As a young child, we never expect our parents to be fallible. Through our teenage years, we tend to maintain this belief, for at least one parent, but when both parents manage to fall from perfection in our eyes, it’s like a slap in the face.
It’s fairly common for narcissists to attract each other and even stay together long enough to create a family. Usually, there is a difference in the degree of narcissistic tendencies in the relationship. The most common situation is for one of the narcissists to be “higher” in narcissistic characteristics than the other, leaving the one lower in characteristics to act as the cheerleader.
We see this situation quite often in movies and society, usually with the male as the one needing a cheerleader wife who he keeps at home so she is not more successful than he is.
Less common is when two narcissists with high narcissistic characteristics get together and stay together long enough to raise a family. When they do, it can be one of the longest, most terrifying, and confusing roller coaster rides for their children. Unfortunately, I can attest to this notion.
For a child with two parents that are high in narcissistic tendencies, things will seem okay for the most part. Soon, one or in most cases, both parents will push for their version of perfection, but once the child begins to mature and gain a sense of self, the narcissistic claws begin to come out, latching on in an attempt to regain control.
These claws manifest in different ways for different people.
For some, it’s aggression and contributing to physical and mental abuse of the child until they submit or agree to keep quiet about something. In a relationship with two narcissists, there are always secrets and somehow, the child gets caught in the middle.
It’s not usually the aggressive one that drags the child into the issues. It’s the one that plays mind games that serve as subtle abuse. These mind games come in the form of turning the child against the other narcissist parent or manipulating until the narcissist gets what they want.
When it benefits the narcissists, they will boast to others, even complete strangers about their child, but not due to the child’s own accomplishments. No, it’s always the narcissist that is responsible for the child’s success.
The child is there only as a means to make the narcissist look better or serve as their, for lack of a better word, slave.
When something is seen as a disappointment to the narcissists or their “authority is questioned,” the claws come out full force and the child is torn to shreds either mentally, physically, or both.
The length of these maulings have no real time limit. Whenever the narcissist needs the help of the child again for their own validation, suddenly everything is back to normal. Most of the time, the narcissist will “gaslight” the child after one of these instances.
Gaslighting refers to the twisting of information, almost always in favor of the abuser, usually making the victim question their own reality.
It’s a scary thing to do to a child, especially when the child does not have an ally in the other parent.
There are instances too when things will be relatively quiet for the child because the two parents are too busy spinning tales, having affairs, or simply trying to hurt the other narcissistic parent. Sadly, it is the child that suffers the most, and they continue to suffer until they find the courage to break free of the torture they endure.
It’s during the time that the child (usually an child on the verge of adulthood) will finally be able to see that the behavior of their parents is not the way healthy adults behave. From here, they can choose whether or not the cycle continues with them or not because, unfortunately, they will begin to crave the approval that was given so sporadically by their parents. It is a big cross in the road, a big decision to be made about who “they” are going to be as an adult.
If this sounds like something you are going through or have been through, it is important to make the decision that the narcissism in the family line can stop with you.
In the past few months, I have learned that this is more than likely why my parents act the way they do. Their narcissistic issues have impacted my siblings and me for most of our lives, but they have steadily been getting worse as we get older. This is where I decided it was more important to begin to distance myself from all the narcissistic negativity.
I am getting ready to graduate from college next year and as that time gets closer and I make plans to leave and heal old wounds, my parents are less than satisfied. Because of this dissatisfaction and not wanting to live up to the things they did in the past, I have been kicked out of both of their houses.
It’s been a difficult transition, but there are a few things that I have done and that you can do to help keep yourself in one piece during this transitional and emotional time. Below is a list of ideas compiled by my therapist and myself.
- Write a F*ck You Journal:
This was one of the things that my therapist suggested that I liked quite a bit. The title pretty much says it all. Write “f*ck you!” on the cover, fill page after page with it, tell the people who have hurt you exactly what you’d like them to do to themselves. Then, you can either leave it in the journal or burn it and let it go into the breeze.
- Actually Do Something for Yourself
I thought that this one seemed a little too simple when my therapist suggested this, but honestly, doing something that you truly like can help you begin to distance yourself from these people. For example, I took up hiking and rock climbing after having to quit rugby for work. I truly found myself in the woods and up in the highest places I can reach. In a way, it’s my form of meditation.
- Get a Dog:
Okay, it doesn’t have to be a dog. It can be a fish, hamster, turtle, or cat. Whatever, any pet will do. Having a pet around will lighten up your day immensely. Around the time things started going farther south than the Antarctic, my dog, Lilly came into my life and she has helped so much. She is the greatest hiking buddy, she loves unconditionally (unlike the narcissistic parents), and she’s always happy. If I’m having a bad day, she knows and will continue to bring me toys until I play with her.
- Get Out, If You Can:
It’s so hard to get out of a narcissist’s grip, especially when you’re always looking for their approval, but even though I took a bit of a financial hit, it has been the biggest relief to take care of everything myself. It also allows you a different perspective. If you can’t get out yet, then start talking to somebody who can help you see that no, you’re not the crazy one. It’s not a sign of weakness to seek help, it’s a sign of strength and advocating for OUR needs.
- When You’re Ready, Understand Them:
This is seriously the hardest one of all. Even with my psychology minor and the knowledge of what narcissism is, it’s still hard to accept that my own parents could be this way. In a way, understanding them is a way for us to finally gain a sense of peace within ourselves.
During this time, it is important that we have a support system in place. When dealing with a narcissist, we need to vent to people who are not narcissistic. No one deserves to feel invalidated. No one deserves to question themselves over and over and be left feeling like this is our fault. I have experienced this for myself and am more than willing to chat with you. I am not a counselor, and advise you to seek professional advice, but I know the feeling.
For now, know that you’re not crazy, even if it may feel like it some days.
Author: Mercedes Pilar Trujillo
Mercedes Trujillo is a student at Utah State University studying Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Though she is an engineer by trade, she has always been fascinated with all that life has to offer, even the unpredictable parts. Utah is the perfect backyard for her as she enjoys doing all things outdoors including rugby, backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, and trail running.