My experience with Lena the last few days makes me see the importance of having a trustworthy adult. I was reading an article about the narcissistic family this week too, and that seemed to connect up with that idea.
In the narcissistic family, there is not an appropriate hierarchy. The parents do not take care of the needs of the children, and the children do not necessarily obey their parents. The children instead attend to the desires of the parents. There may be no rules, the rules may be inconsistent, or they may be impossible to follow. There will probably not be any rules for the adults, and the rules will most definitely not be designed to help the children develop or stay safe.
For example, if the children have chores to do in a narcissistic household, the chores will not be there to help the children take pride in their ability to contribute to the household or to have an outlet for their increasing competence. The chores will be there to show the parent has raised well-behaved, obedient children or because the parent doesn’t want to do that particular task. And, because of that, the chores may be overly burdensome, something the child only has to do when the parent is in a certain mood, or physically too difficult for the child to do successfully and take pride in.
It was interesting to have Lena help with the dishes earlier in the week. What she got out of it was a sense of closeness. She’s three, so it’s a totally inappropriate task, except that she “helped” (which can mean a lot of things in real life) and she has my hand-eye coordination. It’s not quite the same as a real child, but it gave me a taste of how having chores growing up wasn’t at all the same thing. My mom wanted obedient children and she wanted a clean house. She also wanted to please her psychiatrist. But nowhere in the equation were our needs as children to feel like part of the family team or to exercise our developing “responsibility” muscles.
During the week with Lena—she was out quite a lot at home—I also saw how having rules that protected her and that I felt confident about having in place made her feel very relaxed and safe. The adults were not able to keep her safe as a child. They couldn’t protect her from themselves, from other threats, or from herself. It was total chaos, as far as she was concerned.
It’s hard to explain this well. To give an example, I have tried in the past to say that the little parts don’t need to be afraid of sexual abuse, because I will protect them, and this usually doesn’t have much effect. I have also told them they can protect themselves, and they receive this like I am telling them the sky is now green and the sun and the moon have changed places. But I told Lena the rule now is little girls do not attend to the sexual desires of adult men. I won’t allow that. Men are not allowed to ask her to do that and she is not allowed to provide it, and this is a rule I will enforce.
Oh, yes, she gets that. There is a new rule. I am the adult now and I make the rules, and these rules keep her and all the little parts safe and allow them to get their needs met. So she has to go to bed on time. She has to eat whether or not she feels she deserves to starve. She cannot self-harm or attempt suicide. And she has to support whatever decisions I make. My decisions are always going to take into account and represent an attempt to balance the needs of everyone, and she has to obey them so that everyone can be nurtured.
I have become the trustworthy adult. And one of the loveliest things about this is she can stop breaking her 3-year-old head trying to make decisions she’s not developmentally capable of making.