Editors’ Note: Namrata writes on her journey to healing from narcissistic parenting. Everyone is unique and her method of healing may not work for others. We would also like to issue a trigger warning for there may be some content here which may take you back to your own childhood and trauma.
I have had a very normal childhood.
Well, that depends on how you define ‘normal’.
My normal childhood consisted of quiet dinner times where you never had the freedom to deny any particular dish served in the plate. You were boycotted in your own house for weeks if you did anything wrong (which could have been something as minuscule as breaking a favourite teacup), where nobody spoke to you, leave alone acknowledge your existence. Till this day, one of my worst fears is being abandoned and left alone. I still have difficulties in saying ‘No’, personally and professionally.
Growing up with narcissistic parents means walking in a minefield twenty-four seven. You just don’t know where the next blast might happen, injuring you severely (in my case mentally and emotionally, though there were instances of physical injury also). You are constantly alert and vigilant as you do not want to invite their wrath. This ensures you grow up having low confidence and are perennially scared of the unknown. Narcissists try to stay in control by keeping you confused, anxious, scared and apologetic. I grew up to be timid, unsure about everything and ended up being a people pleaser. For I was made to believe, that to be loved you need to please someone. There are nights when I still wake up screaming “I am not a bad girl Mumma, please don’t hate me!”
Everything else might have got erased from my memory, but the ‘bad girl’ tag stayed. By the time I was an adult, I was convinced I was horrible and was going to end up alone in life. Thereafter, I made constant efforts to improve myself. I believed I was flawed and needed to improve to be loved.
Narcissistic parenting can be understood as a form of emotional abuse. Signs of emotional abuse include yelling, name-calling, ridiculing, humiliating, threatening, intimidation and isolation. However, it doesn’t happen overnight, rather, that hurt and despair are built over a period of time. It must also be noted, both parents need not be narcissists. One of them could be narcissistic while the other is a mere enabler, allowing the abuse to happen.
Such parents need to stay in constant control over the lives of their children, well beyond their childhood. They believe their children to be incapable of living their life without them while actually it is the reverse. When such behaviour starts, one tends to call it ‘over-protectiveness’ of a parent. It looks something like this.
They dislike your friends, question your independence and challenge your thoughts. When a parent tells you not to wear a particular colour as it doesn’t suit you, you believe them. You believe being beaten or punished as a kid is normal. When you are asked not to pursue a particular course, you trust their guidance as you feel it is for your own good. It never crosses your mind that their behaviour is abusive. Jealousy and resentment are second nature to a narcissist. Unbelievably, my mother ran a smear campaign against me, with a probable suitor I got at one stage, just because she felt threatened with the prospect of me leaving the house.
I still remember the Diwali holidays when I was in eighth grade. On the brink of teenage, I had recently discovered the magic of cosmetics. I loved how they made me feel – fragrant and beautiful. I had been stealthily using my mother’s favourite Lakme lotion. The way it glided on my skin tickled me like none other. I dreamt of turning pinkish rose after using this, just like they showed in the television adverts. Sadly, the joy was short-lived. The day my mother discovered my theft, the only thing pink was my right cheek, stinging with the pain her slap had left behind. “Beg, borrow or steal… I don’t care. I want a new bottle of this lotion and you dare not touch that. How dare you use my stuff?” Her voice thundered in anger. No matter how much I argued that my pocket money could not afford this, she refused to pay any heed. She wanted a replacement and at any cost. I remember taking advance pocket money from my father to buy her the lotion. How I managed for the next few months without any pocket money is something I cannot recollect now. All I remember is that even now, I cannot use that lotion without feeling guilty.
Identifying this abuse is extremely difficult in most cases, as sadly our conditioning doesn’t allow us to see our parents as anything other than our benefactors.
Despite having lived with it for years, I couldn’t identify this pattern even in other relationships. Children of narcissistic parents never feel good enough and often repeat the pattern of rejection and emotional unavailability in relationships all through their life. I was emotionally abused by friends and loved ones too because that is what became my ‘normal’.
Emotional abuse is crippling. It takes away your self-esteem, ability to think rationally and creates a huge dent in your confidence. All of this, in turn, leads to anxiety and panic disorders.
Over a period of time, with constant abuse, this controlling behaviour got suffocating for me and that is when I snapped.
My breaking point came at twenty-eight. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, stress being the main trigger. The rare nature of the disease (including the fact that it is incurable) made me read about it; the triggers, the symptoms and the reasons, leading me to my upbringing and that is when I saw a pattern. Suddenly, everything made sense. My introvert nature, fear of violence, living in perennial fear of being wrong, the chain of broken relationships, inability to trust people or make friends, my anxiety attacks, low self-esteem and lack of confidence – I could finally piece everything together. I could see every action and its reaction from my childhood unveiling before my eyes. That is when I realised how my life had been deeply impacted with all these things and at that moment, I walked out of that house. Today I live alone, working as a freelancer as my illness doesn’t let me work full time.
It took me three decades to understand that to be loved you don’t need to do anything. You simply need to be. And if someone wants to love you, they just do. Love never comes with any conditions. There is no barter in it.
Parents are our first introduction to this world. They define some of the most basic things for us in terms of love, relationships, affection and care. Whatever they do leaves a strong imprint on the child’s mind. Hence, narcissistic parents end up rearing children who constantly need some sort of validation and lack individuality. More often than not, everything ends up looking like your fault. That is where the guilt springs up. They are not yelling; you are feeling like they are. You are not being insulted; you are feeling small. You keep justifying it thinking they love you and want nothing but the best for you, hence this kind of extreme behaviour. The justifications never ended. You look around and see happy families. This further convinces you to believe it is you who is wrong.
It took me endless sessions of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to take away this guilt from my heart and replace this fear with love. Here again, I need to add that trust, or the lack of it played an important role.
After seeing how my inner conflict and trauma-impacted not only my relationships but could also impact my children (if I decided to have them) in the future, I wanted to heal. I was scared to go to a therapist or a counsellor as I couldn’t trust anyone, given my past experiences.
That is when I read about EFT, a counselling intervention where tapping is used for relief. It doesn’t need one to talk or discuss the problem. It addresses the core feelings one experiences and the body parts where you experience it. For e.g., my feeling of guilt was in my chest while my fear was in my stomach. Through personalized chanting mantras, the healer can teach you tapping on some crucial areas which help you ease that uncomfortable feeling. It is a self-help technique which can be reused whenever you experience those feelings again. I felt this was the safest bet. Nobody needed to know anything and I could still heal.
My journey to healing wasn’t an easy one. It never is. Being abused might make you feel as if you are in an endless abyss but the knowledge of that abuse crushes you. From here, you have to slowly find your way out by healing. For healing, it is important to recognise the patterns and try to work on them. To not let those familiar set of events push you back further in the abyss. Strangely, you no longer know who you are outside the trauma and abuse, which can be terrifying. Hence most of us are afraid to heal. I always had to remind myself why I wanted to heal in the first place because the resistance to change was extremely painful compared to the way my mind and body were used to abusive patterns.
The healing happens in bits and pieces, often in ways, you do not realize. The journey that leads to this is full of surprises. You discover things you had long forgotten about yourself. I have absolutely no memory of any happy or special moments from my childhood. Trauma often makes you forget the most painful moments because you want to believe it never happened to you.
Whatever happened to me, wasn’t my fault, I had to keep reminding this to myself every single moment. At thirty, I introduced myself to the concept of likes and dislikes along with personal boundaries where emotional discomfort was as important as physical discomfort. That was the time I promised myself to not be a part of anything that did not make me feel emotionally safe. I learnt how to say no to things I wasn’t comfortable with, ranging from food choices to clothes to work to behaviour.
Today, I am able to look at them as more than just my parents. Before being my parents, they are individuals with their own fears, failures, heartbreaks and insecurities. Perhaps they also have undergone an upbringing which defines ‘normal’ like this and sadly they could never see beyond that cycle of abuse. Perhaps they need to see another definition of love now.
It is time we reach out to them and help them heal, for, in their healing lies ours too. I hope one day to be able to do so.
Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia-toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story.