Adult Children Of Narcissistic Abuse: The Struggle To Survive
Trigger Warning: Narcissistic Abuse and Mental Health Issues. This discussion about narcissistic abuse and mental health disorders comes from the author’s personal experiences. All names used within this article are fictitious. If you are triggered, please contact your counselor/therapist or local mental health services for assistance.
The Partner in Crime
Once upon a time, I was suckered into a narcissist’s charm. I was blinded by the gas lighting. I accepted his harshness as unusual, instead of unacceptable. Because I had several mouths to feed, I was afraid of leaving a good income. I was bound by my religious beliefs that taught me divorce was wrong. Those were the reasons I stayed. Those were the reasons I constantly intervened between my children and their father, instead of “getting the heck out of dodge.” Those are the reasons that they still struggle today. It all started with me, but I’ve learned that I’m not alone.
So many people fall for the charms of narcissists (a.k.a. narcs). They are charismatic, funny, and well-liked. Narcs are experts at finding the vulnerable and grooming them. Many profess to be God-fearing people, yet they do vicious things in the guise of humor. Somehow, they can do something cruel, and have you thinking it’s your fault. They can lie to your face while making you believe it’s true. They hurt you, offer an extravagant apology, and then turn around and do it again. They isolate you so you won’t tell their secret. Soon you are questioning your own sanity. And the worse thing is… no one would believe you if you disclosed their true colors.
If you and your narc have children, I hope this article gives you the push you need to leave, otherwise, someday you may face the anger of your adult children for staying. Talk about painful, they’ll blame you for their issues, and they’ll have good reason to do it. You may stand in front of a counselor and hear the haunting words, “How does it feel to know you’ve let someone abuse your children for all these years?” Although the abuse isn’t your fault, staying with the abuser is. Once you comprehend what is happening, the responsibility for those children shifts to you. Who else will protect them when the charmer has everyone else fooled?
Wealthy narcs often threaten to take full custody and declare their spouse mentally incompetent if the spouse leaves. Narcs work hard to turn their children against the other parent with elaborate lies and monetary gifts.
You’ll want to make elaborate contingency plans before leaving. Once the narc knows that your eyes are wide open and that you plan to leave, life will get ugly. Don’t let it stop you from leaving, but prepare yourself. A narcissist won’t go down without a fight.
Adult Children of Narcissistic Abuse (ACNA)
At one time or another, we all encounter the agonizing experience of not being good enough. Those times come and go and through them we discover what we are good at and what we are not so good at. But suppose we encountered that experience every day? Imagine if someone’s daily goal was to let you know, in one way or another, that you weren’t good enough. This was the ACNA’s childhood, and when they become adults, their issues don’t just disappear. Still reeling from the trauma, they’ll typically display more than one mental health disorder.
Perfectionists are more competitive than others, but an ACNA perfectionist might have a different reason. Growing up, they were overdosed daily on not being good enough. It only makes sense that some ACNAs will spend their lifetime trying to prove this mantra wrong. A simple thing like making a mistake on a piano piece might send their head crashing down on the keys. Once they recover, they’ll spend countless hours perfecting it. Let’s say Vicki has a college project. She’ll likely toil over it for a week without sleeping. She’ll do anything to keep from receiving a grade that reminds her that she’s unworthy.
Loved ones should remind these ACNAs to accept their best in the current situation. Their best in the current situation is not always going to be perfection, and that’s normal.
People with OCD overthink everything. They are fixated on balance and control. If Susie takes a test and doesn’t think she did well, panic sets in. Never mind that she hasn’t gotten the test back yet. What if she didn’t get an ‘A’? What if she didn’t even pass? Her obsession forbids her to think about anything else. She’s irritable when someone tries to distract her. Susie’s compulsion drives her to stress and dream about failing until the day the teacher returns the test. Then, finally, she can breathe again.
Obsession and compulsion work hand in hand. First the obsession consumes the mind. Johnny is on his way to work and steps on a crack with his left foot. He stops in his tracks, his eyes staring down at the pavement. Doom casts its shadow, paralyzing his mind.
“Oh no, now I’m unbalanced.”
Getting to work slips Johnny’s mind because he’s overwhelmed with correcting his sense of balance. This is where compulsion comes in. He absolutely must step on a crack with his right foot, and he must do it now. Once the task is done, the horrible feeling slowly leaves. Life is balanced again. Johnny can move on. Although Johnny may very well realize how silly this sounds, he cannot stop the obsessive-compulsive behavior from happening.
Realizing that they cannot stop these thought processes is paramount. You can help OCD sufferers achieve their balance. Remind them that they will get their test results on Friday. Most of the time, if a tolerant person talks them through it long enough, they will calm down. Patience and understanding when they can’t respond in a “normal” way will help them through their day.
People with roller-coaster emotions may normally be happy and positive. That is until something happens that evokes those unworthy feelings. These feelings—stemming from fear and insecurity—consume them and may be too severe for some supporters to handle. If the emotion causes turmoil in a relationship, it starts a cycle. Tammy feels insecure with Paul, triggering her to cry. As her cries become sobs and moans, Paul feels uncomfortable. He thinks she’s acting ridiculous, and his detachment causes Tammy’s behavior to become more extreme. She screams, needing Paul to make her feel more secure, but he can’t wait to get away. It is important to note that an ACNA may take much longer than their non-ACNA counterpart to come down from these emotions.
Loved ones should never put the ACNA down for having these emotions. Rather, they should use truths to combat the lies filling the ACNAs mind. They should not take their ACNA’s emotions personally. Keeping an ACNA from feeling insecure is the best measure.
The anxiety that ACNAs feel isn’t the short feeling of apprehension that you breathe through. This is the knock the wind out of you kind of anxiety that happens over something simple. Sandy is grumpy. Jim asks what’s wrong. Sandy won’t discuss it. Where most people would try to reason with Sandy before shrugging their shoulders and walking away, Jim will have an immediate, full-fledged PTSD attack. Why is she grumpy? What did I do? How can I fix it? Are we okay? Does she hate me? Jim has to talk about it now, or he will feel crazy. If Sandy refuses to discuss the issue or ignores its existence, the anxiety becomes extreme. At this point, Jim may as well be dangling over a cliff. Life is over, doom is here, and there is nothing he can do about it.
Sandy needs to be a) willing to learn what triggers his anxiety, b) willing to notice when it occurs, and c) willing to help remedy it. Talking things out whenever he feels the need will go a long way in decreasing his anxiety. Jim also wants to understand the situation so that it doesn’t happen again. A counselor could teach the couple the best way to maneuver through these conversations. Like most ACNAs, Jim needs assurance that their relationship is healthy.
Self-hate and Unhappiness
Carl hates himself, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t feel happy. He needs someone in his life to lean on because he can’t function emotionally on his own. If the person he leans on is you, beware. Needing you doesn’t mean that he’ll treat you well. Life is all about Carl, so you’ll be lucky if he has you in the back corner of his mind. Constantly looking for something to fill his void, Carl searches for a career, partner, or something else that might give him that happy feeling. At the same time, Carl worries about failing at those things he’s looking for. Therefore, he is very indecisive. Although he feels unworthy, he also sees the world as unworthy and finds fault in every career, friend, or partner. The times that Carl does feel good about himself can be nauseating. He’ll voice his thoughts for an hour about how much better he is than everybody else. This is what I like to call the “Wow, I’m hot; No, I’m not!” syndrome.
Carl needs to learn that he can’t love someone else until he loves himself. He needs someone who reminds him of his value, while expecting him to value others. Carl is the most likely ACNA to repeat his abuser’s ways.
Becoming the Abuser
Most ACNAs understand the reasons behind their conduct and continually work on their responses. However, the self-haters fight to overcome their abuse in unhealthy ways. They put others down to feel better about themselves and begin to perpetuate the very attitudes that they hated in their narcissistic parent. It’s heartbreaking that the ones who pass this on can’t see the qualities they are exhibiting. As the saying goes, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. It’s our job to hold up the mirror in love so they can see their reflection. Ending the progression must be a priority.
A Message to Loved Ones
No one should purposely trigger another human being. ACNAs have low self-esteem and desire someone willing to make them feel secure and valuable. They need someone who understands them and is willing to hold their hand as they move toward healing. This must be someone they can trust. An ACNA will need a support system, professional advice, coping mechanisms, and perhaps medication.
ACNAs tend to be codependent because of their self-esteem issues. They struggle maneuvering in this world alone. Even so, they should develop a healthy, independent life before settling down with a partner.
Loved ones should realize that the ACNA is not “normal.” What’s trivial to you may be huge to them. If you love them, you will accept who they are and learn what they need. A relationship with an ACNA is not for everyone. Seek out counsel that can teach both of you how to respond when these episodes happen and what coping skills you both need.
I spend countless hours every week talking with the ACNAs in my life. That’s the least I can do after what they’ve been through. Their issues may never go away, but with assistance, they may lessen and become manageable.
Check out this source for help: Support Groups for Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
If you are that partner in crime… please leave now and get your innocent, helpless children out of that toxic environment. Stop waiting. Things are not going to get better. Your partner is not going to change. The fact that they’re sweet one moment isn’t going to stop them from becoming that monster a few minutes later. Love for your spouse, spousal manipulation, and fear of the unknown can make leaving a difficult venture. Seek out support groups or counsel and talk to an attorney. You don’t have to do it alone, but please do it for the children.