Updated: Feb 1
I don't talk to my family anymore, and in social settings that can be hard to explain. But there is always that one person in the group, whose sadness in their eyes mirrors my own, that gets it.
Not everyone grows up in a healthy, happy family.
Explaining the alternating abuse and neglect that I suffered to normal, happy people is always a struggle. But if you get it, then here are some signs of narcissism that will help you figure out if your parents are narcissists too.
Signs of Narcissism
People that we commonly refer to as Narcissists have what, in psychology, is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In college, I took a class about personality disorders, and we learned that Narcissists are the least likely to seek therapy of people with any personality disorder. This stems from the fact that their narcissism isn't really negative for them, just for the people around them.
They are self-absorbed and think that the world revolves around them. To them, other people are treated as one-dimensional objects. Other people are just characters in the narcissist's story.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:
Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
Exaggerate achievements and talents
Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
Take advantage of others to get what they want
Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Be envious of others and believe others envy them
Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
Become impatient or angry when they don't receive special treatment
Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation."
Learning to recognize these signs and red flags in toxic family members may give you a clue that someone in your life may be a narcissist.
According to Psychology Today, "A narcissistic parent can be defined as someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring. Typically, the narcissistic parent perceives the independence of a child (including adult children) as a threat, and coerces the offspring to exist in the parent’s shadow, with unreasonable expectations. In a narcissisticparenting relationship, the child is rarely loved just for being herself or himself."
Children of narcissistic parents may grow up with unrealistic expectations, cope with manipulation, and deal with a host of other relationship issues with their parents.
According to Psychology Today, there are 10 signs of Narcissistic Parents:
Uses/Lives through one's child
Grandiosity and Superiority
Inflexible and Touchy
Lack of Empathy
Jealousy and Possessiveness
If you notice any of these signs in your relationships with your parents, this is a sign that they may be a Narcissist.
How I figured out that I came from a family of narcissists.
It was 2016, and I was pregnant with my daughter, River. My mom was planning a baby shower for me, which I had told her I didn't want or need, but I had finally relented at her repeated urging. She had decided to invite a bunch of people that I had no desire to see, including an aunt of mine who had recently been calling me and leaving threatening voice messages, and I was complaining anonymously about it on Reddit.
After writing about the situation so that I could vent on a pregnancy message board, I was referred to another subreddit, called "Raised by Narcissists." Before I wrote anything, I read through a bunch of the postings there, all the time thinking, this is me.
Before that, I had never realized how much of a problem my family relationships were. Sure, being in my 30's, I knew that they were bad. My mom had this tendency of always making my problems worse through shame, blame, and endless "what if's." My extended family treated me like I was still a troubled teen, long after I had ceased being both. They always brought up the worst things I had ever done at family gatherings to rub them in my face.
I avoided all family gatherings as much as possible, but I couldn't avoid my own baby shower. So that is where the problem came in. I made sure to have my best friend co-host with my mom so it didn't get too out of hand. I invited all my own friends. It ended up being fine, but everything from Raised by Narcissists was still in the back of my head.
A few months later, I found out some things that my mom and sister had done years ago that put my teen daughter into danger. She was the one who told me, in part of general conversation about something else just as an aside, and I stewed over the fact that my mom and sister had lied to me for years.
They endangered my child repeatedly, and they lied to me about it.
For months, I tried to let it go, but I just couldn't.
Throughout that year, I tried to set boundaries with my family to no avail. I talked to them less and less, noticing the toxic traits more every time. Finally, I just stopped talking to them altogether because I couldn't take it anymore. Hurt me, that's one thing. But hurt my child, that's quite another. I had a new baby and I needed to keep her safe from toxic people.
Check out this video with some red flags to check if someone in your life may be a narcissist.
If you have family members that you think may be narcissists, it is very important to set boundaries with them. This comes from their codependency, and their desire to control your life as much as possible.
My mom always wanted my sister and I to come over for dinner at her house every night, even as adults with children of our own. At a certain point, this wasn't feasible for me anymore. I lived half an hour away, I had a new baby, and we only had one car. That meant, to have dinner with her after work, it took me 1.5 hours in travel just to come and see her. That wasn't something I could do every day. When I told her this, she was angry and dismissive, and told me that my sister did it for her.
Narcissists are likely not to accept your boundaries. When I talked to my mom about it, she actually told me to my face that I didn't deserve to have boundaries.
That just made me put up stronger boundaries, to keep her farther and farther out of my family and my business. Sticking up for yourself is extremely important, and should be non-negotiable.
In some cases, a narcissist does except your boundaries to some extent. In these cases, you may continue to see them in very controlled situations, on your terms.
You may tell your narcissist, "If you are hostile and belittling to me on the phone, I am going to hang up with you." If you do this, be sure to follow through. Otherwise, a narcissist will continue to violate your boundaries in the future.
As a very last resort, you may decide to go no-contact with a narcissist in your life. That is what I have done, and even though I regularly question this, my therapist has repeatedly told me that it is the right thing to do.
A narcissist is unlikely to change their harmful behavior.
It is up to you to decide how you will handle this situation. It requires a lot of introspection, looking at their behavior, and asking yourself if you are able to cope with their repeated demands, manipulation, and otherwise bad behavior.
Instead of no contact, you may instead want to have limited contact, if you feel that there is some good to the relationship to outweigh the bad. This is a very personal decision, and something you should talk over both with your partner, and with a therapist. That way, you have other opinions besides your own to judge the degree of harm that is being done by the narcissist's behavior.
Whatever you decide to do, it is important to have support, as limiting or cutting contact with a family member is very difficult and painful. In addition to support from your partner and a therapist, there are also many online support groups where you can go to talk to others who are or have been in similar situations. Making sure you aren't alone is extremely important and empowering.
Coping with Narcissistic family is difficult and often painful. If someone in your life is exhibiting the signs above, it is important to seek support either in groups, from your partner or friends, or from a therapist.
Deciding how you will set boundaries to protect yourself and your children is a process that takes time. Be sure to think carefully about your needs, and what boundaries you will need to set to be able to meet them.
Let me know in the comments if you have had to cope with a situation similar to mine, how you are feeling, and how you handled it. Also, let me know if there is additional information that you would like me to provide in the future.
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