Opinions differ on the topic of narcissism. Is it a personality trait? Or is it a flaw? Do we inherit it? Indeed, the still-enigmatic nature of narcissism evokes many of these questions and more. In this writer’s view – which is shared by many psychologists – narcissistic behavior is a mix of all the aforementioned.
But one thing that almost everyone can agree on is that loving a narcissist – heck, even being associated with one – is a very difficult thing. If you were to ask a person what either of these experiences are like, they’d likely not have too many good things to say.
Now, imagine being the child of a narcissist. How about the worst-case scenario? Being a child of two narcissistic parents? It goes without saying that this would be an incredibly difficult thing to endure. Almost assuredly, the child will receive emotional and psychological abuse, potentially resulting in psychological scars that they will endure for the rest of their life.
The Resulting Scars
Dr. Seth Meyers – a nationally-recognized clinical psychologist – elaborates on the somber reality in being a child of narcissistic parents:
“The reality of narcissistic parenting couldn’t be sadder: The child of the narcissist realizes early on that he exists to provide a reflection for the parent and to serve the parent – not the other way around.”
Dr. Meyers further elaborates:
“The problem with being a child of a narcissist is that it takes these children so many years of frustration and anguish to figure out that Mom or Dad isn’t quite right; until that point, these children are merely dancing as fast as they can, trying to please the impossible-to-please narcissist parent.”
“It takes years to finally see that the type of parenting they’ve been receiving is wrong – if not emotionally abusive.”
In other words, children of narcissistic parents really have no childhood to speak of. They’re there to make the parent look good, and are predestined to servitude until independently able. The children experience years of psychological “anguish” before (hopefully) reaching the painstaking conclusion that something is very wrong. Of course, one can only hope that the child can have some semblance of peace after such an ordeal.
How to Deal With Narcissistic Parents
People that endure the hardships of narcissistic parents often require some type of assistance, sometimes even therapy. That is, those victims that actually realize it. Tragically, some of these individuals never fully comprehend the inherent damage suffered as a result of the abuse.
For those that did “recover” – or, at least feel better – how did they manage to do so? As is the case with most (all?) types of psychological trauma, there is no one framework for recovery. This is especially true when the suffering originates from parental figures. This said, some guidance does exist that may help a person to deal with the situation.
One particular type of therapy that has gained widespread approval from professionals is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short. The bases of DBT is formed from Buddhist meditation practices and techniques. Professionals are quick to point out that DBT – as is the case with nearly all therapies based off Buddhism – is secular; that is, non-religious. Further, one does not have to be well-versed with meditation to benefit from DBT.
There are three specific practices that form the basis of DBT: acceptance, dialectical, and mindfulness. We’ll touch on each one.
Applied in the context of DBT, acceptance is the realization that one cannot change past events. DBT states that human beings tend to prolong unnecessary pain and suffering by reliving the past.
Acceptance in no way implies approving of, forgiving, or overlooking the situation. Instead, acceptance teaches that, which the past will not change, the future can– and for the better. With this in-mind, the victim can more forward and enjoy a happy and prosperous life.
One definition of dialectical is “concerned with or acting through opposing forces.” DBT instills the belief that victims can improve while acknowledging and discussing the trauma experienced; in this case, emotional and psychological abuse.
The main purpose behind this technique is teaching an individual to cope. More specifically, to cope in a safe and productive manner.
The practice of mindfulness is perhaps the most ubiquitous in all of Buddhism, and in all practices derived from Buddhist tenets. The University of California at Berkeley provides an excellent and comprehensive explanation of mindfulness:
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment…we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think of feel in a given moment.
Perhaps most importantly:
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
As Dr. Meyers so eloquently states, being a the child of narcissists is a tragic situation that often has life-changing consequences. The very real trauma formed from years of parental abuse most often requires recognition and subsequent treatment.
To this end, results from DBT practitioners – including victims of narcissistic parental figures – looks promising.