Did you grow up wondering what you did that was so awful that your narcissistic parent preferred another child over you? Or did you grow up believing you knew why…and you thought it was because that sibling had somehow “earned” the favour of your parents but you had not?
Perhaps you grew up angry, knowing that the other child did not warrant the special treatment s/he received and that you did not deserve the negative treatment you were given. Or you were held to a higher standard than other children in the family or just other children in general.
If any of these fit your experience of growing up, know right now, that the party at fault was not you, it was your dysfunctional parent and everyone who let that behaviour go by unremarked. Every adult in your life who didn’t have the compassion to recognize your abuse or who saw but didn’t have the guts to speak up and take action on your behalf, is as guilty as the person who abused you.
So, why were you chosen and one of the other ones weren’t? The answer is as divergent and disparate as all of our Ns: each N choses his or her victims for his or her own reasons. But there are several reasons in common:
Expectations: For me, it was a case of disappointed expectations. My mother, who was 17 and stuck out on a hard scrabble farm on a gravel road, miles from town and without a car or even knowing how to drive, was expecting a smiling, rosy-cheeked cherub, like the ones who graced the covers of magazines. Deprived of her own adoring audience due to her marriage and isolation, I was to be the cute little angel who drew all of the attention back to her. It didn’t work.
Instead, I failed to meet her expectations. I demanded attention when she wasn’t in the mood to give it to me. I had the audacity to not want to eat on her schedule, but on my own. I didn’t have any hair to brush into ringlets and garnish with a bow, I had colic and I had eczema. I didn’t tolerate the cow’s milk formula that was common at the time and she hated the smell of the goat’s milk that was the only thing I could tolerate. She had expected this compliant, agreeable, picture-perfect child and that was not what she got.
I was further a disappointment as I grew older because she set impossible standards for me and I, predictably, failed, which upset her (and gave her an excuse to have a rage tantrum). I could not mind my younger brother because he was bigger than I was and I had no way to compel his obedience. In fact, she regularly set impossible goals for me, and then blamed me and/or was upset with me when I failed. It was even worse when I didn’t share her visions (like when she wanted me to be a movie star and make her millions and I just wanted to play dolls with the little girl across the street) and worse still when I articulated that fact. Having been taught to not lie, she would get angry with me when I told an embarrassing or inconvenient truth. All the way around, I was a disappointment: I couldn’t read her mind, anticipate her wishes, or perform perfectly the first time every time.
Availability: Availability enters into it. I was the first born and I was the only child available to blame everything on…she didn’t get the breakfast dishes washed before her husband got home from work because of the demanding baby…she got fat and her figure was ruined because of the baby…she didn’t have any money, couldn’t go anywhere, didn’t get the chores done because of the baby. Sometimes a younger child is more available because the older ones are outside playing or at school…the younger child, whether demanding or not, provides a convenient excuse for why nothing was done. Because the child is small and lacking in comprehension, s/he can be perceived as recalcitrant, rebellious, or defiant when, in fact, the child is simply not yet capable…a fact that is not taken into account by the narcissist because that would thwart the narcissists goals of being blameless and entitled to some Nsupply. How does Nsupply figure into this? She gets sympathy for having to put up with this difficult child, she has a justification for throwing a rage tantrum, she is admired for her continued bravery in dealing with the difficult child. And, of course, she comes away blameless for something that was entirely her own doing.
Think of old cartoons where one character does something wrong and, to avoid blame, surreptitiously scoots the evidence of the misdeed in front of his partner… That is what your availability provided to your NM: you were there for her to shift the blame onto, and too young, too unaware, or too intimidated to speak up and set the record straight.
Emotional intelligence: the emotionally sensitive, those inclined towards compassion and empathy, represent a great danger to narcissists. And narcissists understand this. With our empathy, we can see right through them and only through manipulating or intimidating us can they ensure that we will remain silent and keep the secrets of who and what they really are. By hurting us in ways that guarantee that we will continue to seek their love and approval, they further ensure that we will never “out” them for the monsters they are, never do anything that we fear could cause them to withdraw the illusion of love we have been making do with for our entire lives.
They lock down our loyalty with their abuse: as long as they hold the carrot out there for us, as long as we continue to believe the carrot still dangles there, we keep trying to take a big bite out of it and enjoy the warmth and love and approbation we see our NMs handing out to her Golden Children. Because Ns appear to give love and approval to at least one other child, we believe that she is not the problem. We do not recognize that the GCs are also being abused, but differently from the way we are. And because we believe we are the problem, not our narcissists, we further believe that only by striving to measure up do we have a chance of grabbing the golden ring. Alerting the world to what our Ns are really like, “airing our dirty laundry,” committing anything that even looks like a disloyal act, will sabotage our chances of getting approval we need and want from the narcissistic parent.
We become complicit in our own abuse as we attempt to keep the peace and win approval from our Ns. We are chosen to forever strive for the approbation we so desperately want and need so that we will not reveal what our insights realize…often we even hide those insights from ourselves because to acknowledge them sets up a cognitive dissonance that we must resolve or risk feeling crazy. The acknowledgement of truth is the price of having a chance at being loved: you can have or the other, but never both...your acknowledgement and revelation of the truth is a danger the narcissist must prevent at all costs, lest others believe you and her house of cards and illusion come tumbling down around her.
This happened to my mother. When her perfidy was revealed in such a way that most of her flying monkeys were slapped in the face—and slapped hard—with the truth, many of them recoiled. One uncle was so ashamed of his part, he drove 12 hours to my house, despite his poor health, to personally apologize and give me the truth of exactly how she managed to spirit my children away. The other uncle she duped went NC with her. By the time my grandmother (N’s mother) died, the only people who were left speaking to her were the ones who hoped to gain…a cousin who was given some of my grandmother’s original Art Deco furniture (and promptly allowed her dogs to destroy it), and my GC brother, and my GGC daughter who found nothing amiss in receiving half of NM’s estate at the exclusion of me and all of the other grandchildren. Ultimately, except for a few hangers-on who stood to benefit from their continued association with her, my NM’s world collapsed and those who had been duped into being flying monkeys abandoned her…all because the truth finally came out.
Narcissists are not genuine people. For whatever reason, they feel compelled to create a persona rather than be their authentic selves. And then they must protect that persona at all costs. They will do anything they think they can get away with in order to protect that persona so that the person behind the mask will not be revealed. Think “Wizard of Oz” and the weak little person hiding behind the curtain…that story is nothing but the story of a narcissist and how he joyfully manipulates other who come into his sphere and the lengths to which he will go to maintain his self-serving fiction.
So, why you? Because the narcissist perceived you as a threat. Because you were available and unable to fight back or articulate the truth. Because you disappointed her expectations, very likely through no fault of your own because her expectations were unrealistic, even irrational. It wasn’t your fault then, it isn’t your fault now.
And that is my gift to you, this holiday season: the knowledge that it is not your fault and it never has been. You did not create this, no matter how the truth has been massaged and twisted upon itself to look like you did. All those feelings of guilt and inadequacy emanate from the fundamental lie that underpins the narcissist’s entire existence, the lie that s/he is ok and you are not.
So you may let it go whenever you are ready. The guilt and the feelings of inadequacy belong to your narcissist(s) and have been projected onto you. You have become the receptacle of their self-loathing: it has been projected onto you and you have accepted it. But you can let it go…they have no authority over what you believe, only you have that power and you can use it to keep on believing their lies or you can use it to repudiate them.
Knowledge is power and today you have gained the knowledge that you were chosen by the narcissist because you were the one they most feared because you were the one they could tell would be able to see past the mask into the truth about them. With that knowledge you have gained the power you need to open your eyes to the reality of your innocence and their culpability. Use it to your best advantage.