Can a toxic childhood put you off having kids?

By Allix Denham 

Julia, (not her real name), a non-parent friend, has long had a strained relationship with her mother, who she describes as self-absorbed and manipulative, totally lacking in empathy, who hates it when Julia’s opinions differ from her own. ‘It’s taken me a long time to realise she’s a textbook narcissist,’ she told me. ‘When I was growing up it was all about her. My needs came a distant second. She’s the one who put me off having children. I was terrified of turning into her.’

‘Young children of narcissists learn early in life that everything they do is a reflection on the parent to the point that the child must fit into the personality and behavioral mold intended for them,’ writes clinical psychologist Seth Meyers in Psychology Today. ‘These children bear tremendous anxiety from a young age as they must continually push aside their own personality in order to please the parent and provide the mirror image the parent so desperately needs.’

The American Psychiatric Association lists the traits of a narcissist to include lacking in empathy, having little genuine interest in others, and being self-centred and attention-seeking.

It’s a nasty cocktail, but when this person is your mother, your whole upbringing becomes toxic.

‘Deep down, the child doesn’t feel consistently loved,’ writes Seth Meyers, ‘As the child is taught the metaphoric Narcissistic Parenting Program: You’re only as good as I say you are, and you’ll be loved only if you’re fully compliant with my wishes. ’

‘Even after all these years she has a hold over me,’ admits Julia. ‘If I try to break free she guilt-trips me and plays her “poor little me” card. At the same time she undermines my life and relationships, and if I take issue, says I’m being overly sensitive. I’m just glad I will never be that person to a child of my own.’

But are daughters of narcissists likely to morph into their own mothers? Danu Morrigan, founder of the website Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and author of the book You’re Not Crazy, It’s Your Mother, doesn’t think so: ‘Many daughters of narcissistic mothers choose not to have children, and the reason most often given is that they wouldn’t expose any other person to the upbringing they had. They doubt their own ability to parent differently, and are terrified of replicating the abuse. The irony is that those who say this, would have loved children but choose not to for the unselfish reason of protecting these possible children from abuse, which is a completely unnarcissistic thing to do.’

Julia, however, has no regrets. ‘I just never saw the joy in having children. I’d rather not be a mother at all than be a bad one.’

Allix Denham is a writer currently based in France. She and her partner have no children, but entertain the neighbour’s cat on a regular basis.

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