Adult children of narcissistic parents commonly grow up with this nagging feeling that they flunked childhood and it’s all their fault. They internalize the message they are not good enough no matter how hard they try. While everyone has times they don’t feel up to par in some area of life, this “not good enough” feeling that emerges in childhood and results from narcissistic families is different. It seems to permeate the total being of the person and causes damaging emotional effects and life-long patterns in adult life.
Where does this feeling come from and how do we understand it? From twenty-five years of research, which culminated in the writing of, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, I found several significant factors seen in adult children raised by narcissistic parents. When raised by a narcissist, there are some common psychological dynamics that ensue for the child.
In the narcissistic family usually the parental hierarchy is reversed so the child is taking care of the parent instead of the other way around. When a child is put in the position of parental care taking, they are being asked to do a job they cannot do based on their maturity and development. In this impossible role of “parentified child,” the child learns that he or she is not capable of changing or fixing their parents which results in an internalized message of “I’m not good enough.” This same message is internalized in adult children of alcoholic families. This, of course, is not usually understood until adulthood.
A narcissist cannot give empathy and unconditional love to their children. This causes a child to keep trying to find ways to win this approval and attention to no avail. As time passes, the child assumes it is about him or her and feels unlovable. If my own mother or father can’t love me, who will?
Narcissists are not in touch with their own feelings and don’t embrace and heal those feelings. This causes them to project feelings onto others. If angry, sad or lonely, for instance, the narcissist will project the emotion onto their children or other people leaving the poor unsuspecting “other” wondering what hit them. For example, a narcissist may experience anger and instead of own the anger, they ask, “why are you upset with me?” If you are a young child and experiencing this, it not only causes emotional confusion but also creates a sense of shame without knowing why.
Because narcissists are all about image and how it looks to others, this becomes more important than the person or the child. It becomes about how you look and what you do, rather than who you are as a person. This causes the narcissistic parent to not emotionally tune into the child and that child grows up with a parent who does not know who they really are. The child is left with unmet emotional needs and proceeds to adulthood with an empty emotional tank. The emotional development is stunted.
Narcissists don’t tune into feelings and therefore do not acknowledge and validate their child’s feelings. This causes the child to repress or deny feelings, and to determine that their feelings are not important. It translates into adult life as the child grows up not trusting themselves or their own feelings and thus creates crippling self-doubt.
Because narcissistic parents tend to use their children as a reflection of themselves, it is a mixed bag if the child does well or not so well. If the child does badly in life or makes mistakes, the narcissistic parent is mortified because it reflects on them as being a bad parent. If the child does well and outshines the narcissistic parent, then it can cause a jealous reaction in the parent. Imagine how confusing this is to the child. They can’t win either way.
Being critical and judgmental is the way of the narcissist. They do this to make themselves feel bigger and larger than they are. It manifests from their own fragile sense of self and/or lack of self. When around narcissists you will notice them being critical of others on a constant basis, including their own children. Children of narcissists grow up to have a great deal of sensitivity around being judged and criticized by others and understandably so. It feeds into the “not good enough” feeling that began early in life.
You may have been raised by a narcissist or are currently involved in some relationships with narcissists now. One way to determine is to assess if you constantly feel “not good enough” in the presence of this person. It may be a spouse, significant other, sibling, family member, co-worker, boss or friend. If you plug in some of the factors above, you will begin to know how to spot a narcissist and can learn to protect yourself. How do you feel in the presence of this person? A healthy relationship brings out the best in you and you are allowed to be your authentic self. You don’t feel put down or judged but rather feel valued for who you are. The real you comes alive in a healthy connection.
If you grew up with the “not good enough feeling” and feel you were raised by a narcissistic parent, we welcome you to join our recovery work beginning with learning more about the insidious disorder of narcissism. See additional resources below that can be of assistance. There is always hope for recovery and not passing on the legacy of distorted love to your children and grandchildren. If you are wounded from your past, through recovery you can become inspired by it as well. It can be the catalyst for changing how we treat our children and others we love. It does take a village of support but it always begins at home.
Additional Resources for Recovery:
Resource Website: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com
Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Audio Book: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/workshop-overview-healing-the-daughters-of-narcissistic-mothers
Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride
“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/narcissistic-mother