Destructive Narcissistic Parents – Part II

In the Summer of 2010 a published PsycHealth article on “Destructive Narcissistic Parents” triggered a number of calls from the adult offspring of these parents. They felt relieved in recognizing that they were not alone, nor were their parents who struggled with these traits. In therapy they were able to address the emotions they encountered during parental interactions. They learned to develop assertiveness, independence and healthy boundaries. Yet, something was missing. They described sadness, bitterness, and resentment at the wasted years of waiting for a loving relationship. They needed to understand the missing piece of the puzzle.

Removing the parent from one’s life is not always the answer, albeit for some it is the healthiest way to avoid ongoing trauma. Yet there still lingers that inexplicable emptiness that is often hard to articulate. I believe that for many people the emptiness stems from a wish to forgive but they are not sure what forgiveness should look like. Dr. Les Carter (Enough About You: Let’s Talk About Me) provides some pearls of wisdom in why forgiveness can be an important form of healing.

Some positive aspects of forgiveness can include the ability to:

  • Focus on priorities that are more important than anger.
  • Let go of obsessions about the one who has wronged you.
  • Refrain from making insulting and derogatory remarks about the one who has wronged you.
  • Move toward a healthier and more peaceful life.
  • Put acceptance and tolerance before bitterness.
  • Recognize that forgiveness is your choice.

Forgiveness is NOT:

  • Denying the legitimate pain you have experienced.
  • Denying legitimate anger
  • Agreeing to act closer than you are comfortable with the person who has wronged you.
  • Allowing others to disrespect your needs and boundaries.
  • Condoning behaviours that are inappropriate.
  • Pretending all is okay and act as though nothing has happened.
  • Ignoring the ill effects of past wrongs that continue to influence current events.

Forgiveness is a choice, not an obligation and we have to determine why it is important to let go of painful emotions in the first place. Too often the children of narcissistic parents find they can’t move forward until they receive the narcissist’s blessing that they are valuable. In this instance you become captive in allowing your worth to be determined by one who struggles with empathy and encouragement. Forgiveness can release you from the bondage of pain. It can reaffirm your self worth.

Bitterness engages you in the futile battle of trying to gain the upper hand. “If I try hard enough I can force them to see the error of their ways.” This is not a competition! Broken feelings are unlikely to be mended through the normal channels of communication with those who struggle with narcissistic traits. These individuals are often incapable of repaying the “accumulated emotional debt”, not because they don’t want to but because they don’t know how to. Holding onto bitterness makes it hard to come to terms with reality. It is often the regrettable truth that needs to be acknowledged, that this will not be of what you dreamed. It is hard to accept that we get stuck in a childish approach to life. We demand that significant others MUST treat us with respect before we can be healthy ourselves. When I ask these adult children how old they feel in the presence of their parents, the answer has consistently come back “Six, eight or ten years old, petrified and paralyzed. Sometimes I feel like a teenager, full of indignation and rage that they refuse to see my worthiness and individuality”.

Emotional pain in these circumstances is a way of telling us that something needs to change. You need to listen to that pain and explore productive ways to expend your emotional energy. Pain is an inevitable part of life, we can’t escape it. But when acknowledged wisely it can encourage positive change.

Forgiveness can be important in moving toward a peaceful life. Perhaps we need to make this our priority rather than trying to make the destructive narcissist comprehend what to them is incomprehensible.

Imagine for a moment, in the heat of a painful encounter that you can think of what forgiveness means to you. Perhaps as Mother Teresa said “Peace begins with a smile”. The smile comes to your face, it is not malicious or sarcastic but rather filled with wisdom of what you need to do. At this pivotal point in the relationship you can bring to mind these words, spoken quietly within, “Better than a thousand hollow words, are {three words} that can bring peace”. (Siddharta Buddha). Perhaps those words could be “I forgive you…”.

Destructive Narcissistic Parents – Part II
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Maureen offers an environment in which rapport safety, empathy and trust are instilled to assist her clients in addressing their personal life challenges.

Her areas of interest include depression, anxiety, and communication breakdown, assertiveness skills, self-esteem, personal growth, family of origin issues, health anxiety and the development of emotional awareness. She has a special interest in assisting individuals and families impacted by emotional dysregulation, high sensitivity, introversion, narcissism and borderline personality traits.

Maureen’s therapeutic approach is eclectic and dependent on the client’s situation and goals. Techniques may include Cognitive Behavioural, modified Dialectical Behavioural, Emotionally Focused, Systems and Adlerian therapy.

Prior to obtaining her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, Maureen was a research assistant with the U.B.C. Mood Disorders Clinic and a volunteer with the RCMP Victim Services.

Maureen is married with 3 adult children.

Maureen is also a member of the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors and the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association


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