Many children of abusive parents grow up thinking there is no one as special as their other parent that they believe was not abusive. They claim he or she loved them unconditionally, and was a good man/woman. That parent never abused them, and was a great parent. It takes until adulthood for many to realize that Mom or Dad was not as wonderful as they believe.
Many spouses of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, allow their spouses to abuse their children. They may not stay in the room with their spouse and child while their spouse is in the midst of a full blown narcissistic rage, and their actions (or lack thereof) basically give their spouses permission to do as they want.
These parents conveniently spend long hours at work, volunteering, at church, in their garage or basement. They spend as little time as possible with their family. Or, they say there was nothing they could do to stop the abuse. They had no power.
They also can turn their child’s pain into their own. When their child comes to them with complaints about the other parent, this parent will say something like it’s so hard for him or her to watch Mom or Dad act this way.
These parents also feign helplessness as it is convenient for them. For example, if this parent’s child asks for help with the other parent’s abusive behavior, he or she says there is nothing he/she can do about it. They may give useless advice like, “Just stay out of Mom’s way.” “Just do what Dad says, and don’t talk back to him.”
They also frequently feign ignorance, claiming they had no idea things were so bad, because they did not see or know about the worst of the abuse.
Some parents are under their partner’s spell, not seeing that person’s flaws, making excuses for them or simply pretending they do not see them. They tell their children things like, “You need to be patient with your mom/dad. She/he has a lot on his/her mind.”
There are also parents who simply do not hear their child’s cries for help. They are narcissists themselves, and if it does not affect them, they do not care.
Many parents in this type of situation have been the victim of their spouse’s narcissistic rages. They have learned to avoid that rage, it is best to agree with their spouse, and to let that person do whatever he/she wants, even if that means hurting the child. Some of these people even turn attention onto the child if that means that rage will not be directed at them. My father did this. He lied to me about things my mother said or did, and to her about things I said or did.
Many of these parents draw their children into an emotionally incestuous relationship. This means they treat their children more as partners than children. They confide in their children about their marital problems, complaining about how mean their spouses are to them, often expecting the children to fix things for him. This behavior serves two purposes – it draws the child into a close relationship with the parent which fills the gap left by the overtly abusive spouse, and it gives the parent someone who is on his or her side. Many folks married to someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder do not like to discuss the problems with their friends or relatives. They do not want someone to tell them they need to take a stand – they simply want someone to listen to their woes and pity them.
This type of behavior is common with what is known as covert narcissism. Covert narcissists, especially in comparison to their overtly narcissistic partners, come across as gentle, simple or naive. However, the truth is that they are as bad as their overtly narcissistic counterparts – they are just quieter about their abuse. They are as self-centered, entitled and uncaring as an overt narcissist, but instead of using rage and screaming to accomplish their goals, they use guilt, or feigned innocence and helplessness.
It can be very difficult when you realize your parent has done these things, and that in his own way, he or she was just as abusive as your narcissistic mother or father. However, for the sake of your mental health, you need to accept this fact, and grieve for the loss of the parent you thought you had. This helps you to accept your parent as he or she is, not as you thought he or she was, to forgive your parent, and to decide if you want to continue having a relationship with him or her. And, if you decide to continue your relationship with your parent, you will need to learn some new ways to deal with this behavior. Learning healthy boundaries is a great way to start. I have written a free online class that may help you in this area. You can find more information at this link: Boundaries Book Study
On the road to healing, I personally found my relationship with God to be my greatest help. He helped me more than I can say. Prayer and meditating on His word, the Bible, helped so much. Learning who the Bible says I am as a child of God is not only inspiring and comforting, but helpful in the healing process. If you do not have a personal relationship with God, please read the page Salvation Through Jesus Christ for more information.