Narcissistic mothers and fathers are on endless rampages to make their children ultra perfect. No little child can meet the “standards” of these highly disturbed parents. Sometimes there is only one narcissistic mother or father—-Other children are thrown into the impossible role of having duo raging narcissistic moms and dads. I have had heard from many of these adult children and the horror stories of their childhoods, at times Hitchockian, are chilling–and this is an understatement.
Everything on the surface appears to be in absolute order. In many of these homes one would not find a spot of dirt, dust, particle of food, mud, smudge, grit, grim–even a grain of cereal, sand, rice or a small thin sample of one human hair. And speaking of human–these children grow up in a tidy, sterile inhumane environment.
On the outside, narcissistic mothers and fathers are often regaled as sterling examples of individuals and parents in their communities and the wider world. They are feted for their accomplishments, creativity, professional excellence, their moral bona fides. These individuals wear many convincing masks that fool entire worlds of people, including psychotherapists, teachers, physicians, neighbors, friends, professional associates. They are beyond judgment because of the perfection of their impeccably masked false selves.
In a society that is breeding narcissism faster than we can imagine, these individuals are raised up to the highest places in their societal groups. No one would ever know that in private they create a chronic horrific living nightmare for their infants, young children and adult children.
One of the toughest problems with these cruel, treacherous narcissistic parents is that the child who speaks up about the reality of his or her hidden frightening world is severely punished, demeaned, humiliated and threatened. “No one believes me” —-that is what I am often told by the victims of the narcissistic parents. “They think I am crazy, weak, deluded.” After a while some children come to believe that something is intrinsically wrong with them. This is so painful—like constantly screaming into a cyclone and feeling yourself being ripped away into oblivion.
Narcissistic parents are not affectionate with their children unless it is in front of a camera for a family portrait or on display at social events or church. There is no real hugging, holding or being soothed. These arms are hard and cool, even cold. The parental eyes show no feeling, depth, warmth or compassion. They are blank, menacing, judging and at times deeply threatening. Parental abuses take place in the imprisonment of the family home. While the physical arrangement can be very attractive and neat to the extreme, the emotional and psychological environment is hard edged, apprehension charged, waiting for the footfall that will strike fear in a child’s entire nervous system. These children never feel safe—Why would they? They aren’t and can never let down. There is no emotional and psychological space for private reveries, pleasant daydreams, flights of fancy. Night time is a special horror to these children. Alone in their rooms they are doubly fearful. They know that no matter how desperate or even how ill they are, they cannot call out to mom or dad because either they will be completely ignored or if the parent comes, a great loud storm will appear rather than a comforting mom or dad. Left alone, the child whimpers and cries for the parent who will never come to them in the time of their greatest need. Their fears increase and some children develop phobias, symptoms of post traumatic stress, anxiety disorders. On the surface, of course, they must morph into mother and father’s perfect little darlings.
As the years go by, children of narcissistic parents suffer horribly. Some of them learn to conceal and protect their true feelings and to wall off their precious authentic original selves. Other kids get the message that in order to survive they must play the roles assigned to them: scapegoat, golden child, forgotten child, unwanted child, stupid child, crazy kid.
I have spoken and communicated with many adult children of narcissistic parents who have survived these endless wars on their psyches, bodies, minds and spirits. Listening to these survivors is profound. I am deeply moved beyond words by their grit, strength, courage, creativity, compassion, insight and deep humanity. Many find their own pathways to healing and recovery. This is a long journey with many detours, switchbacks and roads less taken. Here they are—Deep affection, gratitude and joy to those who are on this path each day, moment by moment.