emotional abuse

Learning from the Narcissist: Our Unconscious Relationship Choice

I was bought up in a  typical household dynamic where one parent is a Narcissist. 

My Father: The Narcissist, self absorbed, no capacity to empathise, manipulative.

Nothing new there.

What is often forgotten or unspoken of, is the other side to the coin…

My Mother: A dependant, anxious, somatiser. Again, completely self absorbed. Almost always the victim, even when she is the predator.

It was a typical narcissistic/co-dependant relationship.

As a child, I was unable to see the true nature of my mother. For what tends to happen is that when the love and affection that a child needs is spread too thin, the child will look for any morsel of love he can get. This is what sets the ground for the idealisation of the father and devaluation of the mother, or vice versa, which sets the child towards the foundation of developing the narcissistic personality themselves.

What can we learn from this typical dynamic we grow into?

For many years, I wondered why my mother would stay with my abusive father. I could not understand why she wouldn’t walk away, nor why, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, she would believe that my father treated her well.

From a Kleinian understanding of the “splitting” prevalent within personality disorder, it is necessary to understand what my father detested about himself. 

My father hated the idea of being vulnerable or weak. If he was sick, he would tell no-one- it gave too much evidence to his own mortality, that he was in fact just like everyone else…his ego wouldn’t allow such an appropriate human exchange.

He detested the idea of being poor. Despite he himself coming from a poor  background, he spoke fondly of how he rose himself and his family from such harsh realities…without his guidance and wisdom we would all have nothing, or be nothing.

Finally, he resented stupidity. He was a highly educated man, constantly comparing himself to those with lesser qualifications than himself. A man who could never be wrong, or faulted, due to the letters following his name.

What of such interest then, that the woman he “loves” was less intelligent than him, poorer than him and more weak and vulnerable than him. 

Interestingly, I do believe my father does love my mother. But the reason for why they are together, why they complement each other so well in their narcissistic/codependant relationship, is that he needs her to hold parts of himself he resents. 

He needs her to be poor, so he can feel rich.

He needs her to be weak, so he can feel strong. 

He needs her to be stupid, so he can feel intelligent.

I believe insight is everything- so let me challenge you…

What is it that you need the narcissist in your life for, so that you can feel….? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Common Traits Of Those Raised By A Narcissist

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I’ve noticed over time that a lot of us who have been raised by Narcissists have certain traits in common. 

For many of us, these were developed as coping strategies for our survival when we were children. Whilst they may have been useful as a child, some become maladaptive patterns as an adult, restricting our life experiences, leaving our outlook of life to be through the eyes of the narcissist, as we never had much of a chance to develop our own. 

Sometimes I can tell when I meet some-one who has been raised by a narcissist. There is some sort of familiarity or an understanding that we have both been through the same turmoil, signalled through our body language towards each other or us having a similar shared reaction if we are both around a narcissist at the same time.

After gaining awareness into my own childhood and opening up to my friends, I found that a lot of them had also had some life changing contact with a narcissist at some point in their lives. It seems odd, but the victims of the narcissist not only attract narcissists into their lives but also attract other victims. Maybe it is a way of us unconsciously relating to others pain, to try to heal others as we heal ourselves.

The following traits seem common amongst those of us that have been raised by the narcissist. 

1. We have an odd relationship with authority.

Whether it be our bosses at work, our teachers at school or the leader of our group of friends, our relationship with authority tends to be affected.

We find ourselves on guard, unable and unwilling to be ourselves. We struggle to understand how other employees can call their bosses by their first name or go out for drinks with them with such ease.

Instead, we become very good students or employees. Our skills at catering to the narcissistic ego has been taught to us from a young age. We know how to make our boss feel superior, in control and powerful. We are often very successful at working up the ladder.

When we are in a group, we find ourselves being drawn to understand the mind of the leader. This is of no surprise, considering how we have spent years trying to make sense of why the narcissist caused so much confusion within our lives. 

In a way, this is a useful survival strategy. The fact that we are disciplined in the art of pleasing our superiors can work in our favour and when skilled can make our working lives very secure.

On the other hand, our difficulty in developing a more relaxed relationship with authority may leave us in a permanent position of formality, unable to progress the relationship to one with more meaning. 

We struggle to lead others, for we detest so much the feeling of being led. Being stuck in a position of being wary around authority, naturally pleasing, we gradually detest our superiors, feeling suffocated at our difficulties in standing up for ourselves and our own needs, living instead of constant fear of upsetting our master.

2. We find it difficult to say NO.

Being raised by a narcissist would mean that you have spent a of of time doing things you didn’t want to do. You may have had to go out for dinner after you had already eaten, attended family parties despite being ill, studied subjects at school that you had no interest in, embarked on a career that you had no passion for or even married some-one who is a stranger to you, just to appease the narcissistic parent.

Our narcissistic parent may have been in a relationship with a dependant person and if so we would have grown up watching how one person always seemed to give in to the other. The result is that it may seem normal or natural for one person to follow the other and odd as to how a relationship of equality would actually work.

We find it difficult to say NO not just because of fear of offending the other person. It is also that we fear the abandonment, the expectation of silent treatment or other abuse that we would have experienced as children just for stating our views.

In its worst form, we become paranoid that if we are to reject another person, it will result in a rejection by all those who know the narcissist, akin to the feeling of being told off by extended family members as a child for some-thing that wasn’t true or wasn’t our fault, due to the narcissistic parent projecting the blame onto us as he or she was incapable of mustering any responsibility for his or her own actions or behaviour. In my case, I was the scapegoat for being late and the explanation given for my mother’s constant level of stress.

3. We are highly self critical

I spoke in my post on awareness of abuse by narcissists on how, when some-one has little self esteem, they lose the ability to see the world through their own eyes, instead seeing the world through the eyes of the narcissist.

For those of us who were raised by a narcissist, we may never have had the opportunity to develop any self esteem in the first place.

Hence, we spend our lives seeing the world through the narcissist’s eyes, where our values, beliefs, aspirations and accomplishments don’t matter.

As a result, many of us will struggle to feel any sense of happiness on our birthday, or when we pass an exam, or get married or any other accomplishment. We will believe as we have been taught to believe, that our accomplishments were solely due to our narcissistic mother or father, whilst we only are responsible for the negative consequences of being raised in the self image of a narcissist.

4. We have anger that we keep hidden

When I meet some-one who can appear to smile genuinely when they are wronged, I question whether they have been raised by a narcissist, or what abuse they have faced in their youth. We have an uncanny ability to be able to hide our emotions. Having lived in fear of the impact of showing our disgust towards our parents, our mastery in this is of no surprise.

What this leaves us with is a harbouring of intense inner feelings of anger, which we keep stored and pent up, hidden with a smile and forgotten by ourselves through either dissociation into a constant numb like state or otherwise through another form of distraction.

Unfortunately, our anger following years of abuse doesn’t simply disappear. It remains within us and facing up to this part of us is difficult. But, who can blame us for being angry?

Some of us may have found a safe outlet for our anger. Many of us will be extremely creative and may use music or writing to process our intense feelings. We may eventually develop a strong desire to protect others or to have an opportunity to defend and speak up after years of neglecting this part of ourselves- many of us may find solace in a career in law, the police force or medicine.

What can we do now?

One thing us adult children of narcissists know is that we can create a positive out of any negative situation.

We can start by recognising these traits within ourselves.

We can take time to celebrate our birthdays and accomplishments, no matter how small, and learn to believe our accomplishments to be ours.

We can develop seeing the world through our own eyes, rather than seeing the world through the narcissist’s eyes.

We can learn to say NO regularly and monitor our feelings through the process, including the anxiety, fear and paranoia. We can start to recognise that it is completely acceptable and within our rights to say no and that our emotional response is likely related to the reality of the past rather than the present.

We can learn to develop our emotional outlet to be used constructively to help ourselves or others and not allow it to affect us in self destructive ways. We can accept that we are angry about our past and not blame ourselves for this very natural feeling.

Most importantly, we can learn to love and care for ourselves.

Unawareness in a Narcissistic Personality Disorder Abusive Relationship

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The Importance of Awareness

The problem with a lot of abusive relationships is that the “abused” becomes unaware that he or she is in an abusive relationship. They become completely unaware of the power dynamic within the relationship and how it is being used to control them.

Without awareness of the power dynamic, one can not change the power equilibrium for the better.

Where abuse is physical or sexual, awareness is more likely.

Emotional abuse, however, can be extremely difficult to detect. This is usually for two reasons:

  1. Emotional abuse works by affecting the abused’s self esteem. Once the self esteem is significantly affected, the abused begins to believe that he or she deserves the abuse, that it is their fault and doubts their own understanding of the power dynamic within the relationship.
  2. Emotional abuse can be masked by cultural ideology or the concept of romance within relationships.

I would like to point out two further important points with regards to emotional abuse.

  1. It is important to note, that Narcissistic Personality Disorder and abusive relationships are NOT gender specific. Men can be emotionally abusive, women can be emotionally abusive. There are emotionally abusive mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, girlfriends and boyfriends.
  2. A man or woman does not need a formal diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder/ Antisocial Personality Disorder or any other ICD-10/DSM diagnosis to be abusive.
  3. Mental disorder or a history of abuse does NOT under any circumstances legitimize further abuse.

Now that I’ve got the important print out of the way, let me focus, within this post, on the progression from the beginning of the relationship, where the “abused” is a person (some possible awareness), to the end, where the abused becomes the “other” (no awareness).

The “other” is some-one who has no thoughts, values or aspirations of their own. The “other” sees their life and their self image through the eyes of the abuser. As their minds have become enmeshed with their partner, they can not understand that they are abused. They are unaware.

Progression of An Abusive Relationship

At first, the abusive partner is seductive, charming, confident. He or she will seduce the other with money, sex or affection. A common term for this technique is described as “love bombing”. The victim-to-be will feel that he or she has met the person of her dreams, and this may literally be the case, for the abusive partner has recognised his or her fantasy and played it out accordingly. The relationship will happen fast and progress to commitment and later stages of the relationship quickly.

Once the “other” has become emotionally attached to the partner and has invested emotionally into the relationship, the abusive partner will begin to emotionally manipulate the “other”. He or she will use guilt and later fear as methods of manipulation.

The abuser will work on isolating the “other” from social support by devaluing and criticizing aspects of his or her family and friends or directly causing conflict with their relationships with others. The abuser will commence a campaign against the family, possibly stating inherited traits through genetic or environmental factors that are in place amongst the abused’s family.

The abusive partner will use methods such as the “silent treatment”, withholding affection and love for periods until the other learns to accept blame. One of the most dangerous methods is that of “gaslighting” a term used to describe relationships within which the abuser attempts to distort the truth, with the aim of making the other doubt his or her own memory or sanity, effectively rendering the other to believe that she or he is the defect and is the cause of the problems within the relationship.

“If only I can become better, everything will be OK.”

The other will begin to lose faith in his or her own ability, and, now isolated from his or her own social support network, will start to become more and more emotionally dependant on his or her partner. The abusive partner will incorporate waves of love and affection, followed by projected hatred and blame towards the other. The abusive partner will blame the other for this, further lowering the self esteem of the other.

Abusive relationships will make the abused feel that they are the abuser. The other, blaming himself or herself for the emotional pain within the relationship, will try to change him or herself to become better for the abuser. This will create the well known feeling of “walking on eggshells”. This system of conditional love will create a sense of conditional learning whereby behavior will be rewarded or punished in accordance with the abusers desires and wishes.

As time threads on, self esteem wears thin and blame and guilt is accepted by the other, the “other” begins to recognise his or her own sense of identity or self as unworthy, wrong, immoral and disgusting. He or she no longer trusts his or her own judgement or memory. His or her sense of enjoyment and happiness becomes fully associated with her partner.

The abused’s mind becomes synonymous with the mind of the abuser and his or her thoughts about the world becomes identical to that of the abuser. He or she disregards her own view, devaluing them just as the abuser has and leaning on the abuser to help her see the world as he or she sees it.

The other submits willingly to her abusive partner, believing unconsciously in the hope that he or she will make the abuser happy and they can then live happily ever after. He or she holds the abused as his or her savior from her previous ill mind, the voice of reason, the judger and the moral compass of righteousness. The other has left his or her previous identity and become a voiceless, unheard object, ready and willing to serve the glorified master within the relationship.

Who is the abuser?

  1. The abuser within these types of relationship may very well suffer from a personality disorder, an example of which may be narcissistic personality disorder.
  2. The abuser may have had an abusive past themselves, and underneath their false image may themselves have a low self esteem.
  3. They may need to be in a relationship within which they can control the other out of a hidden insecurity and fear that the other will leave them.
  4. They may be emotionally dependent on an object providing them with a constant amount of love and affection, but within this the object does not need to recognized as a person. In fact, recognizing the object as a person is dangerous to the abuser, for any criticism towards the abuser would then have to acknowledged. Instead, the abuser devalues and degrades the other, forming the other into an object who’s criticisms, opinions and emotions have no intrinsic value.
  5. The truly dangerous abuser will genuinely believe that the way that the abuser behaves towards the other is for the other’s own good, as a part of the other’s training to be better, to fix the inherited negative genetic traits and to eventually become like a person, for without him or her, the abuser sees the abused as less than an object, but rather, nothing.

Why does the abused defend the abuser’s actions?

One may wonder how or why the other remains in such a relationship and why he or she always defends the abusive partner when challenged. Why is it that he or she will defend the abuser towards any of his or her friends and family who express their concerns? This is likely due to the following:

  1. The abused believes unconsciously that it is her fault, just as a child often believes it is their fault when their parents argue. Due to the intense manipulation over the years, they blame themselves or their genetics or their own desires and wishes and will feel that by leaving the relationship, they will have failed their responsibilities and duties to their partner for their own perceived selfishness.
  2. It is likely that by this stage the abused will have sacrificed many years within the relationship and may also have children. It is extremely painful for the abused to acknowledge that they were never seen or loved as a person by their abuser, but only as an object. Denial for this reason is common.
  3. The abused has lost their own sense of identity, and they are now an extension of the abuser. Any attack on the abuser is felt as an attack on themselves.
  4. Having been manipulated to doubt their own judgement for many years, they will fear losing their abuser and facing the world on their own. They may also fear the abuser, for they have had a close insight to how he or she thinks towards others from the safety of his or her arms.

The effect of Abusive Relationships on Children

As time progresses within these relationships and as the abuser then begins to use the same manipulation tactics on the children, the abused may believe that that it is for their own good, for it is necessary due to the genetic faults that the abused has provided the child.

The child will grow up with an emotionally distant and neglectful father and a mother who will be deemed as having two sides to her personality- one when father is present and a more gentle, caring personality when father is not, or vice versa, depending on the gender of the abuser.

Only when the child becomes an adult will he or she realise the true nature of the parental relationship. Whilst he was younger, he may blame himself, or the “other”.

What About When The Adult Child Tries To Tell The “Other” The Truth?

The adult child after having realized the true nature of the abuser may then try to fix the relationship by challenging the other into also facing the true personality of the abuser. This will be difficult for the other to ignore, and, as much as he or she will devalue the adult child’s views as that of an irrational teenager, enough ammountable evidence against the abuser will lead the abused to a state of inner conflict, for it becomes more and more difficult to deny the objective reality.

Even at this stage, however, the abused will find it difficult to accept this and even if he or she were to agree on the nature of the abuser, he or she will deem it to be due to an underlying mental illness, which is of no fault of the abuser. “It is not his/her fault, that is just the way he/she is!”.

A Heavily Skewed Power Dynamic

This description indicates the extremes of abusive relationship, in which the power dynamic is skewed heavily to one side. My book “Whatever You Say Darling” explores power struggles and primarily provides advice for those relationships in which there is some power imbalance but not to the extent as is described above.

I must say at this point, that whilst my book may provide some education and insight into power dynamics, the advice within my book in terms of changing the power dynamic to a fairer equilibrium is primarily directed to those who have a polarized dynamic to a much smaller degree than depicted within this post.

Unfortunately, I believe that in extreme cases such as described here, the power dynamics are so deeply ridden within the relationship that restoration to a more fairer equilibrium is virtually impossible and fixing the relationship should not be the primary concern, but instead it should be the well being of the abused.

I would advise any-one reading this who feels that they are in an extreme power relationship to strongly consider leaving the relationship and seeking professional help and support. You deserve better.