Narcissistic parents cause “carried shame” in their children. Carried shame is different than “healthy shame.” The important difference between the two in this case is carried shame originates from the narcissistic parent and is not your own, therefore not easily processed.
Healthy shame, on the other hand, is from ourselves. It is not from a narcissistic mother, or another external source. It is from our own value system.
As an adult child of a narcissist (ACON), we may still unconsciously carry this shame with us. It can affect personal, work, and intimate relationships. If you have a narcissistic mother in law or father in law, your spouse may carry shame and have some of the same reactions discussed here.
When we feel healthy shame, we are noting an “awareness function” that reminds us we are imperfect humans, limited, as all are all human beings and have operated out of our own sense of what is right and wrong. When appropriately felt, we don’t like it, but shame passes.
As it does so, it leaves us feeling whole and may even teach us a healthy lesson. However, if we carry the shame of someone else, like that of a narcissistic parent, it can have damaging effects on us and our relationships.
“I feel guilty all the time and I don’t know why,” is one way carried shame can feel. Carried parental shame is toxic because it is injected from a parent’s abusive behaviors. You unintentionally hold onto the shame narcissistic parents should feel when they do boundary-less, harmful behavior.
A narcissistic parent does not feel healthy shame when they do violating behaviors to you but, instead projects that shame onto you. Often, the result is that you feel inappropriate guilt and self loathing triggered by the narcissist’s inability to feel guilt, shame, or empathy.
As children, we can’t recognize that projected shame does not belong to us and, once we internalize it as a child, it is hard to see these feelings actually belong to our narcissistic mother or father, even as we become mature adults.
Carrying our narcissistic parent’s shame has crippling effects. Diminished sense of worth and value can last well into adulthood.
We can become hypersensitive to feedback because the negative voice we may carry from our parent amplifies the well meaning criticism from others we can trust, sadly, by activating the burning toxic shame from the narcissist who violated our trust in the first place.
Narcissistic parents transfer their shame onto their children, particularly the scapegoat of the family. This happens because a narcissist does not realize their behavior is shameful, but the scapegoat child feels something nameless is amiss.
Usually the scapegoat in the family is highly intuitive and prone to take on the pain and troubles of others. As the scapegoat matures, he or she often becomes the “truth teller” about the harmful behavior happening in the family and attracts negative attention from siblings and parents alike. The child’s sense of reality may be eroded.
Shame can be an intolerable feeling that can give you a sense of inadequacy and unworthiness of feeling happy or free. When a child feels this way, they believe it is their own fault that their narcissistic parent treats them cruelly and doesn’t love them. Their trauma is carried with them for a long time. They carry the internalized message that they are not good enough, bad, and a defective human.
In a family with a narcissistic parent, the scapegoat is not a person, but rather an object, as narcissists tend to objectify all people. In contrast, when the child is in the golden child role the child is treated as the good object.
If, as a child, you were put in the scapegoat role and treated as the bad object, it can feel as if you existed solely as a container for the blame and burdens of the family. The shame that is placed on the scapegoat child would make any kid feel confused and unsure of why they’re made to feel this way, leaving them to try to figure out what they did wrong.
Because the origins of shame do not belong to you as an adult and childhood may be a painful and avoided memory, it is hard to figure out how to rid ourselves of such traumatic feelings.
Adult children of narcissists have learned to overcome it by releasing the feelings of ownership of the carried feelings in order to rid the shame from yourself. Remove the shame that has nothing to do with you, carried shame, to make room for new experiences in your life.
To do this, get in touch with your feelings and what your narcissistic parent did to you when you were younger. If you were placed in the scapegoat role, you may have succumbed to the role and allowed all of the troubles and burdens of your family to be placed on your shoulders.
Now is the time to release all of that negative energy and know that what happened to you when you were younger was not your fault and that you are a worthy person.
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