As Adult Children of Narcissists (ACONs), coming out of denial about the abuse we experienced in childhood is a brave step along our healing journeys. When we can look at our parents with objective eyes and accept that the ‘love’ we received from them was conditional and stingy, then we become empowered to develop a healthier dynamic with our narcissistic parent(s) in the present, in which we are less susceptible to their manipulation tactics. For some, this realization may mean going no contact with their narcissistic parent(s). For others, it may mean developing healthier boundaries and a redefined notion of give and take in their relationship with mum or dad. In my personal experience, it has meant forgiveness of my mother who was/is neither able to express love towards me nor capable of giving me her direct attention.
As long as we keep telling ourselves that our controlling parents love/d us, we stay stuck in denial – a dangerous space where our parents still have the power to direct our lives and dictate our emotions. When the abuse suffered is overt – clear and apparent for all to see – then it is much easier to ‘own’ the fact that one is an ACON. However, in cases where the manipulation of the narcissist is/was subtle and under the radar, the adult ACON is likely to be confused about the real status of their one-sided relationship with their narcissistic parent. This can mean the ACON stays stuck in denial where they tell themselves the comforting lie that the abusive, controlling behavior of the narcissist parent towards them is an expression of his/her loving care.
While on the surface it may seem that a covert narcissistic parent really loves or is even devoted to their child, the reality is that every action of the narcissist is self-serving. This is because the narcissist parent uses their child(ren) as a means of validating the stories they wish to believe about themselves. Generally, these stories revolve around being seen as a ‘good’ parent whose children are accomplished or in some way special. However, look below the surface of the covert narcissist-child dynamic and you will see that the parent always has an agenda to get their own needs for narcissistic supply met by their child(ren). In other words, covert narcissist parents put on a masquerade of love in order to get their own needs and desires met by the child.
The Smothering Narcissist – This kind of parent does not allow their child room to breathe. By ‘over-loving’ the child the narcissist controls every aspect of his/her life. Smothering narcissistic parents overwhelm their children with their unregulated emotions to the extent that their children learn to suppress their own feelings. While on the surface such parents may appear to be selflessly devoted to their children, their apparent self-sacrifice comes with strings attached. The child is not allowed to pursue their own path in life and is groomed to become the emotional caretaker of the parent, which due to a complete absence of boundaries between them, means that every mood swing or emotional dip experienced by the parent is felt by the child in tandem. If the child or ACON makes an attempt to take responsibility for his/her own life, the bid for freedom will be countered with guilt trips or explosions of narcissistic rage.
Adult Children of Smothering Narcissists say: ‘When you are happy, I am happy.’
The Mini-Me Creator Narcissist- This kind of parent creates a child in their own image. Parent and child appear to be so close that there is no separation between their personalities and interests; the mini-me is merely a younger version of the adult narcissist. While the dynamic between the narcissist and their mini-me shows a strong bond between them, the truth is that the child created in the image of their parent has no identity of their own. The adult mini-me may be so enmeshed with their parent that they are never able to fully separate from them.
Adult Children of Mini-Me Creator Narcissists say: ‘What would mum/dad say?’
The Dismissive Narcissist – This kind of parent denies their child of attention or validation of any kind. While the child may be well provided for in a practical sense by having all their material needs met, any kind of emotional connection from parent to child is distinctly lacking between them. The child of a dismissive narcissist learns not to seek emotional contact with the parent because attempts at bonding are dismissed and rejected by the narcissist. This kind of narcissistic parent is not able to give their full attention to the child at any time – chores, watching television, or socializing will always come first. Even if the child develops a talent or becomes a high achiever in some area of his/her life, the dismissive parent will only rarely or reluctantly acknowledge what the child has accomplished. Praise from parent to child will be particularly stingy, even wholly absent in the relationship.
Adult Children of Dismissive Narcissists say: ‘Nothing I do is ever good enough.’
Fortunately, having a difficult childhood isn’t a life sentence to a terrible adult life. Even if you grew up suffering abuse, lived with parents who were addicted to alcohol or drugs, or suffered through a traumatic experience as a child, you can go on to become a happy and healthy adult.
Use these tips to put a difficult childhood behind you:
If you had a difficult childhood, these tips can lead you down a more positive path during adulthood. However, these suggestions may only be the first step. You may need to see a mental health professional to learn some other strategies for coping with the past. Isn’t it time to put it behind you once and for all?
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