What is life like for children of toxic or abusive parents? It’s certainly never fun, relaxing, loving, or supportive in a positive way of any sort. Whether they are adult children of narcissists, alcoholics, or some other more distressing form (like drug addictions, career criminals, or a more socially destructive form of Cluster B, all grow up with the same feeling. Namely, a pervasive sense of hopelessness and poignant anxiety you will hear many echoes of in the words and phrases, “Why me? What’s wrong with me? I must have done something terribly wrong in my past life to deserve being born into such a __________ family (messed up, toxic, or dysfunctional)?”
Narcissists are so fundamentally egocentric they have no problem with completely destroying other people’s lives socially and emotionally for fun and sport. This desire to dominate extends to the unfortunate circumstance when and if a child is born to a Cluster B parent. Imagine being a newborn, born into a family where one or both of their bio parents shows signs of having a personality disorder. Abusive families, if nothing else, are the gift that keeps on dishing.
It’s a sad fate indeed for a child, knowing that little to no empathy will be shown to the infant. What’s more disturbing, however, is that narcissistic parents who pervasively treat a child badly, are more likely to punish a child for being sensitive or emotional in the face of trauma. It truly is from birth through the age of four that a child’s personality fully forms — a time when they spend time with those who are able to imprint on their subconscious mind every toxic trait of primary caregivers (if the child is destined to become a conformer.)
But that is not the worst possible outcome. Understanding that by or before a child reaches the age of 6, most toxic parents have already been able to pick out highly sensitive children from their “pack”. If and when such a child is born into a toxic family unit, the baby is destined to mature into a toddler and elementary school-aged child that is likely to become the family scapegoat. If the child is an only child, abuse by narcissistic parents or adults who pervasively act with a grandiose sense of entitlement (and little to no morality) are almost guaranteed to be situationally abused when and if other adults, neighbors, and community members are not looking.
Children of toxic families have quipped about being the “black sheep of the family” for ages. While the parents throw the term around to suggest their offspring is or was a “difficult child”, what is more often the case is the child is — for lack of a better term — the sort of person who psychologically or emotionally refuses to conform. Not only will the child’s needs and emotions be continuously overlooked as a deliberate way to shame, control, and invalidate the child, kids are expected to worship at the feet of the dysfunctional parent for a lifetime or risk permanent estrangement as “punishment”. The black sheep of the family is truly ostracized while simultaneously being kept in a death grip of sorts to pledging allegiance to obnoxious relatives. A Malignant Narcissist mother and Enabling Henchmen father are typically those who lead the family charge, enlisting the help of other toxic siblings to support their position to scapegoat the person they perceive to be their weakest and least defensible offspring.
Folks who have loving parents have a hard time understanding what it is like to grow up with a narcissistic family. Truly, some mothers are no more than social animals, willing to destroy their own young before ever being willing to put the child’s needs before their own. Fathers who rule the house with blustering, raging, threatening, and intimidating help a conniving, greedy, selfish mother strike fear into the hearts of her own children. Fathers who ignore a controlling, manipulative, meddlesome, domineering, witch of a mom in favor of keeping the peace enable while teaching their sons and daughter what to expect from adult women. Boys who grow up in a home where the mother rules the house by manipulation and domineering tend to pick toxic wives in later life — with bonus points if they look or in any way act just like their mommy. Young women learn to both dish out abuse in general while learning to defer to a man in order to keep him around — or worse… they learn how to abuse and control men overtly using weapons like words, sex, children, and finances to keep men perpetually help hostage to their own vanity.
Even a golden child who dares to defend a scapegoat or targeted sibling risks losing top billing as a conformer when and if a toxic parent happens to notice. Noting that most sibling rivalries are actually manufactured by toxic parents seeking to triangulate, it’s an unfortunate truth few who have experienced the emotion ever put two and two together about why they feel like their siblings are rivals. Parents playing favorites and talking to one behind the back of another in an attempt to undermine a child’s self-confidence or playing favorites in order to recruit their preferred target into being a mini-me are the most twisted of all.
Children born to narcissistic family units tend to fall into several personality types:
- runner = lost child or runaway
- conformist = Flying Monkey / Enabler
- abusive person = destined to have a personality disorder
Based on this family dynamic for brothers and sisters, the rebel is the person who defiantly tries to do whatever it takes not to be like their abusive or narcissistic parent. The rebel is most likely to be the one who speaks up about abuse, injustice, or who points out covert and overt manipulation tactics. It is for this reason the whistle-blower child is targeted as a scapegoat. The child can expect to be bullied through adulthood, with the most egregious offenses happening most often in childhood. But don’t think that surviving until they turn 18 encourages a toxic family full of bullies and predators to lay off abusing their preferred target. Rebel children are most oftentimes written out of wills at the last minute after dedicating their lives to trying to help educate, love, and “teach” their own parent right from wrong or how to be a more loving human being in general.
Then, there are the lost children. Such children are those who leave home typically between the ages of 18-35, never to be seen or hear from again by any family member. Like the rebel, they know something is wrong with mom and dad’s relationship. They simply have no care or concern for either their parents or other siblings. Such children are the ones who strive to avoid confrontation and enable abuse by acting like dodgy pacificists. They overlook a scapegoat target being abused or will abuse right alongside abusive family members but most of them fail to get the “sexy little [sadistic] thrill” their more aggressive family members do when they hurt people (to quote Spartan Life Coach Richard Grannon, a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Specialist).
In all actuality, having been taught egocentric behavior and lacking empathy, the lost kids tend to follow a pattern of emotional vacuousness that resembles sociopathy (rather than their parent’s or siblings’ own psychopathy). Truly, having been traumatized throughout the course of their life while being forced to overlook or actively engage in mobbing, they end up feeling emotionally void in many cases. It is from the sense of void they show no care, compassion, concern, interest in other family members, and express no desire to stay. As such, whether they are adults who stonewall and pull disappearing acts with malice or they are lost children who run away as teens, few ever seem to make it back to a place where they ever are willing to fully, actively, or comprehensively involve themselves with sticking around to help their brothers and sisters deal with mom and/or dad as the parent’s age. Their motto seems to be “not my problem” — noting that many have been so abused they simply do not have the social or emotional coping skills to consider there might be a better alternative or different way to behave.
Conformists are typically motivated by greed. It’s not any more glamorous or nefarious than that. Self-centered by nature and happy to enjoy the spoils of war, as long as they get to remain in the position of playing golden child favorite they will do whatever they have to do or say in order to ensure the status quo stays that way. Golden Children will openly ridicule their parents behind their backs while sucking up actively to their faces. They seldom will participate in doing the grunt work of caring for a parent. Most choose to follow academic and career choices as far from the parent as they can get, only showing up for gifts and to themselves be spoiled on holidays. If a family has means, expect golden kids to ingratiate themselves by sucking up to whomever they think is likely to send money or family heirlooms their way. They will descend on other siblings, pontificating about their own greatness. A blustery bunch, they always have an opinion but cannot seem to resist the urge to actively play their dutiful role in the sibling rivalry triangulation abusive parents tend to create.
Life, then, for children of toxic parents or abusive parents becomes a never-ending cycle of Narcissistic Abuse and competition. It’s traumatizing on a daily basis to targets and scapegoats, understanding their need will never be met, their opinions and feelings always marginalized, and targeted for abuse without justice. Golden children who conform are destined to live with and enable abusive mates and to repeat toxic family patterns. Most children lose the connection psychologically, socially, and emotionally that all humans — as social creatures — need to thrive successfully. As such, they are likely to spend the rest of their lives struggling at best. If they are lucky, they will meet with success “just getting by.” Adult children with abusive personalities go on to be the next generation of Cluster B personality types. Mobbing ensues against any whistle-blower rebel who tries to upset the status quo by striving to change the negative behaviors of adults, siblings, and other collateral damage victim relatives.
Red flags and warning signs a person’s family unit is targeting them for abuse includes smear campaigning, bullying, sending Flying Monkeys to attack, shame, and ridicule a non-compliant person, and the person showing signs of having C-PTSD. Resist the urge to overlook or enable abuse in such a case. Toxic parents who raise toxic children while abusing those born to them who have emotionally sensitive or more artistic temperaments are the root of what is wrong in all human cultures. Sadly, when the cruelest and abusive people you have ever met are members of your own family, even the most healthy and normal of adult children are left feeling forevermore and perpetually different from normal people at best — or at worst end up perceiving themselves as unworthy of loving or kind relationships.
The saddest outcome is a lost or rebel child growing up enduring trauma only to become an adult who is themselves prone to entering into other abusive relationships. Such is truly the most tragic fate. Unless, of course, an adult child of a toxic parent becomes an abuser themselves. If and when that happens, toxic family thinking generates a monster, and the family tradition of destroying children’s lives while damaging other people who come into contact with them extends.