Narcissistic parent abuse is not always visible. It can include projection, gaslighting, mind games, and passive-aggressive silent treatment. The following are a few different ‘types’ of narcissistic parent abuse, including grandiose narcissistic parent abuse, enmeshment abuse, dismissive abuse, competitive abuse, and unintentional narcissistic parent abuse.
Narcissism is at the centre of many dysfunctional family dynamics and unspoken abuse.
In this article, narcissism is defined more broadly than just narcissistic personality disorder or the kind of self-aggrandizing presentation we often think of when we think of narcissism.
A narcissistic parent may not be explicitly grandiose. But the mechanism behind their dysfunction is the same – they are exceptionally emotionally underdeveloped, have a fragile ego, and must use their children as a source of their narcissistic sustenance, even if it is detrimental to the child’s development.
Trauma from narcissistic parent abuse can be caused by implicit manipulations and explicit maltreatment, including physical abuse, verbal assaults, humiliation, gaslighting, withholding love and support, or sabotaging the child’s achievements.
The more we understand what we have been through and have our experience validated, the more likely we find our paths to healing. However painful and confronting, that’s why it is meaningful for us to learn about the nature of narcissistic parent abuse.
I do know this is a long one. So please feel free to skip to sections that feel relevant to you!
‘Narcissism’ in psychology comes from a well-known Greek myth. The handsome, self-absorbed and vain young man fell passionately in love with his reflection in the water. He was so fascinated by his beauty that he refused to leave the water. In the end, he withered and died. Pathologically narcissistic people often have an unrealistic sense of superiority and entitlement. They also have difficulty empathizing with others and establishing meaningful relationships. Narcissism can be harmful to both the individual and those around them.
Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, which means we all have some narcissism in us, and it manifests itself sometimes. It is not necessarily a disorder. However, when these traits are severe and cause impairment in daily functioning, the individual meets the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Although the word ‘narcissism’ has been much demonized, not all narcissism is bad. On the contrary, healthy narcissism is a necessary part of human development. Healthy narcissism is developmentally appropriate when children feel good about themselves and have strong self-esteem. The characteristics of healthy narcissism, as described in the tradition of psychologist Kohut, include strong self-esteem, the ability to empathize with others and recognize their needs, and authentic self-concept, and the ability to respect and love oneself.
Typically, children grow out of narcissism as they grow up and develop a more realistic view of themselves and others. Those with healthy narcissism are courageous in the face of criticism, confident in their abilities, and emotionally resilient. In contrast, children who lack healthy narcissism may be insecure, secure, and overly dependent on others.
Grown-ups with healthy narcissism are not self-obsessed, and they do not feel the need to belittle others to feel good about themselves. Instead, they can accept compliments and praise with gratitude, and they genuinely care about the well-being of others. Therefore, parents should encourage healthy narcissism in their children. Parents can do this by praising their children for their achievements, attending to their needs, encouraging their expressions, and teaching them how to deal with setbacks healthily.
Contrary to a common myth, praise and attention to a child do not cause them to be excessively narcissistic. The opposite is true. The literature on the development of Narcissistic Personality disorder (NPD) is replete with evidence of early childhood neglect and trauma. It is now well established that chronic invalidation, criticism, and abuse by parents in early childhood are significant risk factors for NPD development. Ironically, dysfunctionally narcissistic parents are the least able to nurture healthy narcissism in their children. Instead, they focus on getting ‘narcissistic supply’ for themselves at the cost of their children’s needs. In other words, narcissistic parent abuse is often the result of intergenerational trauma. The abuse is passed down from generation to generation. But of course, if you have a narcissistic parent, there are many things you can do in your power to stop the trauma from being passed down.
Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist teaches them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to harm them and call it love.
What is Narcissistic Parent Abuse
In general, narcissistic parental abuse involves parents/parents who excessively need admiration or attention at an enormous cost to their children’s development and wellbeing.
It may be done unconsciously, but the goal of narcissistic abuse is to make the child comply so much that they cease to trust their instinct and are willing to do anything to please the abuser.
It is associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but not in all cases. At the same time, not all parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder abuses their children.
The victims of narcissistic parent abuse typically feel ashamed, unimportant, and insignificant. They may also feel responsible for the abusive behaviour or believe that they deserved their treatment.
There are different types of narcissistic parent abuse. It can be physical, psychological, and emotional. This article focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of narcissistic parent abuse, including harsh criticisms, verbal insults, projection, gaslighting, mind games, the passive-aggressive silent treatment and other forms of invisible manipulation. However, as we will further illustrate below, narcissistic parent abuse is often more invisible than visible. Many behaviours that appear to be expected or even loving, such as grooming you as the ‘golden child, and encouraging you to achieve specific goals, might be a part of the narcissistic parental abuse.
No parent is perfect. Just because they fit some of the descriptions below does not mean they are abusive narcissistic parents. Narcissism is a human trait, and we all have a little bit of it. It’s a spectrum. It is dysfunctional and considered narcissistic parent abuse only when it is chronic, pervasive, and harmful.
5 Types of Narcissistic Parent Abuse
The following are a few different ‘types’ of narcissistic parent abuse for discussion purposes. But the reality, as one would imagine, is a lot more complex, and these categories are not segregated but overlap with each other.
(1) Grandiose Narcissistic Parent Abuse: Children as an extension of themselves
This type of narcissistic parental abuse is the most closely related to a kind of narcissist known as a Grandiose Narcissist. Grandiose narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and often behave pretentiously or aggressively.
Narcissistic parents who instigate this form of abuse have likely experienced traumatic events in their childhood. To protect themselves, they have developed a falsely superior and invulnerable persona. This ‘false self’ is cut off from the fragility they feel on the inside. The shield allows them to avoid unpleasant feelings such as shame, sadness, and fear.
Narcissistic supply is a term used in psychology to describe the positive reinforcement narcissists seek from others to bolster their self-esteem and maintain a sense of superiority. The most common sources of narcissistic supplies are admiration, adoration, approval, and attention. Narcissistic parents use their children as a source of narcissistic supply. They do this either by creating a one-directional parent-child where only admiration, loyalty, and obedience are allowed or by using their child as an extension of themselves, forcing them to perform in the world and then taking the praise and recognition the child receives as their own. When the child does not meet the parent’s unrealistic expectations, the parent lashes out with criticism or verbal abuse.
A grandiose narcissistic parent often has two faces. One face for the public and one look for the family. The public face is charming, while the private face is cruel, unyielding and demanding.
If you have a narcissistic parent, your parent may only show you affection when you please them. When you suffer a setback, lose a competition, do not perform as well, or do not bend to their will or wishes, they withdraw their affection. In this form of narcissistic parent abuse, you are not treated as a person but as a property, a servant, or a trophy.
Since these parents see you as an extension of or a possession of them, they tend to violate your physical and emotional boundaries. For example, they may go through your journals and computer, enter your room without knocking, and look through your stuff. They want you to be there according to their schedule rather than your needs.
In this type of narcissistic parent abuse, the parent unconsciously applies projective identification to you. In psychoanalysis, projective identification is a defence mechanism in which a person projects characteristics or feelings onto others. The unconscious motivation for using projective identification is to rid oneself of unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Instead of facing and working through their trauma, your narcissistic parent projects the toxic shame they cannot bear onto you and makes you carry it for them. You may end up feeling like everything was your fault and that you are in some way defective. In other words, toxic shame and self-hatred are the feelings your parent has always carried in their shadows. They would rather have you bear the self-hate than bear it themselves through all sorts of unconscious manoeuvres.
It is pervasive for parents in this type of narcissistic abuse to groom one child as the golden child while scapegoating another child as the Blacksheep or scapegoat of the family. This is partly due to their psychological immaturity that creates a black-or-white, one-dimensional worldview.
The golden child is put on a pedestal and held up as an ideal, while their siblings are rendered the scapegoats or the family’s black sheep. The golden child often feels guilty about the exile of their siblings but cannot do anything to alter the entrenched and toxic sibling dynamic.
The golden child has been conditioned to follow a script the narcissistic parent has created about superiority and success. They have been pushed into the life mission of preserving their narcissistic parent’s image and the family’s reputation. They are also burdened with the task of keeping the family secret from the outside world.
At the same time, the golden child is not immune to the ‘idealize and devalue’ cycle the narcissist instigates. One moment, the golden child is showered with excessive attention or praise, and the next moment, they are criticized and demonized.
If you were groomed as the golden child, your parent would not be able to tolerate any sign of failure or imperfection in you. This means whenever you show any sign of vulnerability, even if it is just natural human expressions such as crying, you might be threatened with punishment or banishment. Since the narcissistic parent is living vicariously through you and feeding off your accomplishments, you, as the golden child, carry the heavy burden of having o never disappoint them. These parental expectations may be set in the name of love, but the intention and energy behind them are toxic and detrimental.
The golden child often grows up to be high-functioning on the outside. Many are successful, over-achieving perfectionists. Although they appear to be doing well, they are constantly haunted by a sense of void, a deep fear of failure, and an emptiness from not knowing who they are. They become excessively guilt-ridden and ashamed whenever they stumble in life. Having to constantly live up to the unrealistic and rigid expectations their parent sets and a narrow definition of success, they may break down at some point later in life.
If you were the golden child in the family, you might have suffered for many years in silence. Despite appearing high-functioning on the outside, you may carry a deep sense of loneliness on the inside. You may feel that, on some level, no one knows who you really are. You have only been loved for what you do and achieve and the glory you bring to the family rather than your authentic self.
“Integral to being emotionally healthy is to have a mother who has the ability to respect her child’s differences and not perceive them as betrayals.”
(2) Enmeshed Narcissistic Parent Abuse: Over-burdening and guilt-tripping
This type of narcissistic parent abuse involves an anxious parent who is enmeshed with and wants to control their child.They constantly seek the child’s approval for their worth, would not allow their child to separate from them, and use guilt-tripping (consciously or unconsciously) as a way of getting their narcissistic supply.
This type of narcissistic parent abuse is related to a kind of narcissist known as ‘vulnerable narcissists.’ They are deeply insecure and emotionally fragile and have to use an extreme form of self-absorption as a way of compensating and coping. They lack confidence and feel empty in their lives; thus, they resort to narcissistic behaviours as a way to compensate for their feelings of inferiority. This form of narcissistic parent abuse is the hardest to spot because the abuser often appears vulnerable, and their aggression comes out in passive-aggressive ways.
In this type of narcissistic parent abuse, the parent may not see the child as a trophy for the outside world. Instead, they emotionally depend on their child as their caregiver, counsellor or even parent. This role reversal is known as parentification. If a parent does not feel fulfilled in their own marriage and uses their child as a substitute spouse or intimate partner, it is known as emotional incest. Emotional incest, also known as covert incest, is a form of abuse in which a parent seeks emotional support from their child that would typically be provided by another adult.
These parents often have an anxious attachment style. They are highly reactive towards any signs of abandonment or betrayal. Since they have difficulty letting their children grow up and become independent adults, it is incredibly difficult for the child to break free and develop an independent mind without feeling guilty.
If you have an emotionally needy and narcissistic parent, you might observe how much they crave validation and attention from you. Whenever you try to leave or separate, such as moving out or getting a new partner, your parent might react by becoming depressed, sulky, self-abandoning, and to an extreme, threatening to hurt themselves. They may not be intentionally and calculatingly manipulative, but the behaviour is nonetheless controlling in nature.
You may also find that whenever you try to take up emotional space, such as talking about what happened to you during the day or things that have upset you, your parent would immediately jump in to ‘compete’ with you. They do this by talking about themselves, diverting the subject to their own stories, or drawing attention to how much they have suffered. They might make you feel you are ungrateful and ‘bad’ for taking up space and ever having emotions such as anger.
In addition, your narcissistic parent may interfere excessively in your life. The intention behind this form of narcissistic parent abuse is a little different from that in the case of the grandiose parent. In the case of the grandiose parent, the parent exerts excessive control over the child to ensure that they do not “lose face” and to maintain a glamorous and successful exterior that fits the family narrative. In the case of insecure and anxious parents, the intention is to become so involved in your life and foster your dependency that you can never leave them. For these parents, who do not have a strong sense of self outside of their parenting role, the prospect of losing you and having to face their inner void is frightening.
If you are highly sensitive, it is likely that from a young age, you have a strong awareness of your parents’ vulnerabilities. You would have learned to avoid any actions that can cause your parents upset, including bottling up all your thoughts and feelings. You also feel responsible for taking care of your parent. Even if you did not have the language to describe it, deep down, you know your parent might emotionally collapse if you leave home. If your passion is not something that your parents understand or approve of, you may subconsciously forgo your dream just so they would not be hurt.
Their emotional neediness means that they cannot consider what you need. It’s not that they do not love you. But their psychological makeup is so limited that they can not conceive of you as a separate person who has a distinct identity, opinions, and value system and may have orientations and passions they do not understand. For them, any kind of deviation is an abandonment or betrayal.
Those subject to this form of narcissistic parent abuse do not always know or acknowledge they have been a victim of lifelong guilt-tripping. From the get-go, you were conditioned to be your parent’s protectors and nothing else. You might be so fiercely protective of your vulnerable parents that you focus only on their vulnerabilities and trauma rather than what you have been through yourself. You may justify the narcissistic abuse you have suffered by saying your parents had a hard life, were abused by their parents, and that they had tried the best they could. (Which could all well be accurate but should not serve as an excuse for narcissistic abuse. )
If you have been subject to narcissistic parent abuse, you may not notice how much resentment and latent anger you have bottled up. But when you reach a certain point in life, you may see how difficult it is for you to be yourself in intimate relationships. You may have an excessive fear of conflicts, always apologize and feel guilty, and cannot assert yourself both in relationships and in your career.
Your parent may also feel entitled to be cared for by you. This may be partly cultural, but your parent may insist that it is your responsibility to stay by their side for the rest of your life and take care of them as they age. They do this by reminding you of all the sacrifices they have made for you. They may also stir up conflict between siblings by favouring the child who promises to stay by their side. Even if you have been assigned the ‘good child’ family role, it can mean that you are burdened with the responsibility of always taking care of your parents and never doing anything that would disappoint them.
Needy and anxious parents can guilt-trip you to get the approval narcissistic supply they crave. For example, they may say, “I am so bad”/”I am a bad parent, that’s why you are the way you are,” and expect you to counter that. And you may not realize that all your life, you have been made to feel guilty for not being able to reassure your parents enough that they are “good parents.”
(3) Dismissive Narcissistic Parent Abuse: Making you feel you should not exist
Narcissistic and dismissive parents are deeply fearful of intimacy. They have blocked their relational capacity and deep emotions to defend against the trauma of having abusive or neglectful parents themselves. They tend not to remember much or talk about their childhood and maintain only surface or distant relationships with people in their lives.
In relationships, they may adopt a rigid ‘provider’ or ‘rescuer’ role. Rather than establishing a human-to-human, heart-to-heart connection, they relationally keep themselves in a ‘defensible’ but distant position. Even when they have become a parent, they remain distant and uninterested in their child. They also do not engage in ‘mirroring’ (when a parent reflects a child’s thoughts and feelings and helps them develop emotional regulation skills) that a young child needs from their parent. This can be very damaging to a child’s development on a psychological and even a neurological level.
It could even be said that, unfortunately, these parents deal with their attachment fears and ambivalence about parenting by denying your existence. Due to their attachment fears, they do not want to genuinely connect with you, do not want to start caring about you, and fear that you would begin to ‘matter’ to them. They appear cold and emotionally unresponsive and are rarely interested in your activities or whereabouts. Even if you have lived together under the same roof for years, you feel they never know who you are, and vice versa. However, they may over-compensate by showering you with material gifts. They may also hire a nanny or helper to ‘outsource’ their parental role.
It is worth noting that your dismissive and avoidant parent feels threatened by the prospect of being close to anyone, not just you. Through no fault of yours, they punish you for making them want to attach. Their way of dealing with life is to tell themselves that relationships are not necessary and that they do not need other people. However, these strategies of distancing and self-denial sometimes do not work. When someone is warm and generous to them, or when they feel themselves beginning to attach to another, they are overwhelmed by feelings they normally try to block off. Therefore, your warm and loving qualities as a highly sensitive child feel like a threat to them. Of course, it is not your fault that you wanted to bond with your parents, but if they feel moved by you or if your love or your approaching them evokes tender emotions in them, they would have to push you away to preserve their sense of security. Closeness creates such a threat to them that they may even disappear from home for a few days to deal with it. \
Some of these parents regret parenthood but do not admit it to themselves or others because of social taboos. Emotional immaturity, trauma, financial difficulties, and unforeseen health issues can determine if one regrets parenthood. Usually, it is because it was not a well thought out decision or because the transition to parenthood is more complicated than expected. For some, the realization that they are now responsible for another person’s wellbeing is so daunting that they resort to dissociation and denial to cope. They know they are not emotionally there for you, but they refuse to face the problem. They may deny their resentment, but that does not stop them from silently punishing you for existing.
A dismissive narcissistic parent would consistently invalidate your feelings. Being emotionally avoidant, they do not want to feel their own emotions, so they do not want to feel your feelings. They may dismiss your feelings as trivial or made-up, or they blatantly ignore you when you express emotion. They may say you are ‘too sensitive’ or even tell you you are imagining things. In the end, you are left feeling alone and unsupported and like you are a ‘mad’ person who feels too much.
Children need emotional mirroring, physical touch, and acceptance to survive and thrive. They need to be heard, understood and responded to feel that they matter. When you are subject to narcissistic parent abuse and do not receive the attention you need, you may resort to desperate behaviours to get the attention you crave. This can be destructive to your psychological well-being and the health of your future relationships.
(4) Competitive Narcissistic Parent Abuse: A battle you can never win
This type of narcissistic parent envies their child because the child represents a part of them that they have lost. The child reminds the narcissist of their childhood and what they could have been if they had not been wounded by their parents. The narcissist parent’s envy can lead to abusive behaviour, including withholding love and approval, verbal abuse, and even physical abuse. The narcissist’s goal is to crush the child’s spirit to eliminate the source of their envy.
These parents need to be the centre of attention and can’t stand the thought of anyone outperforming them, including their child. As a result, they will criticize, belittle and even abuse you to maintain control and superiority.
Narcissistic injury can be caused by anything that diminishes the narcissist’s sense of superiority, including criticism, real or imagined slights, or defeats in a contest. Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth. When you do well, achieve great things, or surpass their abilities in some way, even if it is no fault of yours, their immaturity and dog-eat-dog worldview cause them to feel like they have been humiliated, which constitutes a narcissistic injury. Since you threaten their self-esteem, the narcissistic rage is directed toward you.
On some level, they may feel like you have stolen their lives. They are jealous of you getting attention, being taken care of, your youth, appearance and body, and the relationship you have with their spouse. They are jealous of almost everything you are and have.
You may find that if you were to do or achieve something, your parents would go and do the same thing to outdo you. They copy what you buy, how you dress, and what you do. For instance, when you buy a new luxury item or remodel your house, they might do the same thing a few months later. If you have good news, your narcissistic parent immediately feels the urge to outdo you. They may brag about something they did comparable to yours, even if it was many years ago. They may also turn the topic to how depressed and sad their life is, making you feel bad about the good you have done.
In other cases, instead of copying you, they sabotage what you have and make you feel bad for having good things in life. For example, they say passively-aggressively that what you have achieved is no big deal. If you get a new partner, they may criticize your new partner or make snide remarks that make you feel like you are not good enough. To squash your self-esteem, they may also engage in gaslighting— putting you in the sick role’ or constantly saying you are ‘too this’ or ‘too that’ and insist that no one would want to be with you if you don’t change. On the surface, your narcissistic parent is acting as if they are trying to protect you, but the unspoken intent is to sabotage what you have so they do not have to feel painfully jealous.
Over time, you learn to hide and never mention anything positive that happens to you for fear of retaliation or unhealthy competition. You may even internalize the feeling that good things that happen to you constitute an offence. For example, you begin to feel guilty for being loved and successful, so you sabotage them yourself before anyone else does.
For a long time, you may have a hard time realizing what is happening because the idea of a parent being jealous of their child and sabotaging their life seems so absurd. Unfortunately, it is a social taboo rarely discussed but does actually happen.
(5) Unintentional Narcissistic Parent Abuse: Extremely child-like parent
A final form of narcissistic abuse by parents that is rarely talked about is the narcissistic abuse perpetrated by extremely immature parents.
This form of abuse is often unintentionally instigated by a parent with extremely low emotional immaturity, who always wants to be the centre of attention (the way a child would), is unable to empathize or listen, and has a low capacity for emotional regulation.
These parents are the least malicious when compared to the other types of narcissistic parents. They do not intentionally play any mind-games or manipulate and may simply be trying their best. It’s not that they do not love or want to hurt you, but they are so arrested in their development that they simply are not mature enough to nurture a ‘separate mind’ to that of their own. Even if the parent did not mean to be abusive, this form of behaviour is listed here because the origin of the behaviour is still related to narcissism— a kind of more ‘benign’ narcissism that is more developmentally appropriate to that of a child.
Because these parents have not developed the ability to regulate their emotions in a healthy way, they often lash out uncontrollably when they feel nervous, ashamed, frightened, or helpless. Their anger is like that of a toddler when they do not get their way – it comes and goes quickly and does not involve complex thought processes. However, because they are not able to think clearly in times of distress, they often resort to yelling, shaming, and punishing their children in order to get them to do what they want. This is disturbing even when you are a grown-up, but it was psychologically damaging when you were a child. Being subject to frequent unexpected outbursts means you have been conditioned to expect it. Even when there are no longer any threats around, you still feel anxiety and hypervigilance that follows you. You may also become afraid of anger as an emotion— both in yourself and in others.
You have had to compensate for your narcissistic parents’ extreme immaturity by growing up more quickly than it was healthy to do so. Given their emotional instability, you might have felt the need to step up as the ‘family mediator’ or ‘family counsellor’. As a result, instead of enjoying a carefree childhood, you were always hyper-vigilantly trying to rescue and protect your siblings or comfort other family members.
Because of how young these parents are developmentally, they likely engage in a lot of ‘splitting’ behaviour. They see the world in a black or white way; people are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘on their side’ or ‘against them’. They force you to agree with their dysfunctional worldviews, which could skew your view of the world and plant seeds of paranoia.
They may have undiagnosed neuro-atypical traits such as ADHD or autism that interfere with their ability to listen and focus or show empathy at the right time. For example, when you go to your parent to tell a story, they cannot focus on what you had to say for more than a minute and constantly interrupt the conversation or divert it to their issues. Without a proper label to help you understand your parent’s behaviour, you inevitably feel hurt, ignored, rejected, and even psychologically abandoned.
There is often a youthful, playful quality to these parents. They may enjoy playing with you and talking to you about their passions and adventures. However, the problem is that they treat you as a peer rather than a child that needs love, attention, care, and boundaries from their parent. They also do not know how to set boundaries because they only want to be the playful ‘good cop’ and don’t want to deal with any kind of conflict.
This form of abuse is less about what the parent does but what they do not do. As a result, the necessary guidance, boundaries and attentiveness are lacking. You were not treated like a child when you should have been, and instead, you had to step up to either be a ‘friend’ to your immature and constantly feed their narcissistic supply.
Those who exhibit this form of “narcissistic behaviour” do not usually have a narcissistic personality disorder. They are children living in an adult body. They are not ‘bad people; they are just too young to be parents.
3 Things To Do When You Have Suffered From Narcissistic Parent Abuse
(1) Mourn for what you did not have
Mourning here means that we mourn for the childhood we wished for but did not get and for the parents we deserved but did not get.
Intellectually, you may know your parent will not change. But emotionally, you still feel repeatedly hurt and disappointed.
When you refuse to grieve, you may obsessively try to get what you did not get from them– love, attention, a mature response, which results in more pain and re-traumatizing.
Narcissistic parent abuse leaves a deep scar, and it is essential that you honour and heal it rather than trying to cover it up with excessive self-soothing, self-medication or self-numbing.
Grieving or mourning does not mean passively accepting defeat or wallowing in self-pity, but making space to acknowledge reality for what it is and allowing ourselves to feel sorry for our younger selves for a period of time. After all, your inner child’s pain had remained invisible for a long time, and no one had given them the sympathy and care they needed.
The two emotions, grief and anger, are closely related. In healing from narcissistic abuse, you may vacillate between these two feelings. Sometimes the refusal to grieve intensifies your anger, and anger almost always masks grief. Instead of the “hot” energy of anger, somatically grief feels cold, like a sinking feeling in your body.
The deep sadness that comes with grief can be so overwhelming that you may have unconsciously refused to grieve for many years. But the only way through our wounds is through. If you are not brave enough to go through the grieving process, you may keep knocking on a door that will not open, hoping your parent will behave differently, only to be re-traumatized over and over again.
Your hurts and insults were real, but these wounds are only toxic if they remain invisible. Once you reveal them and recognize them for what they are, they no longer have toxic power over you.
Although we can never completely stop grieving for our lost childhood, the intensity of our pain and anger will gradually diminish. As an adult, letting go of your anger at your parents is not about making everything perfect but about feeling lighter, more congruent with our truths, and more peaceful. In truth, grief is the best medicine for our pain. It is a poignant and sacred process that brings true liberation in the end.
(2) Setting boundaries with narcissistic parents
It can be difficult to set boundaries with narcissistic parents. But rather than expecting them to change their behaviour, it is much more empowering to take proactive measures to protect yourself.
Setting boundaries with your narcissistic and controlling parent is an important first step because it could mean that you are no longer putting wound upon wound but creating space for your existing wounds to heal. As a child, you were trapped in an abusive situation with no way out. Now you have the power to walk away, set boundaries, say no, and seek help.
Setting boundaries does not necessarily mean you have to confront or provoke them, but you can gradually limit the time you spend with them and manage their expectations of you.
When you change your behaviour pattern, it is almost inevitable that your parent will respond with increased control, abuse, and blame. Knowing that they will escalate might also be why you have been putting off setting boundaries for a long time, even if you knew you needed to do it.
While change is uncomfortable, if it’s a healthy change, it will be worth it. The storm will eventually pass and you will be glad you have gone through with it. If you respond from an adult position (rather than that of a hurt child) and politely but firmly reeinstate your boundaries, they will eventually stop their threats and guilt-tripping. The outbursts, accusations and manipulations from their side would also subside, especially when they see that you are not responding as expected.
It can be difficult to set boundaries with narcissistic parents. They may be used to always getting their way or having their feelings and needs met. They may also feel entitled to special treatment and become angry when they do not get it. You may feel threatened, anxious, and guilty in the process. Therefore, it is important that you have some support in your life while you are doing this.
Ultimately, it is not your job to take care of your parent’s insecurity forever, nor can you really save them. Therefore, it is better for everyone involved if you save yourself first and take care of yourself instead of being trapped in a toxic cycle of abuse and trauma.
(3) Stopping transgenerational trauma
Intergenerational trauma is a term used to describe the negative psychological effects that are passed from one generation to the next. If you yourself have suffered abuse from a narcissistic parent, the last thing you want to do is pass it on to your children. Fortunately, it is entirely possible to break the chain of trauma.
If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you might have learned to accept their behaviour as normal— whether you are ignored, belittled, yelled at, or even physically assaulted. You may even believe that there is something wrong with you and that you deserve the abuse. But no, this is absolutely not ‘normal’, and no child should have to suffer this. You may know intellectually that ‘something is wrong, but you have never really perceived the horror of what happened. It may be painful, but a necessary step in breaking the chain of transgenerational trauma is to recognize and admit the fact that you were indeed abused.
Perhaps anger is an emotion you have long repressed and banished, but learning to feel angry about your abuse is an essential step to healing. Maybe you are afraid that if you allow yourself to get angry, the anger will never stop. You may also be afraid to confront your parents about their misbehaviour. But you can start small, and if it is not appropriate, you can choose not to express your anger to your parents but simply tell a therapist, write in a journal, and admit the truth to yourself.
Whether or not you choose to have children, you can learn to nurture your inner child. This includes learning to face your emotions, allowing them to happen without judging them, not pushing yourself all the time, and making space for self-care and relaxation. The more you can courageously face your own feelings, the more likely you will be able to build deep and meaningful relationships with others and be there emotionally for your future family.
To truly let go of our anger at our parents, we should not only grieve but also embrace, nurture, and comfort the lost child within all of us. Perhaps you can take the hand of the little one inside you and love them with all your heart. You can be the parent they never had and tell them how much you see them, hear them and love them. You can tell them, “I know things are really hard, and I am sorry. Ultimately, the most important thing you can do for yourself and your future family is to forgive yourself and be compassionate about everything you have been through.
Because you know what it’s like to live without feeling loved, you would not take love for granted, and you would not want any abuse to happen to those you care about. These set you up to be the best parent you can be, both to your family or yourself.
Forgiving Is Not Trusting
Just because you choose to forgive does not mean you trust.
If you have tried, again and again, to communicate but continue to hit a wall authentically, you owe yourself the right to retreat your efforts. You reserve the right to safeguard your boundaries and protect yourself from more narcissistic parent abuse.
If compassion is one of your values, you must have compassion first and foremost for yourself— You have been through the impossible. You have been subject to narcissistic parent abuse for no fault of yours.
Forgiving first and foremost means forgiving yourself.
Forgive yourself for not being able to fix your narcissistic parents, change the history of the abuse, and be angry at the bystanders who had not protected you from narcissistic parent abuse.
Forgive yourself for feeling the impact of the abuse and for reacting.
Forgive yourself for not being able to pretend nothing has happened, not being able to sweep it all under the carpet, and not being highly aware of the gaslighting and abuse that are happening.
Forgive yourself for being a vulnerable, helpless child who could not fight back or stand up for themselves amid chronic narcissistic parent abuse.
Forgive yourself for trying, even if you hit the same wall again and again.
Forgive yourself for trying to love those who repeatedly hurt, disappoint, and shame you.
Perhaps you can turn to the innocent child inside you who so wants things to work out as they should.
They want to be loved, attended to, protected, guided, congratulated, listened to, and embraced. They also want the freedom to explore the world when they have to and not be threatened with abandonment or rejection.
Your inner child was let down again and again, but you can be there for them now.
You can love them for their hope and enthusiasm and help them invest hope in people who would love them back.
Forgiveness, however, does not mean trusting.
You can forgive what has happened. You can be compassionate and accepting. You can see the bigger picture and see that ‘hurt people hurt’, but you must learn to say ‘never again.’
Enough chances have been given for an apology. Enough time has been offered for a reconciliation. To protect your innocent inner child, you must stand up for yourself and say, ‘enough is enough.’
You do not need to justify anything to anyone.
You do not need to tell your abuser you are walking away and risk more narcissistic abuse or gaslighting.
All you need to do is start believing in yourself, what you believe to be accurate, and your integrity and virtues, rather than their manipulative words.
You are not ‘too much.’
You are not ‘overly dramatic.’
You are not ‘too sensitive.’
You are not ‘making up a story.’
You are not ‘difficult.’
You are not ‘impossible.’
You are an authentic truth-seeker reaching out for love.
Some people are simply not capable of loving you in the way you need to be loved.
They are so wounded and undeveloped that they cannot communicate with you without becoming defensive.
You must stop trusting— stop believing— in a rose-tinted world to protect yourself.
Perhaps, it is not that you don’t trust them to help with chores or show up at certain events.
But you have stopped trusting that they would be sensitive to your needs in distress.
You have stopped trusting they will not frame you as the problem when communicating your truth.
You have stopped trusting they will not put you down in a roundabout way when you shine.
You have stopped trusting they won’t sabotage your relationships with new partners who love and respect you.
You have stopped trusting they will honour your sensitivity, empathy and intuition.
You have stopped trusting they would not shut a door on you when you most need them.
You have stopped trusting they would soften in compassion when they see your sadness and vulnerability.
You have stopped believing you can walk away feeling loved, appreciated, and energized from an interaction.
Most importantly, you have stopped believing that you can be safe around them.
They are not safe.
They may be intermittently stable but not safe in a consistent way.
They can only be safe, loving and supportive as far as they do not feel threatened by you.
Hold the hand of your inner child, who is so naturally trusting, generous and deserving of love.
Tell them you will, from now on, be their anchor and protector.
People will be who they are and do what they do.
But you are safe now because you have you.
Even if it hurts, you have stopped taking their attacks seriously.
Even if it is sometimes lonely, you have stayed far and away from people who repeatedly hurt you.
Even if it is difficult, you have reclaimed your dignity by stopping knocking on doors that are closed to you.
You might have forgiven them, but you have stopped trusting them.
Instead, you have not only forgiven yourself, but you also wholeheartedly trust yourself.
A Healing Journey
If it becomes really painful, you must allow yourself to take a step back.
Healing from narcissistic parent abuse is a constant dance, two steps forward, three steps back.
If possible, see it for what it is – a spiritual exercise.
We must be patient with ourselves. Expect to fall, to be disappointed, again and again, but rejoice each time that you have come one step closer to true freedom.
It is by allowing ourselves to see reality clearly, plunging into the necessary anger and sadness, could we move on.
This is, after all, a lifelong grieving process.
Every time your narcissistic parent abuses or disappoints you, even if you are now a grown-up, you may feel an unbearably tight knot in your heart.
No matter what they say or do not say, you may feel the urge to burst out in anger.
Short of screaming and crying, you do not know how to respond.
If they have not been receptive to what you have to say, you might just make the unconscious decision to blame yourself instead.
You can not help but act out your anger, but at the same time, you feel guilty and afraid of retaliation.
Consciously or unconsciously, you may feel self-doubt and self-reproach because you were once angry, but please know that there is no real reason to feel guilty.
You are not to blame, for you did not do anything wrong. You were brought into a family that did not meet your needs; you were subject to narcissistic parent abuse and had little support or escape. Even if you have resorted to dissociation, depersonalization, emotional dysregulation, addiction… to cope, you have coped with it in the best way you possibly can.
Anger, sadness and the need to distance yourself are simply natural elements of the process.
Some narcissistic parents are abusive. Some, however, are vulnerable and limited and try their very best to make amends.
There are two sides to the story in the latter case – your family’s love for you and their dysfunction. The ambivalence makes it hard, but you can move on by holding both sides of the story.
If we hastily move to love and gratitude without first acknowledging the trauma, we bypass an essential step on the path to congruent love.
Therefore, we must honour the angry part to process the love part.
Without having been authentically angry, genuine love cannot be released.
If you have gotten angry at your parents, tell them how they have affected you, how they hurt you, how their emotional blindness traumatized you, and free yourself from feeling guilty.
You were not doing a ‘bad’ thing. If anything, you were trying to connect genuinely.
And maybe you had to tell your side of the story, whether they could hear it or not.
Maybe they apologized or did not, but you have done what you need to do to honour the little one inside you.
If you have been subject to narcissistic parent abuse, releasing all of your anger is usually not something that happens in an hour or a day.
You may go through a phase where you vacillate between resentment, guilt, bittersweetness and forgiveness.
This phase can last for months or even years. During this time, you almost feel that your rage is bottomless. You may worry that it will never end.
But if you can allow yourself to go through the process, the storm will eventually pass.
The inferno is not the grief that comes with seeing reality for what it is. Instead, the inferno is the constant loop of false hope, trying to make what we want but what is not, blaming others and ourselves for having hope.
When the day comes, you will know.
When you finally forgive, you will feel a sense of lightness and peace, albeit mixed with a touch of sadness and grief. But also a relief.
When the process is completed, you will not feel guilty or doubt what has happened but simply acknowledge the reality with the most profound compassion and gentleness you can summon towards yourself and others.
You will feel emptied, but not empty. Instead, your heart flutters with excitement towards a different future.
You may always carry a scar, but not an open wound.
You could enter a place of peace, even dispassionate compassion towards your narcissistic parent.
We can scream, bargain and argue about how unfair it is, but life has never promised fairness.
Having been through narcissistic parent abuse may not be a ‘gift’. But we can alchemize our wounds to become spiritually strong.
We cannot control who we get as parents, and it was not our fault that we were born into a family that could not give us what we deserve, but it is now on us to alchemize our wounds and transform our life.
We do have in our hands the power to see things differently.
If we can learn to say ‘obstacle is the way,’ the wounds from our abuse become the fuel that propels us in spiritual development.
If you are brave and can walk through the troubled ground, there is a reward waiting for you at the end.
You would be gifted with a deep love for humanity, a reverence for reality, and the hope that you can not just survive but thrive.
“I’m not crazy, I was abused.
I’m not shy, I’m protecting myself.
I’m not bitter, I’m speaking the truth.
I’m not hanging onto the past, I’ve been damaged.
I’m not delusional, I lived a nightmare.
I’m not weak, I was trusting. ”
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