Today I have a guest post written just for you, the GiveMe Chocolate audience. The Toxic Tuesday posts are popular and the search engine terms that bring people to this blog show that there is a world-wide Christian audience looking for help on dealing with difficult relationships; specifically with toxic and/or mentally ill people.
My guest author uses the pseudonym Joy S. for identity protection to safeguard extended family relationships.
Joy S. had the misfortune of growing up in a highly dysfunctional home but as is customary with our great God, He took the heart and longings of Joy S. and turned them into something beautiful. When Joy S. gave heart, soul, mind and strength to the Lord and sought Him; His ways, His healing, and His blessing—the supernatural happened. This does not mean Joy S. has had an easy adult life as a Christian. It means Joy S. has had a purposeful life and recognizes the fruit of seeking God’s heart and will in marriage, parenting, friendship, vocation and service.
Life with a Narcissistic Parent
October 28, 2014 – Joy S.
In honor of Toxic Tuesday, I am revisiting the topic of narcissistic personality disordered people (NPDers), specifically parents. Carolyn has previously blogged about identifying NPDers, their crazy-making tactics for inflicting heavy-duty chaos on their victims, and strategies for maintaining sanity under their hostile fire. Remember that one NPD tactic is a volley of changing, even contradictory, verbal attacks. What they said they approved of yesterday, they hate today and claim to have always hated, even if there are witnesses or they’ve put it in writing! They deny concrete truths. Any attempt to sort thru facts and reach a mutual consensus is met with derision and insults. When the relentless assault ends, the bewildered victim is filled with self-doubt. “Maybe I am too forgetful, too sensitive, too suspicious, too ____________(fill in the blank), just like they said.”
When these crazy-making destructive behaviors are leveled at you by toxic people you can’t avoid, i.e. neighbors or coworkers, it’s pretty stressful. It can consume your thought life, disrupting sleep, job performance, feelings of safety, and general love of life. (For more on toxic neighbors, read Carolyn’s past posts).
Now enter the NPD parent. Because of its intimate nature, a child’s natural craving and expectation of support and affirmation from this relationship is huge. By design, God uses a parent to be the earliest teacher, cheerleader, nurturer, and reflector of His Character to a new life. Even from the womb, God allows us to be dependent on our mother for every physical need even as He knits us together sinew and bone. But this arrangement is only temporary as a child develops physically, emotionally and spiritually. Ultimately dependence should end. The trust in our human caretakers, developed thru feedings, diaper changes, nursing thru sicknesses, and countless other acts of kindness, ignites our trust in a Heavenly Parent. Maturity is reached. The child becomes an adult, acknowledging our dependence on God and seeking need-fulfillment in His Will. God assumes His rightful place on the throne of our heart.
But here’s the rub: The NPD parent wants that throne. After all, they already are on the throne of their own life. And they don’t really want an independent child. By constantly ignoring or mocking the child’s feelings or preferences, the parent undermines the child’s efforts to set healthy boundaries with them and others. NPD parents don’t train children for maturity. Their desire is for the child to remain in a relationship with them. Essentially the NPD parent is the star of their own show. And their child? Just a prop. Nothing more. A piece of furniture, without feelings, accorded little, if any, respect. Controlling the child thru false guilt, withheld approval, angry outbursts, unreasonable demands, material support, or financial gifts keeps their show running, and makes them look good. Whenever the adult child balks, the NPDer applies these tools to keep them in their place, at the NPDer’s beck and call.
Not surprisingly, this plays havoc with the adult child’s emotions, family and marriage. Living on crumbs of approval absent real affection and delight makes a person crazy-starved for love, however they can get it… “Am I worthy?”, “Am I loveable?” are the piteous cries from their beggared, battered hearts. This makes them ripe pickings for any manipulator, especially another NPDer, to splash a few drops of attention their way and lure them into ANOTHER dysfunctional relationship. Trust me, NPDers have radar for identifying a needy mark. They are more than happy to step into the NPD parent’s shoes and write the second chapter of an already miserable life.
In the happy case when the adult child marries and makes a family with a relatively mature, caring mate, expect NPD WW III! And sooner rather than later. Listen, did that NPD parent spend a couple of decades grooming their kid to be a prop in their play just so their child could quit the show and live happily ever after? No way. Usually the NPDer lobs opening salvos during the wedding planning period (albeit subtle shots if they’re still feeling out how much they can push their future child-in-law), with the pace picking up after “I do.” The new mate may be bewildered when their couple plans are repeatedly preempted by the crazy demands of the NPD-in-law. Often they are angered that their desires for the marriage are outranked by those of the NPD-in-law. “Look, I married you, not your crazy parents! Why do they call the shots around here?!”
Excellent question! The answer is that the NPD parent has a history of making ancient, mercurial, merciless idols look like cherubs compared to the emotional bloodletting that they practice on their own child. That child may be grown up now and have children of their own, but breaking the cycle is difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. Nothing is impossible with God!
The first step is realizing that putting anything other than God on the throne of your life, even a parent or a spouse, is a sin. Yes. Sin. “I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before Me.” Before you say,”Oh, she’s going all Old Testament on us,” do you know why God said that? One reason is that only God can bear up the weight of worship. He alone can receive worship and praise without temptation toward sin because He ALONE is totally worthy and holy. When He gets praised, He’s in no danger of thinking He’s better than He is – because He’s THAT awesome! Awesome exponentially!! But because humans were created to worship God, not to be worshiped, even the healthiest humans feel the temptation toward pride when they are often flattered or praised. Pride is when we start believing our own PR. We do a disservice to our fellow humans to tempt them toward pride by offering them our misplaced worship, even when NPD parents are demanding it of us.
Wait. Did you get that? “We do a disservice to our fellow humans to tempt them toward pride by offering them our misplaced worship, even when NPD parents are demanding it of us.” If we cause them to sin further with pride by giving in to demands we have NO business saying “yes” to, especially when it crosses the authority of God, or a husband, we disobey the commandment. That’s serious business with God and seriously unloving toward the NPDer.
(“But isn’t there some commandment about honoring your parents? Don’t I, as an adult child, have to do what they ask in order to honor them?” Good question. Please don’t confuse “honor your parents” with “worship your parents.” I did for a long time! By honoring a parent, the adult child honors the God who made them both, ordained their relationship, and used the parent’s sacrifices for the child’s benefit to God’s glory. We honor by acknowledging our relationships to both our Creator and parents. Even if our NPDer’s sacrifices were few or done primarily for the wrong motives, to the extent we benefitted from them we honor that parent by being thankful for God’s specific provision thru them. Any parent is best honored by their offspring living honest, loving lives that exalt God’s Name. But worshiping a parent is being their slave, belonging to them, for their glory. Big difference.)
The second step is redirecting the valuation of your worth and your need for approval toward God and away from the NPDer. For your soul’s and your sanity’s sake this must be done. The NPDer’s standards for approval are arbitrary, capricious, and disconnected to any moral or logical underpinning. They exist to keep you off-balance, which is why they change without notice. No matter how you try to figure out the rationale or predict future standards, you never will satisfy them all. You won’t. Accept this and you will save yourself time, money, acts of service, and another bout of depression when you realize you’ve no margin in your life – again! – because of another attempt to appease the unappeasable. Instead let’s review God’s standards. He doesn’t lie, He doesn’t change, He’s good, and precious are His thoughts concerning you. Extrapolate this out. His standards are immutable, holy, good, and good for you. Good and good for you!! You gotta love Him.
So not only do God’s standards beat out that of the NPDer, His Approval far outstrips that of any earthly parents…even the best. Surprise quiz: Did you know that marriage is a shadow of the things to come in heaven? It is. It points us to God’s covenant with His Bride. In this way, the physical relationship now foreshadows a spiritual event in the future. Even so, praise from an earthly parent is a shadow of the praise to come from our Heavenly Father. “Well-done, good and faithful servant… Come and enter into Your Master’s happiness!” Now THAT has everything you want to hear! It means: He is pleased with your work, He esteems your character, He delights in you, He wants you with Him always. Hungry hearts, this is the Ultimate parental approval speech!! In fact, only God’s Words to you on that day will satisfy all your heart’s desires. There will be no backhanded insults, hidden agendas, or thinly veiled criticism in those welcoming Words. Just life-giving, soul-restoring goodness. If you want a preview, check out Chapters 14-17 in the Gospel of John.
The third and last step is stopping the poison. St. Augustine said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” There are tons of books on forgiveness. Literally. You can spend a small fortune in the self-help section, read them all and still want to spit nails at this parent UNLESS you do three important things to facilitate forgiveness. Many of the self-help books I’ve read excel at identifying toxic people, but omit how to successfully escape unforgiveness when you want to, or at least, want to want to. Please visit us for our next Toxic Tuesday post when Carolyn will graciously allow me to share how I have Thrived Despite Difficult Circumstances: Narcissistic Personality Disorder Parents, Part 2