Are you competing in the emotional hurdles?

01 Apr 2024

“Do you think that emotionally I am “behind” other adults?” my client asked me.

That’s not a question that I had ever heard formulated in quite that way before.  Still, the underlying belief sounded all too familiar.

All children of narcissistic parents come into this world with an emotional yardstick in their little, pudgy hands (metaphorically speaking, of course).

They learn very early on that they will be required to spend their entire lives measuring themselves against this yardstick without ever measuring up.

As they grow up, they do whatever they can to liberate themselves from their toxic family of origin.

Why children of narcissists succumb to another narcissistic relationship

Sadly, most succumb to another narcissistic relationship for all the usual reasons:

  • They have big dreams, low expectations and little or no innate early warning system. Sadly, that combination of aspiration and naivete works to blind them to all the red relationship flags that they encounter.
  • They long for the love and connection that they have never had (but lack the experience to distinguish between the real deal and someone who cynically feeds their own fantasies back to them.
  • They were taught to defer to predators rather than defend themselves against predators. That leaves them irresistibly attractive to Narcissists who love to attack defenceless prey.

One way and another, narcissistic relationships consume both their formative years and the years when, ideally, they would be getting to grips with becoming a self-actualizing adult.

The Narcissistic partner (or friend) does everything possible to ensure that they maintain emotionally deprived, anxious, dependent and inferior.

How a Narcissist blocks your emotional growth

In a narcissistic relationship, you grow older but you are never allowed to grow up into your full, talented, multi-faceted, confident, wise, assertive adult self.

The Narcissist needs to stymie your emotional growth so that they can label you needy and incapable of running your own life. That in turn provides them with the questionable justification for:

  1. Treating you as if you were stupid, worthless incompetent etc.
  2. Constantly proclaiming how very lucky you are to have someone like them around to protect you from bad people and things happening to you.

When my client asked whether she was “behind” other clients in her emotional development that one little question encapsulated both the toxic elements of her upbringing and the nasty, unhealthy self-image that she had developed in consequence.

Now, there is nothing nasty about my client – or any of the other survivors of narcissistic abuse that I have ever worked with. Temperamentally, survivors seem to be fundamentally sweet-natured people, even when toxic relationships have caused us to fray, badly, around the edges.


The nasty habit of comparisonitis

We are taught the thoroughly nasty habit of comparisonitis by our abusers.

We are taught to be as nasty to ourselves as “our” Narcissists were to us.

All abusers compare their victim unfavorably to others.

Some are blatantly vile in the way that they do it. Others are more subtle.

The subtler ones may compliment you on one or two aspects of your being.  Then, having lowered your guard, they will hit you with a massive character assassination.

Toxic people drill the toxic habit of comparisonitis into us until it becomes second nature.

We start from the premise that we are bound to be less worthy than other people but we constantly need to check how we measure up and how short of other, happier people we fall.

Set up for self-loathing

When my client asked me how she measured up, it struck me just how cruelly we have been set up for self-loathing by a Narcissist.

Like all my clients she did not have anything remotely resembling an idyllic, fairy tale childhood. She grew up around people who visited their own issues and ugly emotions on her. Life was tough.

As an adult she became close to people who, more subtly, did much the same thing.

Yet she compared herself to an imaginary Ms No Problems who grew up in easier circumstances and had a far easier life.

Comparisonitis is both self-sabotage and emotional self-harm.

It starts from the utterly misguided premise that we all run the exact same race from the same starting line and with the exact same talents and abilities.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think unique

We are all born into this world as unique human beings – not that our parents necessarily choose to see or honor that.

Some homes provide a healthier physical environment for children than others do.

Some homes and families provide a healthier emotional environment for children than others do.

Even within the same home different children may meet with different treatment – depending on birth order, family finances, the state of the parental relationship and/or mental health and the randomness of gene roulette.

(Many of my clients sound so radically different from their entire family that I end up thinking that the proverbial cuckoo must have been responsible.)

We are all a unique conjunction of genes and circumstances.

All this to say that it is an absurdity to imagine that we start at the same starting line and run the same race. We don’t and we do ourselves a great disservice when we imagine that we do.

Nor is this idea of races and competition helpful.

A journey not a race

I believe that we are on a journey, on this Earth, to become the best and most authentic version of ourselves.

First, we have to acquire a clear sense of who we are and can be. Then we have to be true to true to ourselves and our values.

That means that it is our job to monitor our progress accurately, without self-loathing.

So, when my client asked me whether I thought she was emotionally “behind” other adults, my brain flagged up a “Bad question” message, just as my ESET security does when it flags up a Threat coming into my Inbox.

In the time that I have known my client, she has come a long, long way from her starting point.

She has much more awareness now about her family dynamics. She no longer lives in denial. She is much better equipped to deal successfully with her own difficult feelings, keep herself safe from abuse and experience some self-worth.

For the first time in her life, she is creating effective boundaries.

The only valuable comparison

The only person that she can truly compare herself to is herself, one, two and more years back.

That comparison indicates that she is covering the ideal adult emotional syllabus and covering it well, because she is covering it with honesty and courage.

Does every chronological adult work through that syllabus?

We both know that a fair few chronological adults avoid engaging with that syllabus.

Or else they talk the good talk about engaging with it, yet remain remarkably unchanged, with no more insight or compassion than before.

Anyone who commits to working through that syllabus cannot be “behind”.

Wherever they are along the syllabus, they are exactly where they need to be, notwithstanding the difficulties and the setbacks they face.

I take my hat off to everyone who engages with the syllabus.


Do you need more support with your self-worth,  getting a handle on your “syllabus”, or moving forward along your healing journey?

Here’s how I can help you:

  1. Feeling paralyzed by the past – book a one-off Breakthrough Session to get beyond what is blocking you.
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Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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