Did you work extremely hard to make your narcissistic partner or parent happy yet always seem to be falling behind?
Was it especially dangerous to expect something from them?
Was it impossible to assume they were going to be happy with you?
These questions point to the pseudo-reality that a narcissistic abuser works to impose upon the person in the scapegoat role to them. In so doing, they elevate their own needs to the forefront and render the scapegoat’s needs as nonexistent or offensive. One of the problems for the scapegoat at the time is that They have no one in their corner. That is, they have no one whom they can assume cares for them, persists that caring stance even when not being tended to, and whom the scapegoat can essentially forget about or ‘take for granted’. I use the phrase ‘take for granted’ because I have heard many survivors of a narcissistic parent say that their parent accused them of this throughout their upbringing. They assumed they were selfish and emotionally callous for their parent to be accusing them of this. Often these survivors would work to not take the narcissistic parent for granted as they were being accused of. Here’s the injustice in this scenario: A child is SUPPOSED TO be able to take a parent’s love and support for granted. In fact all relationships require some measure of taking the other person for granted. It’s what allows us to make use of relationships in a real way. To be able to receive as well as give – not just one or the other. A narcissistic parent who weaponizes this phrase against the scapegoat survivor can make that survivor turn against their own very healthy needs to take others’ for granted.
In today’s post, I’m going to discuss how and why a narcissistic parent targets the scapegoat’s efforts to take others for granted in a healthy way. In response, the scapegoat child may develop a morality and corresponding feelings of shame centered on self-denial. For example, the “right” thing to do for the scapegoat child is to put themselves last and failure to do this can result in profound feelings of shame. Next I will explain how it’s the narcissistic parent who is actually the one taking the scapegoat child for granted without any reciprocation of the favor. Third, I’ll reframe what ‘taking for granted’ can mean for a scapegoat survivor from something exploitative to a sense of healthy entitlement. Last, I’ll point towards a resource to move through and heal the shame you may feel when trying to take others for granted today.
My name is Jay Reid and I’m a licensed psychotherapist in California who specializes in helping people recover from narcissistic abuse. Narcissistic abuse can leave us feeling lost and estranged from our sense of who we are. In individual therapy and my online course on recovery from narcissistic abuse I try to offer a map that allows them to come back to the quality of life they know they deserve. Of course, each survivor must travel this path themselves but a map can be tremendously important to do this with. And there are 3 features on this map that I call the 3 Pillars to Recovery:
Pillar # 1: Making sense of what happened,
Pillar # 2: Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser, and
Pillar # 3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules.
Lastly, one can’t do this in a vacuum. It is also essential to find and participate in communities of people who can get, validate, and support you on this path. My online course on Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse offers a strategy that corresponds to these 3 pillars and provides a community within which to do it via an accompanying private facebook group. You can check it out by clicking here. Today’s post falls under Pillar #3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules.
If you were a scapegoat survivor of a narcissistic parent or partner then I encourage you to check out my free e-book on this topic. It’s called Surviving Narcissistic Abuse as the Scapegoat and goes into other important aspects of what it’s like to be in the shoes of the scapegoat child or partner of the narcissistic abuser. From self-limiting beliefs about yourself that you must adopt to survive to why the narcissistic personality is so geared to put those closest to them down. This e-book can help you realize how none of this abuse was your fault but the product of the narcissist’s psychological and emotional problems. You can find the link to the book by clicking here.
A narcissistic parent prevents the scapegoat child from taking others for granted
In a child born to a good-enough family the expectation is that the child will expect his or her needs to be met. The assumption here is that the parents in such a family had their needs met well enough in childhood and/or did work on themselves to know they are healthily deserving of having their needs met. As a result, they want to see their child get to know and have his or her own needs met. Pictures can help. Let’s look at this diagram:
In these situations the child effectively gets to take the support from without ‘for granted’ so that s/he can focus on themselves in a very developmentally appropriate way. As a result the blue circle that is the child’s self is completely theirs. They get to build and strengthen a sense of self who expects that others are there to meet his or her needs.
Now let’s look at what happens as the child ages into an adolescent/adult with this kind of early experience:
In the case of the child born to a narcissistic parent, the experience is tragically different. In this case, the narcissistic parent’s efforts to manage their fragile yet inflated self-esteem often require that another person be used as the receptacle of that parent’s intolerable feelings of worthlessness and shame. Enter the scapegoat child who must keep the parent’s willingness to care the child intact as a matter of survival. This makes the child extremely vulnerable to the narcissistic parent’s psychopathology. The result is that the child can be seen as the ‘worthless one’ in relation to the narcissistic parent so the parent doesn’t have to feel these feelings about themselves. Next, the parent uses their authority in the relationship and the child’s dependence on the parent to treat the child in ways meant to get the child to think about themselves as worthless – in other words gets the child to identify with the parent’s cast-off feelings of worthlessness. When this happens over and over then the child is said to be put into the role of scapegoat to the narcissistic parent and has to build a sense of self that is imbued with badness. The truth is that the badness is not the child’s own but must be ingested as a demonstration of loyalty to the narcissistic parent.
Let’s take a look at the consequences for the scapegoat child’s self in development:
The impact on the scapegoat child
The child now has to tend to someone else – the narcissistic parent – more than themselves and typically in a thankless manner. In other words, the scapegoat child gets taken for granted by the narcissistic parent but is forbidden from using the parent in a similar fashion. Now the child must find a way to adapt to these harsh circumstances. One common way of doing this, I’ve found, is to Develop a morality on the supposed virtue of self-deprivation. So, the child has to believe that they don’t deserve to have someone for them to take for granted. But this belief can be held unconsciously while consciously this virtue of self-deprivation is pursued. The child and later the adolescent and adult may always be scanning environments to find opportunities to help others, or make sure that they are not taking up too many resources or making any demands on others. The price of violating the code of self-deprivation can be a profound experience of shame.
This ethos of self-deprivation fits very well into what the narcissistic parent requires from the child. Namely that the parent be the only one who is allowed to get their needs met and take others for granted in doing so. The scapegoat child who disavows their own need to take the narcissistic parent for granted gets a moral reward for doing so. The scapegoat child is also spared the narcissistic parent’s wrath they might otherwise encounter if they expected more from that parent.
Recover your right to take others for granted
If these circumstances resonate with you then the next question may understandably be: “what can I do about it today?” I think that a lot of healing can happen in challenging and dismantling the morality built around self-deprivation for the scapegoat survivor. In order to establish satisfying and useful close relationships We all need to be able to take the other for granted at times to get our needs met. It is an essential part of the trust needed in such relationships. In good relationships, there can be a measure of turn-taking in taking the other for granted. For example, a spouse who has a problem at work may tell their partner about it after work. The spouse has to assume her partner will be interested and engaged in what they are saying. By taking their partner’s interest and engagement for granted in this way the spouse gets to use the interaction to help them figure out how they want to address the problem at work. This may not seem like ‘taking someone for granted’ because of how subtle it is. But, in a narcissistically abusive relationship the narcissist may claim that your expectations of their interest and engagement in such a situation is ‘taking them for granted’ in an offensive way. The rejoinder that can be used usually in retrospect for the scapegoat survivor when the narcissistic abuser accused you of taking them for granted could be: “I’m trying to because that’s what people are supposed to be able to do in relationships but you just won’t let me.”
To get to this point, however, It can be important to challenge the system of morality based on self-deprivation. I think it can be critical to do this challenge in the context of relationships with safe others.The scapegoat survivor needs to accrue experience where someone else who matters takes the survivor’s needs seriously and respects them while also valuing the scapegoat survivor’s availability to them. Therapy can be a useful way to find such experience and contrast these new experiences from the rules you had to abide by while in relationship to the narcissistic parent or partner. And regular relationships with good safe people can also offer this.
I hope today’s post might help you challenge the reflex of putting yourself last lest you be accused of taking others for granted. Taking others for granted is actually a healthy thing we should be able to do in good safe relationships and you have a right to recover this.
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.