Recently I read a self-appointed narcissism “expert” declare that adult children of narcissists (ACoNs) are doomed to repeat the family pattern and become narcissists themselves. With a bit of research, I learned that she was a serial enabling partner/spouse of narcissists, with bitter baggage.

I understand feeling injured by narcissists (massive understatement). But this person’s assertions were downright ignorant, and, more to the point, offensive.

Wounded Warriors

Those of us intimately familiar with the narcissist personality are part of an ambivalent club. We probably wouldn’t have chosen our membership, but it nevertheless defines and informs us in key ways, ways that are both painful and liberating.

The painful ways run the gamut, but they nearly always include being psychologically (and possibly physically) abused with rage, lies, projection, manipulation, blame, shame, scapegoating, gaslighting, and more. This trauma can last a lifetime, fundamentally affecting our mind-body health.

squirrels--mother kissing her caged baby through the barsBut for many ACoNs, our experience also leads to heightened empathy and resourcefulness. In reaction to the narcissist’s defining lack of care or concern for others, his children—particularly those scapegoated—are often exceptionally attuned, compassionate, independent, and capable. Perhaps we learn to be highly tuned to serve and survive his pathologically selfish demands and neglect. Perhaps we are scapegoated because we are innately more sensitive and therefore more threateningly aware of the narcissist’s vulnerabilities—his unmasked face. Or, perhaps, we become more empathetic because of the abuse we endure, coming to understand the dirt-level view of life.

The Narcissist as Deformed Empath

Some theorize that the narcissist begins life with an unusually sensitive nature and that early trauma deforms her into a narcissist. Put another way, the highly sensitive child who endures fundamental emotional damage flips compassionate empathy into abusive empathy—she comes to use her powerful ability to see and understand the feelings of others in the service of harm rather than kindness.

Whatever you believe about the formation of Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD), whether from early trauma and/or genetic predisposition, I spit in the eye of anyone who condemns the narcissist’s child to the same fate.

Breaking the Family Cycle

sign that says "wisdom and "perfectionism" crossed outAs a young person struggling to sort out the narcissistic abuses of my parents and stepparents, I found myself attracted and attractive to highly charismatic narcissists. Well trained, I was an expert at giving them the “supply” they needed, and in turn that made me feel smart, worthy, exceptional, even indispensable—beliefs about myself I had been denied as the family scapegoat.

Fortunately it did not take me long to break my addiction to narcissists, and I began to seek out healthy friendships and relationships. Even before there were readily available information resources about narcissism, I had begun the hard work of trying to understand the dysfunction in my family of origin. I found friends and lovers who either shared or intuitively understood my experience. It took years, even decades, but in time I developed a vocabulary for my family dynamics and, eventually, a community of likeminded souls.

Some of My Best Peeps Are Adult Children of Narcissistsadult children of narcissists: life is always better when we are together sign

Certainly being raised by narcissistic parents can engender the same traits, especially among so-called golden children. But many of the people in my life I cherish most were children in servitude to narcissist parents. They are the wisest, most caring and compassionate people I know. They are highly aware, empathetic, and righteously devoted to their own children, communities, and personal truths as they relate to institutions, politics, and society.

I love these people, I admire them, and I hope they know who they are to me.

For those of you struggling out of the grip of narcissist parents or partners, you are not alone, you are not destined to become them, and you are capable of healing, joyful freedom, and a higher purpose.

Related Articles by Julia L. Hall

Images courtesy of Anton Croosmarissa anderson, Richard Masoner, Creative Commons.