Have you ever been accused of imagining things you know are true?
Have you ever wondered how a simple conversation could unleash rage, while you cowered in the corner? Have you felt that expressing your feelings could make life dangerous?
Have you been told that everyone thinks you’re crazy, or stupid, or foolish, or fat, or unlovable? Have you been led to believe that everything is all your fault? Have you felt unsafe in your own home? Have you felt wrong and lonely because you wanted love and kindness in your life?
Have you fought your way out of these situations, only to find yourself right back inside again?
If so, then you—like me—may have been the victim of narcissistic abuse.
Growing up like this I didn’t know anything different, and I kept picking relationships that mirrored the narcissistic patterns I experienced throughout my childhood and adolescence. I chose them because they felt familiar and comfortable to swim around in. By the time I realized they weren’t safe or healthy, I was already in the deep end.
If you feel hopeless, don’t.
There is a way out, and your exit plan begins with understanding what you went through, what you’re still going through, and how you ended up there.
Narcissists tend to have some universally defining characteristics:
1. They are bossy and are not bashful about explaining to you why you are wrong.
2. They know how you should think and feel.
They feel if they don’t intervene in your life, since you are always wrong and always make mistakes (because you don’t do it their way), that you are just going to make a mess out of your life and health and job and relationships. To them, you are a mistake waiting to happen. They are superior and want you to let them save you from yourself. And then, it might even make you feel guilty about “needing” them to save you, or at least let make you feel like you can’t do anything without them.
3. You are not listened to but dismissed. They don’t care what you think. They may ask questions to appear to care, but don’t listen to your answers at all and dismiss you.
4. They insist that you need to respect them, but they don’t respect you or anyone but themselves—because no one is as amazingly perfect as they are.
Your reaction to this narcissism might take several forms:
Argumentative mode. You fight back and argue with them. But the narcissist just doubles down and argues back. Hurling insults and condescension at you using emotional warfare, guilt, and fear, belittling you to get you to submit.
Parents get away with this one with their children and teens because we do actually need them for things like support, shelter, money, food, guidance, and so on. And because we are kids, we probably don’t see until years later that the way our parents acted was not healthy at all.
Defensive mode. You can explain to the narcissist why you do the things that you do, trying to justify and rationalize your actions and emotions. But since they don’t respect you in any real way and completely dismiss anything you say that contradicts what they think, it is automatically dismissed as irrelevant.
Rebellious mode. You might say, “No one can tell me what to do. I’ll show you.” This can be disastrous if your behavior is only motivated to be contrary to what the narcissist wants and can be destructive to your life. Teens do this one a lot, because their nature sometimes is to be rebellious.
Secretive mode. You might think the less the narcissist knows about my life the better it is for me. So, you hide and evade and lie. You let the narcissist think one thing while you’re doing or feeling something else. You let them think you agree with them even though you don’t.
This is sometimes the only way to survive—but also this yields only a shallow, fake relationship. No one wants this with people they love, but sometimes to preserve any shred of this relationship, this may be all you can muster.
I lived for years in this mode. I just didn’t tell my narcissists (the people I loved) about what I was doing. I yessed them to death and did my own thing. It’s lonely and inauthentic. I felt like I was living on my own terms but I really wasn’t. I was just avoiding the argument, emotional warfare, and hiding who I truly was. I swept it all under the rug and ignored it. I was unhappy and even hiding it all from myself.
If and when they would find out the truth about how I felt, I was on the defensive and looked like I was ashamed of who I was, but I wasn’t. I was tired of justifying their awful behavior and had no idea how to change anything and felt powerless and cornered. They’d never see the truth, because they don’t ever see themselves as a narcissist or anything other than better than you, always right, always competent and in control.
Shutdown mode. You can also isolate yourself. This is extreme but may be the only way to stay healthy and safe. This should really be the last resort though. This can cause depression and anxiety and impact you physically. But it can also save your life.
I broke up with boyfriends and regained my peace and health. Yay!
I forced other loved ones out of my life because their behavior was toxic for me. It was the most difficult thing I ever had to do.
Suppression mode. You can complain behind the narcissistic’s back. You may need to express yourself to others about the narcissistic person, but at the same time, suppress your feelings with the narcissistic person directly. This can, however, fuel and cause bitterness and hatred.
This is, however, sometimes necessary as a way to prove to yourself that you’re not the crazy person that the narcissist tries to convince you that you are. While venting can feel good and validate us as the strong, sane people that we are, it doesn’t do anything for the relationship with the narcissistic person. Improvement may not be your goal, especially if you aren’t married to this person or if you don’t live with them, or if you’ve tried everything you can to get through to them and don’t ever get satisfactory answers.
Then you have to choose if you want a superficial relationship with them—where you don’t expect change and will avoid trigger issues, but want them in your life anyway. Or, like in my case, you have to cut all ties and move on to remain whole, healthy, and sane.
We need to find and remember our healthy place, not succumb to their whims or warfare. Reminders to help you on your path:
>> The narcissist is free to think as they deem fit. They are who they are.
>> I, too, am free to think and be as I deem fit. This leads us to: who am I, what do I think and believe and want and feel? If I am moral, loving, and kind, then I am great and on a great path. I am what I am. Who cares if they get mad?
>> I am competent, capable, and resilient. I am not debating my validity with the narcissist.
Of course, these are easier to manage when you are not the dependent child of a narcissistic parent. If you are dependent on a narcissistic parent, please find someone you trust to talk to, such as a teacher, a clergy member, another family member, an older friend, or the parents of a close friend, or a therapist. I’ve had teachers, professors, therapists, doctors, trusted friends, aunts, and sisters to turn to when things got rough and I needed a life raft.
It’s difficult to grow up with a narcissist like this as you try to figure yourself out and become the person you want to be. You will likely go through all these reactions as I have.
My wish for you is that you realize how wonderful, unique, and special you are.
I hope you live each day with renewed hope and love.
I hope you treat yourself with the kindness, acceptance, love, and empathy that you freely give to others.
If this touched you, if you are living or have lived with a narcissist in your life, please leave a comment, and seek me out on social media. I’d love to hear from you. It is cathartic to talk to others who have shared your experiences and who can totally relate to what your experience is.
Author’s note: Thank you for reading. Pre-order your very own signed copy of my book: Permission to Land.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Mental Health Resource List
Mental Health Resources for Adolescents and Young Adults