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Are You Recovering From A Narcissistic Parent?

If so, how you can find a way to come to terms with the psychological injuries of the past, and to stop the old toxic experiences from contaminating and spoiling your present life?  How do you recover from an upbringing with a narcissistic parent?

If you were raised by a parent who suffered from narcissistic personality issues:

  • grandiosity,
  • self-importance,
  • a profound need for attention, and
  • unpredictable changes in mood,

it will likely have created problems in your own capacity to have and to develop healthy relationships with yourself and with others.

The burden of having to adapt to the extreme changes in mood and atmosphere will likely have taken a toll on you.  At a fundamental level they will have interfered with your capacity to relax.

Someone who has been raised in an atmosphere in which they have to be continually on guard and watchful does not develop a natural and spontaneous relationship with their own self, spirit, mind, creativity.  Without proper access to those things you never get the chance to be the person you can be.

You may suffer PTSD symptoms

Prolonged exposure and immersion in a highly charged and unpredictable environment can at an extreme induce dissociative patterns of experience.  This happens because the ongoing shocks and pressures become too much to bear.  This leads to part of the mind splitting off from your consciousness.

At root it is a defensive strategy to limit the traumatising experience.  The traumatised experience remains, but it does so in an encapsulated part of you.  But, the problem is that it remains there, a bit like a booby trap that could unknowingly be set off at any moment.

Given certain conditions in the present:

  • certain smells,
  • a piece of music,
  • the way food tastes,
  • a sudden loud noise in the street,
  • the way someone looks at you.

You can be suddenly transported back into the old traumatic world and have the disconcerting experience of feeling the trauma is happening again.

In reality you may be caught in a post-traumatic experience, but at the time it will likely feel very real and overpowering, and, that it is happening in the present for the first time.  You will be overwhelmed.  It is debilitating to live like this.

How do you stop it?

At some stage it may become necessary for you to try to find a way to come to terms with your past, with having grown up with a damaging narcissistic parent.  Not doing this will leave serious limitations in place.

It can be very difficult to come to terms with the failures of your early life.  You have to mourn and come to terms with the treatment you received.

Why fear is so powerful

What makes it hard is that it is likely that you will have had nightmarish fears about what was happening to you at the time that it happened.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists refer to the power of our fantasies and this is what they mean.

When we get very scared, the fear stays with us, it becomes part of our daydreams and nightmares.  The fear invades our imaginations.  Often it is the disturbing power of the nightmarish fears that do as much damage to us as anything else.

The dominant parent may be in front of us, shouting at us.  Then when we are alone, the powerful emotions we previously experienced go on running in our systems.  Coming to terms with what has happened to us in the past means coming to terms with these nightmarish fears as well as the memories of what happened to us.

This is very difficult, serious and important work

It can take a great deal of time and commitment, but we have to keep working at it. The more we can do so, the more chance we have of retrieving ourselves from the tyranny the past has over us.

In therapy, we speak of the transference.  We are referring to the kinds of disturbing feelings you feel while being with your therapist.  As you work through your memories and experiences you are likely to feel some of them are being stimulated by being with your therapist.

Although this can be disturbing and can put you off the work.  The opportunity is that you start to disentangle your therapist from your nightmarish experiences of the past.  You start to see your therapist as an independent person who works for you. You start to see that they may have limitations:

  • you have to pay them,
  • you can’t see them other that at your appointment time.

But these limitations may be ordinary, rather than being part of something that reminds you of your frightening and tyrannical past.  As you start to see the difference with your therapist, you may start to find some possibilities to live differently and more creatively and satisfyingly in other relationships.

It is possible to come to terms with your past

It is possible to stop its disturbing emotional memory from contaminating and limiting your present.  It might be very hard work.  But it is possible to do.  Good luck.

Are You Recovering From A Narcissistic Parent?

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). Are You Recovering From A Narcissistic Parent?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Jul 2018
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