Some clues that you were raised by a narcissist: you have low self-esteem, you blame yourself for everything, you feel guilty and take responsibility for other’s bad behavior, you’re subconsciously attracted to narcissistic, abusive people.
I’m currently not in therapy but I remember several therapists told me that my mother was a narcissist. I knew it was true but I didn’t want to think of her that way. My mother was a physically abused child and was a battered wife. She seemed child-like to me; she needed our protection from our father but she couldn’t protect us from him.
My siblings automatically went to her rescue during our parent’s fights. They wedged between our parents and pleaded with Father to not beat Mother. “Please forgive her!” they begged. I was the youngest and I was afraid to intervene. I stayed in the background and silently prayed for god to help us. The help never came.
When both of my siblings left our childhood home, I was left with the responsibility to defend our mom. The first and only time I had to step in during a fight, I awkwardly blocked my father’s punches with my hands. I placed my hands between his fists and her head, and I pleaded with him to stop. He eventually did.
Later on after he left the house, my mother came to me and said, “When your father hits me, you have to block his hands. You put your hands on my head but it didn’t block his punches.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t protect you the right way,” I said to her. Inside I felt angry with her but I didn’t show it. I thought she didn’t know any better than to criticize me for not fulfilling the caretaker role that should never have belonged to any of us. We were her children, we deserved her protection but we had to reverse the roles. This is something that she never understood. She was never able to protect us from him. He beat my siblings with pieces of lumber and he molested me. She was stuck in survival mode, so we the children, had to defend ourselves and her. No one else in my family can admit this reality. I’m the only one who dares to say this. That’s why I’m labeled the black sheep of my family.
I kept my molestation a secret from my family until I was around 26 yrs old. The only exception was my sister who knew I was molested (she witnessed it, actually they all witnessed it but coped with it by being in denial). The difference with my sister was she believed me because she had also been molested. She told me that she felt guilty when she was a child, because when my abuse began, her molestation ended. I was her replacement.
Writing about this is hard. I have layers of anger about the role I played in my family. I was never given respect, never believed. My role as the scapegoat made them feel better about themselves. I propped them up as heroes and I downplayed their mental illnesses. I took in shame and blame, for not being what they wanted me to be. I even felt guilty for freeing myself from their dysfunction. When I ran away, it made them question their reality. My father surprisingly was the only one who could see that I carried their collective burden of shame. He said, “Judy carries the cross in our family.”
I planned on keeping the molestation to myself for all of my life. I asked my sister to never talk about it with our family. I felt deep shame about what I experienced and I never wanted to confront what happened. But during a visit home, my mother and I had an argument. She was angry with me for having left 3 years ago.
“Why can’t you forgive? Why do you stay away? Out of everyone in our family, you suffered the least. I suffered the most, next is your brother and then next is your sister. You were never beaten. You were spoiled and pampered. Why can’t you forgive the past?”
When she said that, something inside me burst open. “You’re right, Mom. You suffered the most and I suffered the least. But you know what, You never protected me from Father! Something was wrong with him! He was a pervert! He molested me and you knew, because he did it in front of you! Everyone saw what he was doing but no one did anything! You all just left the room!”
She was shocked at my accusation. She said I had imagined it. She said he loved me and I misunderstood. I told her I didn’t imagine anything, that what he did was wrong. “Ask Sister! She knows! It happened to her too!”
That’s when my mother’s face changed. “What? It happened to her? She never told me!” Somehow it mattered only then, because it happened to her. My sister somehow legitimized the reality of my experience.
Mom then confessed to inappropriate things that my father had done in their marriage. She seemed to believe me for a brief moment. I asked her to never discuss the sexual abuse with Father or my brother. “Let’s never talk about this again.” I said to her and she agreed.
But she didn’t keep the promise. She told my brother whose immediate reaction was, “Judy’s gone completely crazy.” He only half-believed it happened after my sister confirmed that she experienced it too. She said the news horrified him and he literally threw up in disgust.
The role I held my family was as the morally lost scapegoat, the selfish, prodigal child. That image of me subconsciously propped up their sense of normalcy in comparison; but I never deserved that role. It’s taken me decades to realize this. Knowing the problem is important so that you can change the pattern. You don’t have to live in a role that no longer works for you. I don’t hate my mother for being a narcissist but I also don’t have to pretend that she wasn’t, in order to continue to love her.