7 Steps in Healing From a Narcissistic Parent
By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
Healing from a narcissistic parent has a positive effect on all of the other close relationships in a person’s life. The distorted perception of reality a narcissistic parent imposes on a child can have damaging consequences as an adult at work and home. The lack of self-esteem, obsessive thinking, minimization of abuse, excessive anxiety, and fear based reactions are common among adult children of narcissists. By addressing the impact of narcissism, a person finds relief. Here are the seven steps towards healing:
1. Recognize Narcissistic Behavior. The first step in the healing process is to admit that there is something wrong with a parent’s behavior. A person can’t recover from something they refuse to acknowledge. Most narcissistic parents pick a favorite child, the “golden child,” who is treated as if they walk on water. The other children are frequently treated as inferior through belittlement, comparing, ignoring and even neglect. Occasionally, the parent switches their favoritism depending on the performance of child. The key to remember is that narcissistic parents see child as an extension of themselves so they take credit for the successes and reject the child who fails.
2. Study Narcissism. Once the narcissism is identified, it is important to gain an education about the disorder and how it affects the entire family system. Narcissism is part biology and part environment. So chances are there might be other narcissists or personality disorders in family. The environment can further draw out the narcissism in a child which is cemented by age eighteen. Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of narcissism and begin to pick out the other narcissists.
3. Connect the Dots. This next step will be easy in the beginning but becomes more difficult as the impact of the narcissism is realized. For each individual sign and symptom of narcissism, recall several examples in childhood and adulthood when the behavior is evident. It helps to write these down for reference later. The more time that is spent doing the step, the greater the impact of the healing. Recollect both positive and negative events that resulted out of the narcissism.
4. Identify the Abusive Behavior. During the previous step, it is highly likely that some abusive behavior on the part of the narcissistic parent became evident. Abuse for a child can be physical (restraint, aggression), mental (gaslighting, silent treatment), verbal (raging, interrogating), emotional (nitpicking, guilt tripping), financial (neglect, excessive gifting), spiritual (dichotomous thinking, legalism), and sexual (molestation, humiliation). Not every event requires trauma therapy but some of them might, depending on the frequency and severity.
5. Release the Anger. Anger is a natural response after the dots have been connected and the abuse has been identified. It is hard to believe that a parent who should be loving and kind would do the things they have done. Whatever glorified image a person had of their narcissistic parent is now completely shattered. Sometimes the anger is projected on the other parent for not fully protecting their child from the trauma. Or the anger is internalized for not realizing or confronting sooner. It is important to release the anger in a healthy manner such as physical activity, crying or venting to a safe friend.
6. Gain Perspective. This is a good place to step back for a while to gain a better perspective. Begin by reflecting on how the narcissistic parent’s distorted image of the world and people shaped current beliefs. Then drill downwards towards the vows or promises that were made internally as a result of the narcissism or abuse. Counteract the distorted images, vows, or promises with a newly gained perspective of reality. This essential step frees a person from the narcissistic lies and false truths.
7. Move Forward. The past cannot be changed, only understood. When forgiveness is genuine, it has a powerful transformational effect. Remember, forgiveness is for the forgiver not the offender. It is better to honestly forgive in small chunks at a time, rather than granting blanket forgiveness. This allows room for other future or past offenses to be realized and worked through in a thorough manner.
After doing all of these steps, it will be far easier to identify other narcissists at work or in the community. No longer will their dysfunctional behavior generate instant anxiety or frustration. Rather, the narcissist will be disarmed because their behavior no longer has an intimidating effect.
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