Instilling a root of toxic shame in children is something narcissistic parents do amazingly well. And they really have to if they wish their child to be compliant & easily manipulated. A person who is ashamed of everything about themselves is very easy to control, because they assume someone else always knows better than they do. When that someone else is a person in a position of authority like a parent & the victim is a young child who naturally looks to that parent for everything, it can be very easy for that parent to plant the seeds of toxic shame in that child.
On first glance, it may be somewhat hard to recognize exactly how a parent accomplishes this goal. That is why we’re talking about it today, to help you recognize how your narcissistic parent created this root of toxic shame in you.
Narcissistic parents primarily instill toxic shame in their children by destroying their child’s self confidence. This is done by telling the child they can’t do anything right, by doing things for the child & claiming it’s because that child can’t do tasks right, telling embarrassing stories about them that may or may not be true, exaggerating any faults the child has or once had, or reminding the child of the many times that parent rescued the child from his or her bad decisions even though those times may not have even happened. Such actions can destroy a child’s self confidence & leave them to think they are so incapable that they need their parent to take care of them, even as adults.
When a narcissistic parent says, “I was just joking,” you can count on that being a way to instill shame in their child. No, they weren’t just joking. They were deliberately saying something cruel to their child as a way to build that toxic shame. When the child showed hurt feelings, the parent said they were “just joking” as a way to make that child feel ashamed of being upset at the parent. If the parent can convince the child that he or she was just joking & the child was wrong to be upset, the child will tolerate the cruel words said in this instance & in the future. Sometimes the child in this situation will defend themselves to their parent. Their parent uses their normal reaction to prove to the child how unstable the child is. Narcissistic parents can use either reaction to create toxic shame in their child.
Blame shifting is another effective way to instill toxic shame in children. I remember when my mother would say the most unimaginably cruel things to me, usually screaming them at me when we were alone, & blame me for making her say those things. I felt terrible for making her behave so awfully. That is typical. Blame shifting enables narcissists to abuse their child without accountability. The child learns to tolerate abuse because they are to blame. If they would just act right, the parent wouldn’t be abusive. What the child fails to realize is nothing they could do would make that happen, so when their parent is abusive repeatedly, they accept that it is their fault, which results in feeling toxic shame.
Narcissistic parents who play the victim instill toxic shame in their children. Covert narcissistic parents in particular love the victim act, but overts aren’t above using it either. Narcissistic parents will infuriate their children then use their children’s reaction to prove to the child just how mean & horrible that child is to their parent. This naturally makes the child in this situation feel ashamed of themselves for being so terrible to their parent for no good reason.
Talking above or below the child’s level instills toxic shame. Talking above a child makes the child feel stupid for not understanding what their parent is talking about. Never mind that parent may not be as intelligent as the child & is talking in circles with confidence in their words to confuse the child. Talking down to a child by treating a child or adult child as if they are still very young makes the child feel as if their parent is superior to them.
If you have experienced these things from your narcissistic parent, hope is not lost. You can heal! It will take time & effort, but you can do it. You need to identify your parent’s shaming voice & what it tells you, then counteract that voice with the truth. Write things down if it helps you. If you struggle with this, asking God to help you can do wonders to shut down the shaming voice & help you to see the truth!