Sanctuary for the Abused

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Adult Children of Narcissists - Their Struggle for Self

Trapped in the Mirror
by Dr. Elan Golomb
(book available at


"People who are relatively free of narcissistic traits (most of us have some) do not attempt to place themselves above others. They are unconcerned with such comparisons. They stay in touch with their feelings and try to do their personal best. Their standards are internal and realistic since they have a good idea of who they are and what they can accomplish (such objectivity is not insignificant). They are not free of idealistic wishes and dreams.

"Narcissists are wholly different. They unconsciously deny an unstated and intolerably poor self-image through inflation. They turn themselves into glittering figures of immense grandeur surrounded by psychologically impenetrable walls. The goal of this self-deception is to be impervious to greatly feared external criticism and to their own roiling sea of doubts.

"This figure of paradox needs to be regarded as perfect by all. To achieve this, he or she constructs an elaborate persona (a social mask which is presented to the world). The persona needs an appreciative audience to applaud it. If enough people do so, the narcissist is relieved that no one can see through his disguise. The persona is a defensive schema to hide behind, like the false-front stores on a Western movie set. When you peer behind the propped-up wall, you find . . . nothing. Similarly, behind the grandiose parading, the narcissist feels empty and devoid of value.

"Because his life is organized to deny negative feelings about himself and to maintain an illusion of superiority, the narcissist's family is forcibly conscripted into supporting roles. They have no other option if they wish to get along with him. His mate must be admiring and submissive to keep the marriage going and his children will automatically mold themselves into any image that is projected upon them.

"Here the tragedy begins. A narcissist cannot see his children as they are but only as his unconscious needs dictate. He does not question why his children are incredibly wonderful (better than anyone else's) or intolerably horrible (the worst in all respects) or why his view of them ricochets from one extreme to another with no middle ground. It is what they are.

"When he is idealizing them, he sees their talents as mythic, an inflation that indicates they are being used as an extension of his grandiose self. When he hates them and finds their characteristics unacceptable, he is projecting hated parts of himself onto them. Whether idealizing or denigrating, he is entirely unaware that what he sees is a projection and that his views are laying a horrible burden on his child."

"The offspring of narcissists grow up fulfilling their assigned roles. They may sense that they are in a state of falsehood, but do not know what to do about feelings of nonauthenticity. They try all the harder to become what they are supposed to be, as if their feelings of uneasiness come from an improper realization of their role. If their parents see them as miserably deficient, from the shape of their bodies to the power of their minds, that is what they become. If they were portrayed to themselves as great muckamucks, especially if they have innate ability to fulfill a powerful role, they become the movers and shakers of society.

"At heart, children of narcissists, raised up or cast down by the ever-evaluating parent, feel themselves to be less than nothing because they must 'be' something to earn their parents' love. Conditional love offers no support for the inner self. It creates people who have no personal sense of substance or worth. Nourished on conditional love, children of narcissists become conditional. They find themselves unreal."

"As a child, the narcissist-to-be found his essential self rejected by his narcissistic parent. The wounds of the parent are a template for the wounding of the child. Each narcissistic parent in each generation repeats the crime that was perpetrated against him. The crime is non-acceptance. The narcissist is more demanding and deforming of the child he identifies with more strongly, although all his children are pulled into his web of subjectivity. How can he accept offspring who are the product of his own unconsciously despised self?

"The narcissist-to-be turns away from a world he perceives as devoid of nurturance and love (since a mother’s care gives the child its first version of the world). He withdraws into grandiose fantasies to shield himself from profound feelings of unworthiness caused by the fact that his mother does not really love him. Grandiosity permits him to believe that he is complete and perfect unto himself, thus shielding him from his secret sense that he is a ravening beast, ready to murder others in order to eat and survive. The food of this beast is admiration.

"The narcissistic mother, caretaker of the child’s earliest years, is grandiose, chronically cold but overprotective. She invades her child’s autonomy and manipulates him to conform to her wishes. She rejects all about him that she finds objectionable, putting him in the anxiety-ridden position of losing her affection if he expresses dissatisfaction. She responds to his baby rages and fussing with anxiety, anger, or withdrawal. He becomes unable to cope with the ugly feelings that threaten to erupt and destroy the bond between him and his mother, the bond he depends on for survival.

"His mother’s grandiosity models a way out of his dilemma. She places him on a common throne, sharing the rarefied air of her greatness. By appropriating and embellishing the aura of specialness in which she has enveloped him he can create a grandiose fantasy about himself to escape to. This fantasy eventually crystallizes into a psychic structure we call the grandiose self. A new narcissist is born.

"For all his air of self-sufficiency, the narcissist is full of interpersonal needs. He is more needy than most people who feel they have something good inside of them. If he is to survive, he must find a way to get his needs met without acknowledging the independent existence of the person off whom he wants to feed. To admit that a person is necessary to him gets him in touch with feelings of deficiency, which plummet him into intolerable emptiness, jealousy, and rage. To avoid this experience, he inhabits a one-person world. Either he exists and other people are extinguished or vice versa. In his mind, he is center stage and other people are mere shadows beyond the proscenium. This solution creates a new conundrum: ‘How can I get fed without acknowledging the feeder?’ The solution is to dissect people and to turn them partially into objects, to make them inanimate. A person comes to represent a need-fulfilling function or an organ like a breast, vagina, or penis. There is no overall person to consider.

"Since he is not psychotic and totally out of touch with reality, he is occasionally forced to recognize the presence of a benefactor. The emotional incursion of such an idea is warded off by demeaning the gift or the person who has given it. If a gift is unworthy he doesn’t have to feel gratitude. Not to say that he does not at times proffer thanks. A narcissist can be quite charming when he wishes to impress, but his words are not deeply felt.

"He usually does not see the need to go to such lengths with his family. They belong to him and are supposed to cater to his needs. His children are particularly crushed by his lack of recognition for their attempts at pleasing him since he is the main figure in their world. Adding insult to injury, they can always count on his criticism when what is offered falls below his standards.

"Despite his bubble of grandiosity, the narcissist is remarkably thin-skinned, forever taking offense and feeling mistreated, especially when people appear to have eliminated the extras in their response to him. Less than special immediately implies that someone may be thinking the emperor is naked, precisely what he fears. He is enraged whenever the aching corns of his insecurities are stepped on.

"A narcissist tends to have transient social relationships since few wish to abide by her rules. She has quick enthusiasms, business associates but few friends. Her closest are other narcissists who keep a comfortable distance while exchanging gestures of mutual admiration. Neither makes emotional demands on the other.

"In a mate, if she does not choose a fellow narcissist, she will cohabit with a person who feels inadequate and who needs to hide in a relationship. This suits her well since she doesn't want to recognize the existence of another being. Often, her mate is the child of a narcissist, already indoctrinated to regard exploitation and disregard as love."

"The grandiose narcissist in her automat world may not feel the emptiness of her life, although her narcissistic traits cause suffering in all those with whom she has intimate contact. She only comes to recognize that something is wrong (not necessarily with herself) when the environment no longer supports her grand illusions and she fails to live up to expectations of greatness. At this time she may become depressed and seek psychotherapy to relieve the pain."

"The narcissist attacks separateness in everyone with whom he must have a relationship. Either they fit into his ego-supporting mold or they are extruded from his life. Narcissistic rage and aggression are based on fear. His entitlement to absolute control over others must go unchallenged.

"Although the overall picture of narcissism can be readily understood, small details of [narcissistic] behavior are inexplicable. There is no rational explanation for what a completely self-centered person will do. What they themselves say about it later bears no relation to the original motivation. They often surrender to overpowering impulses based on distorted, one-sided, and limited perceptions."

"Often, an initial move for independence involves joining a group. Membership in a group represents opposition to the parent. A narcissistic parent wants to determine her child’s style and life objectives. Her child wants separation but, fearing to stand alone, joins an all-encompassing group as a halfway move to freedom. He thinks that membership expresses his individuality and cites group laws as buttressing independence from the parent. But such membership often limits his search for a self that needs separation to exist. In order not to be immersed in his parent’s narcissistic net he buries himself in a group that operates like a narcissistic family and requires identity with members’ goals and ethos. It is a style of life that reinforces personal nonbeing."


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shared by Barbara at 12:22 AM



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10:01 AM  

Barbara, were your parents narcissistic?

5:17 AM  

That is a good description of me, explains a lot of my reactions and behaviour towards my family. Big help but unfortunately a bit too late though.

5:36 PM  


One of my parents was.

12:29 AM  

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11:59 AM  

So, we are teaching this info in schools right? Testing before hiring these people, especially in say, the school systems? Get real! People with a consceince are becoming rarer and rarer and those of us left are buried underneath all the lies and positive thinking. (By the way, this, positive thinking, is another great place for psychopaths to hide behind AND they can rape/accuse you of "not being positive" when you're not "happy" about being lied to, lied about, or when your are not perfect. Ah, satan, you don't even have to HIDE do you? You are right out in the open!)

In his book "When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany," Erwin Lutzer says something like "we worship success". Can you SEE that this is true and can you SEE how this allows psychopaths to seem to be "right". They can present the right picture in many cases, as they are nothing more than mimics. (Some are better at it than others of course.) And because success equates to good, we worship those who are "successful".

Read some of the obituaries, watch some of the biography tales and pay attention. They so often try to paint a picture of "he did it his way" or "it was a rags to riches story" (even though they raped and pillaged their way there) or one recently about a young girl that died who had a 4.0 grade average and was a super all around athlete. (This is great for those who are gifted in this but come on, what about the others?)

What if you read this in an obituary, "We all want to say thank to Jesus that another psychopath has died. This man was truly evil, raped all his children spiritually, emotionally, finacially, destroyed their mother, and taught his children, those that had the same brain functioning as himself, how to destroy yet another generation. But blessedly, the rest of his offspring are well-educated in evil and can steer away from it. Thank you again my King."

If we are always so busy trying to tie up our lives with a big shiny bow, we won't be able to learn. You can't truly learn in this way as we are rarely "done" learning, growing, changing etc. till the day we die.

11:00 PM  

This is very insightful. Spoken like a true seer. Bravo!

12:18 AM  

Dear Anonymous @ 11:00 pm:

What you say is so true. Thank you for your succinct and right on thoughts...and especially your fantasy obituary.

If more would wake up, then in some time, there would be less of them.

Btw, Dr. James Fallon, UC Irvine neuroscientist and lecturer, who's studied the brains of serial killers for 20 years, discovered that he, himself, has the brain of a socio/psychopath....but he's not one.

He attributes this to his loving and nurtured childhood in his intact family of origin, along with his own healthy life choices, which apparently, have overridden his brain's genetic propensity.

And so, he proves Dr. Sebastian Seung's motto, "We are more than our genes!" (Seung is an MIT neuroscientist and lecturer, whose relatively new book, "Connectomes" describes that the brain is much more plastic, much older, than previous conventional wisdom thought.)

Anon @11:00pm, while your post describes....exactly....what it feels like to be the target of an abuser / malignant narcissist / sociopath / psychopath, there is still some hope for the future, as long as awareness is spread about the markers and manipulation methods of those predators (who cloak themselves in the cult of success, and who fool many into their discipleship), along with awareness on the markers of their tagets' resultant behaviors. And then, our culture embraces that it's not okay to rape, pillage, and plunder one's children and each other, (as you describe above), and starts doing something about it.

11:10 AM  

Amazing well written article. My parents are both narcissistic and just discovered that my husband's father is a narcissist and his mother is an enabler (also an alcoholic). His father has been able to build his false world around him so well that my husband could never understand why he was so angry or behaved like an abused child. However, I've been able to recognize the signs of abuse as I will not allow that treatment towards our son. Your article has opened up a great conversation between my husband and I. We will be book marking this page to refer back to it!

3:58 AM  

I am a daughter of a narcissist and am being abused by my husband. I have come across two of your posts recently and would like to read them as they seem to contain pertinent information for my situation. However, the size and color of the font, bolded and it being in a narrow column makes the text very hard to read. The moving background with a picture doesn't help either. Please consider making it easier to read and thank you for all the work in getting this information.

5:33 PM  

You can select the text and then copy and paste it into a blank Word document. Then you can make it whatever color and font size you want. Hope this helps!

2:56 PM  

Thanks for posting this article. I am so happy to find a current article with a comments section. I am convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that my father is a narcissist to the core of his being, yet most articles focus on daughters of narcissist mothers. Are narcissist fathers more 'rare' than mothers? I do not feel my mother was an inherent narcissist, though at times she could be worse than my father. I think my father put her in a 'with him or against him' position when it came to me and seeing as she was a traditional wife who was financially dependent on him and bound by religious beliefs of marriage. I believe she was forced to side with him. I was little more than an inanimate show-thing he could parade about in front of all his 'important' friends and brag about "my" academic and creative accomplishments. It actually reached a point I was so distressed about it I began to deliberately fail classes at school just to stop the incessant use of my intellect to his own advantage (it went WAY above and beyond a proud father). Then he totally ignored me or on occasion was highly aggressive towards me, as I was no longer of value to him (which led to a whole other set of problems and traumatic life experiences). In my teens, he turned to incessant insults about my moral character and appearance, as final nails in the coffin of my long eroded sense of self esteem.

I have never felt like a whole person, ever. I feel like I know how to 'behave', I know how to ACT happy, I function day-to-day but I feel totally empty inside most of the time. I thankfully have a husband who saw the level of disfunction in my family early on in our relationship so now we live far away and have little contact with them. My husband truly is a wonderful person and really my first experience of unconditional love. I have been exploring different ways of trying to 'fix' myself, but not until I came across the term 'malignant narcissist' did I really understand what the root of all this was. As I said, I am convinced my father was the textbook manifestation of this personality type.

I do not necessarily feel comfortable seeing a therapist and divulging my life story face-to-face to a total stranger paid to care about what I have to say, nor do I feel comfortable divulging any identifying information about who I am or who my father is. Are there online forums or groups that allow for you to remain 'anonymous' that are NOT on facebook? I really just want some guidance on what steps to take to feel any sense of self and build a positive path for my future. Thank you.

10:41 PM  

For what this may be worth this is how I have tried to heal with books, thanks in no small part to Dr. Golomb's "Trapped in the Mirror" ...

I've been tormented with my inability to achieve any lasting career success. My frustration has been unbearable at times. After my last disastrous business venture I decide to start reading. I asked the universe for guidance and started reading. One day at the book store in the self help section I spotted a lone book hanging off the edge of the shelf. It was "Trapped in the Mirror". A chill went though me. I heard the parental voices saying "How dare you think of us that way". I put the book back but the next l bought it. Thank God.

The highlights of growing up with to narcissists parents? Let's see... The night I had to drop everything and meet the SWAT team after my father tried to kill my mother. Dragging her down the apartment hallway by her hair like a cave man she escaped with the help of a neighbor. In the paddy wagon with my drunken and antidepressant soaked father accusing me of being a traitor. Months later sis and I had to go rescue mom from the police after she tried to forcer her way into my father's apartment with his girlfriend inside. Yet some 20 years later mom and dad were still together.

A few weeks before my father died he chastised me about my failed career attempts and said, "You have a beautiful mind but it's a fucking waste." He then turned and disappeared into the dark hallway. To their last days the insults never stopped. The always superior mother and father died leaving us with debt. Debt they carried for some 50 years.

When my mid life crisis hit it hit hard. Suddenly, I found myself unemployed with no resume to speak and facing career oblivion at an age were most many of my former acquaintances are at the top of their careers. Jokingly I can even the thought of suicide offered no relief. What to do? Seek out knowledge and cast light on my life and my past.

Books I recommend: I started with Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth", hard to read but an essential examination of the mind and the pain body we carry. A pain body the likes to be fed. The works of Sanaya Roman loving and nonjudgemental non-dogmatic spiritual insights and guidance and "Living with Joy, Personal Power Through Awareness, Creating Money, Soul Love". Dr. Joseph Murray "The Power of Your Subconscious Mind". "Unflappable" by Ragini Elizabeth MIchaels a great insight into the ups and downs of life and how to ride safely between them. "Quantum Life" by Natalie Reid using quantum physics to create the life you want. Napoleon Hill's classic "Think and Grow Rich". "Get Some Head Space" by Andy Puddicombe an often funny book on meditation.

These and other books have helped. It is a work in progress....

When the head hits the pillow at night ask for guidance...

1:11 PM  

Hmm, most of us victims realized a little later than it should have been best to leave them and go far away as possible.

1:08 AM  

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