Children of narcissistic parents experience severe neglect and abuse which results in disrupted attachment, poor identity formation, unstable self-esteem, and complex traumatic stress. To add to the trauma, these parents are usually informed in multiple ways by their parents and perhaps by other family members and beyond that their parents are beyond reproach and that children are to blame for the treatment they receive. This form of gaslighting is often amplified for children whose narcissistic parents present a very powerful, charismatic, pious, or beneficent personality to strangers.
Tragically, children from narcissistic families often experience additional disablement as adults when they seek support from people who do not understand the reality of narcissistic abuse and the resulting complex PTSD. Even well-meaning people can make matters worse by denying or rejecting the experience of survivors and/or giving them ill-conceived advice.
Things children of narcissists want you to stop saying…
All parents love their children.
Because our fundamental beliefs about family and society are based on ideals of unconditional parental love, especially maternal love, recognizing the truth that all parents do not love their children or support their best interests threatens our fundamental sense of order and security in the world. However, it is this impulse to deny the reality that allows abuse and harms more victims.
Just tell your parents how you feel.
Confiding our feelings to people we care about can be a powerful way to develop understanding and intimacy, but it’s not safe with a narcissistic parent. Due to their deep involvement, lack of empathy exaggerated right, and need to support themselves at the expense of others, narcissistic parents generally view their children’s feelings as selfish, unreasonable, and threatening, even in early childhood. These parents often use their children’s feelings against them to manipulate, exploit, or humiliate them.
Children always blame their parents.
The reality of human psychology is that children deny their parents ‘faults and blame themselves for their parents’ faults in order to preserve the care they can get and optimize their chances of survival. The stress of denying and blaming oneself is in fact so great that survivors generally struggle long into adulthood to recognize their parents’ inability to love them, which makes their suffering worse and makes recovery more difficult.
But your parents are so great.
The defense mechanism of narcissists is built around the presentation of a “perfect” public image idealized to gain favor and isolate them from any criticism or potential rejection. It is common for strangers, even therapists, not to recognize the angry, controlling, and deceived narcissistic personality beneath the surface of the attractive or ungrateful personality.
Try to see it from your parents’ point of view.
A defining characteristic of pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder is ruthless self-interest and the refusal to validate the perspectives of others, especially family members. For children in narcissistic homes, every day is an exercise in seeing things from their parents’ point of view with little or no validation of their own needs or feelings.
To help spare child victims of narcissistic abuse and adults from becoming increasingly traumatized and isolated, we can start by taking a step back from our own assumptions and forms of denial to recognize 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 attentive to the experience and needs of those around us.