If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might know that I’m a big fan of Dr. Les Carter’s excellent YouTube channel, Surviving Narcissism. This channel, which he runs with narcissistic abuse survivor, Laura Charanza, is all about healing from narcissistic abuse. I’ve read and reviewed several of Les Carter’s books, and Bill and I have both gained insight from watching his videos. Dr. Carter has a calm, friendly, reassuring demeanor, and while I don’t know if he’s still engaged in private practice in Texas, I do know that he’s helped so many people by being available on YouTube.
All of the recent drama involving the Duggar family has really caused me to reflect on the real damage that narcissistic parents do to their children. While it’s impossible to know when Josh Duggar really started going off the rails, or whether or not his deviant attraction to harming children is something natural or nurtured, what is very clear to me is that Josh and his siblings no doubt suffered abuse from their parents. It’s easy to see that Jim Bob Duggar has narcissistic proclivities. He clearly runs that family like his own mini cult, and there are a lot of conditions set upon the children. The ones who don’t toe Jim Bob’s line are pretty much cast out of the family.
Jim Bob has a public persona that is carefully crafted to fool people. He comes off as “nice”, albeit very much in charge. But behind closed doors, there is no doubt in my mind that he’s got a very different personality. And children who grow up under the control of someone as controlling as Jim Bob clearly is, will definitely struggle as they become adults. The public can see this phenomenon in action as the oldest Duggar children are breaking free of Jim Bob’s mini cult. I noticed that Joy Anna Forsyth appeared to be extremely distraught last week during Josh’s trial. It was as if she was finally learning some truths that she found overwhelming and upsetting. But I think it’s important to understand that she grew up in a family system in which information was tightly controlled and filtered. And now, she’s realizing that she’s been kept in the dark and fed a lot of shit for years.
Yesterday, Dr. Carter visited an interesting topic on his channel. The video, titled “How Narcissists Transfer Their Pain Onto Their Children” really hit home for me as I watched it this morning. All of the familiar tactics narcissistic parents use to desperately maintain control of their children were spelled out in Dr. Carter’s video. Then, he explains, in a comforting and kind way, that adult children have the power to make changes. They can make their own choices, even if it feels like they can’t. They just need to find the courage to do it. It’s not unlike the discovery Dorothy makes in The Wizard of Oz, when she’s told that all she has to do to go home again is click her heels three times. She always had the power. She just had to find the courage to use it.
Of course, making adult choices means living like an adult. And that can be extremely hard to do when you’re an adult child of a narcissist. First off, children who are raised by narcissists are never taught healthy ways to enforce boundaries. They are subjected to abuse, which can encompass everything from verbal rages to physical blows, as well as mind games, threats, and using other people to promote agendas. I would imagine that in a family like the Duggars, there were plenty of mind games played– tactics meant to keep everyone off balance and unsure of their place. Children who grow up with that kind of a family system never learn to trust themselves, and after awhile, they become numb to the abuse, which only sets them up for more of the same treatment.
Secondly, children who are raised by narcissists are taught that if they try to go their own way, they’re “disloyal”. Narcissistic parents are in a lot of pain, and misery loves company. So the narcissistic parent will do all they can to make the children feel like they can’t leave that system. They will try to make their children feel incompetent. If that doesn’t work, they will call into question their children’s love and loyalty. Children raised by narcissists who don’t become narcissistic themselves will feel guilty if they move away from that system. Their parent(s) may accuse them of abandoning them or being disloyal. But one of the first things every child should learn is that they should always be loyal to themselves, first. And if changing is a healthy thing to do, they should be able to do it without being made to feel guilty.
Jim Bob Duggar controls his children– especially the adults– by holding things like money and housing over their heads. In the wake of Josh Duggar’s conviction, we’ve seen several of the children make statements. It’s very telling which of Jim Bob’s adult children are free of his financial constraints. They are the ones who are making it clear that they condemn Josh’s actions. The children who are still depending on Jim Bob have to be publicly loyal to him. They aren’t allowed to criticize their brother or their father. I am sure the most important Commandment to Jim Bob is “Honor thy Father and they Mother”– especially thy father. Katie Joy, of Without a Crystal Ball, covers this topic regarding the Duggars.
As many readers also know, my husband was married to a woman whom I very strongly suspect is a narcissist, and she has five children who have been subjected to her abuse. For years, my husband was prevented from speaking to his daughters. One of the daughters broke free from her mother’s grip and moved clear across the country from her. They are still on speaking terms, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s learning the truth about what happened. Likewise, Bill is also learning about what happened during the time he wasn’t in contact.
My husband’s older daughter still chooses to live with her mother. My guess is that she does it because she feels like she must. I think she’s been led to believe that she can’t survive on her own. But she also takes care of her profoundly autistic younger brother, because Ex doesn’t do it. I suspect that she might speak to Bill if circumstances were different. I met her, and she struck me as a very loving person. I think she mainly doesn’t connect with Bill because she knows that Bill is strong enough to survive. He isn’t alone. He’s got me, his mother, and his younger daughter. I think she might also fear facing up to the fact that she and her siblings have been controlled, lied to, and abused by their mother. I know from personal experience that recognizing that someone has abused you can lead to anger and depression. It’s not a nice feeling to realize that you’ve been victimized. I suspect that older daughter might wish to spare herself that pain.
Also, if older daughter was to leave her situation, her brother could suffer the consequences. It would legitimately cause serious problems for him, and for Ex, because older daughter reportedly does all of the work. It’s possible that she can’t live with the potential guilt of forcing her mother to take care of her own son. I think she also legitimately feels for her mother, too, even though she really should be focused on living her own life on her own terms. She’s an adult, though, and that is her choice to make. I just wish she understood that all she has to do is click her heels– pick up the phone– and there are people who would gladly help her get out of her predicament. Bill would be at the front of the line. Again– she should be loyal to herself before all others, because she is the only one who has to live with herself and her decisions.
I highly recommend Dr. Carter’s video to anyone who has known the pain of growing up with a narcissistic parent. Adult children of narcissists have been raised to believe that they aren’t their own people. They have been raised to act as objects– tools to be manipulated and used by their narcissistic parents. Children lack the ability to control what happens to them, but adults can deviate from the paths they are set upon. It just takes courage and some planning, and the knowledge that choosing one’s own path can be painful. I’m sure that Jim Bob’s adult children who aren’t kowtowing to him anymore are denied access to their younger siblings, who are still trapped in the Tinkertoy Mansion. With every passing day, total freedom is closer– because eventually narcissists lose their psychic fiefdoms. Either it crumbles very publicly, as it is for Jim Bob right now, or it ends because the narcissist eventually becomes incapacitated or dies.
No one should have to wait until the death of a narcissist to reclaim control of their lives. I would love to see some of the independent Duggar siblings completely break free and start their own family traditions, perhaps even with each other. There’s nothing to say that they have to tolerate control from their parents– or really, their dad. They’re adults, and those of them who don’t rely on Jim Bob’s money can do whatever they want, within legal boundaries, anyway. It doesn’t make them bad people to live their lives on their own terms, either. It makes them healthy adults.