That's right. If you were born to narcissistic parents, especially engulfing narcs, they made a big boo-boo. They confused themselves with you. You heard me correctly. You are them, and they are you. There's no difference. No boundaries.
If I'd heard it once, I'd heard it a thousand times. “You said that!?!” This was my mother's typical response when telling her about my schoolyard conversations. Incredulity, laced with disapproval. Her tone indicating that she would never have said what I said. Yeah, it wreaked havoc with my self-esteem, not to mention destroying my personality.
Fast-forward to my early twenties. Each morning as I dressed for work, mother invaded my privacy to blissfully choose the “perfect” jewelry ensemble to go with my outfit. Sometimes she chose the outfit too. I may have been a successful graphic designer, but I was still my Mommy's living doll. And an ACON (Adult Child of a Narcissist.)
Meanwhile, my father was angrily rewriting my profile on eHarmony. Get the picture?
A decade later found my thirty-one year old self, still forbidden from moving out, seated uncomfortably at the kitchen table being grilled by my father. My smart phone was the impetus for this little chat. He simply assumed I was viewing porn on my new phone despite my protestations. Apparently, he couldn't believe his daughter held herself to a higher moral standard.
Sound extreme? This very dynamic entertains three million viewers who tune in to USA Network's reality show Chrisley Knows Best each week. And while narcissistic child-rearing makes for dramatic entertainment, it also makes for rotten parenting.
As always, non-existent self-esteem is at the bottom of it all. My narcissistic grandmother begat a co-narcissistic daughter who then married a narcissistic husband. And together they begat a “strong-willed, sinful” baby who cried when she should've cooed and people-watched when she should've cuddled. Me.
But are narcissists capable of proper parenting? Can a narcissist guide their offspring through those formative years, watch them blossom into a unique person, help them build a backbone, unique belief system and worldview and gracefully step away as they try their wings for solo flight?
Self-absorbed narcissists might have a better shot at it. But engulfing narcissists can't. No way. Nohow. Ain't happenin'. Fugetaboutit.
You see, they assume their offspring is them. This manifests itself in many different ways.
For example, if they have a skill or dream, their child obviously has the same skill or dream. We see this demonstrated on nauseating shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras. “We'll keep doing pageants as long as she wants to,” the obese mothers always coo. My ass.
And fathers are just as guilty as mothers. They often expect their sons to follow in their footsteps by becoming surgeons, pilots or politicians. How I remember Dad's frustration at my inability to play piano and sports.
But this dynamic has a powerful dark side. If the narcissistic parent has a failing, they assume their child damn well has the same failing and is probably worse...much worse. They're sure of it. The possibility that their child is a better, more mature, more moral person than them is never considered. It would be threatening.
I was twelve before this dynamic reared its ugly head. What a shock to be suddenly be informed, “You have a problem with authority.” Of course, Daddy was right. He would never lie and I believed him implicitly. Still, it was odd. I hadn't noticed my rebelliousness. In fact, I was usually teacher's pet. He, on the other hand, got fired on my birthday for insubordination.
This dynamic screams from every episode of Chrisley Knows Best. The “patriarch of perfection” assumes his children are the dregs of the Earth. Stupid. Lying. Sneaking. Whores. That's right. Whores. He's sure of it.
But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, his teenage son and daughter are respectful, loving, trusting, moral and obedient. He taught them well, and they abide by their upbringing. Their father should be proud of them.
But does he see their goodness? Never! To acknowledge their goodness is unthinkable. It would bring him face to face with his own moral failings. According to the DailyMail, this is a guy who knocked up (and battered) his first wife, and then knocked up his second wife while still married to the first one! Small wonder then that he projects his vices and self-hatred onto his children, especially his sons.
Yet, like all narcissists, he also tries to vicariously purge his own past wrongs by isolating his children. It seems that narcissists hold an unspoken belief that they may vicariously redeem the mistakes of their own youth by forbidding their children from natural maturation and independence thus precluding the possibility that they may also make a mistake. A nice perk is that he may then take credit for their “flawless” lives.
Narcissists also see their child's innate positive self-esteem as a threat. It's a knee-jerk reaction. They may call it pride and accuse you of vanity, but in the final analysis there's no place for positive self-esteem around a narc.
Nor is there room for their children to succeed, or worse still, surpass their parents' accomplishments. I should have known this when my father informed me, his 4.0 GPA Honor Roll daughter, that she had “almost failed” 7th grade. I should have known he would steal the limelight at my high school graduation, haranguing our guests for two hours about his skills as an educator. And why was I surprised when I was forbidden from attending my college graduation, and again labeled an “almost failure” during my first graphic designer job?
Dissenting opinions are, of course, never allowed. They're right; you're wrong. Deal with it.
Nor does the shred of a membrane exist to separate your physical body from their intrusion. Privacy? What privacy? Your bedroom, dresser drawers, closet, toiletries, car, mail, finances, email and browser history are fair game for snooping for your good, to keep you on the straight-and-narrow, of course.
Your heart is their playroom to walk in and out of at will, telling you what emotions you may have (happy, happy, happy) and what emotions “you don't have” lest they be inconvenienced by your pain and anger. Or, worse yet, lose you to the arms of a loving husband or wife. I should have known Dad would pout at my wedding.
Even your soul isn't sacred. At fifteen, I was forced to wile away my evening hours perusing shocking pictures of Holocaust victims to, as Dad said, “break you of your fascination with evil, just like I broke you of your obsession with witches when you were six.” What obsessions?
In the final analysis, you really don't exist at all. But wait! Perhaps you do exist, joined at the hip to them as their Siamese twin. In your eyes, they see a being made in their image and likeness, reflecting back their best qualities. But that can change on a dime! Suddenly, you're their evil twin. They've exorcised all their own evil and projected it all onto you.
Some ACONs rebel. But most of us, like the Chrisley kids, obey their parents from the heart. Either way, it's two sides to the same coin. If you obey, you become an inverted narcissist aka a co-narcissist. No soul, no will, no personality, no choices, no beliefs, no relationships, no freedom, no life, no you.
But don't despair. It isn't terminal. You're a good person and the prognosis for your recovery is excellent.