An ongoing survival guide.
Chapter 3-Pyrrhic Victories.
If there is one underlying emotional truth for what an adult child of a narcissistic parent feels in relation to that parent it is this:
A shallow surface level, one-sided, difficult relationship exists rather than a deep, personal and fulfilling, mutually advantageous relationship for both individuals.
This is the ongoing dilemma that prompts many children of narcissists to seek counseling to begin with. The relationship we have with our parents is so fundamentally important in not just how it shapes our own personality and life experience, but how it can positively or negatively affect our ability to form lasting relationships with others.
So, it’s a BIG DEAL.
If you are the child of this parent, untold years of distance, detachment and growing concern can take place where the child can internalize that they are somehow responsible for this poor relationship. Adult children of narcissists are brought up in an environment where they can unfortunately become very effective human sponges for guilt and other displaced emotions. The parent isn’t explaining things or taking responsibility for the relationship, the alienation, the weird shallow emotional context, so the child soaks it all up—they must be responsible some how. And if they do all this dirty work, maybe the parent will show them appropriate love and boundaries. And that’s a damn shame. And it needs to stop.
But that’s the only kind of relationship narcissists have. It’s the only kind they understand. Queue the violin music, but resist the urge to feel too much pity for them. You deserve better. And so do they. If they are able to see other options.
When you finally build up the courage (or resentment) and ask for a deeper, more fulfilling relationship from a narcissist—gently and calmly—you may be surprised to be labeled with any number of unfortunate epithets: trouble maker, greedy and selfish, immature, overemotional, disrespectful, the spawn of some satanic creature, etc.
This happens because the narcissist can’t take criticism. They have too thin of skin. Remember, they are only surface level people themselves. Asking them for depth is like expecting a painting of a flower vase to be able to hold water.
I know what you may be thinking. It’s an old cliché to blame your parents for your problems in therapy. It’s one of the reasons therapy sounds like a joke to many different groups of people. And I agree therapy shouldn’t be about pointing fingers.
Except when it comes to narcissists.
Parents who are narcissists set their children up in a rigged game that takes decades for them to understand the basic rules and premise. It causes pain and misunderstanding, and relationships that should be solid and strong are weak and mostly painful. And it’s never the narcissist’s fault. Or so they would like you to believe.
That’s why I am labeling this chapter a Pyrrhic victory. What is certainly possible in working with a therapist around your relationship with your narcissistic parent is for you to free yourself of the guilt and the misunderstanding and the ineffective ways of communicating, and the expectations of your parent being something that they are not. There is no guarantee however that the relationship with the narcissistic parent will be anything less than what it always has been: shallow, unfulfilling, painful and completely on the surface. Therapy can also help circumvent and course correct your own behavior and attitudes toward all the other relationships in your life and help you focus on what is working and what is not working. Just because your parent is a narcissist, doesn’t mean you are condemned to live out a life of shallow, unfulfilling relationships.
Chapter 4: No one likes a bully.