Writings from Christine

Road to Recovery from Narcissistic Parenting

by on April 1, 2019

mother and daugher

Ida realized her mother was a narcissist in her early 20’s. But what she didn’t expect was the developmental impact on her childhood. Normally, a child is given the freedom to explore and express their individuality so they can develop into a confident and well-balanced adult. This nurturing environment prioritizes the needs of the child over the parent without overindulgence. But this did not happen for Ida.

Instead, Ida way hypersensitive to what other people might think about her. Her mother emphasized appearance and demanded perfection. When Ida would gain a few pounds, her mother would berate her and tell her that no one will ever love a fat person. She would say that Ida was an embarrassment and her mom would refuse to buy her new clothes or take her out until she lost the weight.

Naturally, Ida developed severe anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. As she entered her late teens, she added drinking and some drugs to the mix. Unable to please her mother, Ida chose to please her friends who were also engaged in an unhealthy lifestyle.

Ida was unaware of her dysfunctional narcissistic parent as a child. It wasn’t until rehab that she fully accepted her mother’s false perception of reality. Even though her mother insisted on the rehab, she became angry during parent’s weekend. Ida’s now healthy perspective became threatening to her mother because it exposed the poor narcissistic parenting.

As a result, her mother completely withdrew complaining that the rehab ruined her. But for Ida, this is just the start. Without her mother’s voice in her ear, the years of narcissistic parenting revealed far more devastating consequences. Using the symptoms of a narcissist as the starting point, here are the results of dysfunctional parenting and the road to recovery:

  1. Grandiosity breeds criticalness. Ida’s mom magnifies her accomplishments to the point that Ida believed she was super-human. Ida desperately tried to live up to the image of her mother. However, when she came close, her mother rose the bar again to keep it just out of reach. Ida then became overly critical of her actions, believing she needed to be perfect.
    1. Recovery: Ida accepted her imperfections and embraced them as a normal part of herself. Instead of trying to please others, she decided to please herself.
  2. Idealism breeds despair. Ida’s mom created her own fantasy world where she was all-powerful, brilliant, and beautiful. Ida was expected to be physical extensions of her mom. When Ida achieved a reward, it is as if her mother got it instead. Since no success was solely at the hands of Ida, she lost hope that her accomplishments matter. This generated feelings of despair and despondency.
    1. Recovery: Ida made a list of her accomplishments and unique talents. Whenever she would feel down, she reviewed the list to gain perspective.
  3. Superiority breeds inferiority. For Ida’s mother, being average was as bad as below average. Since narcissists believe they are superior and can only associate with other superior people, their children by extension must also be exceptional. This pressure was overwhelming to Ida who realized she was not extraordinary in everything she did. As a result, this unrealistic expectation set by her mother generated feelings of inferior. “I can never be good enough,” was a common thought.
    1. Recovery: Ida started saying, “I am enough” to counteract the negative thinking and empower her.
  4. Attention-seeking breeds anxiety. Her mom needed a daily feeding of attention, affection, affirmation or admiration. When Ida was small, she learned that the quickest way to get her needs met is to fill these needs of her mom first. This is behavioral conditioning at its finest. However, Ida’s anxiety manifested as she constantly tried to anticipate and meet the needs of her mom to prevent an emotion explosion or backlash.
    1. Recovery: The more Ida was away from her mother, the more her anxiety diminished and she was able to enjoy relief the pressure of anxiety.
  5. Entitlement breeds shame. By nature of being a parent, Ida’s mom expected her to go along with whatever she wanted. The wants or desires of Ida was constantly overshadowed or belittled by her mom. This generated feelings of shame in Ida as she began to invalidate her own likes and dislikes in favor of her mom. Consequently, Ida became a shell believing her uniqueness and individuality was shameful.
    1. Recovery: Ida made a list of what she liked. Taking clues from the musical lyric, “These are a few of my favorite things,” Ida made her own list of favorite items.
  6. Selfishness breeds mistrust. In the pursuit of self-preservation, Ida’s mother justified taking advantage of others, including Ida. Ida’s childish behaviors were met with swift and severe punishment despite her mother’s consistent modeling of the same behavior. The narcissist abuses their parental role by diverting attention from their selfishness and instead highlights the deficiencies of their child. This propagated mistrust in Ida as she ascertained her mother to be an unsafe and untrustworthy person.
    1. Recovery: Instead of trusting her mother, Ida focused on other healthy relationships in her life establishing a trust bond. A life-long friend was the perfect replacement.
  7. Indifference breeds over responsibility. Even when Ida was excitedly talking about a new adventure, her mother would tune Ida out or divert the conversation to make it about her. Worse yet, when Ida was in pain, either emotional or physical, there was no empathy or understanding. Sadly, Ida didn’t see this as her mother’s problem, rather she assumed the responsibility that somehow, she was in the wrong. The result was an internal nagging of needing to take responsibility for the flaws or faults of others.
    1. Recovery: Ida stopped taking responsibility for other people’s actions and allowed them to make mistakes. She realized that she is only responsible for herself.
  8. Materialism breeds dissatisfaction. Narcissists use material possessions as a way of elevating themselves over others and controlling behavior. Ida’s mom used gifting as a way of demanding performance from Ida. If Ida did what was expected, she got elaborate and expensive gifts. But if Ida did not live up to expectations, she did not get a gift at all, including for birthdays or holidays. The use of material objects in this manner steels the joy of the item as Ida was in constant fear that the gift will be revoked for lack of performance.
    1. Recovery: Ida decided that she didn’t want to be so materialistic, so she became minimalistic instead. This allowed her not to feel the pressure of having stuff.
  9. Arrogance breeds inauthenticity. While Ida’s mom put on a show of snootiness to everyone outside of the home, those inside, especially Ida, saw the deep-rooted insecurity that lied beneath the façade. However, if Ida dared to expose the insecurity, she was swiftly gaslighted and made to look crazy. This taught Ida never to reveal her own uncertainties resulting in a lack of genuineness.
    1. Recovery: Ida embraces her faults and instead of hiding them, exposed them in a humous manner. This gave her a feeling of control.

Fortunately, these childhood patterns can be reversed through an understanding of narcissism, awareness of false truths, and more accurate perception of reality. Counseling is extremely beneficial in exposing and eradicating the lies of narcissistic parenting.

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