The thing with flashbacks is that you never know what will trigger one, but it can be healing to stay open to the secrets they hold. I have only recently begun experiencing flashbacks. I didn’t know what they were at first, but as I became comfortable sitting with my feelings, I became curious about them and wanted to understand the lessons they had to teach me.
As Adult Children of Narcissists we tend to struggle with with self-awareness and relationship issues well into adulthood. We have been victims of prolonged abuse. That has a lasting impact on us for which we are now responsible as adults who are invested in becoming self-aware and seeking healing. As an ACoN, myself, I have struggled with many traits that make life difficult.
I was raised by a mother who has every malignant narcissistic trait listed and a father who is enabling and covertly narcissistic. The important thing to remember as a victim of narcissistic abuse is that it wasn’t ever your fault.
Also, you have the power to take your life back. You have survived an insidious kind of abuse, and you have the strength and ability to find healing from that abuse.
These are some of the areas in which I have struggled as I seek to become self-aware in order to learn how to heal and become whole:
For the first thirty years of my life, I tended to be hyper-critical, not only of myself, but, of others. I acted like I was better than everyone else. I projected onto others all that was projected onto me by my mother. It became very easy to pass the buck and unburden the weight of her scorn onto the people around me.
If my mother suggested I looked like a hooker because I had a knee-length skirt on, my reaction would be to point out how slutty another girl looked at church. By comparison, I looked pretty good by lunchtime. It was a very kill or be killed mentality in my family of origin that stole decades of my life.
I was the worst version of myself. I was codependent, indecisive, secretive, and manipulative. I learned, quite skillfully, to play the narcissistic system.
I could be manipulative. Not in a diabolical way. In the way that a kidnapped victim will try to win over her captor in order to survive. I had Stockholm Syndrome. But it became a life skill that I just couldn’t justify using any longer. I would request permission to do something by highlighting the elements of the outing that most appealed to my mother, talk disparagingly about the individual I would be spending time with, and make sure my mother’s ego was boosted. I would talk about everything, except the real reason I wanted to go out, because if I were requesting to do something that made me happy, she would sabotage it. And, since I needed her permission about every single thing I ever did until I was thirty years old, it was second nature to me.
Passive-aggression is also a learned form of manipulation I struggle with. Because my narcissistic mother could not handle my feelings, I learned to express how I felt about things in an indirect way. I learned to take the most indirect route to what I wanted. I was reactive instead of proactive, I was vague instead of direct.
And it still plays out today. My boyfriend is very direct and literal, similar to someone with Autism, and I often hear, “What are you actually trying to say?” At which point, I have to stop talking and figure out what it is I’m really wanting from the exchange and then state it in a very direct way.
Sometimes, I don’t even know what my true desired destination is when I start feeling my way through a conversation. I feel as though it is selfish of me to have a desire, need, or want and make a request for it. In actuality, it’s selfish to place my passive-aggressive behavior on someone’s shoulders and expect them to decipher those hieroglyphics and tell me what I must be wanting. But I don’t beat myself up over it, because I can’t really help that default setting. I just try to approach it in a healthier way now.
I have such a strange relationship with restaurants and restaurant menus. I often say, “Oh, I’m not picky,” or “I’ll have what he’s having.” When my boyfriend asks me what I want to drink, he adds, “What do YOU really want?” and then high fives me for choosing the whiskey over the beer. It may seem silly and condescending, but it isn’t. It’s a necessary part of life that I’m still learning because my narcissistic mother gaslighted, sabotaged, manipulated, and controlled me into believing that I could not make sound decisions for myself, even the tiniest decisions.
It’s why I lived in her home until I was thirty. I truly believed that I would utterly fail if I made one decision for myself. This was how she kept me as her captive. She sowed the seed of self-doubt into every interaction with me. At times, making the simplest decision can trigger a panic attack.
I’ve since learned to stop, breathe, consider what it is I really want, and then state it as succinctly as possible. Without hemming and hawing, without backtracking or apologizing. The more I do it this way, the better I get.
I crawl deep inside my head when something traumatic is happening, and I see and hear everything as though I am watching myself from outside myself. I also freeze when fight or flight response is triggered in me. This could mean literally freezing my movements or just going into “do something” mode. I help the nearest person without a thought to how I’m feeling or affected, I start organizing my sock drawer to zero in on anything other than what I’m feeling in the moment.
To remove myself from my body was the best way put some distance between the real me and my narcissistic mother for thirty years. The shell of myself was the one getting the brunt of the violent rage, insults, and false accusations, not my true self. It served me well for most of my life, but it cannot serve me well in any current scenario.
I was a pessimist. And I was funny. I used sarcasm and dry humor to deflect attention from myself or what was really going on with me. I developed a public persona that seemed to not have a care in the world and had the ability to laugh everything off and get everyone else to laugh everything off.
I still resort to that at times. To feel my own feelings and to outwardly portray them was impossible for me for the first thirty years of life. I know, now, that was my way of never letting my mother see me genuinely joyful or hopeful in order to protect me from her scorn, criticism, and sabotaging. But, I died a little inside every time I hid my true self.
Living with narcissistic parents caused me to be a very defensive person. And, because I couldn’t defend myself against their false accusations or stand up for the real reasons why I did something I wanted to do, I deflected. It was always someone, or something, else’s fault.
I cannot express how damaging this is. Not being able to own my reality caused me to feel absolutely powerless to live any semblance of a normal adult life. I am learning to take my power back by owning my choices, good, bad, or indifferent. To be proactive instead of reactive, and to be confident that my own conscience can guide me through life to make healthy choices.
Trauma Bonding Addiction
Since going no contact with my narcissistic mother, I have walked away from multiple toxic relationships. I had unknowingly married an emotionally avoidant, sometimes emotionally abusive man, when I was thirty, and, like many of us ACoNs do, I was subconsciously trying to repair the relationships with my parents by repeating that relational pattern with my husband.
I was behaving as a wounded animal in my marriage and I felt crazy. It actually gave my ex husband pleasure to see me so upset. He would throw his head back a laugh when I was distraught or angry.
He seemed to thrive when I seemed mentally and emotionally unstable. The day I left him almost three years ago was the day I stopped feeling like I needed to check myself into a psychiatric hospital.
Since then, I have let go of some very toxic relationships. As I let these relationships go, I realized I had attracted people with narcissistic traits because I felt like I deserved it.
The more someone tried to dominate me, insult me, and manipulate me, the more I felt I needed to try and please them. Once I realized I was gravitating toward these types of relationships, I also learned why, and am learning the skills necessary to not get entangled with toxic people.
When I left my mother’s home and entered into my marriage, I had a lot of rage. Being married to my ex triggered a lot of old wounds for me and I would fly into a rage when he treated me in a way my mother had treated me. I was suffering from my first bouts of C-PTSD.
Once I left, I realized all the things that should have been red flags to me I was seeing as signs that I was supposed to be with that person at the time. I was convinced I could heal him and the relationship.
But all it did was bring up such deeply buried rage for the thirty years I was in that type of relationship. I still feel that familiar bristling when I sense that dynamic with another individual and I am learning to recognize the things that trigger my symptoms and to slow down or remove myself from the situation.
Reacting to a narcissistic person is the worst thing a victim can do, because it will send us careening down a slope of self-doubt, shame, and becoming a source of supply. I am learning to be angry about what the toxic person is doing, but harness that anger into doing something constructive to remove myself from being under their influence.
I don’t know about you, but I can easily open up to strangers, and they easily open up to me. We form a fast bond and then the deeper the relationship gets, I start to distrust it. I’m desperate for open and honest connection, but closer connection also means great potential for getting hurt.
I find that I’m learning to be okay with being a bit more reserved until I understand if I can truly trust someone. It is a difficult balance to strike that I think will come with time, more healing, and being more confident in myself. We need people in our lives, but we shouldn’t need people who aren’t good to us and for us.
I have had so much shame associated with my C-PTSD symptoms and recognizing the ways in which I survived my relationship with my narcissistic mother. I sometimes sound like her and I shrink back in horror at looking like the monster from whom I’ve worked so hard to escape. It is frightening and isolating.
I have learned to forgive myself, ask for forgiveness from others and try to be more mindful moving forward. It would be easy to blame all of this on my mother and just be angry and hyper-sensitive for the rest of my life in order to avoid the feeling of shame. But it would make my life a lot harder in the long run. Becoming self aware is an uncomfortable feeling, but it only lasts a short while.
Healing from narcissistic abuse is nothing to be ashamed of.
Finding Healing as an ACoN
The best thing we can do as ACoNs is strive to be self-aware. To know ourselves. To be the best versions of ourselves we can be. To discover the people we were born to be before we were tampered with in such a destructive way. Our narcissistic parents will have to live with what their lives have come to because of what they have done, but we do not have to continue to live with what they have done. We can break free and learn to heal.
Our parents were unable to love us because they could not love themselves. They could not love themselves, because they could not know themselves. They are incapable of becoming self-aware.
We can give ourselves the love our narcissistic parents were never able to give us by first knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves. It is here that we find the space for renewal, growth, and grace to love ourselves in a way we never were by our parents. It is here where we begin to heal.
If you are starting out on this journey of breaking free of a narcissistic parent, I strongly suggest finding a counselor or psychologist or coach who specializes in narcissistic abuse. It is so important to have emotional support as we delve into the journey of healing from narcissistic abuse.
I know I would never have survived the precarious nature of this journey without my therapist who has an innate understanding of my childhood wounds and the wounds I sustained well into adulthood. Living in psychological bondage was hell, and the journey to freedom and healing is proving to be far better than I could have ever imagined.
There are so many of us ACoNs roaming this earth, and I hope you’ve found this to be a place where you feel less alone and less frightened. You are not alone in your journey. You are not alone, period. Sharing our stories can be so powerful and freeing, and I encourage you to share yours in an environment that feels right to you. Leave a comment below or feel free to contact me if you too are learning to overcome narcissistic abuse by one, or both, parent(s). I would love to hear from you, and you are always welcome! Find your tribe, join the herd, and run, gazelle, run to wholeness, happiness, and freedom.