It is incredibly difficult to be the child of a parent with destructive narcissistic patterns because we are all hardwired to want their approval. But it is impossible to gain their unconditional love and acceptance. It’s like pouring water into a bottomless cup. It will never be enough. As a child, you will never be enough.
There is no reasoning with a narcissist. My heart broke for Meghan Markle when I read about the debacle over a private letter she wrote to her father, which he released to the press. The rift and estrangement has long been public, and his absence from her wedding widely reported.
A narcissist is only ever the hero or the victim in the story of his or her life. They are never to blame for anything that has gone wrong. They always point outwards to assign blame, and never take responsibility for their own mistakes. Attempts to reason with them are futile because it triggers their feelings of narcissistic rage.
A critical part of this healing is keeping a safe distance away from the parent who wounded them.
These wounds carry into adulthood, and many adult children end up acting out the very same patterns that hurt them to begin with.
However, there is often a crisis and an awakening, when years of accumulated trauma finally take their toll. This is the point where adult children realise that the fault lay in their parent, and not them. This is the point where real healing can begin. A critical part of this healing is keeping a safe distance away from the parent who wounded them.
When there is estrangement with a narcissistic parent, even though it can be so necessary, there can be a deep longing to want to make things better. “Just talk to them,” well-meaning people will say. “Work it out.” These are usually the people who have never been in a close relationship with someone with destructive narcissistic patterns. Talking to one is like trying to reason with a brick wall. It is only possible to reason with a person who has insight and empathy. Someone with destructive narcissistic patterns has neither.
As a child, you will never be enough.
I am yet to hear of a success story with a narcissist, as much as I long to proven wrong. I am a believer in the human capacity to grow and change, but it is only possible if you have insight. And people with destructive narcissistic patterns do not have insight.
A close friend of mine has an ex-husband with deeply ingrained patterns of destructive narcissism. After leaving her and their young children for another woman, he chose not to pay child support and abandoned her to raise their children alone. She worked through insurmountable odds to raise them single-handedly, while paying the bills, working through her own trauma, and supporting her children through healing from theirs. Despite all of that, her ex-husband still feels entitled to seeing his children. He sent her a slew of triggering and anxiety-provoking emails demanding to see them, accusing her of abusing him, and so on. He was unable to see his contribution to the very real dilemma that his children do not feel safe with him, and do not want to see him. To this day, he believes that his children do not want to see him because of her. It is only ever her fault.
So how do you end a relationship with a toxic friend or family member, especially one with destructive narcissistic patterns? There is no easy answer. What comes first is self-preservation. This can be so challenging at first because after years of interacting with someone so toxic, it is difficult to even be in touch with your sense of self. This is where compassionate therapy can be game-changing.
As Meghan shows, writing them letters or even wanting to interact in person with them could cause more harm than benefit.
Raidah Shah Idil is a freelance writer and counsellor. You can follow Raidah on Twitter @raidahshahidil.
This article is part of SBS Voices emerging Muslim women writers’ series. If you have a pitch, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.