Clinical experience and research show that adult children of narcissists have a difficult time putting their finger on what is wrong, because denial is rampant in the narcissistic family system.
— David M. Allen M.D.
Most narcissistic abused victims stay years on a row in denial. This happens because it is very painful to accept the reality that you were abused and deceived by the same person you are so in love with: your mother. To accept this shatters your worldview, your dreams, and the idea of who you are.
That is where denial kicks in to avoid awareness of reality and of further disturbing suffering.
In short, denial is a psychological mechanism that helps you to avoid the reality that is front of your eyes and maintain a rotten peace. Denial pushes you to refuse or admit the years you endure of abuse, lack of love, and suffering. It creates a buffer in order to avoid further suffering, but as long as the external conditions stay the same, as we all know, future problems will arise, and with it further suffering.
Denial in Action
A perfect example of denial is the following comment from a daughter of a Narcissist Mother:
I love my mom, and she has a really good heart and she is really funny, in an outrageous way. But I grew up knowing the other side to her as well. When she comes to me finding fault, placing blame, even trying to control, I have to be adult and balanced enough to see past her behavior, words and emotions otherwise get drawn in. So much easier asking her what’s upset her and giving her room to talk it out than bearing the brunt of it. Had to be gentle and handle it delicately though, because its been such an adjustment for her. Its not her fault though, she had things buried inside and for some reason it was safe for her to bring them to me. It is not easy to be her daughter.
This woman was deprived of her childhood when she says “I have to be the adult”. No space to be fragile, held, supported, and needy like a child. Her emotions had to be buried deep down and her suffering of premature childhood ending forgotten.
Coping with her Narcissistic Mother she learned that is better to focus on the Narcissistic Mother “so much easier asking her what’s upset her and giving her room to talk”. What she is trying to say with this last comment is that Narcissistic Mother needs and feelings are more important that her own. She learned to accept the identity of the Helper (narcissistic supply) dictated by the Narcissistic Mother’s needs. By identifying with the Helper identity she gets some comfort, in spite of being a mere satellite of the Narcissistic Mother planet, and had to abdicated of having an independent life, her own life.
The most evident denial here is when she admits that her Narcissistic Mother’s behavior is outrageous and difficult, but at the same time she has a good heart. Denial has this ability to make us detach form our experience and create a narrative that justifies the painful and abusive events. Another thing that happens here is the unconscious projection of her good nature onto her mother. She is attributing her own good heart to her mother that has none. This helps her to justify her helping behavior towards and Narcissistic Mother, and keep on staying with her. In plus, gives her the life purpose she eagerly needs: to be a good person. Being a good person has a cost for her, and the cost for her is to abandon herself, neglect her feelings, her needs and wants, and most important of all her own dreams.
Denial as Cognitive Dissonance
At some point, the circumstances may vary, but the son/daughter begins to notice that what they were told to think about the Narcissistic Mother and the real situations that they are experiencing don’t match. There is something wrong, but is very difficult for them to pinpoint what it is due to years of conditioning and indoctrination (and also fear of feeling guilty).
Denial is very much like Cognitive Dissonance:
Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.
The bottom line is that, no one likes to admit that they are wrong, much less admit that they have been fooled for so long, so it is infinitely easier to deny the new information rather than it is to embrace it. Denial gives the option of pretending that there is not “monster in the room”.
At this stage, it’s quite common for most people to believe in the Narcissistic Mother narratives. In plus, these narratives are not to be questioned, and should be taken seriously. For some, sons/daughters Narcissistic Mothers shouldn’t be questioned.
In general, most abused by Narcissistic Mothers don’t question the family history, in search for the real facts, either by laziness, or because they fear to be on the spotlight and be seen as crazy or strange by the Narcissistic Mother, preferring to go along with the “official” narrative, and the pretense family harmony.
It is very common to exhibit reactions that dismiss anything that questions the established family image. If the abused son/daughter expresses concern, a different narrative, or points out certain facts, they are generally met with dismiss, degrading labels, sarcasm, shame, guilt words and anger.
When the Levee Breaks
At some point, the levee of denial breaks out and a new powerful emotion erupts. This emotion will propel the person forward, for action and change. That emotion is Anger.
I will address the role of anger on the next post and how it is a step forward in the healing of abused sons and daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.
What is your personal story of denial?