Guilt

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Many children of narcissists may not be aware that they are usually in service of others and do not really do anything just for themselves or consider their wants and needs to be important.

If they do do anything for themselves or if they do not do something other people want them to do, they may feel an overwhelming sense of guilt.

In his book the Search for the Real Self, James F. Masterson writes about the difference between our real selves – never accepted/approved of and therefore suppressed, and the adapted self, which we construct as a defence mechanism and present to the world as the ‘real’ us (we may be unsure which parts of us are the real us and which are defence mechanisms).

There is a pervasive dysfunctional guilt often felt by children of narcissists and this is due to conditioning (see here) throughout childhood and adolescence.

Disapproval was strongly expressed by the parent through anger or rejection when the child tried to become their real authentic and independent self. 

The child was rewarded for being submissive, clingy and obedient and being what the parent wanted the child to be.

When the adapted self is in control, the natural desire for self-expression (of the real self) triggers the defence of feeling guilt and then those natural desires of the real self are suppressed.

An inner critic, which can be the internalised voice of the narcissistic parent, may also be triggered (see How We Become Our Own Abuser).

For people with an impaired real self, the guilt can be as paralysing as when they were a small child. This guilt may motivate some to feel they want to cling to their parent or a parent substitute (this could be a partner) as the only way to not feel the guilt.

Children of narcissists may often fall apart in adolescence due to their not being permitted to become their real self which meant that they had not built up the necessary skills to enable them to transition into the adult world and become self-sufficient. They may start to use substances to manage their emotions and they can become suicidal.

The adapted self may cling to someone to take care of it as a strategy to avoid feeling guilty and many children of narcissists will assume that passive role. They may feel they need to be told what to do in some way (this happens subconsciously).

What you seek is seeking you

Rumi

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Sarah Graham

Sarah Graham

I am a Counsellor, based in Bournemouth in the UK, with specialist knowledge of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am trained in treating Complex Trauma. I work online and am insured to work in most places in the world.

Link to my Counselling Website Here