In my post ‘’living life as a child of a narcissistic parent’’, I describe the longing adult children have to be seen for who they are, and to be loved and accepted by their parent. I described the perpetual defeat, abusive and frustrating encounters had with a narcissistic parent.
Clients often ask ‘’how on earth do I deal with a parent who criticises me, says demeaning things to me, undermines me, blames me and then takes all credit for anything I do?” Some clients deal with it by either being estranged from them, or, continue to appease their parent, leaving them with a feeling of being eaten from the inside out. It can be helpful to think of a third option by starting to think about and process how to surrender the hope your parent will change, define your relationship realistically and get used to the idea of doing things differently.
It seems unfair, almost to the point of adding insult to injury, to be asked and told that you’re the one who needs to change. And on top of that, having to overcome the way you were raised. What can be helpful to think of is that once you get this, the barbs won’t penetrate as deep and the wounds won’t hurt so much.
Surrender the fantasy that your parent will change
This is often a very painful and difficult truth to swallow. According Nina Brown, an expert who has written many books on the subject, there are hopes and fantasies that need to be given up. She believes that ultimately there needs to be acceptance that the following will never happen:
- Your parent will ever admit they have hurt you.
- That one day you will be vindicated.
- Your parent will make a confession, change their ways and regret would was said or done to you.
- Your parent feels pain because of what they’ve done to you.
- You will be able to outshine your parent due to your own success
- Everyone will be able to see your parent for who they are and will ultimately reject them
In any successful relationship, both parties will be able to admit mistakes, apologise to one another, and grow closer as a consequence. This is not so with a narcissistic parent. As such, Brown believes that holding out hope will in fact reinforce feelings that sustain low self-worth and inadequacy. It could also stunt the ability to grow beyond what has happened to you.
Brown encourages processing the feelings that are experienced when coming to terms and accepting the reality of your parent. She also encourages and suggests the following self-talk statements to counter thoughts which include:
- It’s unrealistic to expect my parent will change.
- Wishing my parent will change won’t make it happen.
- I need to accept my parent for who they are.
- My parent will not meet my expectations.
- I can’t change another person.
- I will rise above this.
- It’s not always going to hurt this much.
Define the relationship realistically
It can be helpful to think about how want to define your relationship. That is, how are you going to spend time with your parent that honours yourself, and the need to connect with them? Clients have told me that living at a distance can be beneficial. But that needn’t mean that you need to re-locate (even though you may feel like you want to jump on the next plane to anywhere!). You can start to create emotional distance and boundaries that will help you deal with the intense emotional experience of being with your parent, strategies of how to deal with them, and how you may want to spend time together.
Knowing how your parent can influence your emotional weather pattern is the key to creating distance and fortification. That is, what is said and done doesn’t have the same capacity to hurt and wound the way it did before. It’s extremely important to understand emotions and how they function. In fact, the more you understand who you are, what’s important to you and being responsible for the decisions you make, the more powerful your position will be. This is an important step as so often, a child will defer to the parent in order to avoid confrontation and/or that dreadful narcissistic rage. But need not have to stay that way.
How to deal with a parent with narcissistic traits
Brown has a list of ‘’don’ts’’ when dealing with a narcissistic parent. Thankfully, she has do’s as well. She strongly urges not to confront, retaliate or disclose highly personal information to your parent.
Don’t confront: Confrontations don’t work because your parent is perfect and right, right? Have you ever ‘’won’’ an argument with your parent before? Do you expect that will change? Most likely, you will be one who is emotionally spent, wounded and left vulnerable in its aftermath. A strong sense of, and a fortified self will keep your ego in check so that it doesn’t need to prove itself to your parent. They think as they do and won’t change. Share your thoughts with others who value you and want to hear what you have to say.
Don’t retaliate: It’s hard not to hurt someone back when they’ve hurt you. Particularly if it’s your own parent saying the most demeaning, disrespectful or devaluing things. Ask yourself if anything is going to be achieved if you say the things you want. It may feel good in the moment but the consequences need to be thought of.
Don’t disclose: Of course you want to share private, intimate thoughts and feelings with your parent. Brown says don’t. She believes this can be used against you, as a source of greater criticism, causing more harm than good.
A List of Do’s
Restrict time: The length of time spent with your parent can determine how triggered you’ll be, so keep it as short as you can. Spending time alone can be challenging so ensure to invite others to join you who are not related such as friends or work colleagues. Meeting in public places such as café and restaurants are a safe bet rather than in your parents home where they feel more comfortable and at ease.
Be as cheerful as possible: and don’t share your problems with your parent. Whatever you tell them will be shared with others as if you put it on Facebook yourself. Use wisdom in what you say.
Be in touch with your emotions: so you can operate your own internal weather pattern to deal with how you feel about your parent. If your parent has upset you, share it with someone who is emotionally available to give you support you need. Your parent is not that person.
Getting used to doing things differently
There is no denying that this is a tough gig. Support is essential to help you achieve this. Having friends and relatives who understand you, as well as professional support is essential to go through this process. I encourage you to look up Dr Nina W. Brown’s book ‘’Children of the self-absorbed’’, a book I have heavily referenced in this article. In it are detailed explanations and exercises designed to help you to do things differently. The most important thing to remember through this process is that you’re not alone and support is there if you need it.