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Narcissistic Parents And PTSD

If you were raised by a narcissistic parent it is likely that your early life will have been marked by extreme unpredictability.  You will not have experienced ordinary empathic attunement from your care giver and guardian, and this will have had a consequence in terms of how you have gone on to regulate your emotions, moods and psychology.

If you had a parent who suffered from undiagnosed narcissistic issues you probably grew up in a very disturbing home.

The mood swings of a narcissistic parent

You will likely have grown up hiding from your parents’ volatile and unpredictable mood swings.  Their ability to empathise with you in an ordinary and straightforward manner will have been prone to sudden, sometimes violent disruptions.

A client once told me:

It’s hard for me to think of my father without tensing up a bit.  He could be so kind and loving but you never knew when his mood would change.  It could happen over nothing.  I remember one time he got angry with me because he said I was rubbing my eyes too much.  I had allergies as a child and I remember one day he just freaked out.  Suddenly he was right in my face shouting.  It was terrifying.  I’ve never forgotten it.  Now if I rub my eyes I suddenly think of it.

  • If you were raised in this kind of environment, you are likely to have problems relaxing and trusting the world.
  • You will not have been able to rely on your parents in an ordinary way.
  • Consequently your capacity to relax, to be spontaneous, to be creative and to play will probably be compromised.
  • Relationships are likely to be difficult.

PTSD as a consequence of living with a Narcissistic Parent

When you have lived through a childhood that involved these kind of unpredictable and traumatic outbursts, particularly if there was no one available to help and share the burden with,  then it is likely it will have caused significant problems for you.

People who have lived through undiagnosed traumatic experiences like these can go onto develop all kinds of secondary emotional and psychological problems.  I have a great deal of experience of working with people who are referred to me because of symptoms like:

  • anxiety
  • unexplained illnesses
  • sleep problems
  • issues with concentration
  • addictive behaviours
  • relationship issues

As we begin to work together in psychotherapy, it starts to become clear that the symptoms they are presenting are actually sitting on top of an older problem.

It might sound surprising, but a lot of people who present with these kinds of problems are living with PTSD without realising it.

If you have, or were raised by a narcissistic parent who was prone to sudden and unpredictable violent outbursts, or whose own emotional needs took up all of the space, it can be hard to take your own needs seriously.

If nobody else was there to look after you and put you first, then you will struggle to do this for yourself.

When you have been exposed to the traumatic outbursts of a narcissistic parent you will likely have problems with:

  • concentration
  • building a career
  • settling into relationships
  • loneliness and isolation
  • drink and drug problems

Children who have been raised in these kind of environments can struggle to go on to do all kinds of things.

But, it is possible to recover and repair the damage done by your upbringing, but it takes time and commitment.

Part of what makes it so difficult is finding a way to trust your psychotherapist.

Question: You grew up being very careful not to put yourself at risk of other people.  How are you supposed to find a way to trust a therapist now?

Answer: There is no quick and easy answer to that question.  It takes time during which the therapy will likely go through periods of being profoundly tested.

If you are lucky you will get to a point in your therapy where you can break through that mistrust barrier and discover that trust is possible.

At this point you will be able to see that the underlying problems in your life have been caused by the traumas of your early experience with your narcissistic parent.  And, if you can get to this point with your therapist you can go onto do it with other people too.

Don’t let your life remain imprisoned in your past, don’t remain a hostage to your narcissistic and traumatising parents.

It is time you broke free from that cage and started to be the person you can be.

 

Narcissistic Parents And PTSD

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.


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APA Reference
, . (2018). Narcissistic Parents And PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychotherapy-matters/2018/06/narcissistic-parents-and-ptsd/

 

Last updated: 23 Jun 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Jun 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.