We live in a world where parenthood is seen as a virtue and motherhood, in particular, is revered. However, paternal narcissism is a reality that our society is unwilling to consider and discuss.
And it’s understandable because it touches upon a painful nerve in most people. However, the longer we avoid this unfortunate reality and suppress the underlying pain, the more complicated, confusing, and traumatic our life becomes.
Narcissistic parents have no concept and respect for their children’s personal space. Instead, such parents believe their children to be an extension of themselves, and they hold their children responsible for their unresolved personal emotions.
If you’ve lived with a narcissistic parent, you’ve likely experienced a debilitating psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance, whether you are consciously aware of it or not. It is a condition where you hold two conflicting psychological beliefs at the same time.
For example, if your parents say, “I love you, and I do things which are in your best interest,” but whenever you make your own choices or assert your decisions, they lash out with rage, aggression, rebuke, and sometimes make demeaning remarks about your personality.
Such behaviors repeated over time create cognitive dissonance in adult children of narcissistic parents. And because, during childhood, they were helpless and entirely dependent on their parents, they develop coping mechanisms that continue to haunt them throughout their adult life.
I’ve spoken to so many men and women, some in their late 60s, talking about how their narc mother/father affected their adult relationships and how they were unconsciously acting out the same behaviors they once were victims of.
A couple of years back, I got an opportunity to set up a business in a middle-eastern country with the help of some local people. I informed my mother that I have an excellent opportunity, and soon, I’ll be shifting to middle-east with my wife and kids.
She expressed a lot of excitement and seemed thrilled. We celebrated that night with music, food, and champagne. She told me how proud she was of me for taking this decision and would support me in every way possible. She assured me that I could on her if I encountered any problems settling down in a new country.
Her words were so reassuring and calming, and to an extent, I felt that I owe her for being such a supportive parent. Subsequently, I left and started working on the project, but things didn’t work out, and within a month, it was clear that I will have to return.
I called up my mom and explained the situation; there was a moment of silence, and then she uttered a few words that shocked me to the core. She said, “You’re nearing 40 years of age and are still such a failure.” What just happened here? I froze. My heart was pounding, and then I immediately disconnected the call excusing myself.
After that, she started the silent treatment that lasted ten months. No explanation, no calls, no messages, only proxy communication through flying monkeys. What was shocking was that she chose to attack when I was in such a vulnerable position.
I was in a foreign country wrapping up a failed project, and my wife and kids were disappointed. The only thing I needed from my mother was an emotional reassurance that things will be okay.
Now when I introspect, I can see that my mother’s behavior had always been like that. She specifically chose words to create hurt, just as a bully does. For example, she would often tell us (me and my younger brother), “You both are fools; that’s why people take advantage of both of you.”
For many years, I felt an emptiness within but couldn’t identify where it was coming from. I was always anxious, angry, and highly sensitive to any form of criticism. At times, I thought of ending my life. I would repeatedly hit myself on the face and head whenever I made a mistake.
All of this was severely affecting my family. But, unknowingly, I was acting out my parent’s toxic behavior without taking responsibility. So I sought professional help and learned that I had something called C-PTSD, which happens to people who undergo long episodes of psychological abuse. It’s like PTSD but with some additional symptoms.
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Narcissistic Parents Live Through Their Children
Narc parents live through their children’s accomplishments. So such things as consistently getting A’s in your homework assignments, excelling in sports or extra-curricular activities, showing interest in professions of their liking, and ensuring that you’re always well groomed (whatever that means) matters a lot to them.
And when you refuse or protest, they resort to physical or verbal abuse or passive-aggressive behavior to make you concede to their demands. Emotional manipulation through shaming and guilt trips is a commonly deployed strategy.
They are not concerned with what you as an individual desire, but rather, how the things you do make them look good. So they begin by inducing fear, “If you follow what we tell you, you’ll be safe; otherwise, you’re doomed.” They create a sense of obligation in you, “We’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make you into a human being; you owe us.”
If you question or challenge their beliefs, they immediately make you feel guilty, “You’re such an ungrateful person, after what all we did for you.” It doesn’t have to be explicitly in words. Narc parents use a lot of covert manipulations to convey the thoughts I’ve mentioned above. You might say, “But my parents never said any of what you’ve mentioned.”
I would say, reflect on your experience and see how they’ve made you done things against your wishes without uttering a single word or by distorting reality.
The classic silent treatment that I was talking about came from my father. He was an affluent civil servant with the Indian government, and he had extremely high expectations from my brother and me. He was adamant that we follow in his footsteps and become successful bureaucrats like himself.
He was never physically violent, but he played a lot of psychological warfare, along with my mother, who was an enabling factor in this dysfunctional family dynamic. She vehemently supported his alcohol addiction and his grandiose ideas on what career path we should follow.
Our idea of family bonding was sitting with him for drinks every single night and discussing his victories of the day and how he dominated his coworkers, subordinates, and superiors. All conversations centered around him. Anyone that upset him by contradicting or challenging his ideas got the silent treatment for a day, week, or a month, depending upon the severity of the offense.
My father made me stay without working for five years, studying and preparing for that civil services exam, confining me to the house. The civil services exam is one of the most challenging exams in India, where only a handful of people get selected out of millions that compete. It’s easier to be a politician in India than to become a civil servant.
He did this, assuring everyone that if I fail, he will use his connections to place me somewhere high in the private corporate business, ensuring a high salary. I repeatedly failed this exam, year after year, and finally, when he saw no hope, he put in a company where they did not even give minimum wage.
This company made me work like bonded labor for a salary that was almost non-existent. My travel expenses exceeded the basic pay this organization gave me. It crushed my self-esteem. I was angry and frustrated, and I reached out to my father, complaining that I have no life. And guess what he said, “Son! You have to work hard to prove yourself worthy. Keep working. One day they will realize your worth.”
So again, I had to prove myself after spending five years in what can be called solitary confinement. Not only me, but my brother also went through the same ordeal. He is still in that psychological zone of pleasing him, even after his death. Narcissistic parents are highly manipulative, and that brings us to our next section of Triangulation.
Always Playing Their Favourite Game: Triangulation
If you want to know about your parents, take a look at your relationship with your siblings. Do you share a comforting and loving bond with your sibling? Do you feel comfortable talking about your romantic relationships, friendships, and work-related stuff with them?
Do you feel that the person who you call your brother or sister is capable of lending a compassionate ear without judging or overly analyzing your situation? And above all, do you feel that you can be yourself in their presence?
If your answer is no, your parents played a significant role in setting you and your siblings against each other. Why? Because it gives them control. Who do you reach out to whenever you fight with your sibling? It’s your parents. It brings them in the limelight in the role of the wise parent who you can rely on during difficult times.
Like, In my case, my father set up my brother and me by making us sit for the same competitive exam, which they knew very well knew was impossible to crack by both of us. It caused a lot of misunderstanding between us, and some of it even remains to this day.
In this dynamic, one child is often given importance over the other, depending on how well they go along with the grandiose plan the parents have allocated to them. As a result, that child, known as the golden child, is shown a lot of affection, and all of the demands are fulfilled, subject to the condition that he/she sticks to the plan.
The other child, however, becomes the scapegoat. He/she is blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family. But remember, both the golden child and the scapegoat undergo abuse, and roles keep changing depending on the circumstances.
Narc parents’ favorite game is to play triangulation between their married children and create misunderstandings. In some cases, this even leads to divorce between the couple, leaving their children are at the receiving end.
For example, when I got married, my mother would often complain that my wife’s dressing attire was inappropriate (again, whatever that means) and upsetting my father. So she started clicking my wife’s pictures secretly. One day my wife noticed that, and we had a huge fight afterward.
My mother criticized my wife for everything, the way she dresses, how she cooks, how she’s not extra-pleasant to their friends and relatives, how she doesn’t have the same interests as they have, and how she’s not “good enough” for me (you get it?). My father was not only a silent spectator, but he also fueled my mother with hate against my wife.
Mt parents made the situation so bad that we had to leave the house and live in my in-law’s house. Thanks to my dad for ruining my career, at that time, I didn’t have a stable job to afford an independent house. It was absolute hell and soul-crushing to be in that situation. And during that time, they completely cut communication with us (silent treatment).
Emotionally Immature Parents Affect Your Relationships
Emotionally immature parents (EIP) are like children in an adult’s body. They look up to their children for emotional needs and validations denied to them by their parents.
So when the parent is upset, the child takes it upon himself or herself to feel responsible for fixing the situation for that parent. As a result, these children develop high sensitivity and live in the shadow of insecurity because their genuine need for emotional connection becomes secondary to their parent’s emotional needs.
Stunted emotional growth has adverse consequences on a child’s mental health. Moreover, the coping mechanisms that the child uses to fill that gaping hole caused by emotional invalidation and neglect create pathological behavior in adulthood.
People raised by EIPs often struggle with romantic relationships because of their insecure attachment style. They attract emotionally unavailable partners because it gives them feelings of emotional loneliness they experienced in their childhood with their parents. It is true not just for romantic relationships but also for friendships and other associations.
If you find yourself being needy, clingy, continually seeking assurances and validations, it’s likely that you lacked an emotional connection with your parents. So you subconsciously choose a partner that mimics your parent’s behaviors and expect him or her to fulfill the emotional needs that your parents didn’t provide.
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They Never Respect Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries is the hardest thing ever. It’s easy to enforce boundaries with friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, but it’s a different kind of battle with interfering parents.
If you go hard on them, they transform into victims and make you feel guilty for hurting their fake feelings. Go easy, and they forget their limits.
Someone I know, let’s call her Tracy, struggles to enforce boundaries with her mother; let’s call her Lezabel. Tracy is married and has kids. Her mother visits many times a year and spends a lot of time with her.
Tracy grew up in a dysfunctional family where her mother had a turbulent relationship with her enabling father. Whenever Lezabel was upset, it was Tracy’s responsibility to calm her. She was her confidante. In this process, Tracy got emotionally enmeshed with Lezabel.
One look at Tracy, and you realize that she’s a carbon copy of her mother – the way she dresses, her food choice, things she likes to shop, etc. There’s no concept of boundaries in that family.
Lezabel keeps hoarding stuff in Tracy’s house, which includes sugar-laced candies for her kids and other junk items. When Tracy’s husband objects, she backfires at him because she doesn’t realize how deeply she’s enmeshed with her mother.
Every decision has to have her mother’s approval. When Lezabel is not around, Tracy calls her every couple of hours to discuss things that should only be discussed with a spouse.
I was shocked when her husband told me that one day while shopping with her mother, she bought a couple of underwear for him (without informing him) and proudly announced later, “These underwears are mom’s choice, aren’t they comfortable?”
Whenever Lezabel visits, she starts throwing tantrums and fights with Tracy. There’s drama, chaos, and confusion. She criticizes her for not keeping the house clean. She abruptly interrupts when the wife and husband are talking. She gives marriage advice to Tracy and her husband, claiming to be a well-wisher when her own marriage is in shambles.
In other words, she creates a problem and then offers a solution. And in her spare time, when she’s bored with all of that, she tells Tracy what a horrible man her father is.
Tracy, at some level, realizes that her mother’s behavior deeply wounds her, but she lacks the courage to confront her. Whenever she tries, Lezabel creates a drama, plays the victim, and makes Tracy the scapegoat.
Tracy then has to deal with the wrath of her angry brother and father, who are the flying monkeys and enablers in this family dynamic. A lot of her problems would vanish if she fiercely asserted her boundaries.
Final Thoughts – How I See My Mother Now
Children place a lot of trust in their parents. What else can a helpless child do but believe that his/her caretakers mean well? Now the big question is, who can the children trust if not their parents?
When the child realizes and internalizes that the parents cannot be trusted, he/she loses his/her ability to trust other people in the world, and this lack of trust gives rise to misunderstandings in adult relationships.
Such people deliberately self-sabotage their friendships, relationships, and professional lives to conform with the false feelings and internal image they have created through conditioning by narcissistic parents.
I did this to myself. I could never have a stable career despite having good qualifications. It took me years of deep spiritual work to come out of this self-created trap. Even the narcs self-sabotage their relationship, but they don’t care who they end up hurting.
Coming back to my mother, she’s the same, and giving me the silent treatment, as of now. I don’t discuss anything about my work or personal life with her. I have accepted her and the fact that she is incapable of change.
Do I hate her? No. You see, if I hate her, I’m holding on to the control she exercised on me over the years. Hating anybody or holding grudges and resentment is self-destructive.
But that said, it’s okay to feel upset or angry. I have gone through a long period of grieving, self-awareness, and spiritual work to heal myself from the toxicity of self-inflicted pain and misery.
My parents were victims of parental abuse, but that doesn’t excuse them for not taking responsibility and working on their behavior. My father is long gone, and my mother is incapable of thinking anything beyond herself.
I would have gone no-contact, but unfortunately, my country’s law (and the society) punishes people who do that to aging parents. On the other hand, parents get a free hand in treating the children any way they want. Therefore, I have to maintain some contact with her, but it’s on a minimum basis.
Parental abuse is brushed off under the carpet in most cultures, yet it is one reality that creates violence. It is tough to come to terms with it. Childhood conditioning has a lot to do with relationship dysfunction and adverse psychological ailments experienced in adulthood.
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