For the previous 5 years, I have been cohabiting with three narcissists. One of them, I married. The other two, I birthed. Prior to my recent “narcissistic awakening,” I was under the ignorant and ill informed assumption that narcissists, although vain and self centered, were relatively harmless. Mean Girls, The Devil Wears Prada, and Gone with the Wind glorified and humorized this particular personality disorder. However, as with many things in life, it’s hard to fully grasp the magnitude of an issue or concept without personally experiencing it yourself. I’ll spare you the gory details(or scroll down to read them, if you dare), but just know that my marriage to a Narcissist almost killed me.
What makes narcissists SO toxic is their utter lack of empathy or remorse. Due to their inability to relate to, or muster up any compassion for others, they live life by their own rules with absolutely no regard for the people they destroy in the process. At the core of narcissism, believe it or not, is an extremely low and unstable self esteem. The often confident, cocky and, egotistical persona a narcissists portrays to the outside world, is misleading, as their true self is brimming with insecurities, doubt and despair. In order to boost their non existent self esteem, narcissists embark on a life long quest to obtain what’s called “narcissistic supply.” For those closest to a narcissist, this is the point where things get painful. Searching for supply can manifest in various ways, but some examples include: cheating, withholding love, silent treatment, removal of financial support, distorting reality, put downs, constant criticism, comparison to others, gas lighting, pathological lying etc. Remember, this is a never ending search, so those closest to this toxic person will suffer for a lifetime. In order for the narcissist to feel good about himself/herself, he/she must make others feel bad. When contemplating these relationships, I’m often reminded of a seesaw you might find at your local playground. In order for one side to go up, the other must go down, and vice versa. Toxic relationships are a constant seesaw battle of up and down, up and down. It’s exhausting!
Young children, naturally, are narcissistic. I would know, I’m living with two of them! And while this may be a healthy stage of development for a short time, it’s our responsibility as parents to guide our children out of this phase and into a life lived with compassion and empathy. Research has shown that narcissism is a byproduct of parenting. Yikes. We have much to contemplate and consider when raising children, but after experiencing narcissistic abuse as an adult, I am more determined than ever to make prevention a priority in my parenting.
Here are eight ways I am tackling Narc Prevention in our home:
- Don’t Spoil without Toil Have you noticed that your local grocery store is now the new Toys R Us? I’m just minding my business, trying to grab paper towels, while steering my kids around in a tractor trailer sized taxi cab, but of course said paper towels are wedged in between 400 Hot Wheels and a Cabbage Patch Doll. This used to frustrate me, but now I look at it as an opportunity to say no. Life has a favorite word and it uses it often: NO! Might as well teach children at a young age that they aren’t always entitled to a YES- even over a 99 cent hotwheel.
- Life IS NOT a competition I’ve heard horror stories of parents making everything a competition among their children. One recent story involved a dad who would encourage a dinner time battle, and the winner was the child who ate the most food. This child would be able to sleep with dad that night, as a reward. Not only does this teach unhealthy eating habits, but it insinuates that a fathers love is connected to achievements and that the only way to receive love is to “out perform” their siblings.
- Warm it up Children need and respond to warmth from their parents. This warmth should be unconditional and not tied to achievements or accomplishments. Of course, when a child scores a goal, or makes an A on a test, we want to celebrate. However, if the only time you are showering the child with attention and praise is when they make you, the parent, look good, then you are setting them up to believe that love is inextricably tied to achievements.
- Encourage Empathy Provide your children opportunities to learn empathy. Volunteer together at a soup kitchen, watch age appropriate documentaries on poverty, or stop by a nursing home and connect with someone who might be lonely. Exposure to the plights of others is key to raising a well adjusted and grateful human being.
- Everyone is Special Yes, everyone. Not just child 1 or child 4, but everyone. We all have unique gifts and talents to share with the world. As parents, it’s important to cherish and cultivate the interests of our children and not just the interests that make us look good as mom and dad. Where I’m from(North Florida), football is life. If you have one child that excels in football, but another who excels in History class, place equal amounts of value and attention on both activities. Do not single out one child as being superior because he/she happens to excel in an activity that society deems “more important.”
- It’s the inside that counts Most nights, before bed, we talk as a family about what we like about each other, as people. We prioritize internal achievements and not external ones. For example, I love that my littlest(2.9) is always asking my opinion on things. He likes to tell me what his favorite color is, but is genuinely curious about my favorite color too. He shows an interest in those outside himself, and a genuine desire to learn about other people. This makes me proud. My oldest(5) has a big heart. He is extremely sensitive to the pain of others and always wants to make sure that everyone is happy and content. His concern for others makes my heart swell.
- Practice compassion If someone cuts you off in traffic, breathe and let it go. Your children will notice! Instead of assuming the worst, and screaming expletives out the window, imagine the other possibilities that may be at work in that drivers situation. Children do as they see, not as their told. If you set a positive example when dealing with the little challenges of life, your children will be better equipped to handle the larger challenges with patience and refrain.
- Appearances are an Illusion Really. Who freaking cares what car you drive or how amazing your vacation you can’t afford was. While vacations and cars are nice to have, don’t spend all your money trying to impress other people with these things. I vaguely remember a time in my early 20s where I spent so much money at the Mall of Milenia that I couldn’t afford the toll payment to get back home. Talk about ridiculous. In case you were wondering, I bought Jimmy Choos. They were hideous, bright yellow and hurt like hell.
What do you do to prevent narcissism in your home? I am always up for learning more!