Forgiving Your Narcissistic Parent
By: Beth McHugh 2010
When I work with a client who is struggling to deal with the pain and the devastation caused by being raised by a narcissist, I never include as part of the agenda of therapy the idea of forgiving their parent.
This is because, when a client approaches me for help, they are so distressed in trying to make head or tail of what their relationship with their parent has become, that they are in no position to do anything other than to try to make sense of the relationship as best they can.
In many situations, the narcissistic parent has the adult child so convinced that it is the latter who has the problem, that much work has to be done in therapy to reverse that thinking – by actually look at the truth – so that the client sees that they have been slowly and systematically manipulated all their lives to believe certain negative ideas about themselves, and most importantly, to be a slave to the narcissist. The adult child may live for decades walking on eggshells trying their hardest to please their parent, only to be treated as a second class citizen.
This is not the time to introduce the concept of forgiveness to the client.
In fact, therapy usually begins in a gradual realization that the client has been deceived, used and made to feel guilty useless, unattractive, unwanted and certainly a victim of the most extreme conditional love that exists. It take time in therapy for the client to give up the hope that one day their mother or father will see them as loving caring, talented, worthwhile people.
When this process finally happens, then the client makes headway in therapy. Once the truth is seen and the lies exposed — lies that the client has believed about themselves all their lives, then the anger sets in, if it hasn’t already.
All this, too, is normal, and at this time during recovery there is
no place for forgiveness. I never include forgiveness as a necessary
part of the therapeutic process because, the reality is that some parents
are simply too hard to forgive and to put that load on an already struggling
victim of a narcissist is asking too much.
But sometimes, towards the end of therapy, some clients who have worked through their insecurities, their low self esteem, their anger, and their sadness get to a point where there are able to look at their parent as profoundly damaged and therefore unable to love them. The lack of love was not directed at the individual child themselves, it was directed at the world, but the innocent and defenseless child copped it because narcissistic people are by definition weak and so a child is an easy target.
In some situations, clients do benefit and gain peace from forgiving
their narcissistic parent. If you are reading this and say “No
way!” then all that means is that the pain is still too great
and you should not exert any pressure on yourself to forgive. You cannot
forgive until all the anger is spend. When that occurs, some understanding
of the reasons why your narcissistic parent is the way they are may
then become apparent. The latter often is obvious to me in therapy but
I do not focus on it until the person concerned has reached a certain
level of progress and has better self esteem and can see themselves
in a new light — not through the lens of their narcissistic parent
and their accompanying disturbed thought patterns.
It is at this point that forgiveness is possible. This last process in this long and difficult journey is the most freeing, as it cuts the adult child free from the manipulations of the parent. It is especially useful when the parent has died and no resolution in a real sense is possible.
So forgiveness is not a necessity to ending the pain of being the child
of a narcissist but if it is possible, it certainly cuts those final
strings that bind.