Thank your narcissistic parent for these 4 healthy and powerful personality traits
A childhood that includes neglect, unkind words, and a lack of unconditional love contorts how you see your place in this world.
I have witnessed clients of all ages who have described themselves as “broken”. Of course they feel broken after withstanding years of abuse and neglect. Often, these clients have thoughts of suicide, but can’t verbalize why.
I have a great job, loving husband, awesome kids … I can’t understand why I don’t want to be here anymore.
It is a privilege to witness these same struggling clients transform their description of existence from broken into a not-always-perfect, but beautiful life. They begin to discover their own values. They begin to recognize their self-worth. Most importantly, they begin to find meaning in their world.
What are the chances?
It is estimated roughly 5% of the population could be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Your mathematical odds fall to a 0.25% chance of having a duo of narcissistic parents. Having one narcissistic parent is improbable, but having two narcissistic parents elevates you to an elite level of childhood frustrations.
I am not referring to the occasional narcissistic behaviors all of us occasionally perform. I am referring to the consistent, personality driven behaviors that are at the same time abusive and neglectful. I am referring to the parents who are diagnosable.
When you have a narcissistic parent, or narcissistic parents, your childhood is about the parent’s ego — all the time.
To retain center stage, the parent may quickly and unpredictably change their demeanor from charming to enraged to get the feedback they require. The needs of the narcissistic parent are not limited to the time their child is a child. Adulthood is not an escape hatch — you will have to do the work to find freedom.
The escape and resulting gifts
Escaping the grips of a narcissistic parent is not easy at any age. It takes a ton of work on the inside and uncompromising action on the outside.
To emotionally separate from the grips of abuse, the healing process may take years … and a lot of therapy. But during the intense and arduous process of healing, emotional muscle is built. Once the healing process is underway, your childhood experiences can be catalysts for developing healthy and powerful personality traits.
1. You are empathetic
A narcissistic parent shows little concern for your feelings. Your emotions are not generally something they are willing to explore with you unselfishly in a bonding moment.
When you are young and must rely on your parents for resources, your joy is dependent on your parent’s joy. Making a narcissistic parent happy is no easy job and throughout your childhood you become an expert at recognizing moods and emotions in others.
A childhood of selflessnes is not ideal. However, being empathetic will build your curiosity about others. You learn at a young age to challenge your own prejudices in order to find, or force, commonalities . You learn to try on another person’s life before making irrational judgment.
You learn to listen hard.
Even though this intense level of listening was instilled in you for survival, it is an incredible gift. Through consistent deep listening, empathetic individuals are highly sensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions and often have gut feelings that turn out to be exceedingly accurate.
Once you escape the reigns of your narcissistic parent you will have a level of understanding and insight early in life that most take a lifetime to build.
2. You are resilient
Narcissistic parents are notorious for competing with their children. They may try to get even with you by restricting your freedom if you are “getting a little too big for your britches.” They may insult you to make sure you know the pecking order. When you have no power, you will be their doormat.
Being “put in your place” repeatedly can break you for a time, but it can also create a realization that you can combat anything.
Give me your best shot, I won’t just survive, I will thrive.
With a narcissistic parent, your resiliency muscle will be a fine-tuned machine. When you build your resilience, you stop comparing yourself to others and gain awareness that every setback is not an embarrassment. Setbacks are merely guideposts to incredible transformation.
One characteristic that is readily recognized in the resilient is their sense of humor even through the worst conditions. I have worked with more than a handful of clients who have suffered at the hands of one or two abusive and/or neglectful parents. Their stories are often told with a playful, dark humor. Humor is a very effective coping mechanism that may have been amplified when expressing your emotions was dangerous.
Resilience enhanced through a childhood of servitude to narcissistic needs can build insight, initiative, and creativity to get you through the toughest times.
3. You are independent
If your narcissistic parent created a home environment where you were expected to parent the parent, then your job will be unexpectedly easy when you only need to care for yourself.
This one is sticky because a parent that expects their child to care for them does not suddenly surrender this expectation because the child grows up.
They will demand to be the center of attention despite your job, spouse, family, or basically anything in your life.
Cutting this unhealthy bond is paramount, but when you do, your new “problem” will be filling up your new-found free time with activities consistent with your personal values and desires. This new-found time and energy will be uncomfortable at first, but it is the key to independence.
Independent people are internally motivated. You are not pushed, because rarely was anyone there to push you. You have learned the necessity of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
You do not blame others for your failures. Not a difficult task for you because blaming others has never been an option. Hell, you took the blame for many things just to keep the peace.
As a recovering child of narcissistic parents you are all too familiar with being independent. Once you set appropriate boundaries and step out on your own you will be surprised at just how capable you have become.
4. You are mindful
Mindfulness will feel natural once you have decided to let your past make you stronger. You realize your youth was spent on your narcissistic parent’s whims but now you can breathe at your own pace and focus on this precious moment.
After such extensive work to reach a point of comfort in the present moment, being intentional and finding your purpose is an existential journey you have earned. After you do the work to separate from your narcissistic parent, you begin a quest to find meaning.
You have learned through a youth of conflict what deserves to be a part of your life and what deserves to be ignored.
A major focus during the healing process is to uncover your personal core values that guide your focus, decisions, and behavior. For example: Which do you value more — freedom or security? Your values may be in contradiction to the way you were forced to live as a child.
Mindfulness lets you explore concepts that you once thought were “bigger than you”. Your survival tactics developed throughout childhood have made you an expert map maker to lead you to your ultimate purpose.
If it was pounded into you that you are your parent’s child rather than a unique human being, then you may benefit from some deep work. Of course, I recommend working with a psychologist on your journey — you know, because psychologist’s are pretty cool.
Remember, everything that happens in your life makes you who you are today. Those difficult times in childhood forged you into an empathetic, resilient, independent, mindful being.
Be especially grateful for your gifts disguised as painful memories — those are the gifts that bring insight and wisdom.