Healing from Narcissistic Family Abuse
Unfortunately, healing from narcissistic family abuse will likely be a journey you take alone or with the support of outsiders (e.g., friends, other family, therapist). Most narcissistic parents are highly unlikely to seek out professional help as they feel they have done nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with them. This means that it is highly unlikely that the family system and dysfunction will change due to the narcissistic parent's resistance to making changes. Thus, healing will be an internalized process filled with addressing painful experiences and emotions, while learning new ways of interacting with the narcissistic family unit.
Healing is still possible despite this though. Here are some aspects of the healing process to address and begin moving through in order to find healing. Warning: some parts will be easier than others and likely things will get worse before they get better. As with all healing, we have to be willing to acknowledge and care for the wound before it becomes merely a scar reminding us of past pain.
Step one in the healing process is educating yourself on narcissistic abuse, specifically narcissistic family abuse. Hence, the importance of part one, two, three, and four in this series. We can't heal from what we do not acknowledge or understand. Being honest with yourself about the abuse you are experiencing or witnessing can be extremely painful and frightening, but stepping out of denying, hiding or minimizing the abuse is one of the first steps towards recovery(1). Through learning about narcissistic family abuse you will come to understand that your parent has a mental illness, which is outside of your control and is not your fault(3). Once this is understood, you can 1) recognize when this type of abuse and dysfunction is occuring, 2) begin to identify the patterns of behaviors that they engage in and how their actions have had or continue to have an affect on you and 3) remove yourself from the abuse or make changes to the ways in which you interact with the narcissistic family.
Acceptance and Grief
Repeat after me, you can't fix them. Accepting the narcissistic parent's limitations regarding empathy and unconditional love will be a challenge, but a necessary task. Survivors of narcissistic parent abuse have to learn to accept that 1) their parent is not going to
change and 2) they cannot fix their parent or the system that has been corrupted by them. The change will have to come from within themselves(3). Additionally, survivors will have to learn to accept the ways in which the family system has been affected by the narcissistic parent's abuse and manipulation. If acceptance of this reality is hard to find then circle back and continue to work through this stage. It is necessary in order to move forward. Only once we have fully accepted the narcissistic parent's limitation and the affect on the family unit can begin to grieve the loss of unmet needs and unfulfilled hopes(3). This could include grieving the loss of relationships both with the narcissistic parent and other family members depending on the severity of the emotional terrorism inflicted on the family by the narcissistic parent. It also means grieving the loss of hopes for the way things were or hopes for how they could be. Learning to accept that our parent(s) and family are not capable of being what we need them to be is one of the most painful and tragic, yet freeing, things we can do for ourselves.
Stop the Blame Game
Depending on how long you have been in the abusive relationship, which for most adult survivors has been quite some time, you can feel out of sorts, confused and dumbfounded. Narcissists have a way of leaving their victims unsure of what is up versus down, which is what makes their abuse tactics so powerful. Most survivors end up questioning their own value and worth due to the horrible treatment they receive by the narcissistic parent and affected family members(1). Stop blaming yourself and inflicting the same treatment onto yourself as they have inflicted on you. You are not to blame. This is NOT you. The way that your family has chosen to treat you and the abuse you have experienced is a reflection of their own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. Their treatment is not a reflection of you. So please, do not let the way that these family members treat you set the standard for how you treat yourself.
Your Needs Come First
Stop worrying about pleasing the narcissistic parent and their flying monkeys(1). Stop attempting to protect the narcissistic parent by hiding the abuse. Take care of yourself, put your needs first, and do what is best for you. Likely, when you do this the narcissistic parent and affected family members will attempt to gain compliance and protection from exposure of the abuse through manipulation, pouting or attempting to gain control back over you. Hold strong, take care of you and let the narcissistic parent and other family members take care of themselves.
I cannot emphasize the importance of this step of the healing process enough! If you are unable or do not desire to cut ties with the narcissistic parent and abusive family members, then this step is crucial. Learning to establish healthy boundaries and communicate more effectively will be important to ensure that the narcissist and narcissistic family can no longer take advantage of you(5). This may include communicating that putting you down, lying, gossiping, gaslighting, giving the silent treatment and other abuse tactics will no longer be tolerated. If after communicating this boundaries are still disrespected then it is time to communicate
what the consequence of disrespecting those boundaries are (e.g., leaving the room, leaving the situation all together)(1). If setting boundaries and taking steps to improve your communication with the narcissistic family does not work, then it's time to develop an exit plan(1). For some, this may mean cutting ties all together. For others, this may mean limiting contact. Do what is best for you and your own mental health. You simply cannot stay in abusive relationships forever -- nor do you deserve to -- without long term damage to your emotional and mental health.
Seek out and build healthier relationships
It will likely be helpful to limit contact with the narcissistic parent and toxic family members. Filling the gap that the narcissistic family leaves can be done by connecting with other family or friends whom are supportive, understanding and loving. Making sure you have supports will help you feel less isolated and alone, especially if you still maintain a relationship with the abusive family. Take time to identify what it is about these supportive relationships that are heathy so you are better able to continue to find the right supports in the future(4). Unfortunately, sometimes our family isn't able to be what we need them to be and we have to create our own family. Knowing what makes a healthy relationship will make it easier for us to find our people.
Establish a healthier sense of self
Often those recovering from narcissistic family abuse experience difficulty with identifying who they are or having positive feelings about themselves due to the neglect, mistreatment, negative messages and abuse received. Adult children of narcissistic abuse can feel as though they are not good enough as they are and struggle with internalized messages surrounding this(4). Adult children may also carry the belief system instilled in them by the narcissistic parent/family that the abuse was their fault. This is NOT true despite feelings or questions that it may be. Addressing these negative messages and belief systems will be important in starting to build your self-esteem and heal from narcissistic family abuse. To do this, one will need to identify the negative messages that still linger from the narcissistic family and begin to replace them with more accurate and positive messages. These can come from yourself or other positive feedback from supports outside the narcissistic family.
Seek Professional Help
Narcissistic family abuse can be extraordinarily painful to the individual and damaging to the family unit. Often survivors of narcissistic family abuse will report painful side effects from the abuse years after the abuse has ended or family ties have been cut. Thus, seeking professional help can assist you in making sense of your individualized experiences, address your specific internalized messages and emotions, learn to set health boundaries, establish a healthier sense of self and support network and continue on your path towards healing. If you're in need of a therapist make sure to look for one who works with trauma and has an understanding of the specific type of abuse that narcissistic families use. Check out our other blog post to learn more about what to look for in a therapist. If you're in the Quad Cities, please feel free to contact The M.A.D. Therapy for mental health services. You can also find other mental health professionals in your area on Psychology Today.
As we wrap up The Narcissistic Family Series, it is important to bare in mind that you are not alone and healing is possible. My hope for all you readers, is that if you saw yourself in The Narcissistic Family Series, whether that be as the adult child of a narcissist or the narcissist yourself, that you make the choice to break the cycle and seek the support you need to recover. If we don't make choices towards change then likely these abusive patterns and dynamics will continue onward to whatever legacy we create and leave behind. Choose to break the cycle. Choose healing.
For those who are or have experienced this type of abuse and toxic dynamics, please don't hesitate to seek help. You are not alone. Mental health services can be helpful in processing your experiences and developing tools to heal. Sometimes we need therapy to help us deal with the people who should be in therapy. If you're in the Quad Cities area, don't hesitate to reach out to schedule an appointment today to start your journey to healing.
Live Bold and Bloom. 61 Devastating Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship. Retrieved from https://liveboldandbloom.com/02/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse
Arabi, S., (October 9, 2018). 3 Ways to Heal from the Toxic Triangulation of Narcissists. Retrieved from https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/05/3-powerful-ways-to-heal-from-the-toxic-triangulation-of-narcissists/
McBride, K., (May 7, 2012). It's All About Me! Recovery for Adult Children of Narcissist. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201205/it-s-all-about-me-recovery-adult-children-narcissist
Wright, A., (May 27, 2018). How to Recover From Growing Up with a Narcissistic Parent. Retrieved from https://anniewrightpsychotherapy.com/how-to-recover-from-growing-up-with-a-narcissistic-parent/
Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, (October 4, 2018). Narcissistic Abuse - Healing and Recovery. Retrieved from https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/narcissistic-abuse/