How to Heal from the Narcissistic Abuse of a Parent

A woman who wears a hijab and has a serious expression hugs herself on the beach, looking off to the sideTo 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.

Conclusion

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.

References:

  1. Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection. New York, NY: Hazelden.
  2. Connelly, S. (n.d.). Permission to Stop Beating Yourself Up. Retrieved from http://traumahealed.com/articles/permission-to-stop-beating-yourself-up/
  3. Courtois, C.A., & Ford, J.D. (2013). Treatment of Complex Trauma. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  4. 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
  5. Neff, K. (n.d.). Self-Compassion. Retrieved from http://self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/
  6. Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. United States: Azure Coyote.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sharie Stines, PsyD, therapist in La Mirada, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 22 comments
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  • Sadie

    Sadie

    November 16th, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    It can be a difficult transition to go from self loathing to self loving

  • Linda

    Linda

    November 16th, 2016 at 4:27 PM

    Yes, but it feels so good.

  • Sharie S

    Sharie S

    November 17th, 2016 at 8:41 PM

    No one understands what it’s like until they’ve been there.

  • Mark

    Mark

    November 28th, 2016 at 1:24 PM

    After decades of searching I now realize that I grew up under the thumb of a covert narcissist parent. Oddly enough, I went no contact in 2004, which helped. I don’t know why I went no contact, but something inside me told me that this was for my own good. I just told her to call me anytime, but of course I knew full well she wouldn’t because she has never called me anyway :-).

    However, although I have improved over the years I’m still struggling with some issues and would like to know where I can find a therapist (someone to consult) to learn how to deal with some of these issues. Are there therapists who fully comprehend the nature of covert narcissism?

    Thank you.

  • Mark

    Mark

    November 28th, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    I just realized that I replied to Sadie LOL. This was just a general question, so Sadie, you don’t need to reply :-).

    Sorry about that.

  • Katie

    Katie

    December 18th, 2016 at 8:06 AM

    Janina Fisher (sp?) Works at Bessel Van DER Kolk’ s trauma treatment center in Boston. She gave an online training on toxic shame that I found very helpful. I also recommend EMDR therapy because it helps heal the somatic symptoms, and the therapists are generally very experienced. As the article said, it is a process…It takes time to heal

  • Alyce

    Alyce

    November 16th, 2016 at 2:57 PM

    There are sometimes going to be those doors that deserve to remain shut and quite honestly if you have a parent who abused you in this way when you were younger there is no need to open that door back up for them. What they did to you was abuse whether they will admit to that or not, that is what it was. It was harmful and hurtful and I think that as you get older you will see that the less disappointment that you let into your life then the better that entire life can be. Some things are always going to be better looking at in the rearview mirror, and parents who were like that toward you would definitely fit into that category.

  • Linda

    Linda

    November 16th, 2016 at 4:26 PM

    Yes, so true.

  • Linda

    Linda

    November 16th, 2016 at 4:21 PM

    This article is the best ever! I try to share w my friends my struggles and when they ask about self-improvement, and how’s my relationship with my mom I know they don’t get it. All the suggestions are things I’m working on in therapy. I love it. Wish everyone would read this article so they could see what our struggle to heal from trauma is.

  • Ellen R

    Ellen R

    November 17th, 2016 at 6:55 AM

    Instead of “eliminating” the critical part, understand that it is a protective function that was intended to forewarn you of the potential for further negative responses from the narcissist. As you learn more about that difficult protective role you can bear witness and support the part to take a different, more updated, positive role in your self-system. Elimination would mean that you were less of a whole person in your recovery. UnkindGifts.com, selfleadership.org

  • Sean

    Sean

    November 17th, 2016 at 9:15 AM

    Seriously the best line of defense is just to ignore them when at all possible

  • Rhea

    Rhea

    November 17th, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    Sometimes you just have to learn to be kind to and love yourself, that’s the ultimate answer

  • Ravi

    Ravi

    March 21st, 2017 at 1:56 AM

    Sometimes that is most difficult

  • Theodore

    Theodore

    November 18th, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    For me there has rarely been that time when I felt whole and fulfilled and I will not just blame my parents because there are parts of me that truly believe they did the best that they knew how with the tools that they had been given. But in the end they had both been raised by their own hurtful parents so that was all they then knew to give to me and my brothers. There comes a time when you have to be the one to make the decision that you will be the one to break that cycle otherwise it will continue on further down the line.

  • Nicole U.

    Nicole U.

    November 19th, 2016 at 5:22 AM

    There is the damage that’s done when you’re a child, and (in many cases) the continuing damage that’s reinforced in dealing with a narcissistic parent as an adult. When discussing this issue, it’s all too easy to relegate harm to your childhood, but if you’re 45 and your narcissistic parent still looks to you for narcissistic supply you can get re-wounded and triggered.
    I think Internal Family Systems therapy and good boundaries are key ingredients in feeling whole and fine in oneself.
    Another helpful technique is to record and listen to yourself saying all the things you wish someone else (probably a parent, but possibly a loving friend or therapist) were saying to you right now. There’s something supremely powerful when you hear those compassionate words coming out of your own mouth.

  • Grayson

    Grayson

    November 19th, 2016 at 8:30 AM

    Healing from this is like any other healing. It will take some time.

    That kind of damage was not done to you overnight and will not be healed overnight either.

  • simon

    simon

    November 24th, 2016 at 7:26 AM

    It is so important to find healing because as long as you don’t they are still controlling you and winning.

  • Isabelle

    Isabelle

    November 27th, 2016 at 7:45 AM

    I have a friend who had to endure this from her mother and really as an adult she is so screwed up because she never knows if she should be trying harder to please herself or to please another person.
    It’s kind of sad because she is a smart and intelligent woman but being raised in that kind of household made it hard for her to see that she is valuable and deserves to be wanted and to be loved.
    I feel pretty bad for her but never know exactly what to do or say to help her navigate that mess.

  • Jane

    Jane

    February 24th, 2018 at 2:55 AM

    Isabelle, you are indeed a great friend by even trying to help.
    Sharnie, you’re right. It only touches the surface. But so well written with compassion and understanding. So many, including most therapists, just do not get it. Lucky them! It’s hard to believe parents can be so cruel. There are worse parenting situations but this one is so called subtle – no bruises, no sexual assault, etc.
    This should be compulsory reading for therapists. Seriously.

  • Cin

    Cin

    April 26th, 2018 at 10:31 AM

    I was the last child of 5 born to my parents, with 3 older brothers &1 sister. My mom would abuse me Physically(whip),Emotionally & Mentally numerous × daily Age 5-Age 17.
    During which time I was determined to stay strong, ignore all the things she was saying to mentally drain me and Emotionally hurt me from head to toe. I was always happy go lucky at school and never missed as school was the place I could go to escape from the pain and words. None of this really bothered me mentally after I got out of their house & on my own, up until the last 2 years when I hit menopause at 49. I have no Friends to talk to and obviously no Family. I can sit and not move from same spot for days saddened that I never really stopped to look or examine my childhood until 2 years ago something inside me changed. I don’t know if it was menopause starting or if this finally hit me, But My job closed their doors 2 years ago, the day that happened is the day My entire Mental Health has really done a number on me. Since being laid off, I can’t afford a counselor. I wish I couis find the right book to am re me, if not I will keep asking God to finally give me joy

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    June 22nd, 2018 at 7:01 PM

    Cin,
    I am sorry to hear your story and you seem incredibly strong. I ams sure your life change and work situation triggered that past trauma. I would look into the writing of Louise Hay, an abuse survivor, Wayne Dyer, and Eckhart Tolle. I wish you the best and know you will get past this because you are strong survivor who can do this. Sending you the best.

  • CAI

    CAI

    September 15th, 2018 at 10:12 AM

    Hey Cin, I just found this article and your posting. I hope things are going better for you. I don’t think it is only the menopause. I think children of narcissistic moms get a lot of their self esteem from their jobs / accomplishments. I am in a similar boat and at a similar age. You are more than your job or your accomplishments, though. I am looking for a group of people like you for support. I do have four brothers and we all agree on the source of our childhood pain. But the rest of the world thinks she a lovely person and we are just ungrateful emotionally flawed children. They never question the source of our common issues. There are people out there who would value your contributions & support (including me if I lived in your area) – hope we both find them.

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