An ongoing survival guide.
Chapter 5: Love is a Battlefield
I tend to use way too many warfare metaphors in the therapy session, FYI, I admit that right now for clarity’s sake. This is a survival guide, for goodness sake.
The imminently quotable Sun Tzu said that, “All warfare is based on deception.”
My addendum to that is: The Narcissist is a master of deceptive psychological warfare—they don’t want you to even know there is a battle going on. The battle is between their needs and your emotions.
There has been very revealing research that argues that emotionally invalidating environments are more damaging to children than physically abusive environments. Let me put that more plainly: evidence shows that beating a child unconscious is not as damaging long term as not allowing that child to develop their own emotional understanding of themselves and their world.
Henry, that sounds crazy, you might be thinking.
Let me explain.
If a child has an intense emotional experience, no matter how big or small, and the adult in charge of them continually denies/minimizes/conflates those emotional experiences, blaming the child for some wrongdoing, or provides only peripheral and lackluster feedback to those emotional experiences, the child may develop a poor ability (if any) to trust what is happening to them. To understand if what he or she is experiencing is right or wrong, helpful or hurtful, deserved or criminal.
That’s more harmful than getting beaten. And worthy of a post all by itself. Some other time.
So what are these needs that the narcissist parent is trying to fulfill at the sake of other people’s (their children’s) emotions?
Narcissists are bad with empathy. They view children as extensions of themselves, as useful vessels for their own ego demands. Of course, this is a parental behavior (and some would argue a parental right). But the narcissists take it to the dark side. So, a narcissist in a public park with a crying child who just dropped an ice cream cone, doesn’t see a situation that requires them to be patient and caring and emotionally soothing. The narcissist parent potentially is experiencing frustration and embarrassment at their child acting like a child, and therefore punishes the child for humiliating them.
The child is emotionally confused and invalidated by these kinds of experiences. That child can become an adult who doesn’t believe their emotional experiences are important or meaningful. That they don’t have a right to feel something. Anything.
At the very least it can lead to bottling up anger (or other emotions) that can then lead to depression, or drug use, or eating disorders, and, in general, the danger of becoming a door mat in personal relationships (or having no personal relationships).
It is not just narcissists who can behave this way. Of course. But this is the environment that children of narcissistic parents find themselves in. Before they even can comprehend what is really going on. And because it happens when a child is young and malleable, they come to believe they somehow are responsible for it. Chances are that the child of a narcissistic parent has issues regarding the denial of their own feelings. A fair question to ask yourself is, do you know what your feelings are? Do you know who you are in relation to others? As opposed to the role that the narcissistic parent wanted you to have.
Breaking free from the emotional control and dishonesty of a narcissistic parent can be incredibly eye opening, liberating but still painful. It cannot but fundamentally change your own relationship not just to yourself but to all the relationships you have in your life.
And that’s what Pat Benatar dancing her abusive pimp into submission at the end of the video represents—an end to his emotional (as well as physical) warfare and her decision to live honestly and free from his shenanigans.
Ms. Benatar is not returning my calls.
Next time: Narcissism begets Capitalism, or Capitalism begets Narcissism.
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