How to Let Your Parents Grow Up

There is an imbalance between ACoNs* and their parents. ACoNs have high levels of empathy and their parents usually have extremely low levels. One man explained it this way—“My father can only feel concern for other people if they are suffering in the same way he has suffered. He can relate to the bum in the gutter because he is often drunk and out of work, but he cannot relate to the pain he caused me when he beat me.”

The Empathy Trap Book gives an explanation of how some sociopathic and narcissistic parents might groom and use their most empathetic children to fill their needs. Of course no parent wants to admit this so narcissistic parents will deny it and accuse their children of lying and do everything they can to ruin the child’s reputation to save their own–which of course is once again putting themselves over their children.

Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Changes That Heal explains the growing up process. How children start by looking up to adults and end by becoming equals with adults. Narcissistic parents do not want this to happen so they try to keep their kids one down even after they become adults.


Some ways that parents try to keep their adult children in the one down position include using criticism, shame and guilt. I firmly believe criticism has stunted as many lives as careless gun play. It’s a slower death, but many adult children are crippled by the criticism of their parents to the point they never finish school or stick with a project to completion. The only healthy direction you can go with a critical parent is to move farther away.

Others will try to shame you by saying things like “I sure wish you wouldn’t do this” or “Why did you have to go and do that?” This is usually a manipulation to get you to do things their way. Once again run far away. You are an adult now and should be able to both own your choices and not allow others to dictate how you will live your life.

Parents who try to make their adult children feel guilty are some of the most sinister because only God can judge and tell each of us what is right for us. God Himself doesn’t manipulate us into being good, so why allow your parents (or church busybodies) to do what God Himself doesn’t do?

To try to shame or guilt or criticize their adult children is a parents’ attempt to stay in control, but it is also an indicator that their own life is out of control. When people are in control of their own lives, they can afford to allow others to make their own choices and even mistakes.

So how do you tell your parents to grow up? Writing a letter is useless. Most narcissistic parents will either ignore your letter or write a nastier one. You might be inspired to write the letter because you have had this stuff on your heart for years but trust me, your parents do not want to hear it. If they wanted to hear it they would have paid more attention to how you reacted years ago.

So here it is—the best way to let your parents grow up is to grow up yourself and stand in your dignity. Stop allowing them to dictate what your style of clothing or religious beliefs should be. Don’t let them criticize your spouse. Inform them talking down to you or your special someone will cause you to leave and that will be it (and make sure you leave.)

And don’t look back—unless they call with a true apology. You can forgive them from a distance. You can wish them well from a distance. You can send them a birthday card from a distance, but you cannot allow them to manipulate your life choices anymore.

And that means don’t let them make you feel sorry for not meeting their needs. One woman wrote to me and said, I can’t stop feeling sorry for my parents. This was after they did all number of abusive things to her and tried to ruin her relationships with her entire family. I told her my story. One day I realized that if my grandparents had done to my mom what my parents did to me, she would have quit speaking to them, but because I was an empathetic person, I kept trying to get them to meet me halfway and it never happened.

Don’t let them make you feel sorry because they feel so bad when you explain how they hurt you in the first place. It’s ironic how narcissistic parents don’t want to admit their mistakes but they want to take over your conscience and tell you how to live your life. People who abuse us are not in the position to speak into our lives. Just say no.

And don’t let them send the Flying Monkeys in either because you don’t have room in your life for Flying Monkeys. If people want to talk to you let it be from their own hearts not from a third party’s manipulations.

So you took a stand and now your parent is playing the victim. Victim or not, they have choices.

1. They can apologize and rebuild their relationship with you.
2. They can ignore your choices and move on without you.
3. They can slander you and tell everyone how mean you are.

Chances are they will do the last option, but don’t worry, this will be your opportunity to grow up and let them do whatever they want while you actually live a life. Carpe Diem.

*ACoNs-Adult Children of Narcissists

9 thoughts on “How to Let Your Parents Grow Up”

  1. When I first started reading I got so excited because I thought “The Empathy Trap” was a children’s book, for ages 15 and under. I wish there was such a book, instead there is often pressure fom courts to normalize abusive behavior and keep things hush hush so children grow up believing the put downs and the mind games are “normal” and the way a parent “should” treat a child and the criticism, shame and guilt are things they “should” endure. Nevertheless I will definitely look into this book, I have also heard of Dr. Cloud’s work and that is worth looking into as well. Thank you for a great post, I love the art and layout of your blog.


  2. Thank for your comment. I will add you to my contest for free art this week for commenting. I also appreciate the reminder that I forgot to include the links to these two awesome books that have been a lifesaver for me.

    Yes, I do believe there is a need for a book for kids to understand this before they let controlling and abusive parents ruin their lives. It’s tricky because most of those parents would not let their child read such a book. 😦


  3. Thank you for the added bonus of the contest! I looked up the book myself on Amazon. Yes, a children’s books is tricky but there are many single parents left in the dust having to rebuild, those who seek health and it would be a boon to them in raising kids confused by one parent behave the way they do and to prepare them for adulthood when that parent will ultimately return and do EXACTLY what you describe.


  4. I was abused in about every form from my mom growing up, she was definitely a Narc. I have been NC for 17 years. The pain from my childhood is still very real. Besides her Narc tendencies she also allowed unsavory people and events into her children’s lives.

    For 17 years I waited for her to come around and say sorry or at least give me a hug. (Never any affection) But that never happened, I heard my name was slandered after I left home. But now according to my brother she has dementia along with her violent and psycho tendencies (set her car on fire for funsies for an example.). They are looking to put her in a home now. Part of me for years thought there would be closure when she died, but I realise this is not true. Part of me thinks she is getting off easy if she has dementia (which I wonder about). She will not die feeling sorry for the pain she caused. She will die never remembering it while I am stuck again the only one hurt or realizing there is a problem.

    Most of all I wish I knew how to get past the pain.


  5. You are not alone, what you have described is a very difficult reality for most ACoNs. The bottom line is that narcs do not apologize or own their own junk. They freely move on to the next victim if you refuse to give them narcissistic feed. So seventeen years, wow! I am sorry you are still in pain. I don’t think we ever truly get over our parents’ betrayal–unless they stop the narc behavior and basically the chances of that are the same as pigs flying.

    It might seem weird but I think one way to get past the pain is to use your voice not to them but to speak the truth to those who can be helped by it. I read your blog about being followed by the unsafe person. I truly think healing comes when we share our stories with each other. For starters there is a lot of shame that is heaped on an ACoN. According to Brene Brown, the main way to heal shame is to connect with other empathetic people.

    For me, as long as I focus on people who have hurt me, I continue to feel the pain so I have chosen to give back to others and let them live their own lives. But we really can’t move on until we understand what happened, understand how it effects us even today and then reframe it.

    I hope this happens soon for you. Good luck!


  6. I endured my narcissistic mother destroying my relationship with the man I loved more than life 30 years ago. Although I am happily married with 5 beautiful kids, my mind suffers from the loss of my love so many years ago. I can’t seem to get past it. He was everything to me, and she could never see it, and I live in two worlds, in my present with my husband and kids, and also in the past to all the what if’s I can think of. It’s an awful reality, to live a double life, constantly missing what could have been.


  7. Wow! I am sorry about the pain in your past. A double life sounds very painful as well. Perhaps you can find a good counselor to help you work through this so you can integrate your entire life and find some joy. Peace to you, Amy!


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