First off, this article may surprise you, if you know that I do not have children. So how can I possibly be the judge of this situation? I can, because I was one of the children in a household of domestic violence where the parents did not get divorced, and I am convinced that a child’s point of view is the best to understand the impact of it.
Especially now, about two decades later and having been involved in an abusive relationship myself as a result from this upbringing, I am urging parents, who find themselves in a toxic loop, to objectively look at their situation and evaluate their future together with special view on their children. Is it worth repeating the same cycle over and over again, hoping for the best and improvement that seems to never quite settle? And I am not even saying that narcissism always has to be an issue when things do not go well. It can happen to anyone. People evolve. And what makes them cling together in a toxic situation is not love (as they like to believe) but mutual neediness, attachment, and dependency at the cost of their child(ren). In other words, parents remain in their comfort zone while making their lives and the lives of those around them uncomfortable.
I remember it very vividly. That one night when my parents were in the living room having just another fight. I was in my teens, not quite sure exactly what age, but I had always been objective and seen things for what they were. Usually, I did not get involved, locked myself up in my room, and went about my own business, so I guess I must have been very annoyed that night and reached a conclusion. I walked into the living room and said to my parents, “You know what? It’s so easy. You don’t like him. You don’t like her. Why don’t you get divorced?” You should have seen the shock in their faces as they were staring at me with my non-sugarcoating-factual attitude (INTJ speaking here). In hindsight, I have to laugh a bit as I write this article, remembering the awkward silence as I stated the obvious and then see my mother turn toward my father saying, “What does that mean, you don’t like me?” – Well, was that not obvious?
We painted the typical average perfect family with a house, two children, a dog, two cars, and a white picket fence — American Beauty for real. The core of this little anecdote is though, I was a child literally begging my parents for a divorce, watching them fighting, name-calling, drinking, and eventually even beating each other up for an entire decade until my mother moved out to her new boyfriend, who was even worse.
When grown adults turn into fighting children, their children often turn into adults, caretakers, and mediators. This reversal of their roles forces children into a position where they are fully responsible to take care of their own needs and safety, and often also the needs and safety of their parents. This is how children are raised to become co-dependent adults and fixers — the narcissist’s favorite prey. That is not how it should be, but it seems to be a natural response, a survival mechanism, because all they want to see is their parents getting along and live on in peace themselves. Stress to a child is multiplied, and as a highly introverted person like me, whose home was supposed to be her haven away from the bullies at school, there was simply no escape.
While my parents are separated (and still not divorced), they are getting along perfectly fine today, but it was during my most formative years when they did not, and that is when being exposed to toxic parental behavior is the most dangerous, as we tend to recreate (or reenact) the trauma we experienced as children later in our lives. We experienced toxic relationships as normal, as a role model for respect, care, love, and intimacy, and, thus, it is to no surprise that we allow others to cross our boundaries, take advantage, and hurt us for longer than we should be tolerating.
Having come out of narcissistic abuse two years ago, I have been spending my time cleaning and healing the wounds that my parents created in my childhood and that were re-opened in an abusive relationship in me as an adult. Could this have been prevented? Maybe. Our future is unwritten, so we never know exactly what could, would, or should happen to us, but I am here today to share my experience to make you think about your situation and make the best decisions to hopefully guarantee your children a brighter future. You can see where our responsibilities lie. We cannot expose children to such toxicity for they will repeat history later.