Narcissistic Parents Can’t ‘Cut The Cord’: Here’s Why, And What You Can Do About It

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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It takes some of us years to realize that we were raised by a narcissistic parent. Part of the reason for that is because if you were raised by one, you were led to believe that you were the problem — that you weren’t good enough, didn’t give enough, were damaged goods, and that you were the one incapable of unconditional love.

Narcissistic parents, by definition, can only see a relationship in terms of how it might benefit them, and so it becomes important for them to belittle those around them so that they can rise to the top in every situation — even, sadly, when it comes to the parent-child bond.

But once you realize that it was actually your parent’s job to provide that love, to lift you up rather than bring you down — and that your narcissistic parent was incapable of providing those things — it can be actually be freeing. It’s like, “Wait a minute, I was actually incredible and amazing the whole time. I had so much to give, and I deserved so much better than what I got.”

There is usually a mourning period after you realize this fact because all the hurt and pain that your narcissistic parent inflicted upon you all your life finally has a safe place to come pouring out. Eventually, though, you can begin the healing process, and you can begin to learn about loving yourself, self-care, and making it a priority to surround yourself with people who can love you for who you are.

But what if your narcissistic parent is still in your life?

One of the most hard-to-accept aspects of having a narcissistic parent is that even after you’ve grown up, they tend to want to stay very involved in your life. Remember: Control is their drug, and very often, they need to infantilize their relationship with you so that they can keep the parent-child hierarchy in place as long as possible.

That might play out as excessive phone calls; meddling in every big or little decision you make; having strong stipulations about the people you choose to bring into your life; continuing to criticize you in deeply personal and damaging ways; and perhaps even manipulating you with money, blackmail, or bribery.

In essence, narcissistic parents have a lot of trouble “cutting the cord” with their children, which can leave their adult children feeling demeaned, hurt, and vulnerable long after they have flown the nest.

So, what are your options here?

Some of us decide that “breaking up” with our narcissistic, toxic parents is the best route for our mental health, especially if their behavior continues to harm us on a regular basis. The decision to end the relationship with your toxic parent is a very personal decision indeed, and one everyone needs to make based on their specific circumstances.

Almost all of us who have made that choice did so after deep introspection, and usually after trying — and trying some more — to make the relationship as healthy as possible, but then finally realizing that things were unlikely to change and that removing that parent from our life was the best decision for everyone involved. It’s a long, exhausting, emotional process.

But some of us haven’t gotten to that place or are still exploring our options. So what can we do to continue to have a relationship with our narcissistic parent and still maintain our mental health?

It’s all about boundaries. Boundaries, boundaries, and more boundaries.

It’s about telling your narcissistic parent what is and isn’t okay in terms of their behavior or demands. It’s about telling them to what extent they can continue to be involved in your life. It’s about telling them how often they can call, visit, or interact with you.

It’s about you getting to decide for once how the dynamics of the relationship are going to work and getting a chance to put your own comfort and mental health in the forefront of the relationship.

Now, let me tell you what happens when you do that with your narcissistic parent, especially if you haven’t done it before. They are not going to like it. You need to be prepared for that. Boundaries are their nemesis because it means that they may have lost a piece of their much-needed control over you. They will push back, and you have to steady yourself and stand firm.

This is where you’re going to need to practice all that self-love and remember how powerful and awesome you truly are. Your boundaries are for you to set — and you must set them for your sanity. And then, it isn’t your problem whether or not your parent can deal with them. That’s on them. You aren’t a bad daughter or son just because you have (finally) made your needs known. That is exactly what healthy people do, and good on you for working on that.

If your narcissistic parent comes back at you hard (and be prepared for that), it is helpful to have some responses on hand to deal with the situation. You can even write them down or type them into your phone, so you don’t lose your thoughts when you get overwhelmed. These statements can range from a compassionate, but steadfast response like, “I am sorry this upsets you. I care about you, but these are my needs, and it is important that you take them to heart,” to a more strongly worded response like, “I have laid out my needs, and I don’t plan on discussing anything further with you.” Your mileage may vary, but it’s important to be brief and firm.

Sometimes you will need to practice affirming those boundaries many times until your narcissistic parent gets it. And in some cases, your best bet will be to simply walk away from the relationship, either temporarily or for good. And that’s okay because you matter. Your family matters too, and they need you, and if a relationship is toxic to your overall well-being, then it might be time to break up.

In all cases, it is highly recommend that you have a support network in place as you navigate these difficult, painful changes you are making in your relationship with your parent. A supportive spouse or friend who really gets you and loves you for who you are can be lifesaving. The same goes for a good psychiatrist or therapist. All of us deserve compassionate professional help as we work on our bettering our lives.

Most of all, remember this: You did not ask to be born into a family with a narcissistic parent (or two) at the helm. But you have a chance every day to begin again — to get in touch with all the beauty and brilliance that’s inside you, that’s always been there. You deserve to feel wanted, respected, and safe. This is your life, and you get to call the shots. Remember that.

You are more resilient than you know. You can do this.

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