Tag Archives: parentalizing
Narcissistic parents often expect their children to care for them rather than the normal course of events where parents care for their children. They expect their children to meet their emotional needs, listen to their woes, make them happy when they are sad, fix their problems & more. This is called parentification, parentalizing, emotional incest or covert incest. (For simplicity sake, we’ll use parentification in this article.)
While parentification may not sound all that bad, its effect on children can be devastating. Children feel responsible for their parents, which burdens them with the false belief they are responsible for everyone in their circle as adults. That type of responsibility is incredibly stressful, no matter a person’s age, & as everyone knows, stress can cause a plethora of physical ailments.
It also robs children of their childhood. Parentified children aren’t allowed to hang out with their friends. They have their parents to take care of instead. Basically these children are living an adult life in their childhood.
Parentified children also are depressed. They often feel like failures for not being able to fix their parents’ problems, & narcissistic parents only make this feeling worse by blaming their children for not being able to accomplish the impossible.
These children often carry a great deal of anger inside, too, yet are unable to express it. To be angry at their parents feels so wrong since their parents have made it their job to protect these parents. Since expressing that anger is wrong, as far as the children are concerned, the anger gets stuffed inside & often manifests in very unhealthy ways. It can come out as self destructive ways (such as addictions) or other destructive ways (becoming abusive towards other people).
Parentified children have a right to be angry. They have been subjected to an incredibly cruel & insidious form of abuse by their own parents. And, to make matters worse, unknowing people compound their pain. They tell the children how lucky they are to have such a close relationship with their mother or father. Some people compound the guilt & responsibility on their child by saying things like, “I don’t know what your mom would do without you.” “You have to be strong for your dad- he needs you.” These kinds of things only make a child feel ashamed for having any complaints about the relationship, extra responsible for the parent they shouldn’t be responsible for in the first place & angry that they have been forced into this position.
If this describes you, you are NOT alone! Many people have been the victims of parentification, in particular children of narcissistic parents. I’ve been through it myself & sympathize with your pain. My parents came to me ever since i can remember with complaints about each other & even wanting me to fix their disagreements. I still have moments when I think of it that I get angry. And you know something? It’s ok! Being abused in any way, shape or form isn’t right. It’s ok to be angry about the unfairness of abuse & being forced to live with the painful effects, such as PTSD or C-PTSD.
The best way I’ve learned to cope is to go to God, & tell Him about what I feel. He truly understands & gives me a lot of comfort. I also have friends who have been through the same thing & understand. Sometimes one of the most helpful things for me is when they get angry over something I went through. That can be so validating! What my parents did wasn’t right, but, as a typical child of narcissists, I’ve always felt guilt for being angry with them. Although it’s diminished a great deal, it’s still there a little. Someone else getting angry about what my parents did helps me to understand that it’s ok to be angry about what they did & to realize just how wrong it was.
If you’re still in a relationship with your parent who indulges in parentification, you are not in a good place. Until such time as you decide to end this relationship, if you decide to take that step, you will need to learn ways to cope. Narcissists don’t accept boundaries like normal people, so you will need to get creative. Whatever you do, do NOT tell your parent, “It hurts me when you talk about/do that. Please don’t do it anymore.” Statements like that are like throwing gas on a narcissist fire. They will mock you for being oversensitive or do the behavior more often just to hurt you.
Instead, try changing the subject. Since narcissists love to talk about themselves, you can use that to your advantage. Ask your narcissistic parent something about herself. How is her job going? How did her last doctor visit go? Has she talked to her favorite cousin lately? It’s really not that hard to get a narcissist to talk about themselves. Why not use it in your favor?
Suddenly have to go. You just looked at the time & you have to go. You don’t owe any explanations- you just have to go.
Ask if your parent has talked to someone else who has been through something similar about this situation. After all, that person knows a lot more than you do & no doubt can help your parent more than you can! Let them think that you’re only suggesting this because it helps them in some way, not you.
Whatever your situation with parentification, I truly wish you the best. I pray you find effective ways to cope with your parent or are able to release any false guilt you may feel for no longer being in that situation.
Growing up with at least one narcissistic parents almost always means there was an emotionally incestuous or parentalizing relationship between the narcissistic parent & her child. Since narcissists are so self-absorbed, they often have children to take care of them or to fill some need in their life. This is where emotional incest, aka parentalizing, comes into play.
Parentalizing, parentification, covert incest & emotional incest all describe the same thing. (To simply, we’ll use “parentalizing” in this post.) It is when a parent & child’s roles are reversed, when the parent makes the child responsible for her emotional well being. A parent who talks to a child about adult matters such as her sex life or failing marriage is indulging in parentalizing. Although this behavior may not sound so bad, it is devastating to a child. Her feelings & issues can be made worse when people tell her how lucky her parent is to have her to count on or other misguided comments such as, “She needs you!” “You have to be strong for her!” “I don’t know what she’d do without you!” On the outside, this parentalized relationship may appear loving & good. The parent & child are close- what a wonderful thing! When people see the relationship, they encourage it or make those misguided comments, often without realizing the harm this is doing to the child.
Children who have survived a parentalizing relationship with their parent or parents often grow up full of guilt, angry, depressed, possess poor relationship skills, are in co-dependent relationships, have a very overdeveloped sense of responsibility (feeling responsible for everyone in their life) or have addictions. Another side effect you rarely see mentioned though is the feeling of needing to be invisible, to blend into the background.
Parentalizing parents seem to take up all the space in the relationship with their child. Be they overt or covert narcissists, they share one common thing- the fact that they come first in that relationship, period. Through fear or guilt, they give their child the message that they are more important, & their child isn’t important at all. Children often internalize the message, & as a result feel they must stay invisible so as not to disturb their narcissistic parent. Never upset that parent! Either comply with anything & everything the parent wants or stay strong for her.. All of these ideas are to please the narcissistic parent & avoid the rage that comes from not pleasing her. These thoughts even continue into adult relationships, such as “If I’m good enough to him & give him what he wants, he’ll stop hitting me.”
Parentalizing parents also communicate the message that they aren’t able to handle things, they are weak, & need the child to clean up their mess. This message tells the child that her needs are just too much. Just existing is a burden to the parent. Her needs aren’t important, including the need for validation. In fact, often the only validation the child gets is when she is her parent’s “savior” by fixing her parent’s problem. If she dares to express any need, chances are good it will be met with anger, even rage, so the child learns to fade into the background until she is needed.
Feeling invisible, I think, is rooted in shame. We are ashamed of having needs, wants, feelings because we were made to feel ashamed of them. Our parentalizing parent also gave us the message that we aren’t important. Both of these things, I believe, work together to create a root of toxic shame. Toxic shame can cause you to feel so ashamed of who you are, that you don’t feel worthy of anything. You assume people won’t want to help you or even talk to you. Simple things most people don’t think twice about can be a challenge for you, such as leaving your home. You may feel so ashamed of who you are that you don’t think you should bother people with your presence. Even expecting help from salespeople, service people, or staff in a hospital may seem impossible because of that deep root of shame. It’s surprising just how deep shame can go.
So what do you do to get rid of toxic shame?
First, pray. Ask God to help you to heal. Obey any instructions He gives you.
Next, push yourself outside of your comfort zone sometimes. The more you see you can do things successfully, the more confident you will become & the less hold shame will have on you. Sharing things with trustworthy people, you will see that other people actually do care about you which helps as well.
Also, question the shaming beliefs when they come up. Why do you feel so ashamed of yourself for wanting something? Why do you feel to blame for a situation where you had no control? Things like this. Ask God for the answers if you don’t know them. And, ask Him to help you to release those beliefs.
I have learned these things help a great deal. I have slipped up, unfortunately, & when I have stopped doing these three things, I fell right back into old, dysfunctional & miserable patterns. For them to work, you have to keep doing them, even when it gets uncomfortable. Remind yourself of these things often. You’ll be glad you did!
Toxic shame is often caused by abusive, parentalizing parents. They ignore their child’s needs, feelings & wants to make their child believe she is only alive to take care of her parents’ emotional needs or provide that precious narcissistic supply. She believes she has no right to wants, needs or emotions, & because she does have them, she often grows up with toxic shame that affects all areas of her life.
However, this is not the only way a person can have a root of toxic shame. One way is when a dysfunctional person puts their shame on you.
This happens by projection. Projection is when someone knows they are a certain way, yet blame you for being exactly that way while denying they are that way. Narcissists are notorious projectionists. They love to put their insecurities & flaws onto others, so they can get angry about them without accepting any personal responsibility. As an example, one of my sisters in-law once told my husband I look down on their family. She screamed at my husband about that during a phone call one day in I think it was 2002. He was baffled as was I, since the thought of being better than them never occurred to me. In fact, my husband & I agreed that it was the other way around- they look down on me. That is projection.
Shame can be projected as well. Narcissists are full of shame. (Although they act extremely confident, it is just a show. They are extremely insecure inside, which is why they act so confident. They are trying to convince themselves & other people that they are as good, talented, beautiful, etc. as they claim to be.) Projection is among their favorite coping skills. To deal with this shame they feel, they will do their best to put it on their victim, so they don’t have to deal with it.
My mother did this a great deal. When her abuse was at its peak when I was 17-19, she would scream at me, & tell me I made her act that way. If I would just act right, she wouldn’t have to practice “tough love” on me. All my life, if I was angry or even simply frustrated, she would accuse me of having “that Bailey temper” & shame me for having such a bad temper when the truth is she was the one with the wicked temper, not me. Sometimes to this day, she still tries to shame me, even things beyond my control, such as if I get sick or injured.
Actions like that were her trying to put the shame she felt inside on me.
Can you relate, Dear Reader? Did you experience your narcissistic mother trying to make you carry her shame?
If so, refuse to carry her shame any longer! It’s not your place to carry her shame, to feel ashamed because of things that were beyond your control.
Make a decision that you will NOT carry her shame a moment longer. If it helps, imagine taking a sack of some sort to your mother & laying it at her feet then walking away. Sometimes visuals like that can help.
Ask God to show you ways you’re carrying her shame & how to stop it. With me, I noticed that when I discussed things with my mother, I always phrased things from my perspective. “I felt she was abusive when she…” “I got thrown into a wall by my mother.” God showed me that I was carrying the blame & all of the responsibility for her actions, including her shame when it all belonged squarely on her shoulders.
I hope this helps you to be free of carrying around that toxic shame that isn’t yours to carry! You deserve so much better than that!
Boundaries are a very necessary part of life. Having them means you are free of the need to please others or take care of things that should be another person’s problem. They are especially helpful for those of us raised by narcissistic parents since we grew up with very vague or even non-existent boundaries.
Even after you’ve learned about having healthy boundaries, & put what you learned into practice, sometimes it can be hard to maintain those boundaries though, especially with narcissistic parents.
I spoke to my mother yesterday. She mentioned how she & my father rearranged the living room furniture. Knowing her, this means she told him what to move & where to put it. And, knowing him, this means he blindly obeyed her. Normally, I figure if he’s willing to obey her & not stand up for himself, that’s his problem. However, this time it bothers me. He is now 77 years old, & had back surgery just before last Christmas. he should NOT be doing things like this!! But, this isn’t a first. Part of the reason he needed the back surgery in the first place was lifting something very heavy he shouldn’t have been lifting, only because my mother wanted it moved. Why they didn’t ask my husband or I for help, I don’t know…
Times like this can be very difficult for the adult child of narcissistic parents. Old habits tend to want to kick in & you want to fix things or take care of the parent that is being pushed around. However, this is NOT a good idea at all. Fixing things simply enables the dysfunction to go on while drawing you into the middle of it. Chances are it will go on no matter what, so why put yourself in the situation?
I know it’s hard, but remember- it is that parent’s choice to do what he/she is told to do or not. That parent is most likely trying to avoid a narcissistic rage by doing whatever they are doing. While this is understandable to a degree, it’s still not good. Yet, it’s still his/her decision to obey rather than take a chance on standing up to their narcissistic spouse & maybe ending the control.
It is NOT your place to rescue him/her! Your parent is an adult, & needs to take care of his or herself, just like all adults do. Everyone’s actions & choices are their own responsibility, & each person needs to reap the consequences of them, good or bad. Do not allow your parent to draw you into the position of standing up for him/her to the other parent!
Often, the parent needing rescuing is a covert narcissist. Does this parent portray him or herself as a martyr or at least as someone innocent in all of the problems in his/her relationships? Does he/she come across very naive, innocent & in need of frequent rescuing? Here is a link that explains some of the differences between over & covert narcissists: Overt vs Covert Narcissists
Do you really want to get drawn into that dysfunction? No, you don’t. If you’re having trouble with not getting involved, remember how it has hurt you when you’ve been in this type of situation before. Remember how hurt you were, how badly you were treated. I’ve had to do this myself since I’ve been in the situation many times. It’s a horrible position to be in. It makes you feel used, angry, resentful & hurt at how quickly you’re discarded once the problem is solved.
Remember, you deserve better than to be treated as a “fixer.” Most narcissistic families have a “fixer,” someone who is the one who is supposed to fix everything. To the narcissists, the fixer is nothing more than a tool to be used, taken out when needed, then put back on the shelf. Don’t you believe you deserved to be treated better than a hammer, screwdriver or flashlight?
This type of behavior is a part of emotional incest. Emotional incest, covert incest or parentalizing are all terms used to describe the same abusive behavior. When I child is put in a position of an equal or a partner to the parent, that is emotional incest. Being expected to listen to a parent complain about a loveless marriage or sex life, talk to another person (usually the other parent) on the parent’s behalf or providing emotional support to the parent instead of the parent getting it from their partner, friend or family member are all examples of emotional incest. While this may not sound so bad, its effects can truly be devastating to the child. She grows up feeling overly responsible for other people, often becoming involved in co-dependent or abusive relationships. She grows up very anxious, depressed & constantly feeling guilty. You do NOT deserve to be abused like this! Put a stop to it immediately! Refuse to listen if one parent complains to you about the other or to get involved in their arguments. Emotional incest is detrimental to your mental health, & you need to protect yourself from it! You deserve that!
Good afternoon, Dear Readers! I hope this post finds you well today & ready to enjoy a lovely autumn weekend!
Yesterday was a very trying day for me. I had to run to the vet’s office & get some medicine for my kitty, Pretty Boy. With agoraphobia, even leaving the house let alone driving 15 miles to the vet is a challenge. Thankfully, the vet’s office is usually one place that I can handle fairly well. For good measure, I took my dog, Dixie along for a ride- her presence helped calm me. So I got home & was quite proud of myself! I did this trip with no panic! YAY ME!
I saw when I got home that my mother called while I was out. I changed into my bumming around the house clothes & was going to call her back when she called me instead. While I am glad to say she is still not deliberately being cruel to me, it was a rough talk. She explained what it’s like to have back problems (as usual, not acknowledging the fact I had back pain for 10 years resulting from her throwing me into a wall when I was 19). She also complained so much about my dad & the problems between them. *sighs*
After I hung up from that call, I made some chamomile tea & sat down with my computer to goof off for a bit. As I sat here, snuggling kitties & reading email, a few minutes later I heard a sound.. I knew it was my car- I thought maybe a branch fell off a tree & landed on the car. I got up to check & saw my dad. He had a doctor’s appointment not far from me & stopped by on his way home. While he was here, he spent his time complaining about my mother. *sighs again*
This is what is called Emotional Incest or Parentalizing. When a parent treats their child (of any age) as an equal by confiding in them about personal problems (especially romantic ones), expects that child to take care of their emotional well being & fix their problems, it is emotionally damaging to the child. Some problems resulting from being parentalized are:
- An over-developed sense of responsibility (if someone is upset, you feel it’s your job to fix the problem & make them feel better).
- Putting others first, even when you have genuine needs.
- Low self-esteem.
- Feeling “in the middle” with your parents.
I have experienced all of these things & more. On days like yesterday, I was physically shaky for a while. I also was achy all over, for no physical reason. This also made the Complex PTSD flare up- I normally cry easily but yesterday was worse, & I was so anxious. I also felt like I was a child again. The same fear & anxieties of my parents arguing when I was a child rose up in me.
Unfortunately I have not found a way to stop my parents from doing this entirely. The best things I have found to do are:
- Set & enforce boundaries to protect myself.
- Keep a distance- only talking to them when I am able to handle it emotionally.
- Change the subject often. When they start complaining about each other, I bring up any other topic I can think of. Often, they go right back to their conversation, so I have to change the subject again. Eventually, they will go along with me.
If you too go through the pain of being your parent’s parent, please know I understand. You are not alone in this, even if you feel like you are. Hugs to you!!!
Also, please check out my website.. I have some information on there for adult children of abusive mothers the following link: http://www.cynthiabaileyrug.com/Problem_Mothers.htm. And, on my free ebooks page, I have a free ebook available on the topic of Emotional Incest. Check it out..
God bless you & I’m praying for you! ❤