Have you found yourself in friendships or relationships where you always seemed to be the butt of the joke?
Has it seemed impossible to you that such friends or partners might actually be jealous of you?
Do you find yourself taking a lot more ribbing than dishing it out with others?
If any of these experiences apply to you and you grew up with a narcissistic parent then today’s post may be important. I want to explain how getting used to the way a narcissistic parent treats you as inferior can make it hard to detect when others put you down out of jealousy or envy for what you possess as a person. Then I will discuss the importance of protecting yourself from narcissistic abuse. I’ll address how your own sense of having to take emotional care of the people who react with jealousy towards you can get in the way of protecting yourself. Last, I’ll point you towards a resource that offers a way to assess who reacts safely to your successes and who does not to help determine who it is safe to be your good, impressive, and full self around without fear of evoking others’ jealousy.
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. Today’s blog 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.
When feeling put down is familiar
As I’ve said many times in these posts, being close to the narcissistic parent as the scapegoat child typically means being made to feel inferior to that parent. The narcissistic parent will likely act in ways meant to erode the scapegoat child’s confidence and sense of empowerment so that the narcissistic parent can enjoy an artificially inflated self worth in comparison to that child. Some of the ways the parent can act to make the scapegoat child feel ‘less than’ and lower status is to devalue that child in action and attitude. Devaluation often happens when the child possesses a trait, attitude, or attribute that makes the narcissistic parent aware of their own deficiency. When this happens, the narcissistic parent is likely to feel envy brought on by seeing someone else have what they don’t have and an accompanying contemptuous desire to destroy what that other person has. That desire to destroy what the scapegoat child possesses that the narcissistic parent does not have is illustrated in the tale of Snow White. The evil stepmother cannot stand the envy she experiences when the mirror on the wall says that she is no longer the fairest in the land but its her stepdaughter Snow White. So, the stepmother tells the huntsman to take Snow White out into the woods and bring back her heart. This is the pinnacle of a vindictive attack brought on by a narcissistic parent’s envy.
The scapegoat child who had the misfortune of having a trait, talent or strength coveted by the narcissistic parent is likely familiar with having to see themselves as deficient in this area in order to avoid such vindictiveness by the narcissistic parent. This is why a physically attractive scapegoat child can believe that they are hideous, or the extremely intelligent scapegoat child can believe they are stupid, or the extremely kind and loving scapegoat child can believe themselves to be selfish. All of these contortions would help them appear dispossessed of the attribute that was evoking the narcissistic parent’s envy. The child learns that embracing such features of who they are endangers them.
When the scapegoat child is met with envy outside of the narcissistic family
Many who were scapegoated by a narcissistic parent report being in friendships and relationships where they are treated poorly. In therapy when I hear of such instances, it often seems clear that these friends or partners were jealous or envious of what the scapegoat survivor possessed as a person. I think that the survivors themselves may have a hard time entertaining that these friends’ or partners’ put-downs would originate from wanting what the scapegoat survivor has. The scapegoat survivor has had such practice in convincing themselves that they do not have the source of self-worth that endangered them with the narcissistic parent that it can be difficult to recognize that other people may see these sources and react similarly. Without intervention, this can lead the scapegoat survivor to find and maintain friendships and relationships where they feel put down and believe themselves to deserve such treatment.
Jason was another fictionalized client who came to therapy to recover from being treated as the scapegoat to a narcissistic father who would constantly ridicule and put Jason down for being ‘weird’, ‘stupid’ and ‘weak’. In contrast to his father’s claims, Jason was extremely bright and athletic as an adolescent and currently. Jason would recall a friend he had named Dave who would always be ready with a mocking comment towards Jason for any of his undertakings. If Jason started a game in football, Dave would say
“Boy, they must really be in need of players if they had to resort to you to play…ha ha!”
“I can’t believe you got an A on that test..must be because you kiss up to the teacher so much.”
It wasn’t until Jason was in therapy that he could consider the idea that Dave was envious of Jason’s athletic talent and smarts. After a few months in therapy of being treated with respect and growing in trust towards his therapist he was able to safely consider this explanation.
Learning to protect yourself from others’ envy & ensuing narcissistic abuse
If you are a scapegoat survivor and encounter people who put you down then an important part of recovery can be protecting yourself from such treatment. An important part of this step in recovery is recognizing that you possess what was once dangerous to possess when under the reign of your narcissistic parent. This, too, is a process. If you’ve spent years convincing yourself that you are not kind, smart, attractive etc. then it will take some time and patience to entertain the opposite with yourself.
You can facilitate your own realization of the attributes you possess by moving away from friends and partners who react with envy to your possession of yourself. If you find yourself reticent to share a success with a friend or a partner then this may signal that they feel threatened by you being your whole self. In contrast, if you feel welcomed and celebrated when you share good news about yourself then these may be the type of people to move towards.
One obstacle that can get in the way of moving away from those who envy you is feeling responsible for their emotional wellbeing. There is a fragile quality to people who envy others in this manner and for the scapegoat survivor who has a lot of empathy this fragility can evoke a protective instinct. I would argue that in these cases the scapegoat survivor’s empathy towards such envious people comes at the cost of the survivor’s own emotional wellbeing and recovery involves practicing making oneself one’s priority in this regard. So, if you find yourself feeling guilty for moving away from a friend or partner who puts you down for being your full self then you might compassionately respond to yourself that you cannot be responsible for their wellbeing – they must take that responsibility themselves. Many people who are narcissistic – in essence – do not take this responsibility to care for themselves and feel entitled for others to care for them in this manner. Some of the guilt felt by the scapegoat survivor may reflect a concern for what will happen to the other person when their entitled demands are not complied with.
How to identify who is safe to be successful around and protect yourself from narcissistic abuse
In module 4 of my online course on recovery from narcissistic abuse I address this topic in depth. I go through a spreadsheet of attributes of ‘safe people’ in great detail then provide you with this spreadsheet so that you can assess the people in your life with it. You get to come up with a score for each person then rank the people on your list from highest to lowest score to give yourself an idea of who is safe versus who is not in your life today. If you haven’t already I encourage you to click here to learn more about this tool for reclaiming your strengths.
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.