4. Contempt is a part of love and ‘normal’ in a relationship.
Narcissistic parents can subject their children to periods of idealization when they need them, quickly followed by contempt and terrifying narcissistic rage when they ‘disobey’ and threaten their excessive sense of entitlement (Goulston, 2012). The condescension, contempt and hatred with which a narcissistic parent uses to berate their children is not only immensely hurtful, it retrains the mind into accepting abuse as a new normal (Streep, 2016).
This pattern of idealization and devaluation teaches us that love is unstable, frightening, and ultimately unpredictable. It causes us to walk on eggshells, fearful that we may displease others. It also desensitizes us and makes us tone-deaf to verbal abuse later on in adulthood (Streep, 2016). Although we may learn to identify emotional and verbal abuse, we will be less likely than someone who had a healthy upbringing to recognize how damaging it can be or how unacceptable it truly is, because it unfortunately is ‘familiar’ to us as the only version of love we’ve been shown. We may become ‘trauma bonded’ to our abusive parents and more prone to bonding with abusive partners in adulthood as a result (Carnes, 1997). We may even go to the other end of the spectrum and shut out anyone who resembles our parents in tone or attitude – some of this may be hypervigilance, but much of it is self-protection and intuition about the behaviors that have traumatized us in the past.
Children of narcissistic parents can re-sensitize themselves to the fact that abuse is not a normal or healthy part of any relationship by addressing their people-pleasing habits, doing important boundary work, and replacing old narratives of unworthiness with empowering ones about the type of love and respect they truly deserve. They can essentially ‘reparent’ themselves in a safe, protective space (Walker, 2013).