by Neil Rosenthal
If you grew up with a narcissistic parent – either your mother or your father – you did not have a parent who was consistently there for you and available to meet your needs. As a result, you have likely had a difficult time in your adult intimate relationships feeling comfortable with being close, with trusting, feeling safe, knowing how you feel, having confidence in yourself and feeling worthy of love. You were taught that focusing on your needs and desires is selfish. That’s quite a set of challenges to overcome.
Here’s what you can do if you wish to heal from these messages given to you as a child, courtesy of Karyl McBride from the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” (Free Press):
• Commit to learn who you really are and what your values are – on a deep level. For example, ask yourself: In my favorite type of conversation, what do I talk about and with whom? What activities bring me joy? What’s most important for me in a love relationship? What standards do I hold myself to in an intimate relationship? What is my ideal partner? What does s/he say and do, and how does s/he behave? What are my most important priorities as a parent? What makes me happy? What are my passions and talents?
• On the top of a page, write the heading: “If I Were Good Enough.” Then write the things you’d do right now if you felt good enough. “If I were good enough, I would…”
• What interests you? What’s fun for you? What do you find fulfilling? Don’t get caught in the trap that it’s selfish to pursue your own interests or activities. You must learn to care for your inner self and your spirit.
• Set, keep and hold effective boundaries with other people, including your narcissistic parent if that still applies. You must set your own rules that watch out for you and keep you safe.
• Commit to treating your own narcissistic traits, and refuse to pass them along to your children.
• Allow yourself to grieve the childhood you didn’t have, the parent you didn’t have and the child you didn’t get to be.
• It is important to remember that no person is all good or all bad. Even if you had a parent who displayed narcissistic traits, there were also good things she or he offered you. S/he likely passed along talents, passions, interests and knowledge to you. Remind yourself of the gifts you received from that parent as well.
• Be accountable – to yourself and to others – for your feelings and your behaviors.
• Learn to become your own internal mother (or father). That is, learn to parent yourself—now, as an adult. This is your own maternal or paternal instinct. It is the intuitive voice that speaks to you and wants to nurture, love and mother you. The part of you that soothes you emotionally, and helps you to feel inner strength and personal self-empowerment. The voice within you that says: “You are doing fine.” “You are worthy.” “You deserve this.” “You can handle this.” “I believe in you.” If negative messages about you bubble up and refuse to go away, go back to the step regarding grieving. Positive messages don’t tend to stick unless you have really worked on grieving effectively.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com.