Thursday, March 13, 2008

Doing Justice to the Normal Children of Narcissists

As I mentioned before, I am the child of a malignant narcissist. Now, can I have a sister of nearly the same age who is a malignant narcissist? Of course. But how could that ever happen if conventional wisdom is correct?

Indeed, if having a parent with NPD causes NPD, how can there be so many normal children of narcissists?

I think it's about time us normal children of narcissists demand our due. I say to all the narcissist-excusers, DO US JUSTICE or feel our wrath. Get your niggardly mits off the credit due me for turning out the way I did.

Yes, you are robbing me of the credit I deserve when you excuse the child who becomes a narcissist, by saying he or she had no choice, that he or she is just a machine whose buttons were pushed by an abusive father. When you say that, you say that I am just a different kind of machine, and I won't ignore the insult in that.

Was I too stupid to learn from the same bad example in our home? No. One of my earliest memories is of realizing my considerable size advantage and using it to suddenly push my younger sister down whenever no one was looking. Pushing her DOWN with respect to me felt oh so good. (The Teeter-Totter Game.) I would do it, see her tears, and just laugh. I really got off on it at the age of three or four. Just like Daddy got off on putting people DOWN with respect to him and then laughing at them. Big people could do that to littler people.

That is typical bullying behavior that you see on school playgrounds during the first years of elementary school.

All my sister could do was tattle. And without a twinge of conscience, I just lied, denying I had done the deed. It was so easy. Like why should I be a complete idiot and confess when Mom asked me whether the accusation was true?

Then one day, my life completely changed. This is one of my earliest and most vivid memories. I think I was four. This time Mom didn't believe me. She looked very sad and gave me the old "The-angels-cry-when-little-girls-lie" treatment.

My first thought was to laugh that off too. I could have thought, "Woops, well that won't work anymore. Next time, I'll be smarter. I'll push her down and then come running to Mom saying that she pushed me down."

But I didn't. It was one of those simple, quiet but earth-shaking decisions that one makes in a moment. Instead of laughing it off and remaining in denial, I allowed myself to see what I had done for what it was. That was the life-changing moment. For, the moment I let myself know the NATURE of what I'd done, I was deeply ashamed.

In other words, I just let myself get real. I faced what I had done. Peter Pan grew up and came out of Never Never Land (fantasy) into the Age of Reason (reality).

How ashamed was I? I was so ashamed that I not only never did that again, I became unusually gentle, kind, and empathic – to a fault even. I was a blooming altruist. And I never told another lie until I was sixteen years old.

Because my life reached a fork in the road at that point, and I chose the right one. I was tempted to go the other way, but I didn't. I never looked up to my father again.

And, though like everyone I stumbled now and then, I stayed on that right road - that WAY OF LIFE - choice by choice in the course of making me. I did that of my own free will. And I deserve the credit due me for that. And so do all the normal children of narcissists.

We all were abused and had the bad example set for us. We all saw how to exploit others for self-aggrandizement. We all were tempted to live that way. But we chose not to, and we deserve credit for that.

So, again I say, temptation is no excuse, because human beings are not machines.

If NPD were genetically caused, that would be easy to prove. Just survey ALL the children of narcissists for several generations. You would soon see the proof of inheritance in fixed ratios that echo the laws of probability, and you would soon be able to isolate the offending gene or genes.

So, why is no such research underway? Why do we get nothing but ruminations of pure hypothesizers passing off pseudoscience as science?

And the assumption that differences in brain chemical level or development is a cause rather than a effect of NPD is just plain absurd. Not only is that illogical, but since we know that mental habits CAN cause such measurable differences, the probability is that these differences are a result, not a cause, of NPD.

The very worst thing you can do for a narcissist is to give him an excuse. Talk about "codependence" and "enabling" - by the mental-health professionals themselves. Sheesh.

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At 1:52 PM, Blogger Writer in Washington said...

Kathy, please don't take this wrong but I think that you, like my stepson, are made out of better stuff than many others. I don't mean to minimize your accomplishments at all!!!
One thing that has been bothering me, and I want to ask you about, is that my husband's MN former spouse began at a very early age to try to alienate the children from their father. He saw what she was doing and tried to prevent it but was successful only with the one son. The daughter and the other son have gone down the MN tubes. He said that he really didn't try with his daughter that much because 1) her mother and grandparents were in such competition for her that it was hopeless from the outset and 2) she was exhibiting MN tendencies by the time she could walk and talk. Anyway, I was wondering if your sister did that as well? Also, did your MN parent try to alienate you from your non-MN parent? Thanks!

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

That was a hypothetical about the sister, but the story of me pushing my younger sister was true.

No one is inherently better than anyone else = made of better stuff. I'm sorry, but that's just denying credit/blame.

I'm sure there are normal children of narcissists who have made better choices than I and those who made worse choices than I.

Though it was a monumental choice, it wasn't that tough a choice, either. It was just the choice to come out of Never Never Land. Every child must make this choice. It's no big deal.

That's really all there is to it. You decide to get real or to live behind the Looking Glass in the Land Pretend where you lie to yourself and twist everything to pretend that you don't know what you're doing.

THAT IS WHAT Ns refuse to do. And that is why they are Ns.

Peter Pans, stubbornly staying there, at the mental level of 3-yr-olds, safe from reality and self-awareness.

It sounds to me like I made this choice at a slightly younger age than usual, but that's all. And the reason could have been the circumstance. My mother handled it very well. That sad look of hers nudged me the right direction.

I have often said that you can't make snap judgments about people, or you're going to miss tricky real narcissists and wrongly believe that normal people or people with benignly narcissistic traits have NPD. Yet it sounds to me like many people jump to conclusions. For example, more and more it sounds to me like people automatically suspect you of being a narcissist just because your parent was.

How unfair! In the families I have close knowledge of the rate of narcissistic offspring was 1/2, 2/4, and 0/5. That's 3/11.

Half the people in the world assume we have codependency disorder and the other half assume we have NPD.

If a person is prejudiced in that direction, he or she will seize on any of the unfortunate behaviors the children of narcissists learn that superficially resemble NPD, never noticing the big difference between a narcissist and the normal child of one. What's more, these behaviors usually disappear by the late 20's after the child has been away from home awhile and seen how normal relations are carried on.

I explain some of these in The Children of Narcissists.

The test: just ask that person to stop it. The normal child of a narcissist will. (In fact, he'll take it so much to heart that you'll end up comforting him.) A real narcissist will do it all the more. Why? Because a real narcissist is twisted. The normal child of one isn't.

The children of narcissists really get dumped on. First they get it from the narcissistic parent. They usually get it from at least one narcissistic sibling. And then they get it from the rest of the world too.

They never get any credit for anything from the narcissistic parent, the narcissistic sibling, or the rest of the world either.

We have feelings too. And those busy trying to absolve narcissists should stop and have some empathy for us too.

It takes nothing special to avoid becoming a narcissist. It's a simple choice: win the game of life by cheating on the sly, or be someone you can respect.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

PS, My mother did try as we got older to alienate us. She was subtle about it, mainly just complaining about him constantly.

I could see what he was doing to her and didn't like him. I felt guilty about not loving my father, but I couldn't.

Still, I did have an adverse reaction to her effort to get us on her side (or that's what it seemed to me she was trying to do). I think it made me tolerate him much longer than I naturally would have.

Especially as an adult after I left home. When you'd make a suggestion that would put a stop to something she was complaining about, it went in one ear and out the other. And when her complaining finally got you to pitch in with something to say against him, she suddenly switched gears and said she didn't want him raked over the coals.

Go figure.

The normal parent is in Catch-22, and because of the abuse she or he suffers, they are likely to land in one of these pitfalls. Whenever possible, divorce really is the best solution I think.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Writer in Washington said...

In our case, its the MN that did all the alienating. (I know that my husband isn't one, he has always stopped doing things that bother me when I've asked him to. She never does, just gets worse.) I think it can be the MNs way of gaining control over the kids early on--running down the other parent.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Yes, I bet that happens a lot. Parents have posted comments here saying they try to avoid that trap.

And yes, the MN runs down the normal parent. My father always tried to make my mother look silly and foolish, just generally projecting his own faults off onto her.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, Kathy, I'm very touched by it.
You really deserve credit for your choices and your way of life ! !!

I'm also a child of a narcissist and had grown up under quite distressing family and living circumstances. Sometimes people had been astonished, telling "That's a miracle that you've become so "normal" in spite of your family".

As for myself I'm not so sure if it was predominantly as a result to my choices.
But I also do remember two experiences of awareness and sudden realization in my childhood with very important impact to my life. Experiences that made me aware of evil, responsibility and love, and realizing what power really means, and that love and abuse of power hurting others most of all dependent, defenceless living beings, rule out each other, they cannot be together.

I was quite shocked when realizing power the first time at a very young age - suddenly I became aware of what this does mean - if I have the power to do something I am also responsible for my choices and deeds.

Best wishes, Tobi

At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Barbara said...

From one Normal Adult Child of a Narcissistic Parent to another:


and a huge cyber-high-five!!

and a big hug!

At 12:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember at a very young age (must be 4 or something) I felt my mother wasn't genuine in her 'loving me'. She played the game of attracting and rejecting me.
I felt the pain of this and didn't trust her anymore eversince so I tryed to detache emotialy as much as I could to avoid the pain as much as possible.
I felt she was dangerous. And she became worse and worse, trying to break this spirit.
And she sometimes succeeded but never quite.
I chose not to play her unfair game and I believe this saved me.
And as you say Kathy, the choice wasn't hard, it came naturaly, but the holding on was very hard at times and very painfull.
They constantly try to break your spirit and it realy takes courage and strenght to stay ground.
Now I can give myself credit for this cause now I know what a struggle it has been.
And every kid who came through this, unbroken and not becoming an N themselves, deserves a lot of credit for sure.
People who blame this kids in either way just donn't know what they are talking about.
They haven't been there, otherwise they would talk different.
Me and one sister are the only ones who came out more or less 'normal' out of seven. Two brothers became N's themselves.
My father was driven to suïcide by her.
No one can tell me anymore that something was wrong with me.
As you say Kathy; you make a choice. And under this circumstances it's a very hard choice to stay with, I know.
And I give myself credit for it and everyone who did the same,for
it's a very painfull road we had to walk on.
Coming through still believing in love, with selfrespect and having accomplished an own live, is near a miracle.
We should realise this all (children of narcissists), every day and never (let someone) doubt ourselves anymore.

greetings, Gerard

At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for you're story, Kathy.

You made a turning point in childhood, fortunately at least we on this forum did.

What I myself suddenly was wondering... I know that after my mam gave birth to me, I, as a baby, refused to drink her milk.

Later in childhood (very young, so I know from the stories from my family) I avoided emotionelly involvement with my mam. Every in the family tells me now that I was a very sweet, lovely and hartwarming child. Never knew they saw me like me at all!

Isn't it great then, that, like you Kathy and of course all the others with an N. parent, we in the end survive and grow up, being a compleet, whole human being? It is fascinating! And wow I'am so happy with that miracle.


At 2:51 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Exactly. It didn't seem like I was doing anything that hard. If you choose to see that kind of behavior for what it is, you can't help but be repulsed by it. Even at a very early age.

So, basically, all that's required is an act of intellectual honesty that every child must make. Boom - you've attaned the Age of Reason.

And you will not look to up to a parent who treats you or others the way your narcissistic parent does. Truly, I was never really bothered by the fact that my father didn't love me.

It's the abuse that hurts. That's what must be overcome. Deciding not to be like that yourself is the easy part.

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, yes, correct!

I feel the same way.


At 3:35 PM, Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

Hi, my father and grandfather were both abusive narcissists. I am an only child and I turned out normal. This was a really interesting post, since I never thought about having made a choice not to be a narcissist. But looking back, I realize that I did make a choice.

When I was very little -- 5 or 6 --I decided that I would stop trying to manipulate others with shows of temper. It was a conscious decision. I had kind of bought into the idea that my father's temper was what made him superior, and I had tried to mimic that so I could be a superior person too. But then I also realized how much I hated it when he did that. I decided that I didn't want people to feel the way I did when my father was in a temper.

My father used to praise me at times for "not suffering fools gladly." When I was older, in my teens, I decided that this was NOT a good thing. I made a concerted effort to be patient with other people and to try to think of other people in a respectful way, even if they didn't seem educated or smart academically. Learning not to think of other people with contempt, as I had been taught, was my last break with narcissistic behavior, I think.

There were also times in my youth when I did act in the narcissistic way -- putting people down to make myself feel better. Once when I was a little girl, I smiled and puffed myself up when I saw my father berating a secretary until she cried. I was so relievd not to be the target that it made me feel good to see someone else cry. But I always felt incredible shame after an incident like that, and they were relatively rare.

Two aspects of my environment helped my commitment to normality: (1) My father was very open about hating his own abusive narcissistic father. His criticisms of his father helped me to recognize that what my father's behavior was wrong and that I didn't want to turn out like that. (Ironically, my father never permitted himself to recognize that he was exactly like the father who had abused him and caused him so much pain.)
(2) My mother is an extremely kind, empathic person. I always saw her as the "good" parent, and wanted to turn out like her (except for her toleration for abuse).

On the negative side, my narcissist father's terrified, paranoid, hierarchical, shame-based world view
still permeates my thinking about myself and is very hard to shake. It's almost like I have a very mean narcissist in my head telling me how much I suck all the time. So there is that problem.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a "normal" child of an N mother, Co-N father and a younger N sister. It has taken me 40 years, and a counselor to figure this out! My counselor told me often how amazing it was that I came through everything so well! I have no relationship with my sister and have decided that my parents are too toxic at the moment to deal with. I'm looking for any advice on setting limits and boundaries with my parents, as I do not wish to cut them off completely. Thanks!


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