How growing up with narcissistic parents affects you as an adult: 10 steps to deal with emotional flashbacks

Growing up with narcissistic parents can take a toll on any child’s development further in life.

From struggling with deep insecurities to having a constant need for validation, narcissistic parenting can be the cause of a number of mental health issues. Unfortunately, entering adulthood does not mean that the childhood trauma from being raised by a narcissist can no longer haunt you.

As Psychology Today notes, if you grew up with self-absorbed parents, you may experience emotional flashbacks triggered by the trauma. This happens when you get deeply overwhelmed by an event that brings about a negative emotion from your past. During an emotional flashback, you may experience fear, despair, or even pain. All of these hurtful feelings usually don’t go away until you realize you have a problem and you put effort into solving it.

But the very first thing you should do in order to heal is to accept that you need to go through this journey. Living with the weight of childhood trauma caused by narcissistic neglect or abuse stays with you way past growing up and does not go away until you allow yourself to let go.

Below are listed several steps to deal with emotional flashbacks, according to the psychotherapist and author of the book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving,” Pete Walker. The stages are also discussed in Caroline Foster’s work “Narcissistic Mothers: How to Handle a Narcissistic Parent and Recover from CPTSD.”

If you are struggling with this issue, and you want to set yourself free from the trauma, you need to start working on healing right now.

Here are 10 steps to cope with emotional flashbacks: 

1. Accept that you’re experiencing an emotional flashback.

Having an emotional flashback undeniably makes you feel helpless. However, accepting that you are going through such an experience makes you realize that you are in control of your feelings. Even though your mind reminds you of a time when you felt hopeless, it also indicates that the past cannot hurt you in the present.

2. Assert your boundaries.

Having clear boundaries is crucial for your mental health. If someone is provoking an emotional flashback related to your childhood trauma, you should not accept their disrespectful behavior. Instead, you should remind yourself that you are free to leave the situation if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

3. Comfort your inner child.

Your inner child, the one that was raised by narcissistic parents, needs to be reassured that the past will no longer affect you. In times when you feel lost and afraid, tell your inner child that you will never give up on yourself, no matter what.

4. Don’t forget that you are an adult now.

When you were a kid, you were a victim of your parents’ narcissism. But today, you are an adult with skills, experience, and knowledge that you had no access to back then. All of these resources can now help you cope with the flashbacks and let go of the pain that comes along.

5. Reconnect with yourself.

Negative emotions, including fear, anxiety, and stress, provoked by the flashback, can make you disconnect from yourself. To cope in such burdensome moments, you can try practicing meditation, having a better diet, fixing your sleep schedule, and other similar methods that improve your overall wellbeing.

6. Stop criticizing yourself.

Whenever something or someone makes you feel bad about yourself, focusing on your flaws and imperfections will only worsen the situation. Instead of shaming yourself for who you are, try to replace these negative thoughts with positive ones. You may not be perfect(no one is), but you definitely have a plethora of qualities and accomplishments to think about.

7. Allow yourself to grieve.

Grieving is a process that helps you understand your negative emotions, let them flow through you, and leave them behind once you come at peace with the thing that caused them in the first place. So, if you need to grieve – grieve. Eventually, you will be able to turn the helplessness, hopelessness, and pain into self-compassion.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

If you can’t find the strength to deal with emotional flashbacks on your own, don’t hesitate to seek help. Asking someone to assist you while going through such challenging mental health issues is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you realize you need to heal.

9. Learn to identify what triggers your emotional flashbacks.

Once you identify the various factors that make you feel emotionally uncomfortable, you can start avoiding them. Staying away from people, places, and activities that make you anxious is not the same as running away from your problems. In fact, it often helps you prevent an emotional flashback that would otherwise affect your wellbeing.

10. Remember that healing takes time. 

Flashbacks can often be a blessing in disguise. That’s because they allow you to validate feelings from past emotional abuse and eventually heal from the pain you are still carrying. However, overcoming the trauma from growing up with narcissistic parents will take time. That’s why you must be patient and trust your recovery process.

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