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.