He Didn’t Always Yell: Raised By A Narcissist

My dad’s volume was impressive. It’s like he was factory equipped with a megaphone in his throat.

There were many times I was reduced to saying: Please…just please stop yelling.

His response was the same every time: I’m not yelling, THIS IS YELLING.

He would go from unbelievably loud to inhumanly loud.

Not always, though. There were times when my father would speak to me or my sisters in a calm and rational tone. His voice was mellow and tinged with concern.

His most devastating comments were delivered in that voice.

It was in this voice I learned I would never be smart enough to take care of myself. I would never be pretty enough to coast on my looks.

When he called me an ‘airhead’ it was almost always in a loving way.

This is how I learned that I was an ingrate and that I thought the world should deliver everything to me on a silver platter.

This was the voice that informed me that nothing in HIS house was mine.

No matter that I worked two jobs in high school and had bought my own clothes since age 13.

He would periodically come into my room and tell me that everything in it was his. That he could take it all outside and burn it if he wanted.

He would tell me that anytime he wanted he could get me fired from one or both of my jobs.

This is the voice that taught me shame. I learned the lesson very well.

When I was around 10 years old, we went to the Cincinnati Zoo. My hair was wild, my face was dirty, and I wore a stained white sweat shirt that had a shaggy dog on the front with the words ‘Be nice to me, I’ve had a hard day’.

Dad took pictures of my younger sisters, the animals, my mother…everything but me. I asked him to take my picture and he did, but it was obvious he didn’t want to.

He took it by the door of the bird house. There was a lovely Dogwood tree behind me in full bloom.

After the pictures were developed he sat me down and silently flipped through the pictures. He got to the one he took of me and showed it to me.

“Do you SEE why I didn’t want to take your picture”?

I looked at my picture, I had my hand up to my squinted eyes to shade them from the sun and I knew exactly why he didn’t want to take my picture.

I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve requested my picture be taken in the 40 years that followed.

I am not a fan of my image.

It’s taken me years, but I know now that a lot of my beliefs about myself are simply not true.

I’m not stupid. I’m pretty fucking far from stupid.

I’m not ugly.

I appreciate what I have and what people do for me. And I have NEVER expected the world to hand me anything. I’ve worked for what I have.

I also know that it is within me to be just as cruel as my father was.

I am mostly NOT a cruel person, but the few times in my life that I’ve been extraordinarily cruel, the cruelness was delivered in a calm and cool manner…because somewhere inside me, I knew it would hurt the most if it was said in a loving way.

Even though my anger toward the people who received this treatment was justified, I count these moments as some of the biggest regrets of my life.

I am not my father. I am not a cruel person.

I struggle with criticism. Even the smallest dose of criticism will make shame wash over me in waves.

This is something that I must learn to deal with. I need to find a healthy way to process critical comments from others that doesn’t send me spiraling into self loathing and make me feel like that little girl in the dirty sweat shirt.




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  • Sending that little girl a virtual hug… I know just how she felt. Being made to feel that you have no safe space, that your home is not your own and nothing in it is either..I can so relate to this. It’s one of the many reasons I left so young to make my own way in the world, not that I’m doing so well at that these days

    • Thank you, Karen…

      Feeling ‘safe’ is still difficult for me. Although, I do feel safer now than ever. But that sense of safeness can be very easily shaken.

      • Yep..and for me, more so in the latter days of my marriage obviously and it’s taken a long time to lose the underlying anxiety and stress. I feel safe in my little bedsit for now, I can’t imagine every sharing my safe space with another person again. That may change but I have a feeling it won’t. Sadly there is the increasing worry that I will have to find somewhere else to go soon, but I’ll have to cross that bridge when the time comes

  • I too am sending that little girl inside a big hug – for all of us who have been through something like this (my mother not so much my father). You’ve written about it so eloquently. I really felt it. And it really reminded me of how I grew up. I have moments of real self-pity when I just get so angry about it all. But most of the time, I get on with what I’m doing. And I remember that I am not there anymore.

    • Thank you!

      And you’re right, we are no longer there. And that is a good thing…I am just finding ways to shed that pain and fear and anger. It’s not an easy process.

  • Sadly, my father yelled a lot. He never saw it as yelling. I supposed some of it wasn’t even actually yelling, it was merely his normal demeaning loud tone. But yes, I know exactly what you mean.

  • Thanks for sharing. It’s comforting and encouraging to read and be reminded others struggle and, more importantly, survive and even thrive. Sometimes a trigger so quickly sends me back in time, but the difference now is that I don’t have to stay there. So, thanks again!

    • This is thought provoking. You’re right…we DON’T have to stay there…getting snapped back for a moment is nothing.

      I need to remember this and try it out for next time.

    • I faced this story a long time ago…before I even understood narcissism..so it’s not terribly hard for me anymore. It frustrates me and it makes me sad for who I was.

  • I don’t care if your face was dirty (your parents should have washed it) your hair was a rats nest (your parents should have brushed it) and your shirt was stained (your parents should have laundered it) there is no doubt in my mind that you were beautiful all the same, and your parents should have told you that. Every day. Where was your mom in all this?

  • Thank you…Underneath the messy hair, I was pretty adorable. I’d like to go back and take care of me now. I needed to smile more, I was a serious kid…

    My mother was there. She had her own demons as I am pretty sure she was raised by someone exactly like my father. She also suffered from crippling depression.

  • With every post you write I think, your father and my mother (and my stepfather, too!)…it makes me wonder if there was something in the water way back then? Shame is so very poison. Have you read anything by Brené Brown? I highly, HIGHLY recommend her TED talks, too. All about shame and vulnerability and resilience.

    When we own our shadow sides like you did here…I think that is the work that heals us! In fact, I am writing a post this very second about working through the book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. Awesome work.

    • I will definitely check them out!

      And yes..must have been in the water or something. 🙂

      I am so looking forward to your new post…

  • Once again, this post hit home for me.

    Reading your blog (and the comments here) led me to a lightbulb moment a couple of days ago. I realized that as children of narcissistic parents, I think we’re handed a bunch of lies: You’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re fat, you’re shameful, you’re wrong. As children, we don’t know enough to fight back against these lies, so we just accept them. I can’t tell you how much this breaks my heart.

    I think one of our jobs as ACONs is to examine which of these lies we’ve internalized – which of the lies are still fucking with us – and to dispute them.

    I think another of our jobs as ACONs is to examine which of the values imposed on us by our narcissistic parents really aren’t working for us. For me, that’s “appearance is the most important thing.” It was another lightbulb moment for me when I realized that I didn’t think that about other people – I’m far more impressed by someone’s kindness than by their beauty – but I was absolutely applying that standard to myself, beating myself up because my appearance isn’t perfect.

    I think maybe other people without fucked-up families learn this in early adolescence. Yep, I’m 47-going-on-12.

    • Wow! This is just so fucking full of awesome.

      It means so much to me that people are identifying with these ramblings and perhaps learning to be more accepting of themselves..thank you SO much for letting me know.

      And I think a lot of us ACONs have some emotional maturity issues. I’m not a professional in any capacity…but I have to think that recognizing it is a good beginning step to healing.

      • Thank *you* for writing such an insightful blog to which we ACONs can relate so deeply. And thank you for creating such a great community of awesome, supportive people!

        • Love what you have to say here Sue! We internalize so many lies…even the so-called “normal” people do too. 😉 But for those of us who grew up with mentally ill parents, it’s that much harder. I think one of the most comforting things about reading this blog and the comments is that I don’t feel ashamed for being a “late bloomer.”

  • Oh, wow. This one really hits home. I’m so glad that I stumbled upon your blog! You are the mix of sarcasm and wit that I absolutely adore!!! And the humor makes some of the shit so much easier to face and deal with, doesn’t it?
    I will add this right underneath “I HATE okra” on my list. I HATE, HATE, HATE having my picture taken. Because my hair is too curly, my lips are too big, my nose is too big, my breasts are too small… Really Dad? Why don’t you just shut-the-fuck-up?!!
    Now that I’ve “awakened” to what he is/was I keep using my own children as a comparison. And I can see that for everything that people would say “isn’t that bad” really IS! I would NEVER say or do some of those things to my children! Who doesn’t think their child is beautiful? (well unless it’s your second son – who was funny looking when he was born… LOL)

    • HAHA..

      I’m glad you found it, too. Writing about this has been very good for me. I even feel calmer a lot of the time. Or I’m just really fucking tired.

      I hesitated to even write the story about making my kid cry because it sounded reminiscent of the way I was treated..but I really WAS joking. AND I felt terrible about it. I’m so glad that kid toughened up a little. He’s actually LESS sensitive than his older brother now.

    • And from your description? You sound beautiful! I have a largish nose that’s kind of funny looking, but it’s mine. And I love curly hair and big lips!

      We’ll probably never enjoy having our picture taken though, will we?

  • Why is this article just showing up in my Twitter feed 5 years later?! I lived this. All of this. Right down to my cruelty to others, and even my own kid as much as I tried to avoid it. Holy shit, this hit me hard. I never knew what success was because there was no such thing. Success was just the things you were expected to do. It was failure that took the limelight, and in a HUGE way. I never learned to succeed. I just learned I wasn’t supposed to fail, because when I did what I was supposed to, that was because HE taught me to be that way, and when I failed, well that was all me.

By Michelle


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