A very significant factor for adult children of narcissists is that they may not know that one or both of their parents are narcissists! They will typically know that there was something wrong with their childhood or that their parents were different in some way, but they may not actually recognize their parents for what they were or are.
This puts them at a great disadvantage because until they understand narcissism and mind control, they may have considerable difficulties in their lives without knowing why. Difficulties such as feeling inferior to others despite their achievements, sacrificing their needs to serve others, and even feeling guilty as adults about 'disobeying' their parents, sometimes even long after the parents are dead!
Unless they deliberately undo the manipulation suffered at the hands of their parents, adult children of narcissists will have many ideas and beliefs that are so deeply embedded that they never even consider questioning these things. We will discuss some of these ideas/beliefs later, but first lets consider identity.
Narcissistic parents don't allow their children to develop their own personalities. The children may be reared to be a source of narcissistic supply, or they can be almost totally ignored. Either way they do not receive the love, affection and reassurance that children require in order to grow into independent and loving adults.
Whenever a child begins to make their own decisions, or express their desires, these are moulded or manipulated by the narcissistic parent for their own personal benefit. The child may even be punished for daring to be themselves.
Oftentimes, boundaries are not even allowed to develop between the child and the narcissist. The narcissist treats the child as an extension of themselves with the result that the child, not knowing anything else, never learns to be completely separate from others. The children then have to consider the effects of their words and their actions on the narcissist before they even speak or act.
This shows up in the adult children of narcissists as being overly sensitive to the moods of others, always caring for others to the detriment of themselves, being unable to share intimate things with a partner, going against the wishes of a partner because they don't want to upset a parent, thinking they have to obey others to be loved, always trying to please others, being the peace-maker during arguments and so on.
You can read more details about parental narcissism here...
The sad fact is that many adult children of narcissists end up in abusive relationships. Narcissists and psychopaths are constantly on the lookout for new victims and they can spot a damaged and vulnerable personality a mile away.
Children will often accept bad behavior from their partners because they believe it is 'normal'. After all, this is what they have been brought up with and are used to. If they have not learnt about narcissism, they will think that this is how life is. They may even come to believe that they were not meant to be happy in this life, but that their job is to serve and look after others.
Narcissists keep their children very dependent. But it goes way beyond the normal dependency of childhood where the child is dependent of the parent for warmth, food, shelter etc.
A narcissistic mother will often keep their children naive and gullible, telling them how dangerous the world is and reinforcing constantly (in subtle and not so subtle ways) that the child could never manage in the world alone.
And it often goes even deeper than this. The children learn that if the parent is in a good mood, then it's ok for them to be too. If the parent is in a bad mood, the child feels bad too (but obviously for different reasons!). The child ends up depending on the parent to know if they are ok or not.
And because there are so few boundaries between the parent and child, the child may even depend on the parent to know who they are. The combination of praise and criticism from a manipulative parent further increases dependency.
'You're nothing!' 'You're useless!' 'You are worthless!' These expressions, said in anger with the intention of hurting, followed by a sudden change of mood and a stream of words designed to placate and make the child feel good, create and maintain dependency. And even adult children of narcissists will continue to respond in the same way to this pattern.
Add to all this the fear of abandonment, which may be deliberately evoked by the cruel and ruthless narcissist, and it's no wonder that the adult children of narcissists don't have a well developed personality of their own!
Children of narcissists don't make their own decisions, even when they think they are. The thinking process has been cajoled, pushed, manipulated and sometimes even beaten into a process that the narcissist wants.
Adult children of narcissists may find it easier for others to make decisions for them. After all, survival in childhood often depended on this. Unless they take steps to remedy the situation it may seem from outside that they are weak or 'don't have a mind of their own'.
This may be where the idea arose that people in abusive relationships or those in sects actually want others to lead them or make their decisions for them. This, of course, is simply another way to blame the victim.
Fear and guilt are 2 major emotions used in mind control techniques to dominate and manipulate others. Narcissists are no stranger to this fact, even if they don't use this exact terminology.
Adult children of narcissists are often hypervigilant to the moods of others as we have already noted. This is based on fear, even though the person may not consider it fear. It is just a normal state for them!
But, in effect, they are experiencing a chronic stress state which takes its toll over time.
Narcissists typically blame others for everything. Nothing is ever their fault and responsibility is a concept they don't care for. Their children, therefore, learn that they will get the blame for everything.
This carries over into the adult children of narcissists in many ways.
One particularly insidious (and destructively self-perpetuating) form is the idea that the adult children of narcissists need to work on forgiving themselves for abandoning their real self as a child, or for tolerating the abuse for so long etc.
First of all, the child did not abandon their self. The adult never allowed it to develop. Secondly, children do not make such decisions early in life. Thirdly, the child was not even aware of what was going on to be able to make such choices.
And fourthly, and most importantly, when mind control is involved, the manipulator is guilty. It is never the fault of the victim.
The adult children of narcissists often take some time to understand and integrate this idea but it does come when there is a good understanding of both narcissism and mind control. And it is very important to grasp this. The victims of narcissists are not guilty of anything.
It is not their fault. They have been tricked, conned, duped, lied to, cheated and deceived. They are not to blame. It is not their fault.
It is an enormous relief for the adult children of narcissists to appreciate this idea, and it's an important part of their recovery process. It often takes some time for them to really incorporate this, but it's worth the effort.
The adult children of narcissists are usually not allowed to express their emotions freely. This may lead to all sorts of problems, emotional outbursts, a feeling of being overwhelmed, underlying anger or rage, inability to express emotions in intimate relationships and so on.
Learning that it's ok and, even desirable, to let others know what you are feeling is a big step in undoing the damage done by narcissistic parents.
Competition between siblings is often used by narcissists to control and dominate the family. Or one child is manipulated into taking the narcissist's side and may even be used to punish other siblings.
Remember, none of the siblings are at fault. They have literally been made by the parent to act this way.
The 'chosen one' often stays on the side of the narcissistic parent, defending them and berating the 'scapegoat'.
The scapegoat is more likely to recognize that there are problems and more likely to seek help in healing from emotional abuse.
The question often arises about whether the adult children of narcissists who understand what happened should try to educate the others about the true nature of the narcissistic parent. This is probably best considered a personal decision which an individual needs to make for themselves.
The adult children of narcissists who realize that their parent(s) is a narcissist often make a decision not to have contact with that parent. This seems very harsh to those who do not understand narcissism, but makes perfect sense when you consider that those with malignant narcissism do not change, and further contact with them simply gives them an opportunity to continue manipulating and abusing their children.
Sorting out identities, dealing with profound belief changes, learning how to express emotions freely, developing a very different perspective on parents and the world in general... adult children of narcissists have a lot of work in order to establish some level of normality in their lives.
Professional help is invaluable. An expert who understands narcissism and mind control can save you years of effort as well as helping you avoid the pitfalls inherent in the recuperation.
Of course, it's possible to do it alone, but just remember, thinking that you can do it alone may be a result of the domination by the narcissist and it is designed to keep you isolated and away from people who can actually help you.
Would you prefer to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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