I’ve written many articles on this topic and if you haven’t read my previous article about 5 mental health issues that kids have when they are being raised by a high conflict parent, I highly recommend reading that one first. This article is intended to look at these individuals later in life as they become older teenagers and adults. If you haven’t read my other materials, when I talk about high conflict individuals (HCI’s), I’m usually referring to people that have either narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD). While people with NPD and BPD are always high conflict individuals, high conflict individuals aren’t always a person with BPD or NPD.
Volumes have been written about people who were raised by someone with NPD and how it can cause long term dysfunction for people, well into adulthood. Materials about this topic are not in short supply and I would encourage anyone to seek out these materials if you want and need more information. Here is a list of five dysfunctional behaviors that people develop as an adult when they are raised by a high conflict individual.
Crippling anxiety – Anxiety is extremely common these days, I believe that most people in western cultures deal with it to some degree but adults who were raised by a high conflict parent can develop levels of anxiety that cripple and paralyze them. They have difficulty even trying because failure is seen as something that is absolutely catastrophic. They usually inherit the black and white thinking that they learned from their high conflict parent. They don’t learn that failure is an integral part of growth and learning, instead they learn that failure is a direct reflection of their self-worth. There are many reasons for the high levels of anxiety and improving this is usually a matter of aggressively changing one’s core values and beliefs.
Highly dysfunctional relationships – If you were raised by a high conflict parent, you’re more than likely to sabotage good relationships when you get older. On a subconscious level you will have a tendency to be drawn to people who treat you as badly as your high conflict parent did and will be more likely to attract people who are just as toxic and bad for you. We can argue that you never had healthy relationships modeled for you and on a deeper level learned that you were undeserving of healthy relationships.
Crippling self-sabotage – People who were raised by a high conflict parent tend to sabotage everything good that comes their way. Whether it’s a healthy relationship or a job promotion, they undermine themselves at almost every turn. They don’t see themselves as deserving of good things. When you couple the conditioning from a high conflict parent and the fear of failure, self-sabotage becomes a pervasive problem. I really believe that part of what drives this is they always know how their high conflict parent would respond to them in the event that they were successful. They know what their parents would say about their success and happiness and so they usually sabotage it.
Difficulty trusting – High conflict parents often instill a sense of mistrust for the world and everyone around them. It’s quite common for relationships to become more like self-fulfilling prophecies; but that’s a topic for a whole other article. For people that were raised by an HCI, it can be difficult to trust others just based on the fact that they were taught from very young ages that people and the world is not trustworthy. They often believe that other people have nefarious intentions, because, again, their parent had always told them so. But what’s also interesting, is that adult children of HCI’s often don’t develop the ability to effectively judge the character of other people and when we dig a little bit deeper, this factor of having difficulty trusting also runs deeply within themselves. They have developed little to no trust for themselves, particularly when it comes to navigating through complex nuances of being in relationships.
Fear of confrontation – People who are raised by an HCI often avoid conflict and confrontation. The home they grew up in was usually highly confrontational and there was rarely, if ever, any healthy relationship growth that came from arguing or disagreement. HCI’s do not understand the principles around conflict resolution and that relationships can actually improve when two people apologize and make up. Adult children of HCI’s can develop a morbid fear of confrontation, conflict and even disagreement since they usually had a parent that was unable to tolerate any of it. An intense fear of anger can also develop as a result and extreme passivity can also result. If this describes you, it will be important for you to address problems in a direct, assertive manner that doesn’t require anger.
Having a high conflict parent and particularly a parent that is either NPD or BPD, can result in massive psychological dysfunction and therefore chaotic lifestyles. It’s also not uncommon for adult children of HCI’s to think about and talk about suicide. Being raised by these personality types can be emotionally traumatic in the way that it can leave long lasting impressions. You can create a better life for yourself, I have no doubt about that, but it will take time, work and sacrifice. But it’s completely worth it.