The Third Pillar of Recovery: Defying the Narcissist’s Rules

the third pillar of recovery: defying the narcissist’s rules

Do you associate closeness to others with feeling less than them?

Do you caveat your accomplishments so that it’s really hard to feel proud of yourself?

Is there an invisible but powerful pressure to feel bad inside?

A scapegoat child knows that only the narcissistic parent gets to consciously like themselves. The child must dismiss from consciousness positive information about who they are. Doing so meets the narcissistic parent’s need to feel superior. This rule disempowers the child so they do not challenge the parent’s authority. All of this allows the child to stay in relationship to the parent.

The scapegoat child learns that feeling good about who they are is dangerous. It seems to offend their narcissistic parent. The child finds themselves feeling as if they have done something wrong when they are happy. Their parent may withdraw or grow vengeful to make the child think this. The child only feels like they are being who they are supposed to be when they feel bad about themselves. This is when it feels like their parent is there.

Scapegoat children internalize these patterns of interaction. They work to stay close to their internalized parent by acting as if that parent is still around and in charge and/or by treating themselves the way their parent did. Scapegoat survivors can stay psychologically close to their narcissistic parent by diminishing themselves. The survivor feels more distant from their internalized parent when they consider positive information about themselves. Feeling distant can lead to what I have called the three A’s. The scapegoat survivor is left feeling ashamed, abandoned and astray. These painful feelings get relieved when closeness is restored. The rub is that closeness means the survivor must disapprove of themselves.

In today’s blog, I explain how a scapegoat survivor can profitably defy their narcissistic parent’s rules. This is the third pillar of recovery in action. The strategy involves approving yourself to pursue what makes you feel happy, strong, and/or free. The critical ingredient in this pillar is seeing what happens now. Do the people around you recoil or attack? If you have safe people in your life today then the answer is likely to be no. Instead they remain connected to you even when you like who you are. Experiencing this outcome helps the scapegoat survivor separate feeling good from losing needed connection. And watch until the end because I will point you towards a resource to help scapegoat survivors safely live in ways that defy their narcissistic parent’s rules.

How Staying Close to Your Internalized Narcissistic Parent Makes It Impossible to Feel Good About Yourself

Someone who is pathologically narcissistic has to see their opinion as more correct and important than others. They can feel worthless if they are not agreed with at all times. A child learns that their narcissistic parent’s opinion of them has to matter more than their own.

On top of this, the parent relocates their own feelings of worthlessness into their scapegoat child. Next they act in ways to get the child to see these feelings as the child’s own. The child is in the tragic position of having to not only prioritize their parent’s opinion. They have to agree with the parent’s opinion that they are defective and undeserving.

This equation prevents the scapegoat child from feeling good about themselves. Being close to their parent means buying in to their – supposed – inferiority. As the child grows older they internalize this pattern of interaction. They stay close to their internalized narcissistic parent by finding flaws in themselves and experiencing others as superior. Doing so spares them from the dreaded state of being nobody to no one. They are left with being an inferior somebody to a superior someone.

Diagram #1

This diagram illustrates the position the scapegoat child is put in. They are forbidden from being on the figurative medal stand. Only their narcissistic parent is allowed on. The parent is to be the recipient of the gold medal while the child looks on fondly. The payoff for the child is having their parent stay in relation to them.

Anita found it impossible to make her mother happy with her. Despite being regularly complimented by her friends and teachers, her mother never seemed pleased. From first grade onward Anita knew it was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ her mother berated her for a mistake of some sort. Anita might not put her shoes in her closet as precisely straight as her mother said she should have. Anita would then get yelled at for her “carelessness and lack of respect” for all the things her mother did for her.

At first, Anita found her mother’s tirades to be a misunderstanding. She did not put her shoes crookedly in her closet because she did not respect her mother. So, she would tell her mother as much. This did not go well. Her mother accused her of ‘not listening’ and grew even more enraged.

Anita learned it was futile to offer her own opinion of her motivations in these moments. The only thing she could do was let her mother berate her without interference. At some point her mother would finish and they could get on with life. Anita, though, had to show tacit agreement with her mother’s distortions of her. She told herself that her own opinion is faulty. Her mother is the one who knows how things ‘really’ are and she should pay attention. She found herself prioritizing the opinion that she was a careless, thoughtless, and rude little girl.

Anita’s mother was managing her own feelings of worthlessness by foisting them onto Anita. Her incessant invalidation of Anita’s perspective messed with Anita’s ability to internally disagree. She was left accepting internally and externally her mother’s vicious character assassinations. This was how her mother got Anita to identify as the worthless one between the two of them. Her mother could feel protected from these feelings so long as she could see them in Anita instead of herself. At great cost to Anita.

Anita grew to understand that the only way to interact with her mother was show admiration for her. Doing this, Anita realized, seemed to make her mother less hostile. To survive her childhood she had to show admiration to the same person who was consistently devaluing her.

As she grew older, Anita found herself treating herself much like her mother did. She would second-guess her own ideas. She would assume that others would find out how careless and selfish she “really” was. And she would manage to find friends and partners who treated her in a similar fashion.

2 Ways Scapegoat Survivors Prevent Themselves from Feeling Good

The scapegoat child and survivor must evacuate reasons to like themselves. This allows them to stay close to their actual then internalized narcissistic parent. Here are two of the ways they may do this:

1) What counts is on the outside

Parents of scapegoat children like Anita insist on the child’s badness. This insistence is at odds with the child’s inner sense of their own basic goodness. This is confusing for the child. It is also threatening to their ability to be the person their parent “knows”.

Scapegoat children may cope by telling themselves that the only thing that matters is how others judge them. They may incentivize themselves by imagining all the fanfare and love that will come when they win an approving judgment. This “carrot” makes it easier to dismiss their own judgment of themselves. Now they are less at odds with being the person their parent seems to know. They are who the parent tells them they are because it is the parent’s judgment that has to count.

Anita’s childhood demonstrates this coping strategy. She had no choice but to prize her mother’s vicious opinion of her over her own. Doing so allowed Anita to feel like her mother was in relationship with her – albeit an abusive one.

2) Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

The scapegoat child and survivor who encounters success is in danger. They now have a reason to take pride in themselves. As badly as they want this feeling, it is too threatening to embrace. Doing so would upset the order their parent insists upon. The child is to be bereft of anything worthy so the parent can be replete with it.

If the child violates this premise they are at risk of feeling abandoned, ashamed and astray. I call these the 3 A’s. These are the unbearable set of feelings that emerge when the scapegoat child diverges from the inferior position. They go from feeling like the inferior child to their superior parent to feeling like nobody to no one.

The child protects themselves from the 3 A’s by finding faults in themselves that supposedly negate their successes. A scapegoat survivor has been well-trained to assume that there is something wrong with what they have done. These assumptions do not have to be reasonable to be believed. Just like Anita learned not to question her mother’s accusations so the scapegoat survivor does not question their self-criticism. Once they have a reason to re-establish their inferiority they can feel close to their internalized narcissistic parent again and spared from the 3 A’s.

Diagram 2

This diagram is meant to capture the terrible consequences the scapegoat child faces if they get on the podium. If the child experiences success in view of the parent they are not cheered for. Instead the parent is likely to feel envious and respond with a vindictive attack. As a result the child learns to associate shame with excelling. They also feel emotionally abandoned by their parent and astray.

The Third Pillar Makes it Safe to Feel Good

In conjunction with the other two pillars, living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules reprograms the scapegoat survivor’s mind to equate feeling good with safety. Once the survivor has applied the first two pillars they have a good understanding that their parent’s narcissistic abuse was not their fault and they are treated well in their current friendships and relationships. The scapegoat survivor now has resources to combat the 3 A’s that can emerge when they feel good about who they are.

Feeling good about oneself while in connection to safe others is the essence of this pillar. The specific rules the scapegoat child had to live by under their narcissistic parent may vary. However, they will be some permutation of the idea that the scapegoat child is defective and undeserving. This pillar helps the scapegoat survivor accrue new experiences of feeling adequate and deserving while remaining cared for by the safe people in their life. Remaining cared for combats the survivor’s expectation that they will face the 3 A’s if they defy the narcissist’s rules.

Diagram 3

This diagram illustrates how the third pillar of recovery makes it safe for the scapegoat survivor to win. When the survivor finds themselves on the podium in life they are cheered for rather than attacked. Over time such experiences build the survivor’s belief in new rules that allow for them to feel adequate and deserving.

A Resource to Put this Pillar into Action in Your Life

In my new course called the Empowerment Blueprint for Scapegoat Survivors [show thumbnail] there are four resources that can help you put this pillar into action.

First there is a tool to identify which narcissistic rules may be operative in your life. It is called the Assessment of Narcissistic Rules Assessment Scale (ANRAS). Once you identify the narcissistic rules that are active you can begin to defy them.

The next three blogs empower students to defy these rules. First, Life Move #6 addresses the rule to stay silent as the scapegoat. The result can be a deep sense of shame when speaking from the heart. This shame can reduce over time with continued practice speaking up today. This life move offers a strategy to make this happen.

Second, Life Move #7 helps scapegoat survivors defy the rule that they not get angry. Anger would have compromised the scapegoat child’s ability to survive. This life move shows survivors how to access and profitably use their anger today.

Finally, Life Move #8 offers a ‘Bill of Rights’ so that scapegoat survivors know what they deserve. The scapegoat child is influenced to believe that they do not deserve more than the little they get in the family. This life move introduces the survivor to the rights that they get to exercise today.

Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy for overcoming a childhood with one or more narcissistic parents please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I offer an introduction online course on the nature and impacts of narcissistic abuse. I also offer an advanced online course offering 8 powerful strategies for scapegoat survivors to reclaim the quality of life they deserve.

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