It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We weren’t all perfect angels…

Sometimes I get comments that I don’t publish. If you make a comment and it doesn’t get published, there are numerous reasons ranging from Gmail didn’t notify me that there was a comment to moderate to I haven’t had computer access...but occasionally I get a comment that is so critical, it doesn’t deserve publication. By critical I don’t mean critical of me or my writing, but critical of us, the ACoNs, the DoNMs, the adult children of narcissists. I get these nasty missives in my email as well.

The comments tend to all have a similar theme…that we are whiners who would do better to get off the internet and make something of ourselves, that we are disloyal to our parents by airing all this dirty linen and should be ashamed of ourselves. Frequently, our detractors opine that we are the architects of our own misery because we were not perfect as children, so we brought the pain upon ourselves; alternatively they point out that nobody is perfect, neither us nor the parents we are holding to an impossible standard. What is a common thread in virtually all of these missives is the clear message that they don’t get it, neither do they want to.

We were children…and we did as children do. Some of us were obsessively good—as good as we knew how to be—and were still found wanting. Some of us were naughty…it is perfectly normal for children to test boundaries and to test them repeatedly. Some of us were very naughty…rebellious and striking back at the parents who abused and/or ignored us. But all of us were treated without respect, without love, without our emotional needs being met.

Some of these messages I receive opine that our parents did what they knew…that they were also abused and they didn’t know any better. I find excusing the abuse of a child this way to be appalling for a couple of simple reasons: they had choices; they had access to information to allow them to make better choices; not all of them were abused as children themselves. In fact studies have shown that of people who abuse their children, 70% of them were not abused themselves.

Children are inconvenient little buggers. You are ensconced in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a romantic novel when a crash from another part of the house shatters your peace. Upon investigation you find your 5-year-old scurrying back to his bedroom and a smashed cookie jar on the kitchen floor. You have a meeting of critical importance at work today, one that can make or break your career and you rise to a feverish, vomiting child. Your friends want to go out for a few drinks after work…you have to collect your child from the day care by 6 or they charge you a dollar for every minute you are late… Having children can make it very difficult to plan your time, even on a minute-by-minute basis. Some people rise to this challenge…others resent the imposition on their lives.

What our detractors fail to take into account is the fact that people who are ill-treated as children do not deserve that treatment. Even if they are being intentionally naughty, obstreperous, even deliberately oppositional, they do not deserve to be abused either emotionally or physically. And few of us grew up in a vacuum so solid that no enlightenment from the outside was possible.

If you are 50 or older, your parents did not have the internet to help them find parenting information, so the argument that they “did what they knew,” is perhaps most applicable here. But I have a child who will be 50 in a few months and, quite frankly, I haunted the library during my pregnancy with her, looking for books on parenting and devouring them. At a time that I was counting pennies to make sure I had enough money for food for the month, I spent some of my precious coin on the premier child-rearing book of its time, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, originally published in 1946. If you are 50 or older, your parents had bookstores and libraries to give them new and alternative insights into raising children. And while much of Spock’s advice of that time has been superseded, nowhere in the book do I recall advice to parents that amounts to emotional abuse of their children.

If you were born in the ’70s or ’80s, your parents had not only books and libraries for reference and guidance materials, every supermarket checkout had a plethora of woman- and family-oriented magazines that offered the latest and greatest child-rearing advice. And if you were born after 1990, your parents had all of the resources of previous generations and the internet, too. Unless they were raised in caves far from civilization, your parents had access to information to help them raise their children in kind and loving ways.

The excuse that they “did what they knew” further does not fly because some of these narcissistic parents were raised in functional homes with loving, engaged, involved parents. My own mother’s parents were just normal people who raised a family through the Great Depression and World War II. They did their part for the war: they had a Victory Garden, didn’t try to cheat the rationing system, and my grandmother took a job at the shipyards as a welder. Their sons, as soon as they were old enough, joined the Navy. My mother, on the other hand, was spoilt, resentful of any attempt to control her, and aggrieved by the rationing system because of the limitations it forced upon her: limited amounts of gasoline and car tires, sugar and butter, even silk and nylon because the military needed them for parachutes and other war materiel. Each deprivation she took as a personal affront, and according to my uncle, could trigger a tantrum and sulk in his only sister.

My mother was neither abused nor deprived of emotional sustenance. Indeed, her father tended to spoil her…my grandmother told me that my mother had her father “wrapped around her little finger.” My mother, however, resented every attempt by her father to set boundaries and limits with her and often broke them simply to be spiteful. “Spiteful,” in fact, was a word my uncle used to describe my mother. So, I know of at least one situation in which the abusive narcissist was not raised in a dysfunctional home and deprived of proper parenting herself…and if that one example exists, simple logic dictates that others exist as well.

But suppose your NM was raised in a dysfunctional home: does that excuse her abuses? Of course not. WE were raised in dysfunctional homes—didn’t our parents have the same opportunities to better themselves that we do? OK, maybe they didn’t have the internet, but they had libraries and books and family and friends and even therapists were available…why do we take advantage of the resources available to us and they did not? Because we are focussed not only on healing ourselves but on the well-being of our children as well. They, on the other hand, were interested only in themselves.

Those people who write to me and disparage the people who read here and make negative comments about their life situations simply don’t get it. I suspect a number of them are, themselves, narcissists who are defending their own ilk and blaming the victims. We, the ACoNs and DoNMs, had no less right to be reared with love and kindness and attention to our needs than any other child. That we had the misfortune to be born to a narcissistic parent, however, deprived us of that right and had an essentially deleterious effect on our emotional development. Whether outsiders recognize it or not, whether they accept it or not, children who are raised by emotionally disengaged and predatory parents are being abused by those parents, and that abuse will manifest itself in many different ways. Blaming the victims of these people will not help them to heal, nor will making excuses for the parents.

If you read anything on these pages and find yourself thinking “oh, stop whinging and pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” you are demonstrating a lack of empathy and compassion…and means that you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. This blog aims to be part of the solution by offering the victims of narcissistic parents insights and stories to which they can relate and, in doing so, find themselves less isolated and more hopeful. And comments from detractors, people who have no care for the pain these people have suffered at the hands of those who should love them more than anyone else in the world, will not be published.


  1. When my NGC younger brother was led to my blog he maintained that I was the narcissist for writing a blog about ME. He's also made a lot of "suck it up" comments which, in effect, confirmed that I was writing the truth.
    Doing what he knew, included my father beating my older brother unconscious with a broom handle because he spilled his dinner. Mother's best was ordering me to sit down and keep eating my dinner after I tried to intervene. I challenge adults to live with the fear that ruled our lives as kids and come out of it unscathed.

    1. Amen to that, Mulderfan. Both nature and nurture shape us, and regardless of our inherent personalities, "nurturing" that is abusive, such as that you describe, cannot help but have an effect on our development. Even if you weren't the person getting beaten with the broom handle, you had to witness it, you were prohibited from coming to the aid of the victim, and you got the message that you weren't allowed to make mistakes unless you wanted to face some horrific punishment. That cannot help but shape your view of the world and even if your core personality was strong enough not to be warped by that kind of experience, it was not the kind of scene any child should have to witness.

      Unfortunately, there are people who believe this is acceptable behaviour on the part of the parent, and there are also those who refuse to believe that this kind of behaviour on the part of the parent exists...or if it does, then somehow the kid had to be at fault because all parents love their children except the occasional person who makes the news, like Casey Anthony.

      They simply do not want to know and accept the truth and, to protect themselves from unpleasantness, they want US to shut up. That's not going to happen here.

  2. I wonder if spoiling your mother is what turned her into a narcissist. During her childhood the world did revolve around her and she never learned the lesson that it doesn't. It doesn't excuse any of her behavior - I just sometimes wonder what started it all.

    1. Anon, I never wonder anymore. Whatever happened was put in motion before I was born. I didn't "break" them and it's not my responsibility to "fix" them. When we realize that, a huge burden is lifted.

    2. I am sure being spoilt had some bearing on it, but my mother never viewed herself as spoilt. She grew up in the 30s and 40s when gender roles were much more defined and she believed herself to be the unfavoured child because her brothers got more "priviledges" than she did: in other words, her older brother had a later curfew, so she was being treated unfairly, her younger brother was allowed to go somewhere unaccompanied and she wasn't. What she really wanted, at age 15, was to do whatever she wanted without limitations and she perceived that her brothers had that freedom (which they did not) and that she was being victimized because she was not given what she wanted.

      By the standards of her time, she was quite uncle told me that my mother, the only girl, was quite obviously their father's favourite (she was very coy and flirtatious, even as an older woman)...but it was during the Depression and WWII, so there wasn't much of a way to spoil her with stuff...she was just well loved. But for her, unfortunately, that was not enough.

  3. Authoritarian parenting...may it disappear forever. I think many of the narcissists today were raised by extreme authoritarianism. The next generation of parents flipped to extreme permissiveness, it seems.

    Like you, Violet, I went to libraries in search of knowledge. I had two children that were not easy-going babies. The book that helped me change "parenting patterns" was P.E.T. Do you remember that book? Parenting Effectiveness Training. The focus was on creating a "democratic family", not a dictatorship. (You're probably wondering if my ex read the book, aren't you? Nah, you probably aren't wondering even a second. He didn't, by the way. I was a married single mother. ha!)

    I don't think most people can imagine the lives of ACoNs. People like to pretend that as soon as a woman becomes a mother, she is magically imbued with motherly traits; that fathers suddenly reverse gears and focus on the child. I think society has been in denial about children's vulnerability and maybe that's because it's hard to admit how vulnerable we were as kids. There's not much a child can do about being born to someone who's trapped in a narcissistic personality.

    People just don't understand and I wish they'd reserve their ignorant opinions on the topic and simply LISTEN. ACoNs have had enough "invalidation" to last a lifetime and even if we have a fair amount of recovery under our belts, "invalidation" can be emotionally triggering. It takes a lot of courage to write about yucky parents. If parents were physically abusive, even sexually abusive, then people are more supportive. They can understand that type of abuse because it's "measurable." Narcissistic abuse, the sense that one is never seen nor loved for his/her self, is something people cannot measure and therefore doesn't exist. How do you understand something like that unless you've witnessed it directly or experienced it yourself?


    1. Some people don't want to listen because if they did, and they took on board what we are saying, THEY would have to change something about their beliefs and world view...and they don't want to do that. Our existence and willingness to speak out puts them into cognitive dissonance: what we say runs contrary to what they believe. And they resolve that dissonance by discounting us...and some of them go further and actually try to convince us that we are wrong--about our own lives!

      I get messages from those people, people who want us to shut up because our stories make them uncomfortable, our stories challenge their world view and, rather than adjust that view to include us and our experiences, they wish to believe we do not exist and our stories are self-serving fiction.

      They can believe what they wish...they will anyway...but they are not allowed to spew their invalidation here.

    2. The pov you write about here, Violet, from those who reject the entire concept of ACoNs, is as you say typical of narc parents. The dismissal, the contempt, the disdain, the projection of blame (well my kids weren't perfect so why should I have to be?). The problem with so many of these discussions is that they get completely wrong what's at the base of being an ACoN, as you point out early on in this post--the disrespect, lack of concern with our emotional well-being (my parents treated me like I was an inconvenient object in their home, not a small human). When I became old enough to actually articulate how bad that felt to me, then the smack down really began in earnest. Every effort at communication they construed as an "attack" on them. There are many different ways to raise children. No one handbook or era has the perfect way. But despite differences in approach to childrearing, nothing explains how narc parents treat their grown up children. The decades long after childhood wherein such parents continue the same clueless disdainful dismissive behavior and attitudes. This is the hallmark of narcissistic parents. It's not about "childrearing" folks. It's about NPD, and the inability AND unwillingness to genuinely love your child enough to take what they say to you seriously. To learn from them. My NM told me "you have nothing to teach me about parenting or family." When I told one of my former students, now a mother herself and a dear friend this, she said "that's crazy--your children are the ONLY ones who can teach you about parenting." When you refuse your child empathy, respectful engagement with what they need or are saying to you, when your attitude is "go away and get over it," there is something seriously wrong with you as a parent. Regardless of your approach to "child rearing." It's about your inability for genuine interpersonal relationship that doesn't prioritize yourself ALL THE TIME, which is the hallmark of NPD. People who are not ACoNs have no idea the damage these narcissistic parents do emotionally to their offspring. Dismissal, projection, shame-dumping, blaming the victim, refusing the 'hear' what they are telling you--these are all severe forms of emotional abuse. Narc parents will never accept that because they have a need in their own minds to see themselves as "good enough" parents because hell, they fed, clothed, read to (sometimes) their kids, got them toys and lessons. Without genuine care, concern, respect, engagement, and a willingness to learn from and grow with your child, you are not even close to being what Winnicott called a "good enough" parent. Not even close.

  4. My mom was not abused either. She was the baby princess of her family by 6 years, and the only girl (she had 3 older brothers). Every ancient family photo I see of her in childhood, she has this bratty little scowl on her face. My grandma did not even direct her to smile for photos, and yet everyone else around her is clearly catering to her. She was their baby. I witnessed her beat up my grandma when I was still a toddler. She did this while we were visiting her, in her own house. And I got to see how my grandma responded to my mother's rages; by putting up her arms over her head and cowering like a terrified child; trying to block my mother's powerful blows. The Witch then tossed my grandma out of her own house and locked the door on her. Grandma had to beg her way back into her own home. My uncles confirm my mom was always the temper tantrum queen. Her childhood rages did not subside when she had children of her own. She still does not see herself as an adult, even today; and she doesn't get that her own small children pandered to her raging tantrums out of fear, not out of the very misguided notion of "love" that her parents catered to her for. While I'm sure this is not the case for everyone, my mom was certainly *not* abused herself, but she *did* abuse me.

  5. I just discovered your website. I am going to read every single entry. I am a mom to a 4 yr who we recently learnt has autism and I am learning I am a daughter of a Narssicist feels overwhelmingly sad.But I despreately need to know did you succeed in breaking the legacy? Are you a good mother and ur kids love u?

    1. There is more to breaking the legacy than being a good mother to your own kids.

      The way your children turn out is the result of a combination of things: genetics, parenting, and outside influences (other people, their friends, the values of the society they grow up in). As a parent, you have control of only one: parenting.

      My children were born in the 1960s and early 70s. We knew nothing about narcissism then and the nature vs nurture debate was raging: some professionals thought that you child was solely the product of how you parented (the "tabula rasa" theory in which the child was thought to be a blank slate upon which the parents wrote) while others believed that it didn't matter what the parents did, the child would grow up to be whatever he was destined by his inborn nature to be. I have a child with Asperger's (a high-functioning form of autism that was unrecognized in those days) and the school psychologist was a "tabula rasa" kind of person who very blatantly blamed me for it because it was her belief that parents cause whatever problems their children exhibit. The truth was not know until long after he became an adult, and that psychologist's insistence (in front of him) that his choices were my fault irreparably ruptured out relationship because what he took from that was that he could do whatever he wanted and any unpleasant consequences were my fault. In true narcissistic fashion, he was convinced he was entitled to live his life doing nothing while I supported him and his lack of success in life thereafter was my fault because I failed him as a mother. How much of that is a result of his Asperger's (genius IQ but learning disabled) and how much of it is narcissism is still open to debate, but he has a first cousin with almost identical problems, which convinced me of the genetic component.

      While we have influence on our children, particularly while they are quite young, the older a child gets, the less influence we have. Recent studies have shown that by the time a child reaches his/her teens, parental influence and desire for parental approval fall far short of the influence of peers. Once a child starts school, they begin to learn values and interactions that they did not learn at home and they learn to value the positive attention of their peers. They also have the influence of family members outside of their parents...and a narcissistic grandparent can do untold damage to a child, particularly if the child has inherited a tendency towards narcissism him/herself.

      You cannot make a person compassionate and empathetic if s/he is not born with the capacity, and it doesn't matter if that person is your parent or your child: if they don't have it, it simply is not there for you to nurture. You can still teach a child right from wrong and give him/her good reasons to choose right even when wrong advantages them better (classic narcissistic choice), but you cannot make them care, except with regard to themselves. The classic "put yourself in her place" parental admonition is simply not understood by the narcissist, regardless of age.

      I do not have the power to break the legacy of narcissism in my family because I do not have the power to control everything in the lives of my children or their genetic inheritance. They had a malignant narcissist for a grandmother, I married a malignant narcissist so they had one for a stepfather. They had at least one aunt and one uncle and some cousins and second cousins who were obvious narcissists. And they saw people break all the rules of polite interaction that I taught them and they saw those people get unfair advantage as a result. They know right from wrong...they know what it means to be kind to others...those things I taught them. But whether or not they choose to exercise what they were taught is...and always has been...out of my hands. (see part 2, below)

    2. Part 2
      Emotionally healthy parents do not raise children to love them...that is actually a rather selfish parental point of view that can lead us to make poor parenting choices because if we are afraid of losing the love of our children, we will not make the tough choices that may make our children unhappy. And giving a child what s/he wants in a bid to win or keep the love of that child is a great way to nurture narcissism in the child as it gives them a sense of entitlement. To be good, effective parents we have to be willing to allow our children to be angry with us, to even "hate" us at times because only by doing the right thing (as opposed to pandering to the child so we don't "lose" their love) can we demonstrate to them that sometimes the right thing means doing something we would rather not do.

      Hindsight is much more perfect than foresight and, looking back, if I had it to do over again there are a few things I would change that, I think, would make all the difference in the world with respect to my kids. The very first thing I would do would be to cut all contact with my narcissistic mother...I would disappear off the face of the earth with respect to her and never allow her to see or influence any of my children. I would put my desire for my mother's love and attention (something that plagued me and led me to some very bad parenting decisions) away and learn to love myself instead...I came to this too late to help my kids because this is what drove me to marry a malignant narcissist who would be their male role model for 13 years. I would also not view my children as the centre of my emotional life because that also led me to some bad parenting as well as life decisions: when your child is your reason for living, you put a heavy burden on that child. And I would make better decisions with respect to who I allowed my children to associate with--both adults and peers--in their early years so they would be less likely to choose the "wrong" kind of friends when they were older.

      By asking if I succeeded in breaking the legacy you reveal that you believe that a single person, the daughter of a narcissist, has the power to break a genetic as well as parenting legacy. You set yourself an impossible task if that is what you are out to do: if your child has inherited the tendency towards narcissism, if the child turns out a narcissist, you will feel you are a failure; if the child has not inherited the tendency towards narcissism, you will feel you have succeeded when, in fact, that child carried no legacy for you to overcome. Rather than making this about you triumphing over a generational demon, perhaps a more productive goal would be to help your child develop to his/her greatest potential and to give yourself a break: your success or failure as a human being is not measured by whether or not your children are or are not narcissists, or even whether they do or do not love you: to believe that your children are the measure of your success as a human being is to heavily burden your children with a burden that is not really theirs. Live your life being a good and compassionate person, do what you know is right, even when it hurts you or disadvantages you, and protect your children from as much of the influence of toxic people as you can. You can't break a legacy that is passed down in the genes, but you can refuse to allow it to define you.

    3. Teardrop, I have a very close and loving relationship with my 31 year old daughter which is no proof that I didn't make some mistakes as a parent. The biggest mistake I made was allowing my narcissistic parents unsupervised access to her as a child. As an adult, she has corrected my mistake by having nothing to do with them.

  6. Where's the "like" buttons? I want to like, like, like every line of your post and the following comments by readers and you... I'm sorry I have to post as 'Anonymous' here because it is the opposite of what I feel as I read along. What I feel here is known, and understood. Thank you for this oasis.


I don't publish rudeness, so please keep your comments respectful, not only to me, but to those who comment as well. We are not all at the same point in our recovery.

Not clear on what constitutes "rudeness"? You can read this blog post for clarification: