From the Editor’s Mailbox: ‘Earning’ a Parent’s Love, Experiencing Flashbacks, and Explaining NPD

[photo credit: flickr user dorkymom]

[photo credit: flickr user dorkymom]

The Invisible Scar receives lots of emails every month, and some have questions best shared with our readers in this “From the Editor’s Mailbox” column. The subject matter merits more input, and, though our main advice is for the sender to turn to therapy, we also invite helpful insight or support.

Here’s a look at the most pressing questions from readers this month. (Only names have been changed.)

Q1: My mother just shouts and screams at me but really it’s intolerable. And, yeah, the dilemma that “Am I too sensitive that I got hurt just by this?” “She’s my mother… Maybe this is the price one needs to pay to get some love.” “She should be hated or loved?”—Kate

This question has many different components, so we’ll break it up into those components and address each one:

My mother just shouts and screams at me, but it’s really intolerable.
One should not shout or scream at another person regularly. Yes, people do sometimes shout and scream; it’s normal to be upset and get irritated/angry/frustrated and shout. However, it is not normal to do this regularly.

The constant shouting and screaming is verbal abuse.

Shouting at someone and screaming at another person shows a completely lack of respect for the dignity of the other person.

Am I too sensitive that I feel hurt just by this?
To feel hurt by someone screaming and shouting at you is a normal reaction. When shouted at, some people shut down, others feel hurt. But it is normal to not enjoy being screamed at.

Emotionally abusive adult children have often been conditioned to blame themselves for feeling hurt by the abusive parent. The adult survivors have been trained to take abuse then squelch any feeling of hurt by it. This is one reason why so many adult survivors of emotional child abuse have health issues; they have been suppressing their very normal reactions to abuse and are getting sick.

This conditioning to blame oneself (the recipient of the abuse) rather than the parent (the abuser) is one very real reason why adult survivors must go to therapy. Their ability to know what is normal behavior (or at least within the range of normal behavior) has been corrupted by abusive parents.

(Granted, sometimes adult survivors of emotional child abuse are hyper-sensitive, but this is a very big subject to cover. We’ll do so later this year. However, in this case of a mother screaming at the child regularly, the answer is clear that no, the child is not being sensitive.)

Maybe this is the price one needs to pay to get love.
This sentence is heart-breaking because it is a familiar one to adult survivors of emotional child abuse. The adult survivors longs for love, wants paternal love so desperately… that need is normal. However, the abusive parent is acting unloving, so the adult survivor believes the change needs to happen in him/herself. The child feels s/he must change.

Change, however, must happen within the adult survivor’s heart and the abuser’s. The adult survivor must learn to limit exposure to the abuser. Create space away from the abuser; don’t put yourself in the firing squad. Tell the abuser to stop, and let him or her know that you will not see the abuser until a profound change has been sustained for a long period of time.

Love is not a screaming match. Love is not abusive. Love is not a dark powerful force that destroys another human being. The love of a parent is to be freely given to the child. A child is to be loved and respected and cared for by the adult; it is the right of a child to be loved by his/her parents.

The best definition of love comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited. It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offense or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love never comes to an end.

She should be loved or hated?
This is a very difficult question. To feel hatred toward one’s abuser is normal. Even feeling a confusing mix of “love” and “hate” is normal. But that doesn’t mean that hate should take up permanent residence in an adult survivor’s heart.

Many adult survivors struggle with “honoring one’s parents” when the parent is abusive.

To answer that question, we’ve asked a Catholic psychologist. He said that one can honor the position that a mother or father takes; one honors the role of a parent and what it is supposed to be… and an adult survivor can, in time, pray for his or her parent as a sign of honor for the position. But all that does not mean that the adult survivor needs to pretend false intimacy with the abuser or even maintain any sort of social relationship with the parent.

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse doesn’t have such simple emotions as love or hate toward the parent. A strange brew of love, hate, anger, frustration, pity, confusion, etc. exist. Which is why, as always, we advise therapy to help the adult survivor navigate through the morass of emotions.

Q2: I wondered if any adult sufferer, who is trying to put the past behind them, looks at themselves in the mirror to see physical features in themselves that they are trying to forget. We can’t help genetics, but it is painful to see the eyes/nose/mouth of a parent who you are trying so hard to forget, staring back at you in the mirror. I look away or try to focus on bits that are  more me. How do others cope?—James

We’ve asked a group of adult survivors of emotional child abuse this question and answers included…

  • Remember that just because things look the same, that does not mean they are the same. You are your own person, not a replica.
  • Focus on the differences, not the similarities, of your looks. You may have the same eyes, but whatever, you have a totally different mouth or nose.
  • Make a change. Maybe you get your ears pierced or wear contacts instead of glasses. Highlight something that’s uniquely you.

Readers, what tips can you add to this list?

Q3: I just spoke to a friend who is moving back to a place that has some really bad memories for her. She’s an adult survivor of emotional child abuse and has not yet completely dealt with it. She’s worried she might have a breakdown once she goes back to this place where she spent a part of her childhood.Irene

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse often experience flashbacks to the abuse. Your friend might very well have these, but she can teach herself different techniques to deal with these.

The In Care Survivor Service Scotland produced this free downloadable guide, “Anxiety Flashback and Grounding Techniques,” which is packed with self-care ideas for handling flashbacks.

Q4:  I have been separated from my children’s NPD father for almost 3 years.  I am very concerned that my 19 year old son has taken my place as his father’s “scapegoat.”  Can you suggest a jumping off point for explaining this to him before it’s too late.  An article or place to start.  I needed someone to jump in and make me aware of my skewed reality and I think he needs the same.—Clark

Talking to your son about your ex-husband’s NPD will have to be  handled delicately at first. We suggest a gentle yet clinical approach… Lovingly tell your son that you’ve been reading about narcissistic personality disorder… See how your child reacts to this. Your son may chime in with, “Oh, that sounds like Dad!” If not, gently suggest that you think your son has a narcissistic father.

You can find resources for adult children of narcissists here.

Q5: Do you know of any support groups for the emotionally abused spouse? I need more support. I haven’t been able to find support groups for survivors of emotional abuse.—Vivien

You may want to call your local women’s shelter and ask for support groups available to you. (Emotional abuse is domestic abuse.)

This Facebook Group, Women’s Emotionally Abused Support Group, may be a good resource to find a local support group.

[photo credit: flickr user Ken Douglas]

[photo credit: flickr user Ken Douglas]


Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

6 thoughts on “From the Editor’s Mailbox: ‘Earning’ a Parent’s Love, Experiencing Flashbacks, and Explaining NPD

  1. Thank you dear Editor for taking the time to address these difficult questions.

    Question 1. strikes a chord with all of us going through that difficult stage of trying to make sense of the abuse we go through. We all try to make sense of what we’ve been through.

    The ‘price of love’:
    You are right. No one has to ever ‘pay’ for love. Love is given freely, compassion & kindness do not expect anything in return. This needs to be taught in schools.

    ‘Honour thy parents’ :
    This was always slammed in my face. It sounded more like, ‘You’re my victim & there’s nothing you can do about it’. I was too afraid to remind them that a few lines below read, ‘ Parents do not drive your children to resentment ‘
    Does the person in the parent role truly know, understand, accept & themselves-honour the responsibilities that the role comes with?
    So I have broken it down further. A parent to me is anyone you meet in life who loves, nurtures & protects you. Yes, I will honour someone with those attributes. I will ignore people who have ignored my pain – the pain of a defenceless child.
    The Catholic church has lessons for people going into marriage. It would be interesting if everyone had counselling before they planned parenthood.

    Love or Hate:
    Coming to the part where your reader feels she has to choose between hate & love, I think that we don’t have to choose either. I agree, as humans we are capable of feeling a whole range of emotions, & they don’t HAVE to be hate or love.
    These are the people who have taught us who we do not want to be like. They have shown us what we do not want in our lives. And we’ve paid the price for that lesson. I hate the acts carried out, I hate the fear I felt, I feel a loss for happiness in a carefree child-hood, but as for my parents, I just feel tremendous mis-trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve come to realize the graces I sought most from my emotionally abusive parents were approval and validation. I now find myself wanting approval from my husband of nearly 20 years who is a nice man, but doesn’t adapt easily to change. How do we maintain a healthy relationship in the midst of a huge life change?


  3. I struggled immensely with Honour Thy Father and Mother. Every time the urge came to break it off from them, to tell them to their face that I had had it with them, that Commandment would come back to me, and I would swallow the latest hurt caused by them, and “go back into the fold”.

    One day, I went to Mass. The moment I stepped into the church, I felt an odd tingling on my shoulders and down my back. It went on till Communion time. I didn’t disrupt my concentration, but I was aware of it.

    After Mass, about to hurry to my car, without any plan or thought, I went up to my priest and asked to speak with him. I had never even planned or considered doing this. With him, in a few short sentences, I told him about my life. Still strung up tightly in guilt, I made sure to give my parents the benefit of the doubt as they were not present with me in that room to defend themselves against my accusations.

    The priest was not someone well-known to me. He was new to the parish. And he was a straight-talking one, too, not afraid to tell you what you needed to hear. I told him I needed to go to Confession to him for what I was doing to my family (my parents, mother especially) – hurting them over and over, I couldn’t seem to stop hurting them, but I couldn’t understand why either. I told him about my guilt breaking the 4th Commandment, the desperate prayers to God for them.

    In a clear, firm voice, Fr said, “Oh but you are honouring your parents. You are praying for them. You know they are doing wrong and you are the only one to see it and pray for them. No one else sees what they are doing. Hence, no one else will ever pray for them in the way they need to be prayed for. You are according them the highest honour by praying for them.”

    Those were the words that gave me the clarity of thought and steely resolve to finally end it with my parents, and to start my new life.

    Today, I understand: In forcing and bullying me to live my life according to their decrees, my parents were demanding, not that I honour them, but that I WORSHIP them. NPD parents force their kids to worship them, while God calls us to honour them. That’s the difference between Life and death.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “NPD parents force their kids to worship them, while God calls us to honour them. That’s the difference between life and death.” This is such a revelation! NPD people want to be admired, respected… and worshipped, but worship is reserved only for God.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. On this topic, what really didn’t help me was that there was a fashion amongst psychologists that said, “Noone can MAKE you feel something. You choose to feel it.” (I came across it frequently in the 90s when I was trying to find my bearings.) Whereas of course, like you say, it’s normal to feel bad about being yelled at. But then a young person experiencing abuse sees advice like the “noone can make you feel XYZ” and this can compound their bad feelings because that’s now their fault as well, because they perversely CHOSE to feel bad when someone abused them.

    My parents yelled at me and at each other on a daily basis. In my 20s after I graduated and entered the workforce and lived completely on my own for the first time, it was such a relief to be able to come home to my little rented apartment and close the door and know one hundred percent that noone would yell at me in my own home. I remember very vividly the sense of utter luxury coming home to peace and quiet.


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