An ongoing survival guide.
Chapter 4: Darth Vader is your father (or your mother).
Before we get to the always exciting Star Wars analogy, let’s speak of bullies.
Narcissists are like bullies in that they covet territory in order to prove themselves. For a schoolyard bully, that territory could be the playground, the cafeteria or locker room. But for narcissists, the territory they really covet, the territory they lord over, is quite simply you.
Their child. Their greatest, best offering to the world (other than themselves). Their own opportunity for their very own Mini-Me.
Chances are the narcissist has an enabling spouse on their side, or a spouse that is helpless and/or clueless, or the narcissist is alone and mostly single (and bitter). Better that way since all their energies can be turned toward you and any siblings.
On the surface, you may have been a perfect example of what the parent wants others to see and believe, but underneath that surface, the reality is much, much darker.
When you disappoint a narcissistic parent as a child, the punishment can be cruel and unexpected. The bully shows themselves by projecting all the things they fear about themselves onto your head. The projections may be unconscious or conscious, but they are all their fears, not yours. Over time, a child can easily become confused as to what is their own fault and fears and opposed to what is their parent’s. We call emotional confusion like that a state of enmeshment—the child doesn’t know where their feelings stop or start and where the feelings of their narcissistic parent take over.
This enmeshment is a real problem. People can often let it generalize into other relationships, and other facets of their life. Others can be Jedi Masters at enmeshment in personal relationships, but be devoid of enmeshment in other areas, such as workplace or professional relationships. This is a really interesting piece to take note of. As a child, we are shaped by our parents and the environment, but take the narcissist out of the environment, and the child may naturally develop healthier relationships with appropriate boundaries that don’t cause so much suffering and guilt
Why? It’s a good question. Maybe it has to do with an individual’s attempt to break free from the wounds of childhood and get away from the swamp that is emotional enmeshment.
Which brings us back to Darth Vader. When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he is desperate for information about his father. He has been told lies, and lives in a perpetually disconnected, unauthentic state where his emotional needs are not being met. Vader’s physical absence during Luke’s childhood can be symbolic of the authentic emotional absence children experience from narcissistic parents. Basically, Luke is emotionally stunted, and more than a bit whiney.
Luke was striving for the connection we all want from our family: to understand where we come from, to put our own identity in perspective with what has come before us. For all his innocent, earnest strivings, Luke is told lies. And then when he first confronts Darth Vader, he is told the truth—that Vader is his father—and everything changes. Rather than having a spice freighter navigator for a father, his father is now the biggest war criminal in the galaxy. When Luke denies Vader, as any child within reason tries to deny the manipulation of a narcissistic parent, Vader seriously wounds Luke. The message here is clear: you must obey the parent. Or else.
Still with me?
Despite the many criticisms one can lay at the feet of George Lucas, the psychological need Luke has for a real connection to his father and his subsequent actions to try to save Vader are actually quite genuine and real.
It’s not easy though. The guy needs a new hand to start with. And most of us are not lucky enough to have a Yoda to guide us through our angry late teens/early twenties period.
Confrontations with narcissists don’t work out well. This has been covered, and Luke losing his hand is your reminder of this. Many adult children of narcissist’s end up moving away, maybe across the country, across the world, or maybe just across the county to get enough distance from their domineering narcissistic parent. You can avoid the problem that way, sure, but not the wound. Luke couldn’t runaway from Vader after discovering he was his father. The need for the connection to our parent is that strong. Some adult children of narcissists will look for a shield to protect themselves from the narcissist. A spouse, an addiction, a job that requires lots of travel, all of these things can act as shields. They provide a physical boundary from the emotional enmeshment one experiences with the narcissistic parent.
After Luke finally learns the truth about Darth Vader, and only after sitting with his emotions and his pain, is Luke moved to try to help him, to try to turn him from the dark side. Luke is moved by his ability to love and to feel empathy for Vader who seriously wounded him in his own effort to make Luke more like himself (the narcissist’s pathological need for perfect mirroring). Why did Luke do this? It’s a plan that both Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi thought would fail. Because Luke never had a real father. And if your parent is a narcissist, chances are you didn’t have one either.
Next time: To be determined. I still can’t believe I tied this into Star Wars. There is more to dig into with Darth Vader and Luke, and we didn’t even get to the Emperor this time around.