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5 Things Children of Narcissists Wish People Would Stop Saying

Your assumptions do not apply to my family.

Qfamily, Creative Commons.
Source: Qfamily, Creative Commons.

Children of narcissistic parents endure profound ongoing neglect and abuse that result in disrupted attachment, insecure identity formation, unstable self-esteem, and complex traumatic stress. Adding to the trauma, such children are usually told in myriad ways by their parents and perhaps others in and beyond the family that their parents are above reproach and the children are to blame for the treatment they receive. This form of gaslighting is often magnified for kids whose narcissistic parents present a high-achieving, charismatic, pious, or do-gooder persona to outsiders.

Tragically, children from narcissistic families often experience further invalidation as adults when they reach out for support from people who fail to understand the reality of narcissistic abuse and resulting complex-PTSD. Even well-intentioned people may make matters worse by denying or dismissing survivors' experience and/or giving them ill-conceived advice.

5 Things Children of Narcissists Wish You Would Stop Saying

1. All parents love their children. Because our core beliefs about family and society rest on ideals of unconditional parental love, in particular motherly love, acknowledging the truth that not all parents love their children or support their best interests is threatening to our fundamental sense of order and safety in the world. Yet it is this impulse to deny reality that enables abuse and further harms victims.

2. Just tell your parents how you feel. Confiding our feelings with people we care about can be a powerful way to build understanding and intimacy, but it is not safe with a narcissistic parent. Because of their profound self-involvement, lack of empathy, exaggerated entitlement, and need to prop themselves up at others' expense, narcissistic parents typically regard their children's feelings as selfish, unreasonable, and threatening, even in infancy. Often such parents use their children's feelings against them to manipulate, exploit, or humiliate them.

3. Kids always blame their parents. The reality of human psychology is that kids deny flaws in their parents and blame themselves for their parents' shortcomings in order to preserve whatever caregiving they can get and optimize their chances of survival. The compulsion to deny and self-blame is in fact so great that survivors typically struggle long into adulthood to acknowledge their parents' inability to love them, adding to their suffering and making recovery more difficult.

4. But your parents are so great. Narcissists' defense mechanism is built around presenting an idealized "perfect" public image to win favor and insulate them from potential criticism or rejection. It is common for outsiders, even therapists, to fail to recognize the angry, controlling, and deluded narcissistic personality below the surface of the appealing or ingratiating persona.

5. Try to see it from your parents' perspective. A defining feature of pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder is ruthless self-interest and a refusal to validate the perspectives of others, particularly family members. For children in narcissistic homes, every day is an exercise in seeing things from their parents' perspective with little to no validation of their own needs or feelings.

To help spare narcissistically abused children and the adults they grow into further trauma and isolation, we can begin by stepping back from our own assumptions and forms of denial to acknowledge the more complex realities that exist in families and relationships. When we have the courage to face unpleasant truths, we become more open, compassionate, and attuned to the experience and needs of those around us.

Facebook image: Usoltsev Kirill/Shutterstock

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