Advice for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents

by Rose Calder,

If you have been raised by a parent affected by Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD,) it’s a pretty safe bet that a large percentage of your childhood was spent focused on just trying to survive from day to day, since your home life was being run according to the whims of an overgrown six-year-old (otherwise known as your parent.)  It’s not easy to keep your footing when the terrain constantly changes, nor is it easy to develop a sense of independent worth when you’re constantly treated as little better than a prop to your parent’s life.  There are ways to cope with this kind of situation, ranging from emulation to flat-out rebellion, but as you might have noticed, those don’t work very well outside of that environment, and such habits are hard to break.  But for my money, the hardest thing of all about being the child of a parent with NPD is the unlearning of certain lessons you learned at the hands of the person who was supposed to be your role model.

Here are a few lessons worth unlearning, with some tips as to how to go about unlearning them:

Where You End and I Begin

Whether your first foray of living in the real world was a dorm room in college or your first apartment, one of the first lessons to be unlearned is the flexibility of boundaries.  People with NPD are not ideal models for boundaries, whether personal or physical, as they feel they are inherently entitled to everything.  If you have something they like, they see no reason why they shouldn’t just take it, but this lax view on personal ownership doesn’t run both ways.

So when dealing with new people, a good way to discern what the boundaries are is to just rely on that old-school matter of etiquette.  In short, ask permission first before borrowing something from their closet, or of partaking of those cookies in the pantry.  If your relationship is a bit deeper than that of acquaintances, feel free to initiate discussions about what is kosher and what isn’t.  When your initial grasp of boundaries is nothing more than varying shades of gray, it’s immensely helpful to have them defined in black and white.

How Does It Feel To Want

Another lesson to unlearn sounds like a bit of a contradiction, in that it is, in fact, okay to be selfish every once in a while.  People with NPD tend to take this to great extremes, of which their children get very little (if any) of the spoils.  Even worse, they are taught that while it’s okay for their parent to want, it is not okay for them to do the same.  The one with NPD deserves it, because they are oh-so-special, whereas the one who doesn’t have it is unworthy and therefore undeserving. This leads the child to believe that they really don’t deserve what they truly want, so they suppress even the action of wanting to the point where they don’t even want things for themselves anymore.

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