I was raised by narcissists. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise. As a child, my life never belonged to me. There was no autonomy. There were no choices at all. For illustrative purposes, I will cover some of the highlights of my relationship with my parents.
I lived with a mother and a father. With two parents, the abuse was easier. Even though I had a sister, they teamed up on me when I was alone. Their tactic was to keep the balance tipped in their favor.
They were prone to frequent emotional outbursts. Rage was common. Tears were only used for manipulative purposes.
They had no interest in my needs or wants. There was no ability to listen because they were talking constantly.
Their own self-interest was always the priority.
They would disrupt my sleep schedule to have their needs met.
They would disrupt my eating schedule to have their needs met.
They had no boundaries of any kind.
There was no accurate concept of right or wrong within the walls of our house.
In every sense, my life wasn’t my own.
Twenty years later, this has left me at a loss. Adult relationships can be very challenging. I have a difficult time trusting others. I have trouble making my own needs a priority. I am not sure how to handle many emotions.
I have been working on these aspects of my life. It is slow and steady progress with triggers that become less intense with every realization. When the triggers do become too intense, I can limit my interaction with others. I have a tendency to isolate, and if things get too hard, I can take a break from the interpersonal world around me. While it is easy to criticize myself when I isolate, I do believe this coping mechanism is beneficial because I can take control of the pace of my recovery. And I haven’t always been able to take control of the interactions in my life.
I wish I could say that the challenge ended there. It doesn’t. There is one area of my life where there is no break. I cannot escape. And making relational mistakes is incredibly impactful. It won’t just impact the present moment. It will impact the rest of my life. And this area is parenting.
In parenting, the triggers are everywhere. There is no day without a reminder from my past. The similarities are endless. Here are some highlights of my relationship with my children.
I live with boy/girl twins. If there is something they both want, they team up on me. The balance can appear to be tipped in their favor.
They are prone to frequent emotional outbursts. Tantrums are common. Tears are too.
Their own self-interest is always the priority.
They disrupt my sleep schedule to have their needs met.
They disrupt my eating schedule to have their needs met.
When they were younger, they had no boundaries.
When they were younger, they had no accurate concept of right or wrong.
In every sense, my life is not my own.
Before you nominate me for the worst-parent-of-the-year award, I want to assure you of one thing. I understand that this is how children are supposed to act. Children are not born with empathy and they should not be. Children are born with a need to survive and they do not have the ability to make that happen on their own. Children are supposed to be emotional. Children are supposed to disrupt my schedule. And for the first few years, they don’t have boundaries. They are still learning that they are separate from others. I understand that my children are acting as they should. I understand that my parents did not act as they should. The fact that there are far too many similarities has nothing to do with my children.
I also know that most parents feel as though their life is not their own. That feeling is common and understandable. They can’t do whatever they want. But there’s a difference. For most parents, those feelings don’t trigger a traumatic response. And trauma isn’t logical. When my children act like my parents, the triggers are there. I feel trapped. I feel scared. I feel confused. I am reacting to a stream of uneasy feelings that flows underneath the surface of my everyday activities, a feeling that I am not free, not in control, not owning my life.
Sometimes, during those guilt-ridden moments where I have yelled a little too loud or set boundaries inconsistently, I struggle to reconcile the past seven years. I wish that I could have embarked on my recovery journey before I had children. I wish I could have been a healthier parent the moment they were born. At the same time, I know that my children are responsible for my recovery. I would have found ways to escape the painful triggers if I was not a parent. I know this because I had always escaped them before my children were born. My intense recovery work would not have happened without the constant triggers of my childhood memories.
And so I work to transcend my traumatic reaction to the similarities of my past and present so that I can feel free to live my life and love my children. I work to take back that ownership of my life. I try to build the inner knowing that my life can only be owned by me. I try to remember that I am not back in my old life where I could not escape. I try to see the choices I have before me today. I try to sit in my own power to make my life, our life, what I have always wanted. And I hope it is enough to change my perspective. I hope it is enough to break the cycle. I hope it is enough to give my children a different relationship with the life around them. I hope it is enough.