Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents
Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
Children in families with narcissistic parents understand that their family operates by a set of unspoken rules—rules that feel confusing and painful. The only stability these children know comes from adhering to the agenda of their narcissistic parent.
The feelings of these children are never recognized—it is demonstrated over and over by the parents that their children’s feeling do not matter. These children never know where they stand with an unpredictable, unaccountable, and inconsistent parent.
Since they have to find a way to shield their selves from these surprise attacks and have never had healthy coping skills modeled for them, they build dysfunctional walls inside as a way of coping and for protection. With no boundaries between them and their parents and no acknowledgement of their feelings, children do not learn how to process their emotions in a healthy way. The assertion of feelings, rights, or thoughts can lead to much bigger problems for them—rejection, isolation, anger, and violence—so they learn to repress these things as a way to keep peace in the home.
Children internalize and absorb whatever they are told by their parents. If they are told that they are at fault, they believe that they are at fault. If they constantly receive messages that they are not good enough, that they are stupid, or that they are bad, these things become their truths and define them for the rest of their lives.
Another source of confusion for these children is that these parents can sometimes be nice. But children quickly learn that any kindness shown to them has strings attached. They feel forever beholden to their narcissistic parent—anytime the parent is nice or generous the child will owe something to him or her. The message is that love has conditions—they are never loved for who they are, just for how well they please.
Sensitive children of narcissistic parents become people pleasers, a pattern that continues into adulthood until recognized and changed. They strive never to deny anyone anything while sabotaging their own self in the process. They feel as if they have to earn the love and acceptance of others to get it while feeling overly responsible for the needs and feelings of others. That is the making of a codependent adult.
Less sensitive children or children who put up high walls of protection may take a different route. They may vow to never trust or be vulnerable again so they will never be hurt again. It becomes them against the world. That is the making of the false self of a pathological narcissist.
As a result of having been raised in a smoke and mirrors, crazy-making lifestyle, adult children of narcissists have a very difficult time trying to figure out what is wrong with them. They may be filled with repressed anger, suffer from bouts of anxiety and depression, and may feel empty, defective, and inadequate.
Adult children of narcissists grew up being told and believing that they were not good enough. This translated in their head as, “If I was good enough my parents would have loved me.” To come to terms with that thought they keep trying to recreate their childhood, unwilling to accept that they never really had one, or that the one they had was not grounded in reality.
Adult children of narcissistic parents feel as if something if always missing within them. They are always looking for the self. They feel flawed and unaccepted, and never quite know where they stand with other people. They may place a great deal of importance on what other people think of them. These weaknesses may make them vulnerable to victimization by other narcissists or others with similar agendas. Having had their parent dictate to them how they should act and feel, they grow up without autonomy. They have difficulty making their own decisions. They lack the sense of knowing what is right for them and are unsure of what they like or want out of life.
Though they are adults they never feel like they are, because no matter how old they are their narcissistic parent never treats them that way. There is always the underlying message that, “You comply with my wishes and do it my way or I will make your life a living hell.” Adult children of narcissists struggle with feeling love for their continually difficult parents. The confusion never stops. Deep down inside they may hate their parent or parents, yet feel guilty because they do. It is not seen as acceptable for children to hate their parents, especially when everyone else loves and sees nothing wrong with them.
It is important to understand that narcissistic parents suffer from an incurable mental disorder and are never going to change. Whatever love seemed real or hopeful is or was an illusion. The love never existed and never will. This parent has no capacity for love. The relationship will never be healthy or satisfying. The offspring of these individuals mean no more to the parent than merely being a source of narcissistic supply, whether they are children or adults.
If you are the adult child of a narcissist you are not alone. They are many of us and we are all survivors—survivors of the most insidious form of child abuse. Adult children of narcissistic parents are commonly referred to as ACONS. Those both inside and outside your family will not be able to support, understand or validate you. They will be probably be a source of great frustration and make you feel even worse about yourself. For that reason and many more, it is very beneficial to gain the support of an experienced professional.
Without professional help you may continue to suffer and fall into the same painful, confusing trap over and over; buying into the manipulations of the narcissistic parent just to get a few crumbs of love and attention.
The pain you feel is real. You were severely abused. And the future may seem hopeless. After having your emotional needs unmet for so long, healing from this traumatic childhood is difficult. It may seem impossible to do but it is not. With persistence and time, full recovery is absolutely possible.
It is time to reclaim your life as your own. You may see your narcissistic parent as a big, powerful monster, but he or she is actually small, weak, and no longer has any power over you. As adult children of narcissistic parents, the only power our mothers or fathers have over us is the power we give them.
You are an adult now and you do not have to answer to anyone but yourself. It is time to embrace self-love. It is time to nurture your inner child and take good care of yourself. You are worthy, you are lovable, and you matter. It is time to start working through your feelings.
Allow yourself to start grieving the parent you never had. Understand that grieving is a painful process. Allow yourself feel the pain and take all the time you need to get through all the stages.
It is time to stop hoping that your narcissistic parent will change. He or she will not.
Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.