Being an adult child who struggled with narcissistic abuse in their own family is a tough thing! This kind of upbringing paves the way to a life lacking in self-love, confidence, a sense of self and stability.
The main feeling that narcissistic abuse survivors deal with is that of not being worthy. They don’t feel worthy of having a good life, of getting married to a wonderful person and living the life of their dreams.
Unfortunately, this nasty feeling has been instilled in us for so long that we don’t doubt it anymore. It is natural for us to feel unworthy all the damn time about everything. If you were raised by a narcissist, you understand what I’m talking about.
Bellow are few traits of a narcissistic abuse survivors that others can identify and hopefully accept in us. I know that, for those folks who were never around a narcissist, the concept of emotional abuse is foreign. What is troubling is being in a relationship with a narcissistic abuse victim and feeling like you can never do anything to help.
But you can do something: support them through the pain of discovering that their parents are narcissists. This realization is heartbreaking. They will need to go through the stages of grief and let the abusive parents go. If you can stay with them all the way through, you’ll strengthen your relationship and you two will become even closer.
Traits of narcissistic abuse victims
This trait has been with me all my life. It’s like a friend who pushes you to drink just a bit more until you get drunk, otherwise you can’t be totally satisfied. This is a toxic friend that one has learned to accept and deal with.
Perfectionism has been instilled in narcissistic abuse survivors by their mother or father because, at their turn, these parents were perfectionists. My mother never allowed me to have my room less than in tip top shape. I needed to clean it every weekend. And, whenever she’d ask me to help her cook or clean, she’d find a way to tell me how wrong I am doing it. Then, she’d tell me to leave her alone because I cannot do as she asked. Sometimes I think that she’d set me up for failing each time she gave me a task. This way, she’d win every time and satisfy a certain need for validation.
Her words are still hurtful even after years of hearing them. Because she was my mother and I believed everything she said, I must have taken her words at face value. So, I indeed believed nothing I did was good enough.
This led to taking mediocre grades at school, having body anxiety during classes, isolating myself from others and leading an overall, unhappy teenage life.
2. People-pleasing behavior
When you’re raised by a narcissist, you need to cater to her every need. People-pleasers learned early on that, unless they satisfy their parents by being there for them all the time and doing whatever they ask, they can’t get their approval.
If you want to learn more about this trait, check out my post ‘How toxic parents turn you into a people pleaser’. You can also check out some books on the topic. A highly recommended book on the subject is the ‘The disease to please’ by Harriet B. Braiker.
3. Low self-esteem
You can imagine that a narcissistic abuse survivor doesn’t posses enough self-esteem to manage their own life and live it to its full potential. Their self-image has been mauled for so long that they can’t recognize themselves as being good anymore. They will believe what the abuser tell them to believe. (yes, it’s that bad)
With sincerity, I can say that I felt as a rotten child for a very long time. I thought that I was selfish, spoiled, cruel and a bad person for not taking care of my parents.
I should have sacrificed emotional and financial resources for them and then, maybe I would have been considered a ‘good daughter’. However, after I left my Romanian town behind and headed up north (Northern Europe), things changed. I wasn’t the child who did everything my parents asked. I wasn’t the good daughter anymore who stayed physically close to her parents and provided the narcissistic supply that made them feel whole.
Thus, after realizing what was the role I played in my family and began to make some changes, my self-esteem suffered like hell. I couldn’t believe that I was used by my own parents to promote the ‘perfect’ family image into the world. To bring admiration, validation, money and fame to my parents. My folks started using the ‘my daughter graduated from this X university abroad’ sentence to boost their self-image. Or, ‘my daughter is living in this amazing country that has the best education system in the world’. In other words, they actually told people ‘Our daughter is smart enough to study and graduate abroad. See how smart and great WE, THE PARENTS are for creating such a child? It is all about us because WE made her.’
This was my parents legacy: the burden of low self-worth. I lived each and every moment for another human being and not for myself. I was always feeling like I wasn’t worthy of having an identity because my identity was stolen from me when I was born.
4. No sense of self (or poor sense of self)
A child who suffered from narcissistic abuse will have no sense of self. This is because they were never let to express themselves when they were growing up.
For example, as a child I used to stay indoors and either doodle or write for long periods of time. Instead of encouraging this introverted part of me and assuring me that it was OK to be like that, my mother forced me to socialize and go out often. I would hear her complaining how bad it was for me to stay all day indoors and not do anything (of course I did a lot of stuff but, for her, drawing and writing were ‘nothings’). See, a healthy parent lets the child discover themselves. She creates the emotional space for the child to discover their individuality.
Because I was made to feel bad for having artistic traits, I tried to cover this and pursued studies instead. All I did back then was involve myself in studying and reading. They were at least as close to writing as it could get. Later, I re-discovered my passion for writing and I’m actively pursuing this dream at the moment (and it’s going well, by the way 🙂 )
5. Anxious mindset
Once someone gets in a relationship with an abusive person, they will develop a protective mechanism. This mechanism is anxiety which is triggered in interaction with a new partner, work mate or friend. See, if they were abused by an ex, for example, their anxiety will go sky high whenever they enter a new relationship.
However, one can learn to relax more around new people by going to therapy, practicing meditation and changing the inner critical voice. Check out a great article on how to deal with the inner bully by therapist, Pete Michaelson, ‘Four steps to stifle our inner critic’.
An adult child of a narcissistic parent is constantly used as a source of satisfaction, love and accomplishment. Unfortunately, this person will continue to be used if the contact with the abuser is still going.
Being used for so long makes the narcissistic abuse survivor extremely angry. He will be angry at themselves for letting this happen to them and then, if they do enough inner work, they’ll redirect their anger toward their abusers.
7. An inability to express positive or negative emotions
In an abusive family environment, there was no space for children to express their emotions. Narcissists are skilled at stuffing their own emotions and others’ emotions as well. This makes them deny emotions in others. Thus, they brush off any vulnerability they might stumble upon.
Moreover, if the child cries or gets angry, he’ll be punished in such a harsh way that, the child would be afraid of getting emotional next time.
It is quite scary to become vulnerable around a parent who cut themselves emotionally from everyone around them. They hate themselves and their own emotions, so they need to attack and punish anyone who reminds them of this. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
8. Poor boundaries
Narcissistic abuse survivors experienced a lack of boundaries in their childhood.
I still remember how my mom would come in and out of my room even when I was naked. She’d even come barging into the bathroom when I was washing-and this would happen while I was old enough to date or hold a job.
For more information on how to set boundaries, go to ‘How to set boundaries and protect your beautiful self’.
9. Shameful mentality
Sam Vaknin, author of the book, ‘Malignant Self Love’, believes that narcissism is a reaction to a traumatic event that the person went through in the past. This trauma is so shameful and difficult for the person to accept that, he/she needs to create a false self in order to cope with it.
Let’s say that, for example a mother was abused by a cruel and alcoholic father. She experienced trauma and shame as a child for being beaten or treated as if she didn’t matter at all. This person will grow up thinking that maybe what happened to her wasn’t that bad. She will then create the image of a normal, ordinary childhood.
She will falsely project the image of strength to cover the abuse she went through as a child. This is called narcissism and, if god forbids, this woman decides to have children, she’ll have a lot of trouble raising them.
See, narcissistic abuse survivors inherit the shame of being flawed and damaged from their parents. Because they have been around these toxic parents all their lives, they too will feel a high amount of shame.
10. No trust
After narcissistic abuse, it is normal not to trust people or to be suspicious of everyone around. Therapy can help dissipate these intense feelings like one needs to be on guard all the time. Just in case a narcissist jumps out of the bushes at night and scares us straight. 🙂
11. Narcissistic fleas
It is common for a narcissistic parent to pass his/her traits onto their children. These toxic traits are called ‘narcissistic fleas’. I think a majority of narcissistic abuse survivors have them. I have them as well and, thankfully, I am more aware of them now then I was in the past.
Being sensitive to criticism, impulsiveness, childishness, perfectionism and self-pity are some of my narcissistic fleas. I know that they can be overcome. But, in order to get over these fleas, one needs to acknowledge them no matter how shameful they might be.
To understand what these fleas really are, check out this article from ‘Out of the Fog’s website here.
This is something I experienced quite often. After cutting contact with my entire family, I couldn’t feel anything except a sense of impending doom. I thought that I’ll keep running into narcissists over and over again and my life will never get better.
It was a very stressful period in my life that thankfully is getting close to an end.
However, in order to get to this state of hope and inner peace, I needed to grieve all those moments when I was abused by the people who I didn’t even know they were narcissists in the first place (including my own mother). This is easier said than done!
Remember that it’s hard to live with the thought that we were NEVER loved by our own mother. This is the truth of narcissistic abuse survivors, a truth that many can’t accept.
All in all, going through narcissistic abuse is a tough thing and no one wants to be told to pull themselves together or hurried into recovery. I urge those who’re married to victims of such insidious type of abuse to have patience and be gentle with their significant other.
You can also learn about narcissism and understand that the grieving process is long and paved with difficult emotions. But, like any process, it starts and ends at one point. So, trust that your partner is gonna come out of the depression and feel better.
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Photo: movie still from ‘Autumn Sonata’, depicting a narcissistic mother in close connection with her codependent daughter.
Recommended reading for narcissism and narcissistic abuse:
www. samvaktripod.com (Sam Vaknin’s website)