After feeling alone for decades and wondering what was wrong with me, I was invited to a social media group where I began to hear story after story from members of this ACON* group that sounded exactly like my own. Many times I was blown away by the similarities, but I am not the only one who has had this experience. This is because narcissism has a cycle or a pattern that seems to repeat itself that seems to include blatant selfishness and zero empathy for others.
I realize some people think that by calling our parents narcissistic, we are 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 of us 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 recognize as narcissism?
To start with let’s note there is a diagnosis called NPD which stands for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For a professional to determine whether someone has NPD, they will examine the criteria from a professional standpoint which includes not only the behavior of the person in question, but also takes into account making sure they do not have other specific personality disorders including borderline personality disorder. So you can see how this could get complicated and requires a professional.
I would discourage anyone else who’s not a professional to refrain from diagnosing other people. However, most people use the term narcissist very loosely. When I used the term narcissist on these pages, I base it on the knowledge just about anyone can read about narcissistic personality traits if they are willing to read a few books on the topic. Many people realize something is wrong with their family members or ex. I am not writing this blog to give you a diagnosis, but to offer you survival tips, because I’ve discovered for myself that there IS life after narcissistic abuse.
This also doesn’t mean the people I write about all have full-blown NPD. Whether some people have been diagnosed with NPD or not, they still might exhibit extreme selfishness and abuse toward others. So when I refer to a narc or narcissist, I am talking about someone who is so consumed with survival of the fittest, they would rather throw you under the bus, than own their own crap. I think most of us can agree this is narcissistic thinking and this person is NOt a safe person to share your life with.
So what are some behaviors that might indicate narcissism?
1. A Grandiose Sense of Importance
The mother who never takes care of her children but instead expects them to take care of her from a young age is a clue. The date who brags because they can get away with breaking the law. a patriarchal father who both judges and controls his children because he believes he is the king of the home. This one thing alone does not a narcissist make, but it could be a warning sign.
2. Obsession with a Fantasy of unlimited Success–beauty, money, popularity, power
Not always a sign, but just another box to check if someone you know is also very selfish and lacks empathy too. Consider the real life stories of teenage beauty queens who have tried to murder other girls. These people were so consumed with survival of the fittest they disregarded other human lives.
3. A Belief they are special and deserve special treatment.
This could be anything from expecting police to let them off of a ticket to getting away with murder as noted above. This person does not view themselves as equal to other people but believes they are entitled to more or different treatment than other people. Some also have a need to be admired.
4. Exploits Other People
There are people who have no sense of other people’s boundaries and walk all over anyone they can. They use and abuse and if you do not give them narcissistic feed, they will shun you and throw you away.
5. Lack of Empathy for How They Affect Others
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 their children grow into adulthood, empathy allows the parent to own and apologize for their mistakes and love their grown children unconditionally. On the other hand, lack of empathy is often manifested by a parent who belittles and talks about their adult children when they can’t control them. There is research that suggests narcissistic parents might recruit their most empathetic child to do their bidding. So while narcissists are low on the empathy scale, they definitely seem to have a use for finding empathetic flying monkeys. For more about how narcissistic people view empathy, read The Empathy Trap Book.
6. 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 as they would a mirror, 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.
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.
7. The Not-So-Fun Narcissistic Circus
All of these add up to a cycle of manipulative behavior that seems to feed on itself until you grow dizzy, but there might even be a pattern if you pay close attention.
- A sense of entitlement and refusal to follow the law
- 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 circus.
Many 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 narcissistic 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 throughout childhood, and then in adulthood and even after discovery of the problem it seems like the wounds take a long time to 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 get 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 are often described as narcissism. These possible identifiers are merely a sketch of what might be going on and certainly red flags–so much that you might really benefit from a professional counselor to help you sort it all out. This is not your fault. You have no reason to be ashamed. You deserve empathy and support.
If have been treated in any of these ways,
If your feelings have been disregarded,
If you have been feeling not good enough,
If you have been told you are too sensitive,
If you have been accused of living in the past,
If you have been told to forgive and forget,
If you have felt alone most of your life,
If you feel you cannot be yourself around your family,
You just might have been raised by a narcissist.
Find a good counselor. There is 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. Just say NO to narcissism.
*ACON — Adult Children of Narcissists