Adult Children of Narcissists

by Michelle Piper

Adult Children of Narcissists (ACON’s) sometime fear that narcissism breeds narcissism.

While this may hold true in a minority of cases, it is not always what happens, especially when a child grows to realize that the family he or she was brought up in is not the norm. You may realize and that your childhood experiences are not something you want to replicate in the new life you are making for yourself.

Narcissistic parents are incredibly jealous and envious of their children when they see them grow and develop into an independent self. As you may know, they will do anything in their power to keep you with them as long as possible, to keep stroking their thirsty but fragile egos.

What happens when you grow up, venture out onto your own (reluctantly allowed to do so by your narcissistic parent) and realize that life outside of that narcissistic bubble isn’t what real life is about? It is enough to make anybody’s head reel from the contradictions of what “love” was when you were growing up, to what “love” actually is.

When you, an adult child of narcissistic parents, grows up, you may feel something is wrong but cannot necessarily identify what that is. You may have always associated love and appreciation with conforming to the demands of your parents and therefore assume that is how it all works.

You were “parentified” as a kid, taking on the role of a parent to be emotionally and psychologically responsible for the well-being of your narcissistic parent, when it really should have been the other way around.

You may not have realized the stigmatizing effects that this has had on you until you grew up into your own person. It takes a toll on the self-esteem, self-concept, self-worth, and altogether life satisfaction. During childhood, siblings often mistake “parentification” as favoritism and resent or compete with you.  Quite the burden, I’d say.

There are typically two types of responses displayed by parentified children. Let me know if these sound familiar.

You have the compliant response and the siege response.

The compliant response is much what it sounds like, complacency reigns supreme in your adult life. You may spend a great deal of time caring for others (much like you had to do growing up), always trying to please those around you, and do whatever it takes to maintain a harmonious atmosphere, which usually means that your needs are put on the back burner. This may have caused you to be self-deprecating, feeling that you can give and give, but it will never be good enough.

Then there is the siege response, the complete opposite of the compliant adult child of a narcissist. If this is/was you, then you were probably defiant and rebellious, protecting yourself by becoming less sensitive or walled off and extremely independent.

You would do whatever you had to do to manipulate others and treat them as if they are the parents who wanted you to meet their every expectation. This is more or less a passive-aggressive attack on your parents through other people, doing to others what you wish you could’ve done to your narcissistic parent.

The fear of abandonment is a common theme among children with a narcissistic parent, as you may know. Always having to earn love from them and knowing that it can be taken away if the needs of your parent are not met is a heavy load for any child to carry, especially when you are the one that needs to be nurtured, shown empathy, and be taken care of.

This can carry on into adulthood, feeling that you need to perform to the standards set by your spouse or significant other. You might feel that you are only there to serve your counterpart, always feeling less skilled and deserving than the other, and doing whatever is needed to prove yourself in the relationship.

In many families with a narcissistic parent, children are used as pawns and played off one another for the amusement of the parent. If you have brothers and/or sisters this may be familiar to you. There is typically a golden child and one or more scapegoats. Usually, the daughters of narcissistic mothers are chosen as the scapegoats, while the son(s) are chosen as the golden child(ren).

Your narcissistic mother may have cast you in all of these roles, abruptly changing your purpose when it suited her needs. This sudden demotion or promotion can be enraging or devastating to a child. Which role or roles did you play?

The golden child is the extension of the narcissistic parent, the perfect child that can do no wrong and is mirrored as a replication of the parent’s wonderfulness. Proper boundaries are not made between the golden child and the narcissistic parent, giving a sense of oneness between the two that leaves little or no room for the child to develop his or her own identity. As this adult child of a narcissist grows, he or she feels entitled to this same treatment, expecting others to act in the same way the parent did. Sound familiar?

Then there is the scapegoat, the outcast, the family member or members that take the blame for anything and everything that goes wrong. This child can never measure up to the golden child, even if he or she has greater accomplishments or does better in their life than the puppet of the parent.

Scapegoats are always seeking approval only to be turned down and made to feel inadequate for even attempting to outshine the golden child. This can cause a major rift between siblings, always competing with one another in a lose-lose situation where the referee is not fairly judging the players. Does that hit close to home?

As the scapegoat grows and ventures out into the world of freedom, they have a firmer grasp on their independence than the golden child does, as that child has never been allowed to be independent in their life.

I guess you can say that, retrospectively, the scapegoat is the lucky one. You may or may not agree. Typically, scapegoats can break free from the twisted and distorted dynamics of their dysfunctional family, and break the ties binding them to the abusive life that they were forced to lead. They have more of an opportunity to create a healthy life outside of their family.

However, the burdens they carried from childhood can still play a role in their adult lives. In the workplace, the scapegoat has a tendency to be overworked and underpaid even if their work is superior to others. They can be marginalized and never have the sense that they fit in comfortably with those around them, much like how they felt during childhood.

Scapegoats often do realize that this is a problem and are more apt to seek out professional help and psychotherapy than their other family members. If you happened to be the scapegoat in your family and have taken the steps to recover, you may have sought support from many different sources including meditation, spirituality, and truly loving relationships. What things have helped you to heal and have a better life? I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

With your narcissistic parent, you were most likely devalued and extremely under-appreciated. In the larger world away from the old narcissistic family system, you have the opportunity to be valued for your opinions, values and needs.

You find you can find others who allow you to express yourself and give a nurturing response to your own beliefs and needs. It can help you to recognize that you are an adequate human with positive attributes and skills to share with the world.

You learn that it is not your fault that your parent did not love you or show any empathy towards you, which is something that you really need—to be rid of the guilt and weight you have borne for so long.

I think The Beatles had it right: all you need is love.  And, for those who had narcissistic parents, sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what love is.

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{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

lucy January 28, 2015 at 9:45 am

I’m 77 years old and realized at this late age that my mother was narcissistic. She made me the “golden child”, and I helped in the house and practically raised my younger brother, who is 10 years my junior. My older sister (by 4 years) was the scapegoat and is also narcissistic, dishonest and an hysteric. Similar to my mother, but mother was honest. This sister tried to kill me more times than I like to remember. Mother told me of incidents that I was too young to remember. My sister always threatened me not to tell, and I don’t remember if I did or not, as I was always afraid of her. We haven’t spoken for 4 years and I plan to keep it this way. My mother treated me like I didn’t exist except to criticize me for anything she could.

As a result of my upbringing I am a giver and doer for everyone but myself, essentially a people pleaser. My masters degree was in social work and I know I really didn’t reach my potential, wishing I had realized about my mother much sooner. My father was a better parent, but he didn’t protect me either from my abusive sister. I believe he cared about me, but wouldn’t dare interfere with my mother’s emotional neglect. Naturally, both parents are dead.

I’ve had serious sleeping problems, and depression for most of my adult life. My hope is that realizing now about my mother will help solve some of these issues as well as others.

Thank you for listening to my story and others’. It’s validating to read similar stories and that I’m not alone.

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Maria January 28, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Your blog has helped me so much…thank you! I found therapy and reading books helped me a ton. Also choosing different friendships and relationships than the ones I used to choose. I am still learning how to ‘mother’ myself, and it is not always easy. But I try…and my self-compassion is growing. Today, I managed to tell my mother that the issues she confronted me with might be something she can discuss with a therapist or a trusted friend of her age, not me as her CHILD. As always with her, I am anticipating a delayed, passive-aggressive criticizing response. At best, I will be ignored – like I have been mostly during my life if I dared to speak up for myself.

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C February 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Your blog and emails have been an amazing discovery for me, thank you.

I think I am the Scapegoat child, because I was always determined to break away and have a happy life, plus I was always the “difficult” one or “less intelligent” than my brother (despite being in the end the one to get the best grades). So to answer your question “what things have helped you to heal and have a better life?”…

Luckily for me, at 13 I had the opportunity to go to boarding school. So I spent a lot of time age 13-18, living away from my mother. Of course we still had a lot of contact; she wasn’t too far away so would visit, and we spoke a lot on the phone/ wrote letters, and I was home for the holidays. But it did give me some early independence and then critically, I made some amazing friends during those years that I am still close to now (we did live together a lot of the time, after all)…

I then went to uni, and then moved to the city after that for my first job… so I was able to be a bit separate from my NM again. It wasn’t easy – she was always ‘there’, calling me/ texting me/ emailing me/ arranging visits etc. and i’ve been sucked in so so many times over the last 10 years… but that space I did have gave me some perspective, and my amazing friends who have just given so much fun and support over the years, have saved me. And then meeting my now husband, having my own child, reading books, travelling, learning how to exercise and feed myself well… everything outside of my NM just gets better and better so I have a lot to enjoy and be thankful for. I always feel a bit sad that she’s the one missing chink, but at the same time, grateful i’ve been able to make a life for myself, get away, do some good for those I care about, and be happy/ spread a bit of happiness.

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Ruud February 17, 2015 at 4:34 am

Dear all,

Thanks for sharing all your experiences, I’m impressed when reading your stories, and cannot stop reading these stories over and over again.

At this point in time I’m not sure if I have an Narc mother or father. I (a man) do know that I have a dangerous and abusive wife, who is definitely a Narc! On this moment I’m asking the court to get a divorce, but this is taking time, because I have two children, and these children have a Narc mother. They are too young to read all your comments in English. My daughter is 14 years, and my son is 11 years old. There Narc mom treated these beautiful children exactly like the people describe here about their moms.
Yesterday I have read the first time about enabling fathers, I felt very guilty, because I realized that have been one of those enabling fathers. Although I started realizing a while ago that I was helping my wife to abuse the kids, it felt so bad…… I cried…. Last summer, when my wife threatened the children, myself with a ax, and destroyed my car with the ax, and my wife blamed me for it, and demanded excuses from me……….. Luckily I was holding a video camera, and I was able to tape the whole incident on video! When she found out I had to destroy the tape, she almost killed me because I refused. I was able to save the file, made a copy before destroying it. Afterwards I asked the court to remove my wife from the house, and the court ordered her to leave the house immediately, that is now 3 weeks ago.
What I see happening is that there is a lot of hate between my daughter (the scapegoat) and my son (the golden child), I know I have to go to a therapist with my children, but to do so I need a signature from my wife, or the court has to give me full custody over the children, since that is going to take several month. I really would like to get some advice how I can bring my children closer to each other? Besides that I see that my son is so demanding to me and other people, because he could do anything without being corrected by his narc mom in the past, and he is only 11 years old. There is so much anger between my daughter and my son, who has experienced almost everything that was described by other participants on this side. What can I do (besides fighting to get custody) , I feel guilty because I have seen it happen, but I was unable to do anything about it, besides that nobody believed me that my wife was abusive, until the moment I caught here on tape. I feel guilty that I didn’t ran away earlier with my children, but please do understand that although I knew something was wrong, I already wanted to run away for a long time, but I stayed because I wanted to be there, I wanted to protect my children. Although I was there, I was not able to prevent all the abuse, but may be it would have been worse for them if I had leave earlier.
Now I’m really breaking my head how I can raise the children, and how I can help them to grow into adult hood, and into balanced loving and self loving people? How can I prevent that they turn into narcs them self. How can I prevent them from narc relationships in the future.
Hopefully people that have survived a narc mother can give me some ideas on how I have to deal with my lovely children.
Any advise is welcome.
Love to everybody.

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John February 18, 2015 at 11:00 pm

Ruud,
Your doing good, it took me 21 yrs to get out of my abusive marriage.
Two books “Stop Walking on Eggshells- Taking your life back when someone you Love Has Boarderline Personality Disorder” “Tears and Healing-A journey to the light after an abusive relationship”
Also Al-Anon 12 step has been a great blessing. Beatty’s book on 12 steps for codependants is good too.
Lots more. Be good to yourself and your kids.
Blessing,
John

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John February 18, 2015 at 11:16 pm

Youtube : John Bradshaw. His books are great also.
It will take time with your kids. First, I believe they will have to learn the difference between Mom & Dad. Teach them Love & Forgiveness & that they don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior. Ask for help from healthy people.
Get healthy yourself, abuse leaves damage.
Abusers minimalize their behavior and marginalize their victims.
Stay close to God!

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Claudia February 25, 2015 at 7:51 am

Ruud,
You are on the healing path and doing great!
You have come to the awareness and are being pro-active in trying to better the future of your children and yourself.
That’s already a lot of good work. Keep at it!

I can relate to your journey, how painful and confusing it is. I believe the worst is over since you’ve been able to escape the clutches of a tyrant and what lies ahead can only be better.
Therapy is very important to help heal towards creating a life filled with love and serenity.

All the best to you and your children in this journey!
Claudia

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Theresa March 2, 2015 at 4:39 pm

I was adopted into a family who of course at age 6 didn’t know what Narcissist Was. All i remember was “I’ve got a Daddy and a Mommy”. As i got older i remember understanding that what Mom said to me was not right,the blame was always on me,she always set high standards that i could never reach etc. Always put me down when it came to What do you want to be when you grow up? What type of Man do you want to Marry? Her response was always along the line of “Why do you think that they’d want you,with all your problems. What make’s you think you’d achieve being a Famous Actress or Whatever i wanted to be when i was little. It always changed what i wanted to be when i grew up. She’d also Laugh and say That’s Never going to happen etc. I remember around age 7-9 i was learning to make my own bed. She proceeded to show me how to do it and then had me do it. In my young mind i was proud of making my bed to what i thought was really good and exactly the way she showed me…………..Her response was It’s not Good Enough, Do It Again while pulling all the sheets and blankets off and standing their commenting on my every move. It happened repeatedly until i guess she tired of the repitition. I always knew what she was doing was wrong and the blame she placed on me. Her favorite was “I don’t have any problems,You have all the problems. Like she was Absolutely Flawless and Perfect. I have since stopped communicating with her. I speak with my Dad but even that is strained to where i’m probably going to end it with him as well. I left home at 16 and never looked back. Although i have thought about my past upbringing etc. Being on my own is what i like.

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Mimi April 8, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Thank you for this blog,

This has been a major source of enlightenment & healing for me. I am 23 years old, the eldest daughter of six children, and I think that I have a narcissistic mother. My sister and I are only 13 months apart, I also have four other siblings that are 15, 12, 10, and 6 years old. Growing up, I thought I had a pretty normal life. My dad works in chemical engineering so he was out of the country a lot, and I thought that I had a pretty “healthy” relationship with my mother. I don’t know if my mother’s behavior became more prevalent as grew older or just that I started to notice things were different in my friends’ families.

In the home, I’d say that our roles changed to fit whoever she could manipulate the easiest, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to use the other siblings as bullies (I feel quite guilty of the things I said and did to my sisters and brothers to protect my mom’s feelings). My mother was very demanding of us, even in the most minimal tasks (i.e. we would be called upstairs to hand her a remote or drink that sat just out of her reach) and our presentation outside of the home was considered a direct reflection on her.

Her general concern for us kids, was quite minimal. My sister and I would be left alone for 4-8 hours almost daily with our siblings (we were home schooled), sometimes with little to no food in the house. Our schooling, though it started out as a great experience, developed into a burden on her and she would only teach us when it made her look good. She often received praise for being so “sacrificial of her own needs”. She also would make a huge ordeal out the most simple of illnesses, taking us to the ER, calling family down to watch the other kids, and constantly gaining sympathy for herself.

As I grew into a teenager, she grew jealous of my sister and I spending time away from her. She would sabotage our relationships with friends or boys we liked by adding them on social media and harassing them. She constantly tried to dress sexier, prettier, and younger to compete with us. Once she put my dad’s account $700+ in the red just to buy jewelry. Her behavior became more controlling and manipulating, anytime we would disagree with her she would burst into tears and act like she was the victim. She became a hypochondriac going from doctor to doctor to get on tons of narcotic pills, then she would post statues on Facebook complaining about every ailment she had.

Once I graduated high school and went to college, I started to recognize the unhealthy behaviors she had. I slowly started trying to distance myself, and this made things worse. It was about 3 years ago, that my sister and I finally moved out along with my now husband (who she hates).

Today, my mother talks to me only when she thinks she can gain attention. My successful position, my family, my happiness mean nothing to her. I am mostly concerned about the environment of my 4 siblings left at home. If anyone has advice on how I can help them, or advice on narcissistic mothers and grandchildren, I would greatly appreciate your insight. Thank you.

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Sharon April 13, 2015 at 10:54 am

I hate my mother! Looking at a picture of her brings about a boulder feeling in my chest. I have often asked the golden child (my sister) for help. She sides with her mother even if she knows her mother is wrong. She believes that it is better to protect her mother’s feelings than to protect her sister’s feelings. I have cut off ALL contact with the mother, and I feel a horrendous strain in my love for my sister. My brother was the golden child when we were growing up, but now that he no longer lives near us, my sister is the golden child. I am managed to maintain my position of scape goat, dog, pig, whatever you want to call it. If I sound bitter, you’d better believe I am! What I wouldn’t give to be in a safe room with her for a two-hour or more session. I WOULD DESTROY HER!!!!!!!

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