An Open Letter to the Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents
When did you find out it wasn't you?
When did you realize you weren’t the problem?
In therapy, I described living at home as living with a bear. A dormant bear. The only thing separating us was a flimsy wooden fence. A fence even the most delicate bear could easily hit down. The only way I could keep myself safe from the bear was to stay away from it. Far away from the fence. Be undetectable. Invisible.
We’d been arguing for over an hour about the garbage bin. Criticism is the antithesis to a functioning relationship with a narcissist. It’s impossible to point out a flaw. Subconsciously, I’d always known this without knowing it. If something was wrong, I fixed it. Saying something would set her off.
I avoided conversation with my mom. I limited contact, communication, and friction as much as possible. That never worked either; we lived together.
She’d thrown away some dryer sheets in the garbage in my bathroom that didn’t have a bag in it. I kept a small bag of bags right behind the garbage for this reason. While heading up to my room, I said, “Would you mind replacing the bag in my garbage before throwing things in there? There are bags behind the bin.”
What should have ended with an, “Okay, sure,” turned into a screaming match about all the things I forget to do. And, all the ways she’s a bad mother. It’s a classic move. How many times have you tried to offer your parents the smallest spoonful of accountability and been met with some outlandish claim about you hating them? Avoiding all accountability for even the smallest tasks by making Mount Everests out of molehills. Moving so far from the point and getting so unfathomably defensive that productive conversation is immediately rendered impossible.
She’d grown entitled to her anger. She justified her outbursts by any means necessary, to solidify she was a good person. A good parent.
I’ve not spoken to anyone about what I’ve gone through with my parents. I learned much later on that it wasn’t normal for your parents to be the least trustworthy or emotionally supportive people in your life. That the emotional instability and absence of your parents isn’t normal. That I shouldn't have to mediate and compensate for my mom’s emotional immaturity. That I grew up under the dark cloud of untreated personality disorder. That I shouldn’t have to beg for my dad to care about me.
The reality of parenthood is that it’s learned. No one has that sort of practice. The second reality of becoming good at anything is acknowledging you’re presently not good at it. But that’s an impossible hurdle to jump with a narcissist.
How much of the baggage from your parents’ destroyed childhood become yours to bear as well?
To be modest enough to admit that, you’d have to kill your defensiveness. But that’s the foundation on which narcissism stands. It’s leaning into the insecurity that narcissism was built up to protect.
When did you realize they’ll never change?
My first birthday after she’d joined Facebook. She’d avoided social media for a long time. Thanks to daytime news, she was convinced people were chomping at the bit to hack into her computer and steal her information. Hey, who am I to fight her on that?
The long birthday posts with all these pictures that her friends would comment on, lamenting her in praise for her amazing parenthood. How proud they were of me for ageing, and her for getting me here.
The game that narcissistic parents know better than anyone else is how to look good. They’re more concerned with appearing to be good parents than being good parents.
After she’d hit me, she’d cry. She told me it was because she felt guilty. That was the extent of the accountability. I found it interesting, the glaring issue of being so consistently angry, defensive and possessive of your kid never prompted a quest for external help. She knew her personal demons made her a bad mother, and still continued to sleep with them. Night after night. Crying to them.
How much of the baggage from your parents’ destroyed childhood become yours to bear as well? Apparently, most of it.
When did you learn you’ll be fine?
The moment I learned to humanize them. My therapist asked me if I’d want to hang out with my parents if we weren’t related. Just as friends. Your view of your parents is created by their view of their own parents. And if there is anything older generations like to do, it’s deifying their parents.
The versions of their own childhood many parents choose to believe are fictional. It’s the version they wanted. The version they use to cope. The version they’re giving us. They’ve decided their parents were good based on what they were told they got. They were told their parents loved them unconditionally, cared for them and hit them out of love.
Sadly, they never got to learn that’s not true. That loving someone doesn’t hurt. That their parents may not have “loved” them correctly; the way they needed them to.
I take back what I said before, you can learn to parent. From your parents. I know exactly the kind of childhood my parents had because it was exactly the one they gave me. Except, I removed the filter. It’s accountability for their mistakes and their parent's mistakes. It’s accepting they had a horrible childhood, their parents weren’t good parents, and now neither are they.
If they weren’t chosen for you, would you choose them? Eventually, we learn we’re in control. We have a choice. We can reclaim the narrative.
I’m free. I don’t have to always be the adult child of narcissistic parents. I can just be myself. I’m free.
Some Narcissist’s Kid