Imagine if we were to tell a young child things like, “You cannot trust the world. It will hurt you. You must only trust yourself. Everyone else will betray you.” Perhaps these things aren’t said in words, but they are said in the much stronger terms of experiences. In young lives, the narrative is told by the violence of parents and the cruelty of classmates; in personal, compelling, and deeply psychologically ways, young people learn that they cannot trust the world around them, but they must rely upon themselves.
I believe that childhood experiences can shape us, quite powerfully, as many of us require therapy to unlearn things that we’ve learned from youth. I believe that my mother’s experiences in youth contributed to her narcissism. She is a survivor–her past is something that she is stronger now because of–but she is also strong to a fault. Strong to the point of being impermeable, being unable to hear where she might also be in some ways wrong.
In a word, a narcissist is confident—but troubles come along with that confidence: egoism, selfishness, bullying, dishonesty. A narcissist is not really a team player but someone is who will make themselves look good at all costs. Even the positive quality of confidence is only skin deep: narcissists are actually quite fragile, unable to handle criticism, and indeed they try very hard to keep this appearance of perfection up. They don’t trust others in their world because the opinions of others might differ from their own, narrow views. You must be careful not to contradict them.
My mother was one of those people whose upbeat, self-assured manner can change in an instant to down-beat and off-putting. My three brothers and I were home-schooled because she didn’t trust us to the school system–although she did trust her own abilities with little outside assistance. We spent little time with friends, and didn’t know our extended family–my mom always found something against them. She didn’t trust my father, accusing him of lies, collusion with her enemies, and secular/lacking morality. When my parents divorced, we had very limited visitation (I was twelve at that time and my younger more impressionable brother was 9). We were encouraged not to call refer to our father as “dad,” but by his first name. We were encouraged to think badly or infrequently of him. A few times, when she was really upset, mom threatened to send us “away, to live with your father.” “Do you really want to go live with John!?” she would ask. Of course, our answer was “no”!–because it would have completely changed our reality, being that we were homeschooled. (Though the small thought occurred that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, that was something that we didn’t say aloud, in fear that we might end up in a public school and a grade inferior to others of equal age).
I’ve recently learned that parental alienation is a too common occurrence in divorce, where one parent belittles and often alienates another. Brainwashing children to dislike the alienated partner is a part of the abuse. In our case, the alienation we experienced from my father was a part of a larger pattern of isolation, separating us from the possibly harmful world. In my mother’s mind, she was just doing what was best for us; in all, she was being true to herself, doing what she felt was right–even if, in reality, it was far from the best thing. She was living based on her own fears and experiences, trusting that that would make us strong and confident, like her.
My mom has since let go of her control and softened her outlook. She has a college education now, so she has learned to be more open, both to criticism and varied ideas. She doesn’t see my father as a bad guy, and is glad he’s happily remarried. She admits that homeschooling shouldn’t have been so isolating, but she explains that “they didn’t know the importance of socialization back then.”
I’ve got a feeling that some others who homeschool might be narcissists too–and like my mother, they might have large blind-spots where their own confidence lubes them forward. (I haven’t seen any scientific studies to this effect yet but I have read some personal accounts.) I wish I could do something to warn just a few.
If you are a little bit on the confident side, make sure you’re also cool with questions, differing opinions. It’s not harmful to consider alternatives, but it is harmful to be inconsiderate. Don’t shut yourself out from the help of others in your endeavors, in your difficulties. Sometimes we do things which feel right for our own survival but they are actually harmful in the long run. We ALL need ways to keep ourselves accountable–even the most put-together people are organized because they have a system for being that way. We all have different ways of learning, of succeeding. Perhaps homeschooling might be best for a child, or perhaps they will learn best outside of the home. It’s not a failure if your system doesn’t work; we all try things that don’t work and that’s only human; we grow by trying until we find the right balance.
I’ve worked to overcome my sheltered youth, learned to express myself, grown closer to my father. In a way, I’m thankful for my difficulties. I may always have some anxiety but I also have wonder and appreciation for people–and for human psychology. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so interested in people had I grown more accustomed to being around many at an earlier age. I’m part of the club–one of many who don’t always have it easy. I embarrass myself saying mindless things when I’m anxious. But when I find true friends, it’s a wonderful thing. I have a wonderful husband, four-year old daughter, and have made some friends in many places. (I know some might repraise their submissive role, but not me. I can’t find happiness by keeping quiet and holding my feelings down, even if at times I can do it quite well.)