“Whatever You Do, Don’t Upset Her:” The Passive Pain Caused by The Enabler Parent
by Debbie Tudor, LPC-S, Remote Counseling Services
Although children of narcissists
may sense that “something” is off about their narcissistic parent, they often don’t realize that there is another family member who enables the narcissist to continue their behavior unchecked: the enabler spouse. Here are a few of the enabler’s statements to the children that have been reported to me in therapy. (NOTE: I use “mother” as the narcissistic parent in this blog, but substitute “father” if your situation applies):
1) Don’t upset your mother.
2) She’s just having a bad day.
3) What did you do to upset her? (Implying it’s your fault when an adult acts childishly)
4) You should just get over it.
5) That’s just the way she is.
6) She’s just special, not like other people.
7) She’s fragile. You should be more careful.
8) Why did you “make” her….(yell, cry, hit you, etc.)
The unspoken message is:
1) we exist to make her happy.
2) if we can’t make her happy, it’s our fault.
3) You don’t matter. Your feelings (or mine) don’t matter. Only hers matter.
4) Don’t rock the boat.
5) Just keep the peace.
6) You are responsible for how others behave toward you.
The damage done by of these unspoken messages goes deep into the heart and mind of the Scapegoated Child
. Imagine this: children already think, by nature of brain developmental stages, that they cause everything in their world. To have their parent, whom they love and trust, blame them for their other parent’s issues, drives a deep sense of OVER-RESPONSIBLITY into the child that lasts well into adulthood if not challenged in therapy
. The resulting mistaken beliefs, which I deal with every day with my clients, are these (to name just a few):
1) if someone’s unhappy, it must be my fault.
2) if I can’t fix their feelings, I’m a failure.
3) If someone is mean to me, what did I do to deserve it? (Because it’s all MY responsibility when others misbehave)
4) Everyone must like me.
5) I must please everyone and keep them happy, or I’ve failed.
In a healthy family, the mother and father work as a unit to protect and guide the children.
In a Narcissistic family, the narcissist is at the center of the family universe, the enabler circles around her to protect her, and the children are left to fend for themselves.