As children of narcissists, we can tend to be easily triggered to feel and remember the abuse that occurred, or keeps occurring, in our lives. And that’s to be expected. Our lives are filled with stressful and traumatic experiences that can trigger us to keep reliving the trauma.
But there is a specific sort of pain our narcissistic parents left us with. And that’s the pain of every day existence.
We carry this pain constantly. It’s so much a part of us that we may not notice it.
So let’s bring it out into the open and be aware of it.
The Fear of Being Criticized
Narcissists are overly critical of their children. And I don’t mean in a kind, constructive criticism way. Constructive criticism helps you grow. It is given with kindness and the well-being of the child or adult in mind. As a child, you could tell what were well-intentioned words and what language was meant to hurt you.
Caring, constructive feedback is not what our narcissistic parents shared with us. Instead, we received negative criticism.
The result is a legacy of emotional states that cause you pain to this day.
Negative criticism is done only with the purpose to show something is wrong, false, mistaken, or objectionable. It suggests disapproval of something and emphasizes the downside. People often feel attacked or insulted by this form of criticism. Source
This sort of criticism led you to believe you were bad and unworthy of love. Unless you have undergone therapy, you probably still feel this way today.
Another effect of being criticized on a daily basis as a child is low self-esteem. Now in adulthood, because of your low self-esteem, you may shy away from opportunities, afraid to take a risk.
And you may feel shame. Shame about who you are. This shame may keep you from relationships as you withdraw from people, feeling unworthy of their friendship.
All this comes from the emotional abuse that your parent heaped on you. And today, you still are sensitive to criticism. Maybe you are passive when criticized. Do you hang your head and let the critics words buffet you, saying nothing, hoping it will end?
Or are you more aggressive than passive in the face of criticism? This is habit of response. When being criticized, I go on the attack. If it’s at work I use sarcasm to get back at my critic and put her in her place. At home, I feel free to take the leash off. Any perceived criticism from my wife and I pounce like a panther on its prey. I yell and make biting comments, destroying any chance of rapport.
But neither the passive nor the aggressive form is right. As children of narcissists we need to develop an assertive approach that stops destructive criticism and learns from constructive criticism.
Go here for information on how to heal from negative criticism.
The Agony of Being Walked Upon
Growing up, I quickly learned to stay out of my parents’ way. They could be—and often were—tyrants.
I also learned that their needs came first. Mine, especially since I wasn’t the golden child, didn’t matter. I was often trampled in my parents’ rush to meet their own needs and desires.
As I got older, this feeling didn’t change. But something else did when I became an adult. My parents continued to walk all over me by ignoring my needs for love and nurturance. And now they also ground their heels into my soul by having me do more things for them than I did as a child.
Even as an adult, after I moved out of the house, they’d demand I mow the lawn, drive them to the doctor, and have me maintain their computers, all without thanks or a courteous inquiry of whether I was busy.
The feeling of being walked on continued from when I was a kid. The only way your parent’s behavior changes as you get older is that they become more demanding. Much more demanding.
This neglecting of your needs damaged you. You learned, painfully, to stuff those needs down deep inside—so deep you can’t feel them.
Now, as an adult, you may not be able to feel your needs. You may not know what you need, which can leave you frustrated, or it can leave you depressed because your needs aren’t being met.
Even more tragically, you may know what your needs are, but refuse to express them.
Why would you do that?
Because you’re afraid that expressing your needs makes you a narcissist. Just like your parent.
And that thought terrifies you.
Let me assure you of something. Expressing your needs does not make you a narcissist. Healthy individuals express their needs in a variety of situations. Your main goal should be to overcome your trauma and abuse and become a healthy person. That means you’ll have to start expressing your needs.
What’s more, your terror that you might be a narcissist proves you’re not a narcissist. A narcissist may be deluded and not recognize he has a personality disorder. But if he learns of it he would be unaffected. Since he can do no wrong, in his mind, he would see his affliction as proof of his superiority.
So what can you do to address to better express your needs?
First, as always, seek the help of a mental health professional. Identifying and expressing your needs is an important step in becoming whole.
If you can’t obtain the help of a mental health professional, then at least stop the trampling. Erect boundaries around the lives of you and your loved ones to prohibit your parents intrusions. Stop being at your parent’s beck and call.
Start paying attention to your needs, which means beginning to recognize your feelings as such.
To start trying to identify your needs, pay attention to those times when you feel frustrated, angry, and upset. Often what you’re angry about isn’t the true cause of your irritation.
To find the cause of your irritation, pay attention to what’s missing. What you might need emotionally, such as connection, or a need for alone time, physically, like food, or mentally, maybe a break. Write down what happened, and what you feel, in a journal while trying to get at the need.
Dig deep. You can figure it out.
Go here for more on identifying your needs.
You Feel Rejected
In all of us there is a deep yearning to belong. So when someone recognizes us and makes us feel wanted, warm, pleasant feelings bubble up inside.
But rejection hurts us all. It triggers our emotional pain and can leave us feeling angry and sad with our confidence and self-esteem worn away. When we are rejected socially our entire sense of belonging in our peer group can be shattered.
If social rejection is so bad, what about parental rejection?
As a child of a narcissist, you most likely experienced parental rejection. No matter how well you behaved, performed in school, or excelled in any area, your parent still turned a cold shoulder and refused to show you any love. Your narcissistic parent only needed you when she wanted a mirror to exhibit her imagined glory in. When she was done with that mirror, she banished you like a thief being booted out of the kingdom.
And being a child, when your narcissistic parent rejected you, it hurt.
You looked to your parents to protect, guide and nurture you, not turn a cold shoulder and communicate that you were not wanted. Rejected children, more than children who are accepted, tend to be “hostile, aggressive, passive aggressive… to be dependent or ‘defensively independent’…to be emotionally unstable, emotionally unresponsive, and to have a negative world view” (Source).
The pain from such rejection can be unbearable, and it typically lasts into adulthood. In adulthood it can cause self-doubt, that’s deep and pervasive. It can also cause depression and low self-esteem. A very heavy load to bear.
What’s more, research by Dr. Ronald Rohner, and others, found that children who suffer parental rejection have trouble forming secure and trusting relationships when they become adults (Source). This causes constant pain as trust is the basis of all relationships, especially intimate ones.
Childhood rejection can lead to disrupted communication patterns in adult intimate relationships. Being rejected by your narcissistic parent can cause you to interpret messages from your partner in negative ways.
These negative interpretations can cause you to become overly sensitive to what he or she is saying. Also, you may become defensive because you don’t trust your partner.
If something is not done to teach you to trust your partner, a vicious cycle can take place. You will continue to interpret your partner’s messages in negative ways. You will become both more sensitive and defensive to your partner’s messages. This will lead you to trust your partner less, sending the relationship down the drain in a vicious spiral.
As you can see, your narcissistic parent’s rejection of you has deep and lasting consequences and continues to be painful. Researchers say that the rejection stimulates the same portion of your brain as physical pain does.
Experts say that to get over parental rejection it is important to look at all areas of your life and see how that rejection is affecting you. What relationships are being damaged? What relationships are you avoiding? How is your low self-worth and self-esteem holding you back?
Once you have identified these areas you can start to fix things and heal. A mental health professional would be invaluable in helping you do this.
Having deep, intimate relationships is another important factor in healing. You need to take steps in your relationship to see how you may be misinterpreting messages from your mate. Then take steps to ask your partner if that’s what they meant and to work on your defensiveness.
Also, work at building self-esteem and self-worth by focusing on what you’re good at and by developing new skills and hobbies.
The road of healing for the child of a narcissist can seem long. The fear of criticism, being walked on, and feelings of rejection are very real things caused by traumatic childhood events. They will take time and effort on your part to heal. The best tools are self-awareness (know what’s being triggered), and communication (verbalize it with your partner.
I know you are up to the task. You have tremendous strength. For you are a survivor, forged in the crucible of abuse, neglect, and rejection. You survived your childhood without becoming a narcissist.
That shows how strong you are.
So take that strength and use it to heal. Show the world that you will not accept the narcissist’s legacy and be whole, happy, and secure, proud of who you are.
That is my wish for you. Peace be with you.
What is the deepest pain your narcissistic parent left you with? Please share with us in the comments.