The Cambridge Dictionary definition of narcissism is “too much interest in and admiration for your own physical appearance and/or your own abilities.” A narcissist is someone who is so caught up in themselves that they cannot empathise with nor consider the needs of other people. It also includes manipulation to the nth degree.
I recently watched a video by a childhood trauma specialist in the UK that discussed narcissistic parents. It reminded me of my own childhood in that I often had to deal with narcissism to an extent.
Being raised Southern Baptist, I was heavily involved in a church program called AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, an acronym that comes from 2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)). Based on grade level, you’re placed into a group and are supposed to memorise and recite scripture. In return, you get to go on a sort of “field trip” at the end of the year and exchange your memorised verses for candy/other prizes.
I was continuously pressured to view other AWANA attendees as competition, as I was supposed to finish my set of scripture memorisation before Christmas. What was intended to be a program to help kids learn scriptures in a sort of fun way was turned into a competition to make my parent look better. I remember once misplacing my AWANA book as a little kid and being shamed by my parent for hours, and then in front of each of my AWANA leaders, for being so “irresponsible.” I realised later on that this, among other extracurriculars, was being used as a form of helicopter parenting: having extreme involvement in your child’s life.
I’ve often thought about what extremes my parent would go to to ensure that I was making them look good to others. Cheating in AWANA was never necessary, as all it was was reading scripture and remembering the words. If I recall, it was also against AWANA’s rules (as least locally) for a parent to sign off on their child’s scripture recitation as it would have been a conflict of interest. Programs like Boy Scouts, on the other hand, were a separate matter.
I started in the Cub Scout program when I was either 6 or 7. I don’t remember doing much; just moving up each year. It was very relaxed until I transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. I had little interest in doing Scouting once I become an actual Boy Scout. I didn’t take it seriously, and I never opened the handbook.
To my parent, me not progressing in Scouts would have made them look bad. So, for at least a couple years, my parent would print off pre-completed merit badge worksheets done by other scouts somewhere else in the U.S. and would have me copy their work word for word. It was mandated plagiarism. Equally as important, I wasn’t actually learning anything. Why go to lengths, such as cheating, to make me succeed in this program? To take credit for my accomplishments.
I’m sure the effects of narcissism will vary person by person. For me, it only really started to affect me in middle school. I started to rebel a bit too much in AWANA, Scouts, and school in that I would purposefully cause problems and disruptions, I guess for attention. I dropped out of all three by the beginning of 8th grade. I got involved in a few incidents of vandalism and petty theft during this time, as well. It’s not clear whether any of my actions were reactions to my parents’ treatment towards me or not, but regardless, I don’t stand by my previous life decisions. They’re definitely not my proudest moments in life, but I can’t rewrite history.
I don’t like that I was raised in a narcissistic environment, but what’s done is done. Regardless of whether I have a positive or negative experience, I try to find some sort of life lesson in it. With my narcissistic home life, and my home life in general, I like to think that they have helped me to better understand that others may be going through significant trials in their home lives, possibly influencing some of their decisions, that we don’t know about. As such, I try not to judge others, because I recognise that I probably don’t have nearly the full story.