Our children will be exposed to narcissists, nasty teachers, bulies, selfish room mates as well as kind generous authentic people every day. Healthy boundaries go in both directions and we can only teach our children how to protect and love and honor themselves and to make wise choices. Why, then, should it be any worse or more dramatic because they have a narcissistic parent? Why do we, the parents, feel we are responsible for putting our children through this? Why are we so hugely emotionally vested and fearful?
Healing Takes Deliberate Planned Action
As a parent and a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I was beside myself with worry every day that not only would narcissists harm my child but that I was powerless to stop it. I learned through my healing that this was faulty learned thinking that I risked transferring to my child if I left it uncorrected. Along with it, I carried profound guilt, shame and trauma and believed falsely that I was an ineffective parent. This was my inner critic’s guilt and shame I carried with me from childhood that was projected onto me by my abusers! I came to learn that the pain I was carrying was not even mine and was unhealed pain that had been transferred to me generationally.
I realized soon that focusing on my guilt, shame, pain, angst, and fear and protecting my daughter from harm was just keeping me from healing and preventing my daughter from acquiring the full benefit of my genuine love for her because I was not emotionally healthy and functioning authentically at one hundred per cent. Why should your children and my daughter and our relationships with them suffer because we did? Let’s explore this.
In order for my daughter to thrive (and she is), I and no one else had to own my pain and understand that I was worthy of healing and being pain-free and to honestly express that ownership and my responsibility for healing with my daughter. She and I both deserved better as do you and your children, right? So I focused on my health and wellness, made a plan, and took action. I put on my big girl britches and apologized to her for my poor choices and told her the root causes and what I was doing to course and thought correct. It was not her problem to correct or take on as her own. It was mine! I can only be her mother and she had the right to an emotionally healthy and honest one and to be raised in an emotionally healthy home. Not only did I heal, I thrived and when I thrived, guess what? So did my daughter.
Did I make mistakes when I felt helpless and overwhelmed and lost? Of course. Did that make me a bad mother? Of course not. To the contrary, it made me an awesome one, a powerful one. Did my daughter drive me crazy through her teenage years? Of course. Did that make her a bad child? Of course not. But once again, I took on the guilt of “ruining her.” In times of stress, we go back to what we are comfortable with though it may not be effective. Thank goodness for the National Geographic edition on the teenage brain that explained the teenage years are a sort of “retarded” stage humans have to go through for normal development. What relief I had when the burden of shame was replaced with truth and empowerment.
Do Not Normalize the Abuse
Abuse victims are frequently unnecessarily conflicted about alienating the child against the other parent. Don’t ever think your children are too young to learn the truth about being victimized or exploited or that you are “saying something bad about the other parent.” This is a lie that results in nothing more than normalizing the abuse, teaching falsehoods on healthy relationships and love, shaming the victim and adding to their pain. There is a big difference between speaking crap about a person and speaking truth about a crappy person. Always speak truth because it does set us free.
Healing is your right to act on your free will and to live as you were designed. Healing is all about you, not your husband or wife or partner and a child is never too young to learn about good and evil and what healthy relationships, love, and boundaries are. Love that is unrequited is not love, right? The challenge is teach our children how to relate to all people including relatives without sacrificing self-respect and honor for themselves.
Empowering Life Skills – Critical Thinking, Healthy Reciprocity, and Emotional Intelligence
We, to be effective parents or mentors, must teach our children or proteges life skills that support their emotional and relational health. Brian D. Johnson, Ph.D. and Laurie Berdahl, M.D. report in “Childhood Roots of Narcissistic Personality Disorder” that critical thinking skills help us tell lies from truths and determine when someone is manipulating to take advantage of or scam us. Critical thinking also allows us to reliably distinguish emotionally healthy from emotionally unhealthy behaviors, identify narcissists and anyone toxic, hang tough in our own truth and manage the boundaries with all toxic people even the ones we are related to who we are “supposed to love.”
We can easily teach these empowering life skills by being mindful of unhealthy and healthy interactions and behaviors we observe and pointing these out to our children. Of course, we must walk the talk and fess up to and apologize for our own less than optimal behaviors and reinforce positive behaviors and mirror healthy behaviors and personal accountability as well.
Part of healing and building self-worth is learning what self-love is and what healthy loving relationships of reciprocity are. We are all born lovable however loving relationships are not an entitlement. They are worked for and earned based on honoring each other’s wants and needs in sickness and health and in good times and bad in a respectful manner beneficial to both parties. Emotionally intelligent and healthy individuals know this and live it. They are clear on their personal worth and lovability and the rules of healthy respectful human interactions.
Dr. Travis Bradberry, a renowned expert on emotional intelligence in ourselves and others notes that while all people experience emotions, only 36% of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions for ourselves and in our relationships. People with high emotional intelligence master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling ‘bad,’ emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel ‘irritable,’ ‘frustrated,’ ‘downtrodden,’ or ‘anxious.’ The more specific our word choice, the better equipped we will be on not only what we are feeling and what caused it but also what we can and should do about it.
Teaching emotional intelligence to our children can be as simple as repeating to them in words what they are feeling especially if pain- or discomfort-based. Then we can help them learn to reliably embrace and sooth their emotions to build sustainable self-reliance rather than fear them and believe falsely they are deserving of the painful feelings and are powerless to them. Again, the best way to teach our children is to support these behaviors consistently in our words, thoughts, and actions and in validating our children’s and other’s emotions and being honest about our own.
Use Stories to Teach
If we are in abusive relationships and have young children, we can easily use stories to teach these lessons in a healthy constructive manner that will hold the abuser responsible for their actions and us accountable to our healing goals.
Take this as as example.
Why not present the situation as a child would understand such as in a fairy tale about good and evil and put yourself in the story. Be creative. The brain is growing and processing and your child is mirroring, seeing herself in you. You are your child’s reflection and you are teaching her how to become as she is divinely intended and to respect herself and to understand her personal worth. You are teaching her to become the best version of herself, to become self-reliant, resilient. You are teaching her to have compassion for her mother, the person who gave her life and for herself and others. You are facilitating your child to become a participant and compassionate witness in your healing and rebirth in the same way you participated and witnessed hers. Your actions validate the lessons you teach and she is witnessing and benefitting from your love that she projects back to you. This is how we live authentically and learn healthy lessons on our lovability, compassion, self-reliance, and personal worth. All support our personal and relational health
Fortunately, tons of children’s books written by competent abuse and trauma therapists like Dr. Lynne Namka now exist to help us reinforce these lessons.
What if My Child is a Narcissist
If we have children with narcissists, sadly we run the risk of having narcissistic children. You did nothing wrong. Nature did and you cannot fix it. Compassion including too much and too little are both inherited and hopefully if our narcissist children are at the lower end of the spectrum we can have some semblance of a relationship with them.
That, nevertheless, may not be possible if their toxicity level, combat tactics, and manipulation tactics are severe. Accepting that our children can not love us in healthy ways is extremely painful, but acceptance is empowering. Your safety and that of your other children always come first. If you let them, narcissists will, without a doubt, consume every single bit of narcissistic supply you give them at the expense of your other children, joy, happiness, energy, life, bank account, reputation and whatever else they can exploit from you. We also, remember, run the risk of having empathetic children who are vulnerable to their attacks as well. So we also need to protect our children and teach them to recognize narcissists, manage boundaries, and protect their vulnerabilities. Frequently, empathetic children can have too much compassion so we must focus on teaching them the same lessons and how to use their compassion responsibly and not become overly reliant on others for validation of their worth that makes them vulnerable to narcissistic predators.
The best any parent can do for narcissistic children is guide them with love, compassion, moral-based teaching, and consistency and perhaps they will end up falling at the lower end of the spectrum of less harmful character traits but there are no guarantees. Managing them takes very finely honed skills that very few therapists are even equipped with and are capable of handling. If you notice lack of compassion and serious self-centeredness in them and the failure to thrive, have healthy relationships or self-soothe, and engaging in bullying, get them into competent counseling right away.
In adulthood, the best option may be to follow the TDS (Time – Distance -Shielding) Rule and minimize your time, maximize the distance with them and put shielding between you and learn how to maintain your self-preservation when around them. The rest is in divine hands.
Your Children Will Heal Through You
Years ago, in the midst of an unhappy period in my life, my dear friend, Jim, told me, “Evelyn, It is never about the other person.” I, at the time, did not know what he meant but I never forgot that advice. Now I never forget the lesson. Here it is:
Until you own your own pain and shame and get rid of it and stop blaming others for it, you will not heal and you will continue to think like a victim and transfer this angst to your children. Your children will then needlessly suffer collateral damage and abuse will be perpetuated. This was not your pain to begin with.
Heed more Melanie Tonia Evans’ healing words of wisdom.
“The true remedy for getting out of this emotional charge is know who you are and have no need to defend it to anyone – especially your children. The truth of the matter is, however, that the more we get emotionally charged, the more we fight back, and the more we try to defend ourself against the narcissist, the atrocities escalate even more, and the more the atrocities work in the narcissist’s favor…There is nothing that an individual’s soul does not co-create that isn’t right for the purpose of the opportunity to create evolution and healing….heal your children through yourself.”
Read more on healing your children from Melanie Tonia Evans here.