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Breaking the cycle of narcissistic abuse

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If you grew up with narcissistic parents, never fear, the legacy can end with you! Your parents’ mistakes can be rocket fuel for your own development.

First, you have to grieve the loss of the parent you never had. Really grieve the fact that you didn’t get the parent you needed, the one who put you and your needs first.

Part of that requires releasing the fantasy that your narcissistic parent can change and eventually give you what you need. They can evolve and grow, but they may never evolve enough to meet your deepest needs. Therefore, managing expectations is key, particularly when you see glimpses of the healthy parent you wish you had had, but in fact those glimpses are often not sustainable. Accept that your parent was limited—and could not give you unconditional love or even deep empathy because she could not get past herself to truly see you. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, the anger and the sadness. Emotion has the word motion in it; allow your emotions to move through you. You might not have lost your parent to death, but you lost what could have been—you lost an opportunity to be truly mothered—and that is really a profound loss. Accepting this, rather than denying it, is the first step in opening your heart to healing.

You are going to need to discover boundaries—where you begin and your parents end—to free your authentic self. When you choose who you want to be, rather than who your parents wanted you to be, you break free from their narcissistic grip. Tolerate their discomfort, even if they make a lot of noise. You are not misbehaving, rebelling, or rejecting them. You are being you, the real you—maybe for the first time. This is the first part of breaking the cycle. Next, you don’t want to repeat/generalize the relationship that you had with your narcissistic parent to your coworkers, partner, or friends. Realize where you are meeting the needs of other narcissists in your life, real or imagined. Sometimes children of narcissists assume that every person they’re close to will need the same kind of hyper-attention and appeasement that their parent did—and unconsciously begin doing mental backbends to please others. At times you may be tapping into the expectations of a narcissistic boss or partner, and reflexively playing that familiar role. At other times you may be making erroneous assumptions about what someone important to you really needs—perhaps they don’t want you to mirror their opinions or they don’t need you to sugarcoat your real feelings or soften constructive criticism. Breathe, pause, give yourself some psychic space and then test it. Try just being frank, try not to rush in and take care of their feelings. If being different from your loved one feels uncomfortable—or if you feel you’re risking love with that stance—just notice it. Watch how much stronger your bond is than what you secretly imagined it to be. This is the gift of evolving past the scene of the original crime—your own childhood. Surviving childhood meant taking care of the narcissist and swallowing your feelings. But now as an adult you can begin to surround yourself with people that you feel safe and at home with—like soul mate girlfriends—who know and love the real you, and this can be deeply transformative.

Children of narcissistic parents often wonder if they are really loveable. You are! Start loving and caring for yourself in ways that you wished your mom or dad had loved and cared for you. Start paying attention to what really matters to you; what makes you feel alive and moments when you feel authentically you. Maybe you will need help mothering yourself. Maybe that means getting re-parented by a therapist, or maybe the healing comes from an emotionally reparative romantic partnership. Maybe you have a friend’s mother who is nurturing to you, or a mentor who celebrates the real you. All of these people can become part of your collective parent. No one person is ever capable of meeting all of your needs so start building your collective parenting community. And once you have learned to mother yourself, you will be able to mother your child.

Your journey is to love your children for their true, glorious, separate, authentic selves—and to give them what you may have not gotten enough of. It will not only be beneficial to them, it can be quite healing for you. You will grow and evolve enough to ask yourself, in difficult situations: “Is my reaction more about my child’s feelings or my own? What does he or she need right now?” This will prevent you from reacting with anger or withdrawing love, as your parent may have done to you. You are now a cycle breaker.

Conscious, mindful parenting is the ultimate in damage control. When you get your ego out of the game, you can step back enough to see the soul of your children. Just nurture that, and watch them soar.

Source: Dr. Robin Berman


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