How to Survive Mourning the Living Dead

What would you do if I invited you to a funeral without a casket? You’d probably assume the dead had been cremated, right? But what if I told you they were still alive? You might even think of calling the police because you’re afraid I’m going to “off” somebody Godfather style. Of course, if you thought that, you’d be wrong. The point I’m making is that thousands of people mourn their family members every week — yet the people they mourn are still alive. These living dead are narcissistic people, who for one reason or another have made it nearly impossible to have a relationship with them.

living dead, narcissist, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, mourning,
Photo by Peyman Naderi on Unsplash

Whether you’re dealing with a narcissist shunning you, or choose to go no contact, chances are you’re mourning someone who is still alive. They might be an engulfing narcissist who tells you what to wear and eat and who to date. Such controllers force survivors to sing the words to that old Billy Joel song, “This is my life, leave me alone,” to reinforce their boundaries. Or they could be a covert narcissist who won’t make public waves, but will wait until your back is turned to twist the knife in — unless you meet their expectations. Either way, how much fun are these people to be around?

People who have never had to deal with narcissistic abusers have no clue what the rest of us have survived. We mourn what is missing because everyone wants to have parents who love them unconditionally. Everyone wants their siblings to be an understanding circle of love and affection. When our friends seem to have wonderful family relationships, it’s painful to realize we don’t have a family to rely on.

Sometimes we blame ourselves, but the truth is narcissistic people aren’t emotionally honest with us. There is a reason for the gap between us. Often it’s due to the narcissist saying “my way or the highway” or always having to be right. Some people care more about being in control than being in a relationship.

The narcissist treats us as if we are dead because they don’t want to be responsible for their behavior. Meanwhile, we who have empathy, mourn the loss of the relationship. We both might mourn, but the narcissist mourns the things we are no longer doing stuff for them, while we mourn the fantasy parent or sibling we wish we had.

Wishing for a narcissist to change will only drag out the pain. Waiting for the narcissist’s approval is asking for more abuse. We can dance through hoops like a Cirque du Soleil artist and bring gifts like the Magi until one day we discover we’ve wasted our lives by waiting for a flicker of approval from a narcissist who refuses to grant it.

Of course, we don’t wear black all the time, but on every birthday and holiday, a shadow passes over our hearts to remind us somewhere in the world, there is a shell of a human being we once loved. We mourn them because our minds continue to play tricks on us. What if I called? What if I showed up? What if they actually care? What if they want to apologize? All of these what-ifs get our hopes up, and sometimes, we listen and follow these cues — only to discover nothing has changed. We’ve groveled for nothing, then we are left wondering why am I so broken? Why did I let myself get tricked again? Why do I feel so unworthy of love whenever I encounter the narcissist?

It’s not worth it. If someone wants to be your friend, they’ll call you or text you or show up at your door because friendship is a two-way street. Of course, an engulfing narc will also do these things but in a pushy and controlling manner. Most of us can tell the difference between the narcissist abuser and a true friend who show up–not to push, but to be available. To say, “I care, happy birthday, I hope you are well, I thought of you, do you wanna go out for coffee?”

For those who have been ignored by a narcissist, it’s hard to know where you stand. When you go months without hearing from them on special days, you can be sure you are standing on the outside of the family circle looking in. Such discoveries can be as painful for an empath as if the person we once loved has really died — only worse. Worse because mourning the living dead gives us no closure. We don’t want them to die because that means we’ll lose the hope of ever reconciling with them again.

At the same time, we mourn them every holiday and every time we think about them and realize they are no longer a part of our life. They are alive, yet dead. Dead to honesty. Dead to empathy. Dead to any ability to have an equal relationship. Dead and beyond caring about how their victims feel. Mourning leaves us with no choice, but to become even stronger survivors — survivors who look death in the face every time we think of our family members. Survivors who are in a constant state of mourning the living dead.

Some liken the narcissist to a vampire. They’ll suck you dry until you feel like an empty shell. That’s because narcissism is contagious. Flying monkeys and the golden child are susceptible to becoming narcissists themselves. Victims who only partially wake up will continue to be victims over and over again. For some, the charade of pretending to be family brings more than one kind of death — the death of the living narc and the death of the living victim. “If you can’t lick ’em, join them” is a dangerous game. We might grieve the living dead so much that we forget to live.

A sibling once told me, “We will never be able to live until our parents are dead.” I cried because I didn’t want my parents to die, but I wanted to live. Recently my friend’s narcissistic mother died after years of estrangement. She said, “I grieved her loss years ago, today I grieve what could have been.” A mutual friend replied, “This profound statement beautifully articulates what we all are going through or will go through when our absent parents pass.”

It wasn’t long after “the great divorce” in my family. I hadn’t opened windows or showered or done the dishes or even looked at Facebook. I was too depressed. As an Enneagram Two, I felt I had poured myself out like a drink offering for my family — except I wasn’t Jesus, and I had no clue how to rise again.

I got a phone call, then a knock at my door. I ignored both. It was a sweet church lady named Mary Lou. She was a little older than my parents. She was always so upbeat; I wondered what she could want, but my house was a mess. The dishes were stacked up around the sink. The sofa had clothes on it that needed to be folded. The blinds were still shut because I was too tired to open them. Mary Lou left a voice message. “Cherie, I know you’re in there, and I am going to stay out here and even sleep in my car if I have to until you open that door.”

I couldn’t leave a nearly eighty-year-old woman outside in the cold for hours. I felt like crap, my house was a mess, but what could I do? I went to the door and cracked it open just enough to let in the light. Mary Lou came swooshing in, smelling like lilacs and dressed like a hyacinth. She opened my windows bringing blinding rays of sunshine and sparkles into the room. I still had bedhead, and the house smelled like the cat box needed changing, but Mary Lou’s hug and empathetic understanding brought the resurrection to my living death. She was the hands and feet of Jesus to me. She allowed me to mourn, but most importantly, she taught me to rise.

Mary Lou had spent her life with a man who for decades had not helped her with the housework or gone to church with her or even given her sex or affection. Her husband had lived many years without getting out of his bed while his muscles wasted away from a debilitating disease. Mary Lou, in essence, had mourned the living every day for forty years. She never gave up because she knew the value of the man she married. She loved him and he loved her. This wasn’t what they had planned, but it was all they had —  plus love. Her example of unconditional love is the opposite of narcissism. For decades Mary Lou continued to care for someone who could never meet some of her needs, but he was there for her in heart and spirit. Mary Lou and her husband knew love. They knew how to suck the marrow out of life and a marriage that many would have abandoned.

What Mary Lou taught me that day is if you want to live, you need to gravitate toward the light. Jesus once told someone to “let the dead bury the dead.” It’s okay to mourn our losses, but keep moving toward the light. Where there is light and love, there is life.


Surviving Narcissistic Abuse with the Enneagram

When Mayla began to wake up
to the narcissism in her family of origin, 
she was excited to share with her siblings,
but it backfired and they made her the scapegoat
because no one else was awake.

enneagram, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, self-care, self-worth, recovery,
Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

They weren’t ready to see it, so the more she shared, the more defensive they became in their protection of the narcissist. Her entire family had been programmed to stick together and never discuss the family secrets. Her family wanted to punish her for breaking the family rules, so they made her the scapegoat. She was called a liar, disloyal, evil and lost. All for what? Telling the truth about the lies and physical abuse she and her siblings had endured. Why couldn’t her family see it? They just weren’t awake yet.

There are three kinds of people in the world,
those who are asleep,
those who are stirring, and those who are awake.
If you try to wake up the sleeping,
he will just mumble and go back to sleep.
If you wake up the stirring,
he will wake up just long enough to curse you
and then go back to sleep.
Instead of trying to wake them up,
if you come across someone who is asleep
or stirring what you should do is,
fluff their pillow, tuck them in,
and kiss them on the forehead.
The important joy for those who are awake
is to seek each other out,
connect with others who are awake,
talk, sing and celebrate together.
This will create a groundswell of awareness.
As this groundswell increases and spreads out,
it will awaken the stirring
and will begin to stir those who are still sleeping.
-Buckminster Fuller

Many survivors refer to the day they discovered what narcissism is as the day they woke up. For some people, this took longer than others. We might even say there are different stages of awakening. There is the awakening to the fact that you’ve been abused. Then there is the discovery there’s a name for what we have endured. Next, there’s an analysis of what we can do to cope with it. During this stage, we think if only others can see this, everything will be fine, but we forget each person has to find their own awakening.

I think about two friends who knew my family’s stories and told me about a support group for Adult Children of Narcissists, but I wasn’t yet awake, so I ignored their invitations. After I woke up, people in the family complained or started to discuss the things that happened, but they were only stirring, so when I tried to share my own discoveries with them, they woke up just long enough to curse me and go back to sleep. We can’t force an awakening on people who aren’t ready the way some people pick forsythia in winter to force the blooms. People are not flowers; they are much more complex and we cannot judge them for not being awake.

I love books. Often when I’m talking to my closest friends, if a certain subject comes up, I might send them a book I’ve read on the topic. This goes beyond narcissism and covers a broad band of topics from memoirs to art to spiritual topics. This week I have a friend going through a hard time and I wanted to encourage her by sending a book. I went to look up her name on my Amazon past orders to make sure I hadn’t already sent it to her. Then I noticed how many books I’ve sent to my sisters. These books range from Memoirs to Henry Cloud, to Katie Daisy’s How to be a Wildflower to books on the Enneagram. These books were an offering–a way to share and build our sister connections, but alas all I have gotten back is public accusations and abuse. I am forced to accept the fact that they are not awake.

There comes a point when flying monkeys become abusers. I would say when people lie about your book before they’ve even read it, they aren’t your friends. It’s been nine years since the great divorce and I have finally decided to go no contact with my immediate family–not because I rejected any of them, but because they are not awake. They are like the dull step-sisters in Cinderella who have no clue they are rude and ignorant and missing out on a loving and fun relationship with their sister, but their sleeping is someone else’s gain because I now have many sisters and each one is beautiful and gracious and a valuable place to spend my time and energy. I had to realize that not even something as innocent and beautiful as Katie Daisy’s beautiful book can wake up the selfish and stony-hearted.

Waking up to the way the narcissist and flying monkeys have treated us was only the first glimmer of waking up–there is a greater awakening. When we wake up to ourselves—our psyches and bodies—all the parts of ourselves we neglected while trying to please, win, and negotiate with the narcissist. This is where the real healing begins. This last stage is our true awakening because, in those first stages, we measured ourselves in relation to other people, but as long as we measured ourselves by our proximity to the narcissist, we were still dealing with the narc fallout and we missed the value of knowing ourselves.

This greater awakening brings us to realize that not only is it NOT our job to wake up the rest of the sleeping family, we deserve to spend our time with those who are awake. We don’t hate those who are asleep, we just assess their true condition, then walk out the door to enjoy the beauty of the dawn and all the new day has to bring with those who are already awake.

For Adult Children of Narcissists (ACoNs) who have struggled to understand themselves because of past emotional abuse, there is a great tool to help us awaken and live our lives more fully awake—it’s called the Enneagram. Here are three ways knowing your type can help you thrive:

1. It Helps You Reclaim Who You Are

The Enneagram enables you to understand your losses. Some teachers of the Enneagram believe knowing your type might point to perceived injuries in childhood. Everyone has had some damage in childhood because we live in an imperfect world, but this has never been truer than for those who survive narcissistic abuse.

How many times has the narcissist tried to tell you what to feel or remember? Were you accused of wearing your heart on your sleeve or called mentally ill because you viewed life differently? If you’ve been gaslighted or pushed down and berated by the narcissist, the Enneagram can help you rediscover the lens you use to view the world and this, in turn, will help you know yourself better. The better you know yourself, the less the narcissist and flying monkeys will have any effect on you.

Sometimes we can’t access our memories or struggle to find the cause of our triggers. People often say, “If only I had a guidebook to avoid this in the future.” No one wants to repeat the damaging patterns of the past. Your memories and emotions all point to something. The Enneagram helps find subconscious clues to explain you feel the way you do. It might even reveal why you’ve allowed others to use and abuse you. It can help you understand and reinforce your boundaries.

As a writer of memoir, I have found the Enneagram to be a reassuring resource. A memoir is about understanding ourselves and the events of our lives. Those events become even more obvious when we understand our motivations and possibly gain a window into the personalities of our closest friends and family.

This above all: to thine own self, be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
-Wm. Shakespeare

The Bard had it right. If you know yourself and live an honest life, no one–not even a revengeful narcissist can make you doubt yourself or be untrue to your calling. It takes courage to know yourself and stand up for yourself, and we often have to stand alone against what Brené Brown calls the wilderness because we have detractors and flying monkeys coming at us from all sides.

Your level of true belonging can
never be greater than your willingness to
be brave and stand by yourself.

-Brené Brown

The Enneagram makes it easier for us to stand alone against the wilderness.

2. It Breathes Life into Your Loyal Relationships
The secret to a healthy relationship is to keep growing together in authenticity. It’s good to know yourself and even better when your partner cares to know you, and you take the time to know them too. And this works for friends too. Together, we can have a lot of fun learning more about each other.

When both partners understand their type, it adds a new dimension to the relationship. My husband and I have discovered things we never knew about each other in almost thirty years of knowing each other. The Enneagram can lead to hours of profound and scintillating discussion and makes for fascinating dinner conversation when you have friends who understand their types too.

One bonus of understanding your motives and the motives of your beloved is that you can take this information into account—not to abuse as the narc would do, but to facilitate better communication and meet each other’s needs.

3. It Helps You Avoid Feeling Like a Victim

No survivor wants to be re-victimized. We grow cautious about giving gifts to users and haters. We might avoid any situation where we could get burned again. Sometimes these reactions alter the way we manifest our personalities because we haven’t forgotten the two-faced family members who betrayed us. Past abuse doesn’t have to change us. We can learn who to avoid and how to invest with healthy people in the future by understanding the Enneagram.

We should never sacrifice who we are because someone has a problem with us. The Enneagram gives us the freedom to be ourselves and ignore what others say about us. It gives us tools to see into our relationships and understand why we were motivated to invest in destructive patterns.

When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change.
-Wayne Dwyer

One of the best ways to know yourself is to understand the Enneagram. Once you’ve realized the way the narcissist behaves has nothing to do with you, you can let go of trying to prove anything to the narc or their flying monkeys. When you know yourself, it will be impossible for the narcissist to ensnare you or into their petty battles.

The Enneagram is much more than a test, the test is merely the beginning of discovery. The Enneagram provides an ongoing study of who you are and how you interact with the most important relationships in your life. Understand just yourself will take time–let alone the many others who are significant in your life. The Enneagram teaches you how to make your life better–so much better that you won’t have time to think about the narc or flying monkeys because you’ll be enjoying a better life without them.

If you don’t know your Enneagram type, or if you’ve taken a test and still can’t figure it out, I can give you some clues on another blog. For now, you can take a test online for free.

1. Figure out your number by taking an online test, then read the “types” pages that correspond to your highest scoring numbers.

2. Read up on the type descriptions online at

3. If your partner knows their type, you can discover combos for relationships

4. If you think you know your number, you can sign up for the daily Enneagram thought here. (If you think it might be one of two numbers, you can sign up for two enneagram thoughts and that might help you decide.)

5. There are lots of thick and fascinating books on the Enneagram, but if you haven’t read any yet, I suggest the primer called The Road Back to You. It’s an easy read and should help you define your type.

If you are new to the Enneagram, try to not get too attached to the number until you’ve given yourself time to try it on. Remember the Enneagram is NOT a personality box to define you, it’s about going on a journey to wake up and discover who you were before the narcissist told you who to be.


You Might Have Been Raised by a Narcissist

If you grew up with a parent
who put their needs above yours,
you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you were in charge of cleaning house for your parents, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve been lying to bill collectors since you were five, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you grew up not knowing your relatives because your parent didn’t like them, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you grew up with flying monkeys and know how to avoid them, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you were neglected by parents who ignored your needs, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you have night terrors about moving again, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve worn out the carpet walking on eggshells, you most definitely have been raised by a narcissist.

If you kept the family secrets from the church, cops and neighbors, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you dreamed of being yourself, but were afraid to anger your parent, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you spent any part of your childhood hiding your body or your soul, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you have PTSD whenever you walk near the belt section in a department store, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you had to get up early to make coffee for your parents, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve been hit because the car wouldn’t start, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you earned money, but your parents spent it, you were probably raised by a narcissist.

If you grew up being told white lies don’t hurt anyone, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve felt guilty or sorry for being born, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve groveled to a parent who never apologizes, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve been fired because you can’t stop apologizing, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you are the black sheep—the one who got away, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you got your self-worth from people pleasing, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you have been called mentally ill for speaking the truth, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you felt smothered by a controlling parent, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If one of your parents treated you like a spouse, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve rolled over like a doormat so they could use you again, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve felt your parent’s pain before your own, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you aren’t sure who you are because you’ve tried to please your parent, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve been scapegoated so many times the family treats you like satan, Oh yeah, you were raised by a narcissist.

If your parent seems to lack a conscience, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you planned your life choices around the belt, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve been called selfish for spending your own money, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you have a high level of empathy for your apathetic parent, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you have a parent who blames you for their mistakes, you might have been raised by a narcissist.

If you still have a parent who lies to you or about you, you were abso-fuckin-lutely raised by a narcissist.

If your parent won’t follow the rules or laws of the land, you were probably raised by a narcissist.

If you’ve ever worried you might be a narcissist, or answered yes to many of these situations, you are probably NOT a narcissist, but the chances are pretty good that you might just have been raised by one.



Five Ingredients for a Narcissist-Free Relationship

Jessie grew up with a narcissistic father, then she found a man who acted a lot like her dad because that is what felt comfortable to her despite the abusive patterns. By the time she discovered what narcissism is, she was with husband number two and sick to her stomach to discover she had married yet another narcissist.


That marriage ended and now she’s afraid to date anyone. When she wrote to me this week, she said she might end up alone for the rest of her life. She asked if I could explain what a healthy relationship looks like.

Remember if you grew up with a narcissistic parent, it makes you more likely to choose a narc partner. And if you dealt with religious abuse, it makes figuring out what real love looks like even more difficult. So please go easy on yourself if this happened. It wasn’t your fault. Like Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.”

My husband and I were married twenty-seven years ago this week. That means we’ve lived with each other for more than half of our lives. I won’t lie to you and say it has always been easy. It is both the hardest and the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done. It’s also important to note on such a journey together, nothing stays the same because both people in the relationship are always growing–everything that happens has the potential to change us as individuals and sometimes even threaten to capsize the ship. Through every event, we either grow closer together or farther apart. The goal is to keep such a loving environment in the home that we keep growing closer.

I’ve heard people say things like, “He’s not the same man I married.” It’s ridiculous to fault someone for changing because you aren’t the same woman he married. We are all changing every day. I had a counselor once who often said, “Whether you go to work or stay home, you are both changed by the things that happen to you every day so cherish each other even through the changes.”


This advice might sound scary or depressing, but it’s actually what keeps life interesting. Would you really want your beloved to stay exactly as they were the day you met and never change? Consider how a book or movie helps us grow as human beings. Every experience and every trial is an opportunity for growth to grow closer in love with each other. So that said, let’s talk about what I believe are the five most important attributes of a healthy relationship.

1.  Respect

Respect is the most essential ingredient for a healthy relationship.  We often show respect at work and to our friends, but many people slack off in marriage or family relationships because they feel comfortable, but we should never feel so comfortable we take our most important relationships for granted enough to show disrespect.

If you’re dating someone who shows no respect for their parents or boss or even the government, this could be a sign of grandiosity which is just one of the signs of narcissism. There are people who lack respect who are not full blown narcs, but there is nothing that can make up for a lack of respect in any relationship–whether it’s in a marriage, friendship or family.

What does respect look like? I would say equality between the partners where no one feels obligated to always bow to the other’s needs, but it really comes down to boundaries and freedom. We’ll talk more about those later. None of these matter without honesty.

2.  Honesty

I’ve seen some marriage books and seminars where the guru says men need respect and women need love or honesty, but I don’t think this is a gender issue. Among the couples I know, there can be no compromising of respect and honesty for either partner. Honestly and respect are foundational to every relationship. And the word honor goes hand in hand with honesty, so when the bride and groom agree to honor each other for life, that means to tell the truth to each other.

I like to say–without respect and honesty, we’ve got nothing. That’s because any relationship lacking in honesty is a mystery relationship–like some secret person hidden behind the door in that old dating game show. When the person you are with is hiding something, life’s always a crap shoot and you never know what risqué business might pop up.

3.  Boundaries

Once you have respect and honesty, boundaries are much easier to work out. Dr. Henry Cloud, who wrote several books about boundaries, says to think of boundaries as a gate and not a wall. Some people have been confused about this. A doorway or gate has flexibility while a wall is a much more substantial border. If you want a healthy relationship your boundaries must sometimes bend to meet other people. The trick is to know where you can give and where it would compromise your own integrity to give in to what others need or want.

Boundaries reveal our responsibility lie and offer us the option of giving out of our abundance rather than feeling obligated to meet the needs of someone else.  Boundaries are another tool to help us define who we are because without such self-knowledge we might not realize where other people end and we begin.

4.  Self-knowledge

All of these concepts are great–but they only work when you know yourself. If you’re still trying to decide if you like people who talk or people who prefer silence at meals, then do yourself and your future partner a favor and find out who you are and what really matters to you. If you don’t know yourself, you could set up inappropriate boundaries because you don’t realize what healthy boundaries for you might look like.

True respect starts with self-respect and self-respect requires self-knowledge in order to govern self. Here are just a few ways you can get to know yourself better–

    • Keep a journal so you can look back on your emotions and spiritual growth
    • Take personality tests like the Myers-Briggs and my favorite The Enneagram.
    • Examine your beliefs and make a personal mission statement

Remember the fruit of the Spirit in the Bible? Some versions say self-control, while others say self-governance. To govern self, one must know self. Self-knowledge is the beginning of honesty and respect for self which in turn, enables us to have honesty and respect for others.

5.  Freedom

We can talk all we want about honesty, respect, boundaries and knowing ourselves, but no relationship can survive without freedom. As hard as honesty and boundaries might seem, freedom is the hardest requirement to meet.  but freedom is the oil that keeps the relationship going.

There are no shortcuts around freedom. You probably realize this already if you were raised by or married to a narcissist. This is the problem at the heart of narcissistic abuse–a desire to use others for self or coerce others to meet the narc’s needs.

While it’s a sign of narcissism to lack empathy for others and milk them for all they’ve got, they are many people who don’t have Narcissistic Personality Disorder who simply want to feel safe who try to exert control over their beloved. Many of us start out in life wanting to control other people because it helps us feel safe. I know from my own experience (which would be way too long of a story to share here) that there can be no love without freedom.

And if you really love someone, you won’t force them, shame them, coerce them or guilt them with your expectations. That old adage “If you love someone, set them free and if they come back to you, it was meant to be,” is true.

It might be hard to let go, but when the tables are turned, isn’t true freedom what every one of us wants? And do we want someone to pretend to love us who feels obligated or do we want another free human being who is growing, stretching and loving alongside us?

Perhaps you wonder why I didn’t mention love before. Because the word love has been misused to mean everything from infatuation to obligation. Love is manifested through action and it is way more than just an emotional feeling we experience when we love someone. True love is infusing all five of these values into your relationship so you can enjoy more positive emotions with each other than the negative ones.

When you wake up and find yourself at peace with whatever you need to do for that day, and if you can find someone who supports your dreams and cheers you on, while you cheer for them too–that is true love! Hang on to it, but keep it free!



Narcissism 101

After feeling alone for decades
and wondering what was wrong with her,
Sarah began to hear story after story
that sounded exactly like her own.
She was blown away by the similarities
and experiences of other people.
This is because narcissism has a pattern
that seems to repeat itself with blatant selfishness
and zero empathy for others.

narcissism, healing, narcissist, narcissistic abuse,

There are people who fear calling labeling parents as narcissistic is calling them names, but most of us didn’t go looking to label our parents. Many of us struggled with self worth for decades because of the labels and criticism our parents gave us. Calling the mystery narcissism was not a gut reaction, but a calming balm of relief to a third degree emotional burn that has plagued many people for years.

We didn’t diagnose our parents, we simply gathered facts and realized there is no other explanation for the mystery we have been trying to solve. It’s sort of like finding out that striped horse is actually called a zebra.

So what are the stripes we now recognize as narcissism?

1. A Violation of Boundaries.
The narcissistic mother sees the child as an extension of herself. She wants the child to reflect her at all times and she also views all resources of the child as hers. In such a world of no boundaries, it’s difficult for the child raised by such parents to stand up for himself. He or she doesn’t know how to take responsibility for themselves because they’ve been raised to let their parents tell them what to do. If they vary from the parent’s wishes, they will experience shunning or abandonment so younger victims often try to stay close to the parent to please them.

2. Lack of Empathy for How They Affect Others
This violation of boundaries is often made possible due to lack of empathy. If a parent truly imagined what it is like to be their child, they would treat their children with more respect from childhood. Empathy allows a parent to imagine how it feels to have the belt stinging their legs or what it is like to go to bed without supper while the scent of popcorn drifts down the hallway.

As children grow into adulthood, empathy reminds parents to own their mistakes and apologize and show unconditional love to their grown children. Lack of empathy is often manifested by a parent who talks about their adult children when they can’t control them. There is research that says many narcissistic parents recruit their most empathetic child to do their bidding. So while narcissists are low on the empathy scale, they definitely have a use for it in other people.

3. A Desire to see Their Own Reflection in Their Child

Like Narcissus who stared at his own reflection in the pond, a narcissistic parent stares into their child looking for their own image and doing all they can to mold their child into a mini me. This does not end when the child becomes an adult. It often continues until the parent dies.

When the parent fails to see what they are looking for, they will keep trying to teach and remake their child into their own image for their entire lifetime which results in the adult child never feeling good enough.

How many new parents hold their precious baby and whisper, “You’d better meet my needs or I will ruin your life and reputation.” No, they usually ask doesn’t he or she look like me? And while all parents look to see what this baby will look like, the extreme is a narcissistic parent might never grow past that stage and view their child as an individual. And if they can’t acknowledge their child’s individuality, they are probably going to ignore that child’s boundaries.

Perhaps narcissism grows out of selfishness and a survival of the fittest mentality where people feel they need to destroy their enemies and sadly, with the parent’s lack of empathy, their children become their imagined enemies because they failed to meet their expectations.

4. The Not-So-Fun Circus of Manipulation
All of these add up to a cycle of patterned behavior:

  • A sense of entitlement and refusal to follow the law
  • Manipulation
  • Lies
  • Mind games and gaslighting
  • Recruitment of flying monkeys
  • Playing the victim
  • Seeking revenge
  • Ostracizing the scapegoat

These behaviors might happen in stages or at different times, but eventually patterns will emerge.These are all are part of the narcissistic agenda or better known as the narcissistic circus. A polish proverb has it right:

Not my monkeys, not my circus.

If only it were that easy, but most narcissistic parents will do all they can to ruin their child’s reputation when they won’t go along with their plans. Many ACONs will tell you their narc parents have spent hours taking notes about their enemies and researching how to win their case in court and sadly many of them have been sued by their own parents. Having a narcissist for a parent can be a continual abuse–first in childhood, then in adulthood and even after discovery of the problem it seems like the wounds never really heal.

The only solution for healing is love. But the narcissistic parent doesn’t seem able to love their child. If they did, they might not have abused them in the first place. They wouldn’t be angry if their adult child remembers the abuse and they would apologize, rebuild the relationship to show their child unconditional love.

All of these things could happen, but don’t hold your breath. By it’s very nature extreme narc behavior focuses on self and cannot bear to be wrong, so if your parent is a true toxic narcissist, these symptoms of love will never happen–they will simply go on talking about you until the day they die.

So to recap, we are not name calling, we are identifying a chain of symptoms that can only be described as narcissism. These four possible identifiers are all based on selfishness–

1. Violation of Boundaries and Using Others

2. Lack of Empathy for How They Affect Others 

3. A Desire to see Their Own Reflection in Their Child

4. The not-so-fun Manipulative Circus 

If you have been treated in these ways, if you have been feeling alone and not good enough for most of your life, if you feel you can’t be yourself with family, just say no to narcissism. There’s a world full of people who DO have empathy and people just like you who are worthy of love, so go out and find them.



Don’t Let the Narcissist Define You

One of the worst things a narcissist tries to do is label you.
She/he might try to define you to yourself,
your friends and family members.
This is part of the gaslighting treatment and
you must diligently refute these lies.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When I was a young adult, I began to feel uncomfortable when the narcissist told me how to spend my money and what music to listen to and how to dress and what foods to eat. I was young and starting out and yet I already felt something wasn’t right about the way I was being treated. I hated to be controlled, but this was not a saga of teenage rebellion against parental authority––this controlling happened far into my adult life. I actually wrote a poem when I was thirty-five about it. It was a vague and shaky beginning to my awakening, but it would take me another ten years to fully wake up.

What was so weird about this poem is that I shared it with one of my sisters who told me it was a very selfish poem. She said it was all about me—

Me wanting to listen to whatever music I liked, me choosing to spend my own money, me eating whatever I liked, me dressing or wearing my hair however I liked, and me worshipping God the way I felt led. This just goes to show how much brainwashing she, herself had experienced to imagine it was selfish for us to make our own choices.

I actually believed her. I felt ashamed for being so selfish that I tore up the poem and threw it away. I didn’t blame my sister, she was only repeating the narcissistic phrases taught to us while we were growing up. This is the way we were raised–-to sacrifice everything we had to please our parents. By the time I was forty-five, I began to realize no one else was giving back–the giving whether material things or relationship kindness was all coming from my side. No one else was reciprocating or contributing to the friendship account. I don’t buy into that scheme anymore. It was all part of the game I could never win.

When I finally learned what narcissism is I discovered my sister was a flying monkey and repeating what our parents had said on multiple occasions. We were taught that self-care is selfish, but we were complimented and told we were “thoughtful” as long as we did whatever they wanted. I didn’t know it back then, but my parents were milking me for narcissistic feed. If I failed to do the things they didn’t approve of, they tried to define me as selfish or rebellious.

Have you found yourself feeling ashamed for being human and having needs for respect, fun and love? Don’t let the narcissist lie to you. You deserve the freedom to pursue whatever you feel you need in your life. God himself gave you choices. He doesn’t even stop people from making bad decisions. Any form of control over someone’s life choices by one adult toward another adult, reveals a lack of God’s Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17).

The heart of the problem in most dysfunctional families is a narcissistic personality trying to control others. And when that doesn’t work, they try to define those they can’t control and scapegoat them so others will think something is wrong with them.

One of the worst things a narcissist tries to do is label you. She/he might try to define you to yourself, your friends and family members. This is part of the gaslighting treatment and while the only person you have any control over is yourself, you must diligently refute these lies because if believed, they can harm your relationships. Most people who have dealt with narcissistic people have lost friends because of these lies.

Narcissistic parents won’t stop trying to define their children no matter how old they are. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard stories of parents going to their grave complaining about their children and never noticing the good they did for them. Narcissism seems to go hand in hand with a sense of entitlement and lack of gratitude. Narcissistic parents feel it’s in their power is to name their children over and over and define them, but they’re wrong. They might have given birth to us, but they don’t get to name us forever.

Many adult children of narcissists suffer under their criticism no matter what good they do in the world. When they care about social causes, they are called liberals. When they tell the truth and it exposes their parents’ lies, they are accused of lying. When they refuse to allow their parents to walk all over their boundaries, the narcissistic parent accuses them of being controlling. When their adult children refuse to be used, the narc calls them stingy and selfish. Nothing is sacred, even when they find a grace-filled picture of God, the narcissistic parent calls them heretics.

The bottom line is even if you did everything the narcissist asks and sold your souls to the devil to please the narc, they wouldn’t appreciate it–they’d still be looking for a new way to judge you. That’s because narcissistic people are contentious. They will use and criticize people until they suck the life out of them. Unless we reclaim our boundaries, we will end up being their victims over and over again.

Perhaps you’ve been pushed into a corner by a narcissist who wants to control you. When you speak the truth, they lie and try to make you look bad so no one will listen to your stories or want to hang out with you. The narcissist wants to scapegoat and banish you from the camp. If this has happened to you, relax, there’s still hope. Remember the scapegoat is the lucky one who gets away. Others might continue this group fantasy because they want to feel better about themselves and they can only do this by finding someone they deem worse. Of course, we can’t control what they do, they will have to wake up on their own someday, but you can refuse to be defined by the narcissist.

We are now living in a time when people refer to “post-truth.” This is a sad development. People are now confused between fake news and truth and the lies keep spinning in social media on the news feeds every day. Narcissist people, whether world leaders, religious leaders or family members are always liars.

If you are a survivor of narcissistic abuse, you’ll need to stand tall in your truth. It’s okay to let other people know the flying monkeys are swarming and will lie about you. You have just as much right to tell your story as the narcissist does to tell his–except you aren’t lying. Let your closest friends and coworkers know what’s going on. You won’t seem like a long-winded, complaining nag if you simply tell them, “The narcissist (insert name, ex, brother, sister, father, mother, etc.) is talking to everyone about me, so if you hear anything you wonder about, please ask me to verify it before you believe anything you hear.”

You have the right to tell your own story. You have the right to decide what you will do with your own money. You can date whoever you like and avoid whoever you don’t like. You get to define who you are by how you treat other people and in time the contrast between your character and the narcissist’s lies will become obvious.

Don’t let the narcissist define you. You are not the sum of whatever narcissist tries to say about you. Mother Teresa must’ve agreed because she put this quote on her wall:

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
-Kent M. Keith 


‘Twas the Night Before Freedom

‘Twas the night before Freedom,
when all through the house,
siblings were arriving each bringing their spouse.

Photo by David Calderón on Unsplash

Memos had been sent to the family with care
in hopes Flying Monkeys would become more aware.

The Golden child was gleeful, while others felt dread
’cause visions of inheritance spun in her head.

The Scapegoat with coffee, sat down with her cat
to review all her boundaries in case of a spat.

When out on the porch there arose such a clatter,
the family jumped up to see what was the matter.

Out in the kitchen, they saw a blue flash,
then out went the power with one giant crash.

The headlights shone bright against the new fallen snow,
and lit up each sibling with an unnatural glow.

When, what to their worrying eyes should appear
but the form of the parent who had raised them in fear.

From the belt in his hand, to the disgruntled bark
they knew in an instant it must be the Narc.

More rapid than gunshots the judgments they came,
while his children once broken,
were each called a name:

Now! Lazy, now! Stupid!
Now Sloppy and Slacker!
Who’s gonna go get my wine, cheese and crackers?

The host stood embarrassed and hung his shamed head
the scapegoat seethed anger for all the Narc said

With years of resentment she let out a sigh
family fighting and politics made her want to go cry.

Disgraced, her siblings said nary a word,
but the scapegoat decided to make her voice be heard.

She started off softly, but it grew to a shout
as she opened her throat and said, “Get the fuck out!”

The Narc turned to victim and drove off in spite
while the family sat stunned as on came the light.

She yelled one more thing as the Narc made his flight
“Happy freedom to all–it’s our God-given right!”

-Cherilyn Clough

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)



It’s Not You, It’s the Narc

When Allie met Josh,
he told her she was the most beautiful woman
he’d ever met and Allie believed him.
For the first time in her life she felt appreciated,
but her joy didn’t last very long.

narcissism, narcissist, relationship, love,

As an ACoN* growing up with a negligent Narc father who barely noticed her, she thought she’d finally met the man of her dreams. Fast forward a year and Allie was hurt when Josh suggested she lose some weight and get a new haircut to look younger. Allie was also beginning to notice how rude Josh could act to other people. Sometimes she was shocked to hear him lie to his mother which made her wonder if he lied to her too.

A few months later when Allie discovered he was cheating on her, Josh blamed it on her inability to keep him happy. Allie thought of all things she did to please him. She remembered how Josh had said she was perfect in the beginning and now she tried to figure out where she’d gone wrong.

Allie called up her friends asking them what was wrong with her that Josh would treat her this way. Friend after friend said it was not Allie’s fault, but it was Josh who was the obnoxious one. Allie hadn’t seen it before and she struggled to comprehend how a man who once had so many nice things to say about her, could turn and trash her now.

Allie had believed these compliments represented Josh’s true feelings, but nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing in their relationship had ever been about Allie. Josh’s compliments had merely been a way to win her affection so he could use her for narcissistic feed. Josh borrowed her money, expected her to cook and clean for him and wanted her to support his career, but he didn’t care about Allie’s needs at all. If she failed in any way to meet his expectations, Josh accused her of being selfish and trashed her accomplishments.

Josh’s goal was to manipulate Allie into trying harder to please him, while Allie’s goal was to restore what she thought was lost. But the truth is Allie was chasing something she’d never had in the first place. It was a painful lesson to learn, but Josh (like all Narcs) was a fake now and had been a fake all along.

When Josh left Allie, he blamed their break up on her. He called her a lazy nag because she didn’t like his cheating and didn’t meet his needs. He said if she really wanted it to work it out, she could’ve tried harder. After he left, Allie got sick and depressed. She missed work and isolated from her real friends because she felt used and thrown away by one person. Allie was just as beautiful and smart as she had been before, but her self-image had been twisted by a Narc.

One day a friend gave her the number of a good therapist and Allie decided to give counseling a try. Through counseling, Allie finally understood why her entire relationship with Josh had been a fraud. Nothing Josh said or did had never been about her–it had always been about Josh and his needs. Her lack of love from a negligent Narc father had allowed her to let a malignant Narc into her head and destroy her self-love.

Allie has learned to never allow a Narc to twist her mind and steal her joy with their petty insults. Josh never really knew her–Narcs don’t take time to know others except as they can use them for narcissistic feed. Allis decided she’s worth having a relationship with real people who are willing to invest in honest and loving ways.

After a few months Allie grew stronger and she was good to date again, but this time she had the boundaries in her head. Never again will she allow anyone else to approve or disapprove of her.

*ACoNs —Adult Children of Narcissists


If You Give a Narc an Apology

If you give a Narc an apology,
he’ll want some groveling to go with it. 

apology, forgive, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, narcissist,
He’ll say you owe him and
ask you to pick up the pieces
for all the messes he’s made.

When you refuse to pick up his messes,
he will accuse you of things you’ve never done.

You’ll try to set the record straight,
but when you speak the truth,
you’ll be gaslighted.

When he discovers he can’t convince you,
he’ll triangulate with another.
And another.
And another.

When everyone’s heard his sorry lies,
he will accuse you of lying
when you’ve actually told the truth.

But don’t shut up,
it’s okay to let your voice to be heard.

If you give a Narc an apology,
you might as well give him a license
to blame you for everything that’s ever happened.

Then he’ll say “forgive and forget,”
and ask to borrow some money.

You’ll go to the bank to get the money,
but you will get a sick feeling in your gut
and decide to say no.

When you refuse to pay the Narc off,
he’ll call you selfish.
You’ll explain that self-care is not selfish.

He’ll get angry and ask when you are going
to get your act together to meet
his (insert religious or political) standards.

You’ll  tell the Narc you won’t set fire to yourself
just to keep him warm.

He will play the victim
and send in his flying monkeys to persuade you.

You’ll stay calm and ignore the flying monkeys.
The Narc will then run a campaign
to get you shunned.

You might lose a lot of friends
and relatives who have no clue
what it’s like to deal with the Narc.

But here is where change happens—
the point between being victim and survivor.

You’ll rise up out of the ashes
and start a new life.

You’ll realize the Narc is
not interested in a relationship–
he’s just interested in using you.

You will leave his circus
and go no contact.

You can forgive yourself for apologizing
when you didn’t need to.

You can take some time to breathe in gratitude
and realize you are free.

You can follow your heart
and make art with the pieces.

You can write the truth
even when your voice shakes.

You can arise and shine
and let your voice be heard.

You can listen to your heart
and find new family and friends.

And should you ever again be tempted
to apologize to a Narc,
just trust your gut and refuse to give in.

Because chances are–
If you give a Narc an apology,
he will always ask you to play a game
you can never win.

-Cherilyn Clough


My Child, My Mirror

When many people hear the word narcissism,
they think of the legend of Narcissus
who was so vain he worshiped his image in a pond
until he fell in and drowned.


I once saw a cartoon of a father staring at his own reflection in a lake while his daughter kept calling out, “Daddy?!” The image suggested she was neglected while he adored himself. This cartoonist understood the neglect that comes from a narcissistic parent, but he only got it half right–because for many narcissistic parents, their child is the mirror.

How many new parents hold their precious newborn and whisper, “You’d better meet my needs or I will ruin your life and reputation.” No, they usually say doesn’t he or she look like me? And while all parents look to see what this baby will look like, the extreme is the narc parent who never grows past that stage to view their child as an individual. By never acknowledging their child’s individuality, they disregard healthy boundaries.

The narcissistic mother sees the child as a mirror of herself. She wants the child to reflect her at all times and she also views all resources of the child as hers. In such a world of no boundaries, it’s difficult for the child raised by such a parent to know how to stand up for self. He or she doesn’t know how to take responsibility for themselves because they’ve been raised to serve their parents at all times and barely have a self to give.

This mirroring pattern continues into adulthood and is manifested by parents quizzing their adult children on their religious beliefs, politics and spending habits. Appearances are everything to these narcissistic minds. They want all of their children to attend their church and vote as they would vote and eat what they would eat on holiday dinners. They want their children to be an extension of themselves, so they use mind control to shape their children at a young age to become mini versions of themselves. If this is true, you may have been robbed of your ability to shine.

By refusing to acknowledge their child’s individuality, such parents are selfish to begin with and nothing you can do will fix this. As you pull away to become yourself, they will become more controlling, then disillusioned and bitter when you fail to live up to their expectations. As you begin to vote differently or leave the church or form your own holiday traditions, the war will intensify.

The battles are subtle at first, a glance of disappointment, the suggestion you might be letting down the whole family because you have chosen differently. But as most ACONs know, the failure to reflect our parents–to vote, marry and worship as they would have us live our lives eventually brings on a cascade of narcissistic behavior from gaslighting and scapegoating to the silent treatment. You have been asked to play a game you can never win.

There is no better time to reclaim your individuality than now. There is no better way to reclaim your boundaries by standing up to let your voice be heard, but beware the narc parent will accuse you of everything from ruining the party to being ungrateful or disloyal or not honoring your parents. They might use everything from scripture and flying monkeys to lawyers to straighten you out.

When this happens it’s important to ground yourself these truths–

1. No one–not even a parent owns the choices of another human being. Slavery is defined as controlling another person’s choices.

2. God created you to be yourself–not an extension of your parents. Look in the mirror and recognize your own face.

3. You will never feel at peace until you step into your own individuality and live your own authentic life.

As you listen to your own voice and the voice of your Maker, you will begin to shine. It might seem a little scary at first, but you can forge a new path from your family of origin. When you reach that fork in the road where the sign reads narc parent vs. your own choices, don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled, step into your individuality and shine.