Narcissism is a personality disorder (NPD) which refers to egocentric behaviour; it is a “mental condition in which the individual has an inflated sense of their own important, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” (Mayo Clinic). One of the key problems associated with NPD is that it is difficult to diagnose, due to narcissists’ inability to admit they exhibit problematic behaviours.
Therefore, although I am certain my parents suffer from NPD, it is crucial I mention beforehand that there have been no official diagnoses for my parents, and I don’t think there ever will be.
Calling these people my parents seems generous; all three of them (my biological mother, biological father and step-mother) have brought so much to my life and yet none of them were ever able to be the stable ‘parent’ figure that I needed and often yearned for. Hiding emotions has always been easy for me and is something that I learnt to do in our household pretty early on; it’s where my comfort zone lies – emotions are a sign of weakness and that weakness would ultimately result in myself becoming an easy target to all family members.
Yet when I stopped showing emotions, I was labelled a ‘bitch’, ‘heartless’ and ‘cold’ by those same individuals; this confusing dynamic of both emotional options being perceived negatively created tension and led to a difficult and tense home atmosphere for a large majority of my teenage years.
My childhood consisted of constant attempts to please my biological mother with very little to no success; my early teenage years were filled with approval searching from my step-mother whilst my late teens often saw me using alcohol to cope with the multiple month-long silent-treatment periods that became normalised as punishment for me.
My biological mother was emotionally and physically abusive, although I am lucky enough to have forgotten or repressed a lot of the trauma that took place, it is obvious that this is what took place from a variety of court documents along with snippets of memories that I do have. My mother asked my father to take us in once she realised that she could not live the luxurious life she wanted with 2 children needing care and attention (a key aspect of NPD is placing your needs above those of others, including your children).
When we moved in with my father, he was re-married to a woman with 2 children and they then had another 2 together. I was confused as to why my mother did not want me anymore but continued to idolise her until years later due to the lack of relationship with my stepmother.
I’ve never liked my stepmother, and this is fact. She often compared me to my mother as a child if I misbehaved, it wasn’t uncommon to hear “you behave like your mother” or “you can see that you’re your mother’s child” from the age of around 11 upwards. At this point I still had some positive memories of my biological mother and so did not understand the negativity that my stepmother felt towards her. Had my stepmother been a good mother to me, I may not have felt such a strong need to hold on to the few positive memories of my mother that I still had.
I vividly remember my stepmother and father giving me the silent treatment for 3 months whilst I continued living in their house, because I did not talk to my stepsister when she came home for Christmas. I was sixteen and ended up losing almost 2 stone from a mixture of anxiety, stress and not feeling welcome enough in the home to use the kitchen.
During this time, I was locked out of the house on my birthday, unable to get in and having to call a friend to come and pick me up. My birthday was not celebrated that year by my parents, and I have noted that since that year I have received considerably less from them in comparison to my other siblings and for my most recent 21st birthday I did not even receive a phone call.
I know that I was not an easy child, I’m not deluded in that aspect. However, my behaviour was somewhat normal for that of a teenager still trying to make sense of the world with an added traumatic past. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was emotionally abused as a child and is definitely something that I continue to work through.
The behaviours exhibited by my mother and stepmother in particular are difficult to comprehend in the eyes of others, but all of these behaviours are normal for that of someone with NPD, constant usage of the phrase “we’ve done so much for you” when I’ve attempted to speak out and a significant inability to see any of their behaviours as wrong.
After not having contact with my parents for a number of years, I am finally in a happier place. I definitely struggle with jealousy and my new relationship has tested my boundaries in reference to seeing others having a healthy relationship with their parents.
But I take it day by day.
It’s difficult to feel as though you’re not alone in these types of situations as they are often extremely subjective, but in the moments when you are struggling reach out to those around you who are supportive and ready to listen.
I find it helpful to remind myself that the peace I have now is worth every single potential fleeting moment of happiness that I lost by cutting my parents off.