Love is just another four-letter word in the narcissist’s universe.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

It’s all going swimmingly.

Romantic dates with roses, chocolates, expensive restaurants and jewellery. Love is in the air. Or so it seems.

Those three little words can mean so much to those who hear them, but what do they really mean in the rise and fall of relationships — especially in a relationship with a narcissist?

Growing up with a narcissistic mother, my experience of love was fraught. I didn’t want to be loved, especially not by her. There were always long, prickly, tangled strings attached. From early on in our relationship, before I had the words to describe it…

Photo by Steven Van Loy on Unsplash

Role reversal doesn’t make children resilient, it creates trauma.

Parentification is a long word for something that’s damaging, and underrecognised.

Going through a painful divorce, losing the affection of your spouse, having a bad patch or just feeling emotionally drained can all be reasons for parents to use their children as emotional props. But that is never an excuse. Children should be protected from the emotional turmoil of divorce and depression, not co-opted into a parent’s pain or used as a pawn in an acrimonious decoupling.

It can be even more damaging when parents globally abdicate from the responsibility that comes with looking after children. When roles in families…

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It sounds like a no-brainer, but the reality is a lot more complex.

So you thought your sister had all the luck. She was the doted on darling who could do no wrong. The centre of attention, looked after, adored and admired.

The resentment is still there. Bubbling away under a pristine surface and draining the facade of those fake happy family get togethers. I got pummelled for staying out late, while she was forgiven for everything….How come she got away with that?

But take it from me, golden children are ultimately the tarnished ones.

Being a golden child is like being the narcissistic parent’s mini me. They aren’t allowed to be themselves…

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

I was the family scapegoat and there was no escape.

Growing up, I was the butt of jokes. The youngest by far in a dysfunctional, narcissistic family, I struggled to get the approval of my hypercritical mother.

My siblings viewed me as the “golden child” and vented their jealousy and anger on me with ridicule, derision and cruel pranks. Wherever I turned, I was met with hostility and destructive targeting. Sometimes, the barbs were disguised as jokes or harmless fun.

But they weren’t funny.

I remember spending a lot of time on my bed, staring into the loving brown eyes of my dog, desperate for some kind of acknowledgement or…

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

The scars are all on the inside.

As infants we develop in the context of an attachment relationship. Without someone there to help us, we just wouldn’t survive. So nature has designed the attachment system to ensure that we stay in proximity to our parents. From birth we are primed to attach, and infants take an active role in initiating and maintaining the attachment relationship. As we develop, we learn about the world and ourselves from our parents. The social and emotional learning that takes place during this period is vital to our development.

But when our primary caregiver is emotionally unstable, the attachment relationship is fraught…

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

You’ve flown the coop, but the legacy is still there.

Narcissistic parents are by definition self-focused. They usually can’t make themselves available to others — emotionally and sometimes physically. For children, the impact is ongoing and painful.

1. Low self-esteem

Your feelings of worthlessness didn’t come from nowhere. Although many children of narcissists don’t consciously experience these difficult feelings, they are still there, running in the background and influencing your everyday life. Your choices, your relationships and your ability to withstand stress are all affected by low self-worth.

Narcissistic parents raise their children to believe that their authentic self is somehow flawed. These parents use shame to try to control their children, forcing…

Photo by Ladislav Bona on Unsplash

Mirroring is essential for early development, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

The original Narcissus was a handsome youth who fell in love with his own reflection and died of starvation. Echo, the nymph who loved him, could only parrot his words and also pined away without ever being acknowledged by the man she loved.

This famous Greek myth serves as a reminder of the dangers of trying to relate to a narcissist. They are too busy looking into the mirror to notice us.

Mirrors are important in thinking about narcissism because they symbolise the basic deficit of the narcissist. Narcissists just don’t have a healthy relationship to themselves to provide them…

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

It’s different to having a narcissistic boss, boyfriend or neighbour

There’s a lot of talk about trauma nowadays. But when it comes to narcissism and mothers, most people get it wrong. Yes, your adult relationships with narcissists will cause you pain. They might even cause psychological trauma. But realistically, they will not have the same impact as being raised by a narcissistic mother.

In Western societies, mothers are the primary caregivers. They give birth, breastfeed and usually take the lead role in looking after the baby. Of course, fathers are important too. But when it comes to narcissism, a mother’s impact on the development of her child is the lynchpin.

Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash

But was it worth it?

It was a long, painful process.

I wish I could say I woke up looking and feeling fantastic, but that would be far from reality.

On May the 1st in 2014 at the age of 53, I dramatically changed my appearance. I went into a private hospital in inner Melbourne, with an overbite, a weak chin and a gummy smile — and came out with a perfect bite, a wider palate and a firm chin.

I had always hated my teeth, my smile, and my jawline. I dreaded having photographs taken, hated being seen in profile, and avoided social situations…

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Healing from the pain of a one-way relationship

Recovery is not a linear pathway. For any of us. You’ll take steps forward and back, question and blame yourself. You might even fall flat on your face. Remember, you have been undermined and invalidated in your closest relationships. You are probably used to being white anted. You might even white ant yourself with prevarication and rumination. No-one deserves abuse. And everyone deserves to find acknowledgment and true intimacy in relationships.


“The person I love is not a narcissist. Underneath those little flaws they really do love me. …

Amanda Robins

Writer, artist, psychotherapist & seeker of the Snitch. Download my free ebook here:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store