To recover from the emotional abuse caused by a parent with narcissistic tendencies, you must repair your reality—a reality that has been skewed and damaged by your experience of parenting. You are recovering from a serious interpersonal trauma. The repair process has nothing to do with (1) self-improvement, (2) fixing your parent, or (3) working on the relationship with your parent.
When you grow up around a parent with narcissistic qualities, you may be conditioned to believe that only the voice of that person matters. You may learn that only that person is allowed to have and express feelings and opinions. You may shut off your voice and needs in order to meet your parent’s needs. You may watch your other parent abide or acquiesce, and without thinking, the entire family may follow suit.
After all of this childhood conditioning, it can be difficult to adopt healthier ways of being in adulthood. This article provides some suggestions on how to heal from this type of abuse, but it is by no means exhaustive. Partnering with a qualified therapist can help you determine the best way to address your specific needs and circumstances.
Learning to Love Yourself
In order to heal, it is time to start focusing on what it means to experience self-value. Here are four strategies you can incorporate in your life from this day forward to “rewire” your brain and encourage self-value:
1. Develop Self-Compassion
Developing self-compassion can prove quite challenging for some people. It can trigger emotional flashbacks in some individuals who have been exposed to cyclical abuse where compassion was part of the setup for the next attack. It can also be difficult for those who grew up in emotionally neglectful homes and rarely or never received compassion (Germer and Neff, 2014).
Realize that compassion may be absent in a relationship with a person with narcissism, and since parents are so essential for demonstrating empathy to their children, the kids may grow up underdeveloped in this area, particularly when it comes to compassion toward the self.
Be patient as you learn to create kindheartedness toward yourself. Consider what you would say to someone else in similar circumstances, or what benevolent friends have said to you in the past to bring you comfort; learn to say these same words to yourself (Germer and Neff, 2014).
2. Eliminate Your Inner Critic and Toxic Shame
Your “inner child” holds on to the hope that if it becomes smart, helpful, talented, and flawless enough, your parent will finally love it. The continued failure to win the approval of the parent leads the inner child to conclude that it is defective and unlovable. Thus, the child learns through this self-reflection process to self-criticize (Neff, n.d.).
Your “inner child” holds on to the hope that if it becomes smart, helpful, talented, and flawless enough, your parent will finally love it. The continued failure to win the approval of the parent leads the inner child to conclude that it is defective and unlovable.
Because of the constant projection and implication of failure on the part of your parent, you not only have a hurt inner child, but you likely also have an internalized “inner parent” in the form of a punitive voice and inner critic. Hearing the internalized voice of the inner critic continues the experience of toxic shame.
You can eliminate shame by learning to be vulnerable with safe people. As you begin to make connections with safe people, start telling them your story (Brown, 2010).
3. Build Self-Trust
Visualize your traumatized inner child and start developing a relationship with it that is comforting, accepting, strong, secure, and safe. The best way to learn self-trust is to start treating yourself well.
Since you have been in a close interpersonal relationship with a parent with narcissism, you have missed out on the role modeling and mirroring of healthy nurturing. Because of this, you may experience attachment trauma, a faulty inner working model for relationships, and an inaccurate belief system about yourself in relationship to others (Courtois and Ford, 2013).
This needs repair. Stop rejecting yourself and start repairing the damage your parent has caused. You can do this. Embrace your inner child with warmth and acceptance (Walker, 2013).
4. Exercise Self-Care
Because your parent with narcissism has trained you to focus only on their reactions, you may be conditioned to focus outside of yourself and may have no idea how to look internally at your own needs.
Begin to embark on a journey of self-care. Develop an “inner nurturer” and let it have a strong presence in your life. Write a list of happy, healthy things you can do with and for yourself each day.
Please realize that this article only touches the surface of what can happen with a person raised with a parent with narcissistic tendencies and is just a beginning point for what is needed to heal. Recovery from any type of abuse is a process, one that may take a lifetime. Allow yourself the gifts of time, grace, and unhurried, relaxed baby steps. Do not rush the process. Learn to enjoy each day as it comes and be mindful of what you are experiencing and learning. Work to eliminate the critic that resides inside your head. Ultimately, the recovery process involves developing a healthy relationship with self and others. Seek support from a therapist as needed.
- Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection. New York, NY: Hazelden.
- Connelly, S. (n.d.). Permission to Stop Beating Yourself Up. Retrieved from http://traumahealed.com/articles/permission-to-stop-beating-yourself-up/
- Courtois, C.A., & Ford, J.D. (2013). Treatment of Complex Trauma. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- Germer, C.K., & Neff, K. (2014). Cultivating Self-Compassion in Trauma Survivors. Retrieved from http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Germer.Neff_.Trauma.pdf
- Neff, K. (n.d.). Self-Compassion. Retrieved from http://self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/
- Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. United States: Azure Coyote.
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