I know that those of us who are dealing with a narcissist can have all kinds of different narcissistic people in our lives. Many people who visit this page have a narcissist ex, friend, parent, sibling, boss…you name it. Unfortunately in society, the children of narcissistic parents suffer in a unique way, because they are most helpless to escape. Most people do not have abusive parents, and many people have healthy, loving parents, so they cannot relate to the idea that a parent might not love their children. That means that the child or adult child who speaks out is likely to be invalidated, disbelieved, shamed, and worse. For teenagers, it’s even worse. Teenagers aren’t young enough to be cute and innocent, but they aren’t old enough to be taken seriously. I have a narcissist mother, and it has shaped my whole life and the ways I learned to deal with–and get walked on–by other people. So, when I read stories of teenagers claiming they are abused, I am often triggered to recognize parental narcissism where others might just see a bratty child.
Recently in the news, TV host Rosie O’Donnell shared with the public that her teenaged daughter was missing. She emphasized that her daughter was mentally ill, and insinuated that her daughter was not capable of being rational. Most people see a loving and concerned mother. I saw a woman who was publicly humiliating and degrading her daughter–in a way that made Rosie seem so nice and concerned. To me, she seemed like a snake. If your child has problems or faults, it is not considerate or kind to let the world know–especially in a way that makes your child look or feel defective. This is a common abuser tactic, because it sends the message that the daughter can’t be trusted and that she is crazy. So if the daughter speaks out about abuse occurring at home, people are pre-determined to discredit her stories. My red flags went up!
After Rosie’s daughter Chelsea was “found,” she gave an interview describing her mother in very negative terms. I believed her story because I’ve lived it. She doesn’t even describe violence or anything obvious, but she naively describes a general attitude of disinterest and neglect from her mother. She is too young to put into words what has happened to her, but one can read between the lines and sense frustration. She is old enough to realize something isn’t right, but she’s still a teenager, so she isn’t being taken seriously. Here is a link to her story. Immediately, I pick up that she is describing a mother who shows off and plays the loving mother on camera, but ignores her children at home. I sense that Chelsea feels hurt about her mother repeatedly calling her “mentally ill” in the media. She describes a mother who sent her away to boarding school because she was a “problem.” I read that she was separated from and alienated from her adopted and her biological family. To quote Chelsea:
Putting out there that I am mentally ill was really hurtful. People think I’m this crazy person and as I’ve said, I have depression and bad anxiety – but it’s been something that’s gotten a lot better. But these were personal things and I didn’t want anyone to know them about me.
In the media, Rosie stated that Chelsea was off her medications, and made it sound like her daughter was wild and incapable of taking care of herself. Chelsea states that she suffers from depression. And who wouldn’t with a mother who is willing to embarrass her to protect her own fame? Given the two stories in the media, I see a mother creating drama and degrading her child and I see a teenager trying to defend herself with her own side of the story.
When I read her story, I felt immediate empathy and understanding, but the comments I read on the Facebook link were mostly cruel and non-validating. They were the typical comments that an abused teen hears when they try to get others to understand what happened to them. The stereotypes are frustratingly ignorant!
My hunch is that Rosie is a narcissistic mother, but of course I can’t be sure. However, the reactions to Chelsea’s story were extremely typical of how people react when an abused teenager speaks out. Let’s remember that when a child tells a story of a heartless parent…many times it is a true story. Unfortunately, when there is discord between a teenager and a parent, society tends to side with the parent. People stereotype parents as good and mature while teenagers are emotional and immature. That isn’t always the case, and the teenager is not always lying or exaggerating.
When I was a teenager, I was very short and skinny–much smaller than my mother. She was literally more than twice my weight. She also had rage problems. On regular occasions, she beat or whipped me when I was a kid. Her aggression got worse when I was a teenager. If she got mad, she’d shove me against a wall and put her hands around my throat to strangle me–something her own parents had modeled to her. One time, I called 911. When the police showed up, my mother described me as an out of control teenager, and she cried. The police immediately took her side and told me to stop being so wild. I felt like I’d been bamboozled. I was a very quiet teenager. Very mild, very meek, very shy. I wasn’t wild. I didn’t get into trouble. I didn’t experiment with drugs, drinking or sex like even the good kids did. But, while my raging mother was trying to strangle me, the police automatically assumed that I, as a teenager, was the problem. I could not get help from any of the people who were meant to help me. As a result, when I hear a teenager speaking out, I listen. Sure, I might be wrong, but my instinct tells me that most of the time, I am not.
I want to refute some of the common erroneous beliefs that many people have when a teenager of a narcissist speaks up.
These examples are based on the typical comments I kept reading over and over on Chelsea’s story.
Typical Comment: Teenagers are just emotional. Rosie is a loving parent who did the best she could.
Reality: Teenagers are emotional, but that doesn’t mean that they are always wrong, or that they are lying. All we know is that Rosie claims to be a loving parent on television. That does not mean she really is.
Typical Comment: She’s just a spoiled brat who is throwing a fit because she can’t get her own way.
Reality: Not every person who objects to their parent’s treatment is a spoiled brat. She might have a legitimate reason to be uncomfortable with her mother. Not every teenager who speaks out is just throwing a fit. Sometimes they are trying to get help with a real problem.
Typical Comment: She’s mentally ill and just trying to hurt her mother.
Reality: Yes, depression is a mental illness, but it is cruel to speak as if someone with depression is worthless or “crazy.” She might be depressed because of her mother. No matter what, depression is not a reason to treat her as if she’s unworthy of being heard.
Typical Comment: She’s ungrateful. Her mother gave her a home and food and clothes.
Reality: Seriously? You think that’s the only thing a parent is supposed to do? A parent is obligated to take care of a child. They aren’t doing the child a favor by giving the child a home and food! But there’s more to it than that. Even more important is validation, support, care, love, guidance, wisdom and nurturing. The nicest house in the world means nothing if a child is not learning emotional intelligence.
I find it frustrating when society discounts a teenager simply because of the stereotypes we have. Unfortunately, they often have very important truths to tell. Let’s start listening to them.