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Offering Your Inner Child a Third Way, Compassion and Love

By Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
December 31, 2006

Children whose parents are highly narcissistic often find themselves trapped between struggling to get their parents to care about them and wanting to give themselves up to get love. Often such children find it hard to feel love for their parents. Phyllis Stein describes how she found a way out of this dilemma for her little girl.

I recently receive an e-mail forward with a psychiatrist's diagnosis of a well-known person. He described him as having "Narcissistic Personality Disorder." According to the article, two of the hallmarks of NPD are the pathologic inability to empathize with others and the inability to admit any error or to say, "I'm sorry." I immediately realized that, at least in relation to me, that pretty well described my mother. She could not empathize with my feelings, so the natural feedback that would have kept her from hurting me was non-existent. I remember endless arguments with her, trying to get her to see that she was wrong about who I was and how I felt, trying to get her to see that she had hurt me. Her response was generally to say "Don't be ridiculous." It was hopeless, scary, lonely and ultimately humiliating.

Fast forward many years and my husband has left me for another woman, also deeply narcissistic. She and I have two different versions of what happened and in hers she did no wrong, simply followed the guidance of spirit and has no remorse about the pain she caused. I have done much healing around what happened, and I realize that what I still hold against her is not so much that she wound up with my husband, but that her actions were totally devoid of any caring about me. She had been my friend. I cannot let go of feeling like she is a bad person and I am her victim.

Suddenly, I am back in my childhood, trying, via e-mail, to demolish her version of reality with facts and logic and contradictions, so that she will admit to having done something wrong and apologize. As in the past, I am trying to be okay by getting someone else to care about the pain that they have caused me by making an irrefutable logical case against their alternate reality.

Then I begin to understand what had happened between the three of us and why. I realize, and tell her via e-mail, that she is so wounded that she is incapable of empathy and compassion for herself or me, and that this is why everything happened the way it did. Although I come to see that my logical assault will have no effect, because she cannot go to a place of learning and caring, stating my truth proves to be important in helping me come to this understanding and let go of the pain. And then I realize that it was the same with my mother; she too was not capable of caring about my feelings. Suddenly, I am no longer a victim, because my little girl can see that her safety has nothing to do with them or with convincing them of anything. I see that I had made my being okay about getting thru to my mother or to the other woman, about getting them to admit mistakes and care that they hurt me.

But then I find myself back in my childhood again in a surprising and different way. I remember, as a child, feeling like I had two choices. I could give myself up completely to my mother and get to be close to her, or I could refuse to give myself up and be alone. I chose to be alone, but part of me was mad about that. "Why can't you just go along? It would be so much easier." I even felt that with my husband and the other woman. If I had bought into their version that their relationship was entirely spiritual, nothing wounded going on, and gave myself up to that, I would not be alone. I felt compassion for that hurting part of me, brought her in close and told her "I am here now, you don't have to be alone anymore no matter what," which is true.

But an even deeper healing resulted from what happened. As a child I had two bad choices around my mother, give myself up or be alone. Neither one felt loving, and I felt trapped in a world that had no possibility for love. I desperately wanted to be able to love, but I could not see how to get there. Now I realize that I have another choice to offer my little girl. I can help her see the really wounded children inside these narcissistic people. I can help her not take what they did, their altered reality, their lack of empathy, personally. She and I can feel compassion and love for them and, incredibly, we do now. Also, quite amazingly, without planning it, I found myself feeling love for the first time for my grandmother, my mother's mother, another person to whom my little girl had been unable to open her heart for the same reasons. So the miracle of everything that happened is was that it provided my little girl with the third way that she never had, a way to have love in her heart, even around people who are too wounded to really care, without needing them to change or to give herself up. It is a blessed state. I haven't tried it on George Bush yet.


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