How to Prevent Your Kids From Becoming Narcissists

Originally Recorded 1/21/22

Tony reads listener emails including one that asks questions about how to avoid passing along narcissistic trauma to your children and he reads an amazing poem submitted by a listener that beautifully describes the process of awakening to the narcissistic traits and tendencies of a partner. He also discusses how avoidant and anxious attachment styles often come from emotionally unavailable/immature parents. He refers to the article “Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners” by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/202008/attachment-woes-between-anxious-and-avoidant-partners

With the continuing “sheltering” rules spreading across the country, PLEASE do not think you can’t continue or begin therapy now. http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch, you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your mental health a priority, http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.

You can learn more about Tony’s pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the “uh’s” and “um’s” that, in his words, “must be created by wizards and magic!” because it’s that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=v95myQ

—————————————————–TRANSCIPT—————————————

[00:00:07] Hey, everybody, welcome to episode 20 of Waking Up the Narcissism, I’m your host, Tony Overbay. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the Virtual Couch podcast, and today we’re going to dove right in. I still want all of your emails, your letters, your examples, your questions. And if you are interested in joining my private women’s Facebook group, then please reach out as well through the contact form on Tony over. But I want to start with an email and this is a just a beautiful email, and the person shares a poem at the end of the email that I just cannot wait to get to now. The poem is difficult, but it is so beautifully written and I posted it in the group and the comments. The response has just been overwhelming on how well this woman touches on the whole narcissistic experience. But so I want to read you the email and we’ll keep some of the more identifying parts out. But the the email goes, Hey there, Tony, I’ve spent the last few weeks listening and listening to your podcast on waking up the narcissism and the virtual couch. I learned of your podcast from Suzanne Walters Facebook page and those of you who listen. Last week we interviewed Suzanne Falter, the first guest talking about her experience and in a narcissistic, trauma bonded relationship. But the person who wrote the email said I became aware of the term narcissism or narcissists at the beginning of December after spending rough summer, a rough summer battling depression that I believed was depression, where I was just allowing myself to flow with after my husband had mentioned that I was just being a dead fish, going with the flow and not trying to fight it.

[00:01:41] My sister, who had been going to therapy, opened my eyes to the term narcissism and then down I went into the rabbit hole and then the years that this person has been married, she said. It’s been such an emotional up and down. Walking on eggshells like way of life, they have children together and her family lives far away, so she feels a little bit of this isolation. She said she’s excused his temper and explosive moments on his back pain, his headaches, his rough days at work that he commonly complains of and too long. She said I have excused this as quote normal relationship problems as I’ve opened up to a couple of people early in my marriage, or at least fed bits and pieces to of what I felt and how he acted, and I was told to stick it out. Deal with it, that he’s trying. This is normal marriage scuffles. But once I looked into narcissism, my whole world felt like it literally flipped upside down. She and I really can appreciate this quote, she said. I feel like my life is a junk drawer that has been dumped out on a trampoline. Everything I thought I knew was a mess and how much of a dependent I was on him and my father before, and that just blew my mind.

[00:02:44] I struggle greatly with always desiring to find emotional support outside of my marriage. I wanted to be the dedicated wife, only to discuss my mind with my husband that when I couldn’t and I eventually blurted my heart out to a good friend of the mess that was in my head, I would feel like I committed such a sin against my marriage. But now I understand it was because I did not receive emotional support in my marriage and I craved it so badly. She said I’m now making time to relearn who I am and taking care of me so that I can take care of my children better because they do not deserve a mom that walks on eggshells all the time and is constantly working on autopilot. She said I realize this now because I went so numb last summer and my children suffered and particularly one of her middle sons, who she said is very emotional and she now understands has been the scapegoat for her husband’s. And she even says at times, maybe her own narcissistic words and ways. She said that she realized that in excusing and dismissing my husband’s behavior for so long, I began dismissing my own tendencies in ways just to keep the peace with my marriage. She said the sun is bright and a loving child that feels big, and my husband struggles with dealing with his emotions, so he often blows up and says very hurtful things to my son.

[00:03:52] I’ve been blamed for turning our kids into babies because I often try to sit with them to work through their emotions or hold them when they’re falling apart. So she said that she has years of stories and examples, but she said that’s not the main reason she sent the message, although it finally feels good to let this all out. And I want you to know I could go through and break down this email of how we are designed to process emotion with another human being. And that is one of the reasons why we marry because we want this person, this safe place to process things that we’ve been through because all of us have been through things. And if we do not have an outlet to be able to say, Hey, let me share this with you, and this is what my experience was and have someone that is safe to say, tell me more or tell me what that’s like. Or here’s what my experience was, and let’s compare notes and let’s because it feels so wonderful and amazing to be heard and to be understood and seen. And so that is OK. That is what we get into relationships because we do. We want this connection. We want people, we want to try and we’re not getting into relationships so that we can be told that we are ridiculous or that our thoughts or feelings do not matter because all that is is control.

[00:04:59] And I so often say you can have love or control in a relationship, not both. And so the love is empathy. Compassion. Understanding, tell me more curiosity, the control is, you know, what you’re doing to me. Do you know what that feels like to me, the emotional immaturity that comes with that, that desire for control in a relationship is it can be overwhelming. It can be engulfing. But anyway, let me get back to the email. She said I mostly wanted to share a poem with you, and I give you permission to share it on your podcast if you feel like it is the right place for it. She said I wrote this a couple of months before I even knew what the word narcissism or narcissists even were or meant way before I delved into this rabbit hole of world crumbling knowledge. I have now learning that I am not. The only one has really helped me feel more secure and working with and or through this part of my life. So she said, I share this hoping that like a song, it might resonate with someone and help them feel more heard that they are not alone and what they feel is real. She said Thank you for the podcast. They’ve been a wonderful help and understanding. She says her own narcissistic traits, tendencies and working with her marriage. So she said, here’s to the poem and I even appreciate this.

[00:06:05] She said that I took so long to get to my apologies. No need to apologize that really, if you are the person in your relationship that is continually saying, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, then I worry about the health of the relationship because we should just be able to express, Hey, here’s that poem. So bless her heart. I really appreciate that. So much. So here’s the poem. I’ll try to read this with a little bit of rhythm, because it’s just so beautifully written and even the lines, the way it’s written, the way things are broken up just flows so well, she says betrayal to him or a step forward for myself. I don’t know how to feel. Don’t know what is right or wrong. I express my thoughts to him and it gets retorted back as a warped reality inside my head. The feeling of loneliness, the pain in my soul, being afraid of his actions. Is it all just the disaster that is boiling inside me that I have only just imagined that I make up that hole in the door that I saw from a few days ago? Or is that always been there? I cover it up to make it go away. Painted over and life goes on. I get hugs and kisses and intimacy, but usually only after an explosion has occurred. Hearts were torn and verbal knives thrown the next morning sunrises. A new day has begun. I’m still bleeding and he’s off dancing, moving on as if the explosion never happened.

[00:07:19] I bandaged my heart as best as I can and move on. Just another day to try again, I tell myself over and over and over again. I have finally broken, though, and opened up about this battle. But now I feel as if I have betrayed myself, my marriage and the man I thought would always be there for me. Things get broken, then get fixed or replaced and life goes on. And I fear the day that someone gets caught in his crossfire. But I also hate myself for just hoping for that day to give me a true, visible reason to start over again, to try again, to fix me. But I fight again in my mind, am I just making all that up again? Am I just being too emotional again? Stop. And she throws the asterix in their f crying. His words echo in my head when I want to crumble. Or did I imagine him say that too? I am the fodder for his emotional battle, but I should be there to help him through it. To help him get better, to stand with him as he struggles to put my differences aside and be his rock when he is slipping. But I am only given sand that only slips away when I am trying to even stand on my own two feet. I feel like I’m giving up by expressing his struggles, our struggles, my struggles to someone outside our private lives.

[00:08:31] There is always calm after a storm. So is it really fair to curse the storm after it leaves? The explosion happens, then he is kind and sweet the next day. Hugs, kisses, kindness, kind words and apologies. I’ve learned not to trust these anymore and just lay waiting for the next explosion for next broken door to fix or child’s tears to wipe away because they felt the explosion to all while I hold my own tears back. I’ve tried to talk to him, but he gets angry. He twists my words, making it my fault, making it sound like it’s all in my head. And maybe it is. Or maybe I’m just starting to believe those twisted words. I don’t even know what to feel or think or be anymore. And she just says best regards and thank you so very much. What a beautiful but just tragic, hard, difficult poem that captures what that relationship is like with the narcissist or with the emotionally mature, immature individual with the emotionally immature person, because no one should have to continually question their own sanity, their own reality, and try to just hope that tomorrow brings something better and that better. And we talked about this even on the group call last night that when people say that, how do you deal with the ups and downs that happens so frequently in this emotionally abusive or narcissistic relationship? And I jumped on the call and said, I worry that when we’re even talking about the ups and the downs that a lot of times the ups are just the absence of bad, that the ups are not a real opportunity to connect, that the ups that are in a healthy relationship or a marriage that is full of growth and energy and hope is one where the couple is constantly trying to learn about themselves so that they can show up without needing that external validation.

[00:10:23] They can show up interdependent and confident and internally validated and radiant, and then they can share experiences with curiosity of what each other is going through or what each other thinks about a situation. And all of a sudden, now we’re looking at edification, you know where one plus one is three. Ok, I can go on, but let’s let’s move on to the next part of today’s episode. It starts with another email, and this is going to get us into one of the questions that I have received a lot in the last few weeks. I gave a little bit of a preview or a sneak peek of what my four pillars of a connected conversation are. And there is there have been a lot of questions about how does that work in a relationship with the narcissist? Is it even worth the effort to try to have these conversations and those are such good questions? And so I got an email that is a little bit different, but I feel like it’s going to it’s going to Segway into what I would like to talk more about today.

[00:11:16] This person says, Hi Tony, I’m currently at episode four of You’re Waking Up the Narcissism podcast. I can’t begin to describe how soothing and healing it feels to listen and finally feel seen and understood. Every time you say, I see you, I appreciate you. She said. My heart jumps a bit just because it feels so good. I don’t know if I’ve ever been seen or heard or truly understood before, but she said she’s here because she thinks she has narcissistic parents. She said she still doesn’t have the courage or confidence to just write, I have narcissistic parents. I’m 100 percent sure of that. And she said that’s her biggest struggle right now. She said, I think I gaslight myself big time and I don’t know what to do about that. And that’s what we’re going to talk about here in just a second. But let me read the rest of this. She said I always thought I had a normal childhood regular parents, and I would still like to think that. But now I know that’s just not the case, for example. She said her mother was this egocentric and self-absorbed person, always so passive aggressive, lacking empathy. She said some of our fights were so bad that she literally kicked me out of the house a couple of times as a teenager, even in her adult life. The reason for that was simply that she was so tired of taking the verbal abuse and putting up with her crap.

[00:12:14] So she said I didn’t let her have her way that those were very rare occasions. She said I usually gave in or I was passive aggressive myself, and she was not proud of that fact. She said that her father was entitled. He was manipulative, authoritative and condescending and could be very mean and also lacked empathy. And after all these years, they are still the same, just older. And so, she said, you can see why. I think that they are both narcissists and it does seem so obvious. But here’s what I think is fascinating, she said. And yet my brain is constantly battling me that I am just overreacting, that I’m making a big deal out of nothing, that we did have some good times and moments, she said. I’m not going to lie. And at the end of the day, they must be good people who also had a lot of childhood trauma, just like I did, and that’s why they are the way they are. But she said the sad reality is I have a child now myself, and I don’t want to pass my generational trauma onto her, and my parents simply didn’t care about me. So having childhood trauma and unhealed wounds is not an excuse to go and be a horrible person to other people, let alone your own children. And I love she punctuated that with a capital word period.

[00:13:15] So then she says, Now all I need to do is let that one sink in. Believe in it and stop gaslighting myself. Easy, right? What a journey that is ahead. I want to say that as a hopeful thing, but now you are on the you are aware and we’ve talked about that in previous episodes. There is this this you’re on the way to enlightenment. You are on your way to change just by having this awareness. And so here’s where I wanted to go with this example. I did a podcast a couple of weeks ago over on the virtual couch that was about the the dance of the avoidant and the anxious attachment, and that is a whole fascinating thing. So if you’re curious at all, I would recommend you go check that one out. I find that most relationships fall into this. One person has more of this anxious attachment where they are almost constantly checking in. Are we good? Are you OK? Did I do anything wrong? What can I do? You aren’t jumping up and down. You aren’t singing my praises. And then there’s one that is typically in. To avoid an attachment where they almost feel just overwhelmed or just engulfed with the emotions of the anxious attachment, and so they tend to withdraw, and then the more that the anxiously attached says, Hey, why aren’t you there for me? Why aren’t you doing everything I need you to do for me to make me feel better? The more that the avoidant attachment withdraws, but you can go look at that podcast for more.

[00:14:34] But the point that I want to make is I was referencing an article from Psychology Today, and I’ll link it in the show notes for this episode here. But it was talking about it’s by Darlene Lancer. She’s an attorney and an llmt, and she on the Psychology Today website, she writes often about toxic relationships. And so it’s she’s talking about attachment woes between anxious and avoidant partners. And there is a part that I think is so interesting. So let me read this and I think you’ll see where I’m going when we’re so worried about not wanting to have this negative impact on the kids, because maybe we realize that our own anxious attachment is because we had this emotionally unavailable or narcissistic parent. So then when we were trying or seek validation, which all kids do because we’re trying to find our sense of self or our purpose, and when we’re reaching out to that narcissistic parent and they now we know that there was just no consistency that if they were feeling good, then all of a sudden we were OK. And if they were feeling bad, then they may want to verbally, emotionally, sometimes physically take that out on the kid, on the spouse because they don’t know how to regulate their own emotions. They don’t know how to find internal validation. They are wanting. They don’t feel good about themselves, so they want someone else to make them feel better.

[00:15:47] And unfortunately, that doesn’t mean, Hey, let’s go to a movie. It can mean, let me put you down, because then that makes me feel better, because that’s the emotionally immature way to show up in a relationship. So in this article, the Darlene Lancer points out she’s talking about attachment theory, and she said attachment theory is determined that the pursuer has an anxious attachment style and that the emotionally unavailable partner has an avoidance style. And she says that research suggests that these styles and intimacy problems originate in the relationship between the mother and the infant. And I don’t want all the mothers to just feel like, Oh my gosh, this is all me. This is just, we want to look at this with some curiosity and know that again, there’s a lot of variables here, so your mileage may vary something that has to do in the relationship with the father or but Darlene saying that most research suggests that then babies and toddlers are dependent on the mother’s empathy and regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense their selves to feel whole. And we talked about this from an attachment style. They need to even know that they don’t even know that they are entities until they have an interaction. That’s the way that we work when we come from the factory. That’s what that’s why babies express themselves, get their needs met because they need to sense their selves in order to know they even exist.

[00:16:58] So she says that to an infant or a toddler, physical or emotional abandonment, whether through neglect, illness, divorce or death, threatens its existence because its dependency on the mother for validation and development of wholeness. So later, as an adult, being separated and intimate relationships is experienced as a painful reminder of that earlier loss. So then when someone becomes avoidant, this avoidant attached and this is what’s interesting. And I again, I will just overuse this phrase of please look at this with curiosity that if you are the one that is is trying to make sense of your life and what you do from here, if you find yourself going to this place of shame or starting to beat yourself up, give yourself some grace and just take a look at we want to take a look at the big picture right now. We just want to get some data in here and see what we do with it. My point being that if you are thinking, Oh, I am the one now, I am the mother and now I am emotionally abandoning my child because of this narcissistic gaslighting or this narcissistic abuse, even if that’s the case, we just want to say, OK, check this out now that we’re aware what can we do about it? But oftentimes in these narcissistic relationship, the narcissists can also be the avoidant. They can withdraw because they go into this victim mentality because they want you to come rescue them, or the narcissist can be the anxiously attached partner who is just emotionally overwhelming and engulfing to the avoidant detached partner because the narcissist can never get their needs met because they don’t have a real sense of self.

[00:18:23] So back to the article if the mother is ill, depressed or lacks wholeness and self-esteem, and that lacking wholeness and self-esteem can come as the result of that narcissistic manipulation or abuse, then there are often no boundaries between her and the child. So rather than responding to her child, she projects and sees her child only as an extension of herself or as an object to meet her own needs and feelings so she can’t value her child as a separate self. A darling goes on to say that the child’s boundaries are violated and its autonomy, feelings, thoughts and our body are disrespected, and consequently, the child does not develop a healthy sense of self. So instead, he or she discovers that love and approval come with meeting the mother’s needs and tunes into the mother’s responses and expectations. So this also leads to shame and codependency. And then the child learns the. We use or perform or rebel. But in in either case gradually tunes out its own thoughts, needs and feelings. So I don’t know if some of the stars maybe aligned a little bit there with the end, where if you were raised by a more emotionally unavailable parent, then if you learned to please perform or rebel in order to get your needs met or in order to just even be recognized, then you gradually tune out your own thoughts, needs and feelings.

[00:19:38] And then I feel like what? This article is not necessarily addressing directly. But now let’s enter into a relationship, because if you go back and listen to the episode on the virtual couch about anxious and avoid an attachment, I talk about how it was years into my practice seeing hundreds of couples where I felt like most couples almost evolve into this anxious and avoidant pattern, even if that isn’t the way that they show up in other relationships. So my wife, for example, talked about finding herself being the avoidant attached partner, and I was the anxiously attached partner. But then she noticed that she was had more of an anxious attachment to our kids that if they weren’t jumping up and down and saying that everything was amazing, she felt like, Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with me? Do they not like me? What do I need to do different? But that wasn’t the dynamic in the marriage, so I think that is just so interesting. So going back on to this article that. If they tune out their own thoughts, needs and feelings, then she said that later intimacy may threaten the adult sense of autonomy or identity, or he or she may feel invaded or engulfed or controlled or shamed or rejected, so a person may feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs aren’t being responded to.

[00:20:46] But then, at the same time, engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. So in codependent relationships where there aren’t and this is the key where there aren’t two separate whole people coming together. True intimacy isn’t possible because the fears of nonexistence and dissolution are so strong. So what am I talking about? Often is that every couple, if they start off, which most do because we’re emotionally immature, we start off as codependent and enmeshed. And then as we go about life, we have our own life experiences than a lot of the things that really we start to discover, the things that really matter to us, and we start to take on our own thoughts, opinions, new values. But then as we express them to our spouse in an emotionally mature or healthy relationship, then that spouse doesn’t take that as criticism, and then they go to great lengths to defend their fragile egos. Instead, we’re going to look at this with curiosity. Tell me more, because we are absolutely two different people that are showing up into a relationship, not knowing what we don’t know. So then the emotional maturity comes in when we can start to recognize that we need to be two separate whole people coming together or else there isn’t real intimacy, there isn’t that polarity, there isn’t that true connection. We’re just trying to still continue to figure out who do I need to be so that the other person won’t get mad at me, and that is not a way to really thrive or to live.

[00:22:07] So that leads us back to this concept of what do we do in order to be the best version of ourselves in our parenting or so that we don’t the phrase I feel like I often get it, so I don’t pass this same type of situation onto my kids. And that’s where self-care self-care is not selfish. My number one rule in those five rules of dealing with people with narcissistic traits, tendencies or even full-blown personality disorder is raise your emotional baseline. Self-care is not selfish. You must find yourself in order to be the very best version of yourself so you can show up and be the best mom or the best dad or the best, whatever it is, the best fill in the blank and that is emotional maturity. That is growth. It is absolutely necessary, healthy and mature to find yourself to find your passions, your hobbies and to do so so that you will be in a better position to show up and just be be the best version of yourself. Not finding yourself, trying to be the best version I can be so that the other person won’t get mad or so that the other person will like me. If you are showing up and discovering yourself and trying to be the best version of yourself and your partner, your spouse then sees that as criticism or they try to knock you down.

[00:23:18] Or they take that as something is wrong with you, then that is the time to really look for some help. And that’s where go reach out to a therapist, a counselor, join a support group, or even if you’re just starting to listen to podcasts and you’re going to start reading articles and books, it is all a process. It really is, and there are people that are so for further along the process. I posted the group call to to this private Facebook group this morning, and it was interesting someone had commented in the group and it broke my heart. But they talked about how the call last night was pretty intense and because a lot of the things we were talking about just hit the right notes or push the right buttons. And so this person just had a lot to process, and I really felt so bad because I know even on this podcast, I could talk about this stuff for days, and I’m so grateful to be able to have a platform to talk about it. And I’m grateful for the response of every one of you that emails and listens and downloads and and shares. But I understand that everyone is going through this at a different pace or place that for some, you’re dealing with your narcissistic relationship with the person that is sharing the bed with you and your cortisol level is high and your fight or flight is just ready at a moment’s notice.

[00:24:23] And we talked about those episodes earlier on where there’s actual data that shows your short term memory. Your hippocampus is starting to say, I’m not needed, I will shrink now. And your amygdala, your fight or flight part of your brain is saying, I will ramp up then. And so there is so much going on here that just give yourself grace and just right where you are, you are right where you need to be, and you’re going to be working at the pace you need to work with. But it is absolutely necessary to find yourself to to practice self-care. It is absolutely OK to be able to reach out and connect to other people because you were put on this Earth to be the best version of yourself to let your light so shine that others around you will also feel empowered. There’s the Marianne Williamson poem that I am literally going to pause this episode so I can dig it up on my computer and read it. Because if I have not done so on this episode in this podcast and it’s already been 20 episodes, then I am doing something wrong. But let me read this and we’ll close this up. It is entitled Our Deepest Fear, and I feel like every time I read this, it can take on a different meaning. And I mean that because of the concept of. Context, so if we are looking at this from a how dare someone hold me down, so when I work with a lot of people on their own personal struggles, their anxiety, their depression, their feelings of less than or lack of self-worth, then we’re talking about, we’re going to find your values, we’re going to we’re going to help you differentiate from all those around you or telling you what you should think, feel and do.

[00:25:46] And we’re going to just raise your baseline so you can be the best version of yourself. And when we talk about this in the context of a narcissistic, abusive relationship, it can even be more heartbreaking because again, I’m just how dramatic. But how dare somebody put you down so that they will feel good? So let’s end with this. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode today. Feel free to do the review and stars and likes and all those things. I’m so grateful for it. Spread the episode around, and if you happen to be looking for a therapist. Feel free to go to Betterhelp.com virtual couch. You’ll get 10 percent off your first month’s services and it gets maybe a little bit helps me pay for some of the production costs, so I want to be totally upfront and honest about that. But let’s end with this our deepest fear. By Marianne Williamson. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fears that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

[00:26:34] We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant? Gorgeous, talented, fabulous. Actually? Who are you not to be? You are a child of God and you’re playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that’s within us. It’s not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same as we’re liberated from our own fear. Our presence automatically liberates others. So every one of you that is still listening, you are on that road to letting your light shine. And by doing so, you are going to unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. And as you are liberated from your own fear, that presence liberates others because you are absolutely meant to shine. We are born to make manifest the glory that is within all of us. And again, not just in some of you, not just in the people that are not in these emotionally abusive or manipulative. It is there for everyone, and it is my hope that you will be able to continue on this path. Find yourself and man, I could just keep going on. Hey, thanks for joining me. Have an amazing week. We’ll see you next next week on the.

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