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When You Have Narcissistic Parents, You Never Learn to Trust

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but if you grow up in a family of narcissists, you probably don't know what that feels like. You didn't grow up with healthy adult role models. A picture with parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents sitting around the table feels like something out of a Hallmark movie, but not real life.

Growing up in a narcissistic family, you probably felt like you were constantly walking around on eggshells, making sure not to do something that would upset your parents.

While parents are supposed to be a child's safe space, their protectors in the world, yours never were. You may have felt safer with complete strangers than your own family. Not having this basis of safety and trust in childhood can make you overly self-reliant in adulthood, never wanting to depend on anyone else, because you believe people to be generally untrustworthy.

According to Psychology Today,

When a child is raised in a narcissistic family, their sense of safety is shaky at best. A narcissistic parent can be unpredictable and inconsistent in the way they respond to the child, thereby leaving the child feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Thus, the child’s ability to trust that others will consistently see and hear them, and care for them, becomes impaired, and this core of distrust can be difficult to repair.

When you grow up feeling like the world is a difficult and dangerous place, forming adult relationships can be difficult as well. We tend to model our attachments to what we have experienced in childhood, and when you grow up with a narcissist, you don't have a template for what healthy relationships look like.

Our template for relationships in life is called our attachment style. If you don't grow up with a healthy and secure attachment with your parents, it becomes difficult later in life to form healthy attachments with partners and friends.

What it's Like to be the Child of a Narcissist

When you grow up with narcissistic parents, you are receiving a skewed view of the world, and a skewed view of yourself. You may have an excessive amount of guilt, or peaple pleasing tendencies. You may also feel disconnected from your own feelings, after having to pretend that they don't exist for most of your life.

Although people pleasing doesn't serve you well in adulthood and can lead to unbalanced relationships, it was a mechanism of achieving some semblance of safety as a child. When parents are unreliable, we learn to cater to their whims in order to avoid their wrath.

According to the Better You Institute, here are some Traits of children of a narcissistic personality disorder parent:

  • Low or fragile self-esteem

  • Codependency in relationships

  • People-pleasing behavior

  • Difficulty being alone

  • Drug addiction

  • Relationship issues

  • Manipulation

  • Domestic violence

  • Codependent behavior

  • Inadequacy feelings

  • Self-harm and mutilation

  • Eating disorders

  • Addiction to perfectionism, control, etc.

  • Anxious/insecure attachment

  • Chronic self-blame

  • Developing fears

If you have grown up with a narcissistic parent like I did, you probably recognize many of the behaviors on this list in yourself. Having parents who treat you like yesterday's garbage can last a lifetime. It can lead to things like Childhood Emotional Neglect, CPTSD, Anxiety and Depression in adulthood.

Many of us don't even realize just how harmful our childhoods were until we become adults and start describing what we think of as everyday family encounters with others. For example, I first came in contact with the idea that my mother was a narcissist when I was talking to some friends in an online moms group about how she was ruining my baby shower.

Someone in the group pointed me to Raised by Narcissists on Reddit, and I spent the whole day reading stories that sounded errily familiar. Realizing that my childhood was unhealthy was a first step towards learning how to set boundaries and stand up for myself with my family.

Learning to Rebuild Trust

As you learn more about your narcissistic family and seek out support, you can learn to heal from the pain of the past. You can set boundaries with your narcissistic family, or consider going no-contact. If you have Complex PTSD from coping with your narcissistic family, you can get into talk therapy or EMDR to reprocess the trauma.

After you have done the inner work to move past the events of childhood, you also need to work on repairing your relationship templates so that you can have healthy future relationships. You may likely need to work on your relationships with your spouse, friends or children as well.

Since trust is a key component of healthy relationships, learning to allow yourself to trust others will go a long way towards building healthier relationships. However, for many of us, just the idea of trusting another person is terrifying.

Even though I am in a good relationship now, it is still difficult for me to trust my partner fully. I realized just how much this is the case earlier this year when, through an unexpected turn of events, I am staying home in a more housewife-like role than I am accustomed to, and I started to be extremely upset with this lifestyle.

Since I am having difficulty finding a job here in Germany, my partner is working outside the home while I focus on my writing. But being home all day and doing the primary childcare duties, along with not having substantial money of my own, caused me to start freaking out with the new situation. It all comes back to a lack of trust about finances that goes back to my childhood.

Confronting my upset about the situation has meant having to delve into my childhood beliefs about trust, money and relationships. It also brings up the ideas of traditional gender roles in society. It is a lot of uncomfortable stuff to deal with. And, it isn't uncommon for survivors of narcissistic abuse to have difficulty with trusting others.

According to J. Reid Therapy,

Many survivors of narcissistic abuse describe learning to steel themselves inside whenever their narcissistic abuser began acting kind or complimentary towards them.  They describe feeling or knowing that it was a set up and that the risk lie in letting their guards down to take in the narcissist’s kindness.  For if they did, the same person from whom they accepted the compliment would later accuse them of being inconsiderate, inadequate, inferior and a lot of other ‘I’ words. If they had let themselves stay open and believe the initial kindness the resulting accusations and character attacks would only hurt that much more.  So, it was a measure of grit and wisdom that they learned to go rigid inside so as not to take the bait.

We have learned that any time someone does something nice for us, they are going to expect something in return later on. Usually, something that is difficult for us to give. The price of help is always high, and we never know up front what the price is going to be, or when we will have to pay it.

Anything you allow a narcissist to do for you is likely to be held against you for years, and used as fuel to manipulate you into doing things that you don't want to do.

The thing is, though, normal people aren't like this. They don't keep the mental lists of "what I did for you" vs. "what you did for me" and have to keep them in constant balance. Normal, healthy, relationships aren't tit for tat. Normal, healthy, people help out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they want something in return. There are no hidden, insidious motives.

But help scares us. Depending on others scares us. It feels like the most unsafe thing we can possibly do.

In order to learn how to trust again after narcissistic abuse can take time, and it helps to have a supportive therapist to work with. Some steps to take in order to rebuild trust in yourself, and trust in others, according to Tacking Religious Narcissism, can include:

  1. Journal Your Thoughts and Feelings

  2. Create a Safety Plan

  3. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

  4. Positive Affirmations

  5. Limit Exposure to Triggers

  6. Therapeutic Exercises

  7. Read Self-Help Books

  8. Trust-Building Exercises

  9. Set Specific Trust Goals

  10. Use Self-Help Apps

  11. Embrace Self-Validation

  12. Learn About Healthy Relationships

  13. Join a Support Group

  14. Practice Self-Defense

  15. Engage in Creative Outlets

Sometimes, along the journey to learning to trust, you may feel like you are a child again. If you were raised by narcissists, there are likely many basic relationship skills you should have learned in childhood but never did. Learning to trust others when you never have is difficult.

By learning about relationships, working with a therapist, and learning basic relationship skills like communication and accepting help, you can learn to overcome your trust issues little by little. You can start by trusting one person a little bit, and then gradually trusting more and more.

The more you learn to trust yourself to make good decisions about relationships, the more you will be able to trust the people you choose to be in relationship with. It can take time to understand that some people can be trustworthy, and it helps to take things slowly to build trust with people over time.

People who are willing to take the time to take a relationship slowly are more likely to be good people to have in your life in the long run. Patience and respect can go a long way towards creating trust with others.

Finding healthy relationships after a relationship with a narcissist can be incredibly difficult, especially if your parents didn't teach you about healthy relationships growing up. However, it is possible, and worth it in the end!

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