When we are young, we are raised mostly in accordance to what we initially see as children. We observe our parents intently as they interact with the outside world, handle everyday stresses, and nurture us into adulthood. From birth to maturation, we are wired to mimic and model our parents. We rely on them to provide a warm blanket of feedback, strong discipline, and heartfelt encouragement to help us stand tall and face the world as we grow.
Some, however, may have encountered a different parenting experience. Some may have endured one that is dissonant from the conventional measures painted by the peaceful caricature of a loving family. Instead of a warm blanket, some of us were wrapped in a coat of icy thorns, and thus distorting our views of the world.
I invite you to read the following statements below, and see if it strikes a chord.
“That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
And if it is, that’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.”
You may have seen this before, it is the Narcissist’s prayer. A narcissistic parent can be a destructive force on his or her child where the warm, nurturing environment of the safe haven called home feels like an empty cave where no life can grow. Positive feedback is replaced by shrieks of irrational blame; hugs replaced by hits; respect replaced by degradation.
Disclaimer: Some details were adjusted for anonymity.
I grew up with both parents together until I was 9. The years leading up to the inevitable divorce were tumultuous and confusing for me. Even though the memories of my childhood are blurry and vague, the raging arguments managed to create enough of an impact to pierce my perception. Mirroring what I would see at home, I would act out as well, which resulted in expulsion from my school; I was later sent to a school for emotionally troubled children.
When the divorce happened, I lived with my mother while my father moved out. He moved 8 hours away, and we would spend some holidays and summers together. When living with my mother, fights and pushback were a common occurrence mixed with comments about how my father did not care about us. Vanity was her deadly sin, and I would spend hours with her dragged from one store to the next, tired of lines and the ratchet clank of the hangers. When I would speak up, the comment would either be dismissed promptly in public, or if I was lucky, she would scream about my attitude behind closed doors.
The conditions did not improve when I reached my teen years. My mother remarried, and a new sibling was in the picture. I received the 2 for 1 special for invalidation. I could also discern that something was amiss when I compared the treatment of my sibling – enrolled in sports, music, and arts – to my own. I continued to fulfill the role as the “troubled child.”
As I started to blossom into a young woman, my mother took notice, and would lord her power over me through backhanded comments about my looks. She would even go as far as to hold me down, and take an acne tool to my face, abhorred by my oily blemished skin. Celebrity magazines were considered standard literature around the house, and invoked in me a mental dysphoria of my physical body. To top it all off, my mother would armchair diagnose me with body dysmorphic disorder, and said I should “figure out a way to deal with it.”
High school was hell. We all moved to a new location, and thus, I was enrolled in public school. The outbursts I had as a child subsided with the revolving door of therapists and a personal drive to overcome my issues. I thought I was ready.
Unfortunately, due to the overexposure of negative interactions with my mother, I was ill-equipped socially, and was frequently bullied by others. This led to a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. When I would tell my mother that I wanted to kill myself I would get one of two responses: “Get over it,” or “Do it, it would be better without you,” if she felt extra heated. Such words would be dismissed by my stepfather as “in the moment” comments where “she didn’t really mean it.”
In spite of this, I graduated high school, went to college, graduated college, and then went out into the working world. During my first few years after college, I moved back home where the routine of rampant, petty arguments followed by vapid apologies were exchanged. At one point, the world became so overwhelming that I resorted to voluntary psychiatric hospitalization. When the time came, I moved out; they eventually moved as well, leaving a gap of 6 hours distance between us. This is where everything changed.
There were many growing pains when I lived away from my mother. I lived my life as an empty shell, and ashamed of who I was. These experiences resulted in behaviors such as vying for approval from others, faking interests to be liked, and clingy behaviors. I had no self-confidence, thought I was ugly, and allowed others to treat me poorly. I did not have a voice for myself, and would never dare pushback fearing a potential screaming match. It was difficult to trust others.
Though my journey through adulthood has been a work-in-progress, I have taken strides to become a happy, functioning adult. One of my mantras is Health First. When I took my health into my own hands, I learned how to treat myself as a priority, and it made me feel powerful.
I go to therapy regularly to gain coping skills, and enrolled in my state’s medical marijuana program to alleviate the PTSD symptoms since conventional medications caused me adverse effects. Additionally, I have taken up meditation to calm my mind and focus, exercise regularly, and engage in different hobbies of interest. I eat healthy and take vitamins to ensure that my body and mind acquire the nutrients needed to function well.
To further preserve my mental health, I keep the positive influences in my life close to me, and cut or reduce contact with those who do not benefit my wellbeing. I have greatly decreased contact with my mother as I found this to help me the most; she has caught on to the fact that I do not speak to her like I used to, but I still to this day feel too afraid to tell her why, knowing how she would react. I still speak to my father, and have even warmed up to rekindling our relationship.
Lastly, knowing that I wasn’t alone in this battle helped me the most. One day a couple years back, when I was on my own and slowly starting to realize that there may have been something wrong with my childhood experiences, I stumbled upon a support group. The minute I clicked the first post, it was as though someone took a light to the cave where I once dwelled, revealing the scarily accurate behaviors I endured growing up. Tears ran down my cheeks coupled with a sick combination of laughter knowing I had been vindicated, and that everything was not my fault.
For most of my life up until now, I did not know that I had PTSD. I thought that this was something that only first responders, soldiers, or assault victims could truly experience. The constant invalidation of my feelings led me to believe that my problems did not matter, and that no one would believe me or listen to my story. The fact that I have clouded my identity to tell the diluted version of this story further proves that I still have a way to go to accept my circumstances without fear.
This first step, however, and I believe that sharing this story is paramount for others who have experienced similar trials. To be perfectly honest, I still have yet to be whole and complete. I still have moments where my hearts races if I need to set a boundary, or speak up for myself. Every day is a new opportunity for me to cultivate my identity without feeling the guilt and shame that once plagued me. If you are like me, then please understand that: You are not alone; You are worthy; You are your own person.
Thanks for reading.
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