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Narcissistic Parents and Their Enabling Spouses: Normal Rules Do Not Apply

Updated: Jun 1

Senior couple narcissistic parents

Narcissistic Parents and Their Enabling Spouses

Normal Rules Do Not Apply

Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

*Please note, for ease of reading, I have used the pronouns "her" to represent the enabling spouse and "him" to represent the narcissistic spouse. This in no way indicates that narcissistic spouses are always men. This is not true. Just as many narcissistic spouses are women. In homosexual marriages of this type there may be two "hers" or two "hims". I possess no bias in any of these regards.

As an adult child dealing with narcissistic parents, normal rules do not apply. Confrontations do not work, boundary setting does not work, letter writing does not work, reasoning does not work, standing up to them does not work, and family counseling does not work. Your feelings will never be validated. Your parents will never admit they have done anything to hurt you or have ever done anything wrong, period. The blame will always be deflected back at you.

By the time children arrive into dysfunctional families such as these, the relationship between their parents is so toxic and so enmeshed in the drama of keeping their dysfunctional union in tact, there truly is no room for them. They are crowded out before even getting there. The parental dynamics are all consuming. Children are appendages, afterthoughts, who are expected to undulate with the preposterous drama of their parents' dysfunction.

If your non-narcissistic parent is an enabling spouse you may be able to count on that parent to support you when it is easy to do so or it doesn't threaten her spousal relationship to the narcissist, but you cannot count on that parent to protect or advocate for you when it truly counts. Encouraging words spoken by her are rarely followed by concrete actions. More often than not, your parent will defend her partner to the death, even if it means sacrificing her relationship with you.

She operates out of selfishness, insecurity, and fear. She is conditioned to shield him from all accountability. When someone needs to be the bad guy, the enabling spouse will always take the fall. If she doesn’t defend him she will make excuses for him and strongly request that you do the same.

The enabling spouse's job, above all else, is to obey, please and worship her narcissistic spouse. She enables him to take whatever he wants from their children. Her actions prevent him from ever being accountable for his detestable behavior.

When your parents' relationship began, the line between narcissist and victim/target may have been clearly defined. After many years together, both parents may have begun acting so bizarrely that you can no longer distinguish the disordered parent from the non-disordered parent. If that is no longer apparent, psycho-dynamic merging has likely occurred.

Over the years your non-narcissistic parent, feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility for her partner’s happiness, and willing to sacrifice her own needs in the process, stopped seeing herself and him as separate beings and fused identities with him. As a result, her entire world and very existence revolves around the relationship. Her very survival hinges on honoring her spouse first.

Enabling spouses, emotionally blind to the reality of who they are married to, worship the ground their narcissistic spouses walk on. Adult children are expected to do the same.

Though you may wish it were different, the truth is that you do not have one victimized, loving parent and one destructive, malevolent parent. As long as they stay married, they can not be divided. They are one. You are an outsider. And you are emotionally on your own.

If you have always consoled yourself with the fact that you at least had one good parent, this fact may be difficult to accept. If you hope to have a separate relationship with the "good parent", it may be important for you to explore the possibility, if only for the sake of closure. You will always wonder what could have been if you do not.

As an adult child of narcissistic abuse, there is so much to recover from. This is just one more painful and sad truth that you may not have expected to face. Consider this as one more piece of the puzzle.

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 and Recovery Second Edition, 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 the official companion workbook Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: A Comprehensive Workbook for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse. Randi Fine is 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.


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