Choosing to cut off contact was due to many factors, but my mother’s narcissism and my father’s enabling were major parts of it. The Mayo Clinic defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.”
I spent all of my developmental years trying to take care of the needs of someone whose needs were insatiable and unpredictable. Add to that violence and inexplicable cruelty and my childhood was a shit stew.
My own needs didn’t matter, and too often, anything I did was somehow an extension of my mother. She took credit for my successes, and everything, including the birth of my own children, needed to be about her.
Growing up this way was extremely damaging. I’ve spent a lot of time on a therapist’s couch and reading self-help books to work through it, and I’m still a work-in-progress.
The recovery process can sometimes seem exhausting too. Oh, more staring into my eyeballs in the mirror and saying cheesy affirmations? How fun.
But the work is important and necessary.
If you’ve figured out that you too were raised by a full-blown narcissist or someone with a lot of the traits, here are things you can do right now to put yourself on the right path.
1. Educate Yourself.
Read articles like this one or this one, and search the interwebs for other ones. Research books to pick up. I read Karyl McBride’s Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, which I recommend to other daughters of mother narcissists.
Join chat forums, watch movies and shows with narcissistic characters (think: the mothers from Mad Men and Arrested Development), and/or find a therapist who understands narcissism. Knowledge and support will help you move beyond the effects of the family you were raised with.
2. Accept that your narcissist parent won’t change.
This has been the hardest thing I needed to learn and accept. “Don’t go to the hardware store to buy bread” became my mantra. It was something I needed to constantly remind myself: that my mother could never be the kind of mother I’d want her to be, she likely never would be, and I needed to stop hoping that she would.
If your narcissistic parent moves toward being healthier, awesome, but you should assume he or she won’t. Narcissists rarely change, and if they happen to be acting better, it could be just manipulation.
Holding out hope that your parent will turn it around can lead you down a path of broken dreams and false illusions that takes your further and further away from moving on and letting go.
3. Recognize your enabling parent.
My father was barely around when I was a child. He traveled for work, and even when he was at home, he’d be distant. He’d go along with my mother’s behavior and make excuses for it.
He never called what happened “abuse.” He never truly protected my sister and me from it, so he was complicit.
Despite everything my mother did, my father, as the “less” mentally ill one, is the one that angers me that most, the one that feels the most like a betrayal.
4. Assert boundaries.
Narcissists constantly violate boundaries. My mother ignored my boundaries, told me I couldn’t “tell her what to do,” and that she could “whatever she wanted.”
I had to start setting and maintaining boundaries. Boundaries are property lines, not walls. They explicitly state, “this is my yard, and it’s not fucking okay if you decide to start digging up grass and planting flowers unless I give you permission.”
If someone keeps digging in my flowerbed without my permission, I remind them of the boundary. If they keep digging in my flowerbed, I start calling the cops or I move and don’t tell them. The metaphor doesn’t work perfectly, but you get the idea.
It takes time and practice to get there with a narcissistic parent, but it must be something you start doing now.
5. Stay in tune with your feelings.
I was trained to ignore or distrust my feelings. “You’re too sensitive” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” were told to me so often that I could predict when my mother would say those things.
Having your own feelings is a direct threat to your narcissist parent because they don’t want you to have needs. They want you to take care of theirs.
Reconnect with your own feelings. They’re there. You can’t avoid them. Journal. Talk to yourself in the car, the shower, the mirror (you’ll look like a crazy person, but it’s okay. Don’t judge yourself.). Feelings are feelings, and your own deserve recognition and respect.
6 Quit blaming yourself.
My mother and other narcissistic parents are experts at deflecting and projecting blame onto others. If she shouted at me or was violent, I shouldn’t have left the silverware pointing up. If I stood up for myself, I was “attacking” her.
You’re not responsible for whatever crazy thing the narcissist does and has done in your life. Tell yourself that every day if you have to until you believe it.
7. Be kind to yourself.
It’s never surprising that the child of a narcissist might act out in risky and destructive behaviors. I started abusing drugs when I was 13, the same year my mother beat me with a metal mop.
See a therapist. Go to a twelve-step fellowship. You’ve likely already experienced a lot of emotional and psychological trauma, and you don’t deserve to put yourself through anymore.
None of us can help how we were raised, but you can act now to take care of yourself. You deserve it!