couple arguingWhat happens to you in childhood matters. It doesn’t determine your life course, but does influence it. Adverse childhood experiences can derail you in adult life if you aren’t aware and learn new ways to respond. One adverse childhood experience is being raised by narcissistic parents. The impact can be long-lasting and affect your adult relationships.

Jenny grew up in the home of two narcissistic people. Her parents argued and fought most days, screaming at each other, throwing things at the walls or floor and threatening to walk out. She experienced a daily assault of self-centered parents who offered little to her in the way of emotional security or comfort. The constant chaos, lack of attunement to her emotional needs left her in a state of fear, wondering what each day would bring.

Trauma expert, Bessel van Der Kolk, tells us that the brain of a child can rewire for fear when in abusive or toxic environments. One part of the brain, the amygdala enlarges and becomes heightened to threats due to childhood exposure to trauma. Another part, the hippocampus, shrinks in volume and affects memory and learning. The part of the brain responsible for decision making and judgment doesn’t engage well, affecting our emotions, planning and organizing. As a result, complex trauma trains the brain to look for danger and toxic patterns in adult life.

The nervous system becomes programmed to chaos and goes on high alert. Stability looks boring and unfamiliar. Thus, an adult who grew up in such drama often finds themselves with toxic adults. The hypercriticism, rage and verbal attacks endured as children become familiar patterns in adult relationships. Adult children of narcissistic parents often find themselves drawn to the chaos and drama because it is what they know. They long for security and validation, but experience a roller coaster of love and abuse all mixed together. The result is confusion, insecurity and often a sense of being dismissed as a person.

Children of trauma grow up to be adults who hope to escape and find freedom in new adult relationships. But the adult child carries with her issues in basic trust, autonomy, and taking charge. Forming stable relationships is difficult because of how the brain rewires to trauma. She looks for validation and positive regard she didn’t experience as a child.

The work is to identify the toxic patterns learned from childhood—love with betrayal, mistreatment and neglect of basic needs, the lack of parental attunement and more. Fear has to be addressed and security established. The nervous system has to settle down and realize the chaos and uncertainty of trauma no longer exist. The traumatized adult has to learn not to replicate what is familiar and carve new neural pathways to the unfamiliar territory of stability and peace.

The programming related to adverse childhood trauma needs  reprogramming. The cycle needs to be disrupted and new responses learned. The neglect of basic needs is identified and self-care is learned. The inner critic of shame must be silenced. Emotional escape of pain is replaced with healing. Mind-body-spirit healing helps to process trauma and reset the body. And renewing the mind through an understanding of value and worth through God’s eyes helps rewrite a person’s life story. There is hope, healing and peace that can be found. It will take work, but the rewards will be worth it.



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