a milestone birthday. Being the only child of very engulfing narcissists whose mantra was love, care and even “adoration” of their only child, I (foolishly) found myself surprised they didn’t even send a thin postcard acknowledging their only child’s 40th.
That’s probably hypocritical of me. After all, I haven’t acknowledged their birthdays for seven years and I did ask for No Contact (broken once.) But the question that kept plaguing me at my birthday was this: “Was I such a bad daughter?”
As far as I knew, I did everything they ever wanted. Obeyed them implicitly into my thirties. Served. Cared. Paid. Gave unstintingly of my energy, time, love, attention, money, food, clothes, friendship. Did my best to help them with their mental health. Gave up everything and everyone they wanted me to give up, which was almost everyone and everything I ever cared for.
If they said “jump” I said “how high” on my way up. If they decided it would be better if I wore men’s underwear, I wore men’s underwear. If they decided the bathroom was off limits for only me at night, I used a bucket in my bedroom. There was nothing I wouldn’t and didn’t do for them, including bearing shame for sins projected onto me.
The only bad thing I did is talk. Publicly. I shot the works. I blew their 30+ year façade of “Happy Perfect Family” to smithereens in this blog.
But I’m still the person they raised. They set out to raise a Good Person and that’s never changed.
What threw me for a loop on my birthday was how they behave contrary to their own beliefs and the ethics they taught me. I merely follow the moral code I learned it at their knee, so why am I the bad guy for following their ethics?
Here’s a classic example: Many times, my mother and I enjoyed watching Now Voyageur together. It’s a classic tale of a possessive mother (Gladys Cooper) who keeps her adult daughter (Bette Davis) virtually a prisoner in her bedroom. Gladys dictates what clothes Bette will wear (ugly), what shoes she will wear (ugly and sensible), her hairstyle and who she will see and date (or not!)
Together Mom and I clucked disapprovingly at the Gladys Cooper character and cheered when Bette Davis broke free. Never once did it occur that we were watching our own story. Never once did the hypocrisy occur.
The Fallacy of Composition
In December of 2016, I first tried to deal with this topic in my article The Illogical Roots of Denial: The Fallacy of Composition. Here’s what I wrote:
In [the] case of denial, we are committing a logical fallacy
called [the] fallacy of composition.
According to Wikipeida, “The fallacy of composition arises
when one infers that something is true of the whole
from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.”
Here’s how the “logic” (false logic) behind denial goes:
I’m a fairly normal, ordinary person.
I identify closely with my family-of-origin.
If I (the part) am normal, they (the whole) must be normal too.
How could a normal person (me),
possibly come from a narcissistic family!?
Therefore, they must not be narcissists.
They must be normal people who inadvertently
behave in narcissistic ways.
It must all be just a colossal misunderstanding!
But take it one step further.
Part 2: Immensely Practical, Terribly Logical
If your parents are narcissists, why would they raise a normal person? Could they even pull it off despite their Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Wouldn’t they naturally raise a mini-model of themselves simply for lack of knowing any other way of being human?
What would be their motivation for raising a normal person as opposed to a narcissistic clone of themselves?
Most of my friends are scapegoats and fellow survivors of Narcissistic Abuse. Most of them have siblings, of whom one or more were the Golden Children and often became narcissists like their parents. My scapegoated friends are the ones who, somehow, didn’t become narcissists.
That old adage, “Two of a trade never agree” keeps coming to mind. If you were a narcissist, would you really want to grapple with a mini-model of yourself!?!
Parenting is hard enough without raising a child who remains in their Terrible Twos forever! That’s what narcissists are, right? Grown-up toddlers throwing tantrums.
Remember one thing: Narcissists are immensely practical, terribly logical people. It’s all a bit warped, of course, but they’re very pragmatic in getting their needs met.
As a narcissist, you want, nay, you need at least one normal person at your beck and call, to meet your every need, empathize with your victim-playing and be your whipping boy. Strangers won’t put up with that crap so it has to be someone with a blood bond so strong, even the worst abuse can’t shake it. Someone you can brainwash, guilt and shame from the time they’re in diapers to never leave you, regardless of how atrociously you treat them. Who better than your own child?
Narcissists need one child normal enough to be eternally empathetic and exploitable but not so normal that they ever set a boundary.
A child normal enough to be the Public Face of the Family so casual acquaintances will exclaim what a Nice, Normal Family the narcissist has.
A child raised to be such a good person that they will always do the Right Thing, the Moral Thing, the Altruistic Thing, the Generous Thing regardless of how severely you abuse them because that’s what you taught them to do, possibly using religion to hammer the lessons home.
Someone who will live Symbolically and always act as though they live in a Perfect Family despite the Hell you create for them.
What a handy person to have around! A narcissist may then behave as badly as they want, or play the poor-poor-helpless victim and their Normal Child will always be there to rescue them, pick up the pieces and “loan” them money. The eternal punching bag and scapegoat who, no matter how vilely you treat them, will never, ever go away.
Someone the narcissistic parent will probably come to hate because their own kid “shows them up” by doing the right thing no matter what.
One False Step
While needing one Very Good Kid, at the same time, narcissists have a pressing need for that same Very Good Kid to screw up! Yes, you read that correctly. They need their good kid to make one big misstep so they can feel superior, gloat, rub-it-in and/or be very, very kind and condescending.
This lesson was brought home to me by a childhood friend. A pastor’s kid. She was expected to be the perfect PK. Musical. Joyful. Spiritual. Personable…and submit to having her dress yanked up and her bottom paddled by her pastor father for any infraction, real or perceived. There was no age limit on the spankings.
Well, as you would expect, she was miserable and escaped as soon as legally possible. Two years later, she found herself single and pregnant.
“Was your father furious?” I asked her.
“That was the weird thing,” she said. “I thought he’d be livid. Instead, he was the soul of kindness. Very supportive and helpful.”
“That…makes…sense,” said I. “You finally made a misstep. All his dire predictions about you finally came true. He was thrilled. I bet he’s still living off that narcissistic supply.”
Narcissists need that Good Kid. But oh! How they want them to fail!
I’m afraid we’re going to have to accept that narcissists are blatant hypocrites…as unbelievable as it is to the honest, straight-forward ACON they raised. To us, it’s unfathomable that anyone would not practice-what-they-preached, especially our own parents. They obviously know right from wrong because they taught it to us.
I was once told that my narcissist could “rationalize anything.”
To rationalize is to admit that you know what is right, know when you do wrong and believe in morality so fiercely that you must rationalize to wiggle out of your wrongdoing that you know to be wrong. My mother always told me, “God’s laws are written on our hearts” and narcissists’ compulsion to rationalize their behavior proves this.
They are compelled to somehow, someway make that double standard appear right to their own conscience…and us…by torturing logic and facts to make what would be unquestionably wrong for us somehow right for them.
If they can use their Good Kid as the scapegoat it’s even better. I’m thinking particularly of that scene in High Society when the father of the Grace Kelly character rationalizes his adultery by blaming his daughter, played by Grace, for being a cold, impersonable daughter. I’m sorry…what!?! That’s creepy as Hell!
The God Card
We may be able to argue with Mom and Dad, but who can argue with God!?! There’s no downside for a narcissist to “get religion” and so, so many perks!
They get the image, the persona, the praise, the adoration. And while they may not actually bother to follow the precepts of their faith, the Good Kid they raise in their religion will never dare to defy God’s edicts…or rather, what their narcissist claims God demands. In my experience and observation, a narcissist can and will twist the Bible to fit their agenda.
That’s why so many of us say, “Ummmm, I don’t think I ever had a family, dude. It was more like living in a cult.”
It is not we, fellow ACONs, who are evil. Our narcissists actually raised us better than that. They raised us to be good, to be moral because they needed us to be that way.
While it was merely an agenda for them, it is genuine for us. For them, it’s a convenient façade. For us, it’s genuinely in our hearts. They know this and hate us for it, scapegoating and damning us to Hell at every opportunity.
You are moral. You are a Good Person. Always believe it. Never forget it.