“Fatty, fatty, two by four, couldn’t get through the open door.” That song still rings in my head daily. It’s what my mother, a narcissistic parent, sang to me in my childhood. It’s no surprise by the time I was 18, I had developed an eating disorder, and my weight plummeted down to 89 pounds. The thing was, however, that I wasn’t substantially overweight before I stopped eating. It was about achieving my mother’s view of unattainable perfection.
Being skinny was one of the outrageous standards she put in place for me as I was growing up. For narcissists, as you may know, it’s all about how it looks. Your dreams, desires, beliefs, natural-born talents, and other skills don’t matter. How you plan to make this world a better place doesn’t matter. It’s about how YOU make the NARCISSIST look to others, with your appearance and achievements.
In a healthy family, the parents meet the needs of the kids emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. In a toxic family, the unhealthy parent or parents reverse the roles. You are required to shine the light on the toxic parent. If you don’t? The narcissist uses shame as the sharpest weapon. Then, all hell breaks loose. Love is withheld. The toxic parent sparingly doles out attention. You may receive the silent treatment or be ignored for days or longer. Regardless, it hurts.
Children of narcissists can become stunted emotionally and physically. I remember not wanting to grow up because I didn’t want to leave what I thought was the security of my home. My mother had taught me that she did no wrong and the rest of the world was bad. If I stayed a “mini-me” version of her, life would be safe and tolerable. The family jokingly called these rules her “do-right rules.” (I still don’t think that’s funny. Not one bit).
Children of narcissists struggle with identity, because one day you will likely grow up and leave, yet you are still a little girl or boy inside, struggling with making the narcissistic parent happy. My career choice of being a television news anchor and personality was a decision I knew my mother would accept. Even the man I said yes to marrying was someone whom I knew my mother would approve of.
When you are raised by a narcissistic parent, and you are brought up where your needs don’t matter and aren’t ever considered, then that’s what you think “normal” is. As adult survivors, we gravitate toward relationships that mimic those of our childhood. Naturally, when I met a more sinister version of my mom, it was my default. I thought, “This is what I have waited my entire life for.”
Psychologically, I was yearning for the conditional love I couldn’t earn from the toxic parent. A malignant narcissist felt like a warm blanket by a fire during a snowstorm. It was another person to try to convince to love me, so I could feel whole and complete.
Kids of narcissistic parents also carry other baggage until adulthood if healing isn’t achieved. We tend to feel like we’re not enough, not worthy, unlovable, not significant, and intrinsically broken. We think the narcissistic parent knows the truth about us and eventually, everyone else will see it, too. Until I worked through my internal pain, I would often ask myself this question, “If my mother can’t love me, who can?”
My mother did teach me some great traits that followed me into my adult years. I work very hard at all that I do. My ex-husband wanted me to quit my job and stay at home when our son was born. My mom had stressed it’s always good to have your own income if you are uncertain about your future. Sixteen years after marrying Shane, we divorced. Fortunately, I still had a great job and was able to land on my feet (as much as you can after narcissistic abuse.)
Mom’s focus on appearance did help when it came to my television career. I knew I needed to be put together on the outside, even when things were going sideways on the inside. I remember going through a tough breakup during my years as a 6 PM and 10 PM anchor for a CBS affiliate in Waco, Texas. I would cry in the make-up room for hours, wipe my face, then speak to thousands of people when we went on air, and no one knew my heart was broken.
Children of narcissists are strong people. When you are raised by a parent who should love you unconditionally, but there isn’t love there, you learn to adapt. You rely on your own strength and moxie. The key to tapping into that strength is to work on healing. There are layers of pain to uncover to find the strong, confident person inside you. I can tell you that’s it’s possible. The joy on the other side of sorting through the pain and letting it go is worth it!
After years of therapy, coaching, and spiritual healing, I peeled back the layers of pain to find the beauty of what I went through. I learned that I am strong, smart, and beautiful, inside, and out. I also learned that the love I need comes from me. If I can’t love myself, no healthy person can love me. If I love myself, I attract and choose better partners, friends, jobs, and acquaintances. And only then can true love blossom.
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