I have had many communications with individuals who grew up encircled by narcissistic family members. Not just mom or dad or sister or brother but the whole bunch. Their life stories of survival under these circumstances are amazing. Many of these survivors didn’t realize until they were much older that their family suffered from this severe personality disorder. They remember being victimized and humiliated and treated like dirt but since they knew nothing else they thought it was normal and to be expected.
Some victims of narcissistic abuse become perfect pleasers. They can and do anticipate exactly what the narcissistic mom or dad wants. If there are narcissistic siblings, they become their servants out of fear and not knowing there are any alternatives than taking this lowly role. In telling their stories the theme that emerges is that they were always wrong, at fault, criticized constantly and treated without respect or dignity. These children smell psychological danger. They are in a state of apprehension, always waiting for something very bad to happen to them. They live day and night in a fight or flight mode. They are always on edge. Many become hyper vigilant–metaphorically or literally sleeping with one eye open each night–always on guard duty.
For many members of narcissistic families, it takes a while for the healing to begin. Some marry narcissistic spouses and repeat the destructive cycle that they experienced growing up. Fortunately, they recognize this ongoing destructive pattern of allowing others to control and define them and get off of the narcissistic merry go round that has made them dizzy and kept them from knowing and appreciating their original selves.
After divorcing a narcissist or finally recognizing that several family members are narcissists, there is a time of reckoning when the individual who has been holding the truth and suffered under this psychopathology for many years, begins to speak up for himself and recognize that he/she has value as a separate unique valuable individual. No longer will he or she be defined by a narcissistic family or narcissistic spouse.
The way of healing and transformations for all of us is lifelong. Once you are on the pathway of discovering your real self, your creative gifts, your deep capacity to love, your invaluable sense of humor, the depths of your experience of beauty in Nature, writing, music, art–wherever you find your joy–keep going there. Hold yourself close and thank the little child inside who has been waiting all of this time for you to recognize, embrace and love him. Trust the great seer of your intuition to guide your journey. Wishing you deep peace and a vital sense of wholeness.
Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.