One of the crippling states of having been raised by a narcissistic parent is your belief that your needs don’t matter. Not only do you needs not get met, you don’t even express your needs. In fact many adult children of narcissists don’t acknowledge they have needs. Why?
“Adult children of narcissists are well-practiced in the art of pretending they have no needs, believe that they must present as demand-less in order to gain others’ acceptance, and that if they show their true wants and needs to others, they will be rejected.” Source
By the time you reached adulthood, you became highly skilled at pretending you possessed no wants of needs. That’s because you spent your entire life pretending to not have needs. Since you were a young child, your narcissistic parent raised you to be demand-less. You learned to fear your parent’s rejection should you voice your needs.
Let’s explore the childhood of a child raised by a narcissist and excavate the roots of your pain today. Because that’s what this inability to express your needs is. Painful. To have these unmet yearnings inside you that you cannot realize and express tears at your heart and soul.
So what did your parent do to cause this pain that throbs within you even now?
Childhood When You Have a Narcissistic Parent
As you know now, your childhood wasn’t like other kids. Sure, your family pretended to be normal in public. But behind closed doors, things were different.
Your parent practiced one of two styles of narcissistic parenting: enmeshment or neglect. Since you are not a narcissist, your parent probably neglected you. By definition, neglect means you didn’t get your needs met. But it is not as simple as that.
Think back to you as a child. At the core of your being you needed love, nurturance, security, protection, food, and to develop and grow. Of these, your narcissistic parent only provided food. And she made you feel guilty for taking it from her.
Your narcissistic parent even tried to deny your need to develop, particularly your need to become an autonomous self. Narcissists don’t even allow their children to develop personalities. They want to control everything about their children. Allowing children to develop personalities means the kids could grow to defy them. Or the kids may leave, which translates into a lost source of narcissistic supply.
I remember when my two oldest children were young. This was before I knew my parents are narcissists. My mother stopped by our house. After documenting her presence with her camera, she was bored with the kids. So she turned to me. “I wonder what the kids’ personalities will be like,” she said. “I can’t wait till they’re older to see.”
I thought this was odd as I could see my children already possessed personalities. Now, looking back, I can see that she didn’t even look at them as people. She viewed my children as sources of narcissistic supply or objects to be discarded if they failed to meet her needs. This enrages me now. But it is illustrative of how narcissists view children.
As you grew older, you had impulses to make decisions on your own. This enraged your narcissistic parent. Since she viewed you as an extension of herself, she wanted control over your choices. Choices based on her view of your needs.
So she used her narcissistic tools to manipulate your needs and your desires. You made a decision to play with a certain toy. She said, “No. You want to play with this.” She may have said it harshly or sweetly, but you had already figured out that defying her was bad. Defiance turned her into a monster. And you were scared of that monster.
Or maybe she manipulated you with guilt. If you wanted to do something she didn’t want you doing, she couldn’t just say “No.” Instead, she made you feel guilty for what you wanted to do. That way you wouldn’t ask again.
The Consequences For You As An Adult
The long term consequences of this type of behavior by your narcissistic parent is that you feel guilty for having needs. Over time you learned to feel guilty for having any needs. Not wanting to feel guiltier, you suppressed your needs and kept quiet about them. The consequence today—unless you have worked on yourself—is that even though you don’t live with your narcissistic parent, you still are suppressing your needs.
Today this need suppression can be seen in your decision making. Due to your narcissistic parent’s manipulations, you and other adult children of narcissists tend not to make your own decisions.
Since you’re used to suppressing your needs, and you grew up doing what your parent wanted, it is simpler to let others make your decisions. That way you don’t have to risk disappointing or angering anyone.
Your narcissistic parent also suppressed your needs with her rage. Sometimes when you expressed a need she didn’t bother to make the effort to make you feel guilty. As an alternative, she erupted into a screaming, stomping monster. Being a child, this behavior scared you. Once you were scared and made to feel guilty enough times you didn’t express your needs.
This use of guilt and anger damaged you. Even though you don’t notice it, you are hyper-vigilant to the moods of the people around you. Subconsciously, you are noting every change in vocal inflection, every microexpression on everyone’s face, and alterations in everybody’s body language.
The reason is you’re afraid. You fear someone is getting angry. You are looking for signs that someone is going to manipulate you. That a person will try to exert their will on you. You’re braced to receive emotional abuse from one or more of the people you’re with.
This fear is a chronic stress state. It is damaging you internally. That’s one reason you need to heal.
Learning to Meet Your Needs
There’s a lot of psychological and emotional garbage inside us damaged children. As such, there’s no simple solution to learning that your needs matter and deserve to be met. My recommendation is that if you don’t have a therapist yet, you seek out a competent, compassionate mental health professional. But if you can’t afford a therapist, or just don’t trust another person with your emotions, here are some tips to get you started.
(Note: The following is not meant to take the place of the counsel of a trained mental health counselor. Please do nothing unsafe if you decide to follow them.)
- Even if you’re narcissistic parent is dead, she’s still making you feel guilty. So the first step is to stop judging yourself. You have nothing to feel guilty about. She always sought to blame someone for her own misery and mistakes. You just undeservingly caught the shrapnel. Stop feeling like a terrible son or daughter. It’s your parent that is a terrible mother or father. You can stop judging yourself now. Your parent is the criminal, not you.
- Next, admit to yourself that you have needs. Don’t judge yourself for having them. Try not to feel guilty for your needs. Everyone on the planet has needs. Acknowledge your needs. Sit quietly and reflect on your needs. Write them in a journal. Get used to their sensation within you.
Once you get used to the idea that you have needs, spend some time experiencing how it feels for them to go unmet. Write these feelings in your journal. Take each need individually and think about how it is not being met. Notice the type and intensity of emotion that arises. Write it down. Let that feeling set as long as you can let it.
Don’t dismay if the guilt intrudes while you are doing these exercises. You’re conditioned to feel guilty when considering your own needs. Simply address the guilt and tell it you have no more use for it. It’ll probably stay around anyway. Take the opportunity to study it. Notice how it distracts you from acknowledging your needs. Notice that it’s nothing more than an unpleasant sensation. Like a toothless dog, it can bark but is unable to hurt you. Learn to stop being afraid of it.
- Finally, when you’re ready, pick a small need and take action to meet it. If you find you can’t, explore why. Not meeting your need is not a failure. There are no failures in healing, only lessons to learn from. Try again. Be ready for the intrusion of guilt. Once again, acknowledge the guilt and explain it is not welcome.
Once you succeed and meet a need, pay attention to the feeling. Is that satisfaction underneath the guilt? Think about what to action you would like to take for yourself next.
I wish you well as you take back your power from your narcissistic parent and learn to meet your needs. You deserve nothing less. Peace be with you.
What needs of yours aren’t being met? Tell us in the comments below.