(names have been omitted or changed in this post)
Growing up it was like my family lived on another planet far away that had no resemblance to what "normal" families lived. It was like we lived in a cult, a different dimension that left you feeling like you were locked up, shut up inside some pit or hole resembling prison; childhood often felt like a life-long sentence. It was the stuff of books or movies yet it wasn't glamorous but more crushing of the spirit and soul; it was removed from the rest of the world, it was eccentric and odd and "different". It was led by narcissistic. It was seemingly forever we were stuck and all each of us; myself, my two siblings and mother wanted was to escape it and never look back. When you grow up in an alter-odd environment where you request to do something… anything…normal stuff like a very simple thing... like going to a school function or to a fellow peers home after school to work on a school project… it never happens. It's usually always met with "No, that isn't necessary" or second choice is it's met with "I'll think about it." The control is all hidden behind closed doors. No one has a clue. The community thinks they know this person and yet are full of ignorant shit. A few days pass, a week goes by… you go to him and ask again, reminding him that you're still waiting for an answer to your request. Instead you are met with the pages of a newspaper rustling and a grouchy verbal grunt of "I told you I'd think about it!"
You stand there not even being given the courtesy of eye contact… the newspaper (today in our more modern world it would be a cell phone or laptop) is a shield between you and he… a buffer in the hopes that maybe, just maybe if he ignores you long enough you will go away and leave him alone in peace to read his paper. You sigh again. You dare to push the issue because you're the eldest and the strong willed one. You break the silence... "But you've had a week to decide." You remind him… your patience is beginning to wear thin. You see it's wearing thin because it's always this way. Every. single. time. He ignores. He distances, he pushes away. He avoids. He neglects. He's detached. You wonder why he had kids. He's so bothered by them. He doesn't hide it whatsoever. He merely had you to fill a role, a spot, a facade in his life. You're nothing more than a semi useful prop he pulls out once in awhile when needed. For others to coo at and compliment and feed his ego. That's you, your purpose. Your life gives new meaning to over-protected. It gives new meaning to sheltered. Those words don't even touch the surface of how you really live. Like in a hidden away secret miserable society that no one has access to and no one knows of but you.
You finally irritate him to no end with your nagging and haranguing (which merely cements the idea that that's what girls and one day women have to do to get a "yes" from a male) that he finally, finally gives in one time. And when he does… you learn how very different your home life is. As you sit on the carpeted bedroom floor of a fifth grade school peer and take markers to poster board… working on a school project after getting frozen yogurt earlier (your family has never had frozen yogurt) her dad appears in the doorway and says "Hey, Court… remember tonight is family meeting night after dinner." Your classmate smiles at her dad and nods and says okay. After he departs down the hall you turn to her assuming family meeting night must be something awful… that must be punishment, right? Because it must mean you get yelled at for doing something wrong or not doing whatever it is you were supposed to do. You ask her with curiosity what this family meeting night thing is. She smiles and tells you "Oh, that's where we all gather in the den after dinner and talk about whatever is bothering us. We can talk about anything."
I stare at her incredulously, my mouth hangs open in disbelief, "anything?" I echo. She nods and explains further "Yes… we can talk about anything we want to. We can say if somebody has made us mad, or did something we didn't like. We can talk about anything and nobody gets in trouble. It really helps." Maybe your own family would have benefited from such a meeting; open dialogue where each person felt heard and was encouraged to express how they were feeling. For myself growing up a family meeting would never happen. That would mean everyone had feelings, everyone had a voice in how they felt, that everyone had the right to assert what they believed. "Assertive" was a bad word. Assertive got you a yard stick slapped on your butt so hard it snapped in half. Assertive got your arm grabbed so tightly it left red marks. Assertive got you put in time out in the storage room alone on a hard backed chair. Assertive got you screamed at and then listening to a rant-a-thon in the background for what felt like an hour. Having a voice?
That was so foreign to me. I wondered wistfully what that must be like.
11 Things I Learned From My Childhood:
1. You're more valued as a person by working (work always comes first) than spending time with your family.
2. God is someone whom we are to fear not to be loved by.
3. Constant fear (fear in general) of failure is normal.
4. Self-awareness and therapy are not important and are not ever done.
5. Spending money on yourself is perfectly acceptable at the detriment of your family's needs and the upkeep of your home.
6. Even if you feel something, deep inside, please keep it to yourself. We don't talk about things such as feelings, dreams, goals or hurts.
7. It's perfectly fine for everyone around you to feel powerless, to feel controlled and diminished… because you're "the man" and way more important than the "little people."
8. Stay a safe physical distance away from others; no hugs, no pats, no high fives, no anything… because that would be weird… the human touch is not needed.
9. Follow the footsteps of your earthly father, his obligations, his dreams, his goals… don't think authentically, or spiritually… don't go outside the box or on any adventures… cling to self-preservation because it's way better to be able to say "I may not have been anywhere or done much but I'm still here."
10. If you ever feel threatened that someone might take your stuff… be way more concerned with protecting your material/marital assets than your relationship… because people are disposable but things on the other hand… those are worth much more.
11. Trusting people leads you to being screwed over, to being bamboozled. Always have something on someone in case you need it later, always have evidence… and listen more than you ever give away.
In life we don't get the childhood we want.
We get what we are given (like playing cards) and then often we just have to make the best of it. All familial issues stem from the previous generations that were not resolved but instead allowed to continue to grow like toxic weeds; where growth and change have not yet taken place. We meet someone, we marry and if we haven't done the necessary work to address what needs haven't been met when we were children, what attachment type we are (mine is avoidant) we then on some level (we may not even be aware of this at the time) look for those unmet childhood needs/issues to be resolved with the one we marry. We are each looking to the other for healing; for wounds to be soothed. I guess a wound-mate wouldn't be a bad thing necessarily if BOTH people were fully committed to changing, growing and healing TOGETHER and not causing more hurts and scars. That would be one thing. But for those of us that are targeted by narcissistic people that is not the case- in fact we will end up likely worse off when it's over than when we met them. Why, you ask? Because we are tossing trauma upon more trauma and eventually the suitcase will rip at the seams and scream to be let out... cascading onto the floor and demanding to be dealt with once and for all.
We may or may not find what we are seeking… but one thing is for sure… we can always look up to a higher power… the one who knew us before we walked earth… before we cried our first cry of infancy and breathed our first breath… we can look to our Father in Heaven for affirmation… that we are more valued than any material thing on earth… that we don't have to fear He doesn't love us… that we don't have to fear at all… that our identity comes from Him… and He is always there to wrap us up in His arms with comfort and eternal love.
Today I'm here to tell you that no matter what kind of childhood you had, no matter what kind of parent you have, that God loves you... you are His child and no matter what you have been through in the past... In this journey, along each curve, each mountain, through every stumble and triumph He is with you... you are not alone.
Jennifer Gafford is a writer, speaker and divorce coach who helps guide parents through the pain of trying to co-parent with their narcissistic ex, and shares tips for custody and healing. She began her website gracepowerstrength in 2012 and over time her blog and audience grew to over a million views. Jennifer was married for twelve years, has two children and is very well versed in the facts regarding narcissistic abuse and the challenges involved in healing. Today, she shares daily posts and stories on Instagram for thousands of followers regarding npd abuse and believes everyone deserves a life of peace, love and freedom.