Healing from a Dysfunctional Childhood

Following on from last week’s posts on narcissist parents and dysfunctional families, here are the tips I promised to help with healing

1. Educate yourself

Study narcissism, read articles/books on the mental health disorders you know, or suspect are in your family. It can bring a lightbulb moment, and clarity is the first step to healing yourself. You cannot make sense of your future until you make sense of your past.  I liken it to stepping out of the swamp and taking a look at it before you drain the swamp.

2. Confront your trauma

Confront your personal history of trauma or neglect. I recommend a counsellor or other professional’s support for this. It is a difficult and lonely journey, since you will never be able to confront your family member/s with this as they will still be enmeshed in the dysfunctional cycle – stuck in the swamp, so to speak.

3. Grieve what you did not receive

Give yourself the chance to be the kid you wanted to be. Acknowledge that you were not treated in the manner which you so deserved. There was a lack; emotional neglect, verbal insults or criticism is still abuse. If you suffered a sense of unworthiness in childhood or your teens, this is not your fault! As an adult, recognising this can help on your healing journey. Cry, kick and scream. You deserve to be loved today. Only you have the power as an adult to replace the gaps with your own self-love which is incredibly healing.

4. Recognise missed milestones

Work through the developmental milestones you may not have achieved. I moved from school to school, and flunked out in college, which I believe was due to the disruption of my parent’s divorce and a father who left me with a narcissistic mother. I then spent my teens with dramatic evenings with my mother and stepfather who were draining the bottom of a gin bottle which was my motivation to leave home at a young age.

Whether your birthday was forgotten, or your schoolwork suffered, acknowledge this. It’s never too late to pursue the things you missed out on.

5. Set Boundaries

This will feel unnatural at first. You must stop accommodating and learn to put yourself first. Limit the amount of time you spend with the narcissist and where necessary calmly explain that their comments are unacceptable. I received constant underhand comments right up until we lost contact. Even being criticised for not ‘ironing my tea towels’ or ‘doing house-wifely duties,’ but I would take a deep breath rather than confronting at the time.

If your boundaries are not accepted, then it may be time to look at removing the person from your life. Sometimes there comes a point, where it can actually be a relief to have the person out of your life.

Set boundaries for contact with young children too, if you have them. If you suspect any manipulation or actions that are damaging, insist you are present for any contact. 

6. Work on your self-worth

Develop your sense of self. Read read read. I was addicted to self-development books in my forties and found a confidence and belief in myself that blossomed with the nurturing of my husband.

If you are the scapegoat of the family, your self-development will not be accepted and, in fact, may make the perpetrators try to bring you down even more. Ignore them, your sense of self-worth is the one you need to build on. You don’t need to remain fixed in the place they want to keep you.


7. Find Healthier Relationships

Focus on functional Relationships.  At first you may not believe this is possible.  But by removing the programming from your past and not seeing yourself through the narcissist’s eyes, you can trust and develop healthy and productive relationships. 

See yourself through the eyes of those that care and love you; it’s what you deserve. The more you give to these relationships, the more you will build your sense of self-worth.

8. Recognise you can’t change them

Your narcissist parent won’t change. Finding acceptance of this is difficult, but the truth is they don’t change, especially if they are a few decades older than yourself. Let go of the false dream and understand that you have never been accepted or understood for who you are.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but please, don’t let hard lessons harden your heart! 

9. Reconnect

Reconnect with your feelings.  Being attuned with how you feel is difficult but necessary.  You may want to cry, feel grief or anger. Let the feelings surface and carry them with respect. Try not to judge your feelings; they are only feelings. Work at separating the ‘brainwashed’ feelings from your real feelings. Write them down or find a way to get them out from your deeper self.

10. Let go of blame

Don’t blame yourself for a second longer. You are the child here! If you have been the scapegoat you are likely to automatically blame yourself and feel guilt for things that are not your responsibility. Narcissists are experts at deflecting and projecting blame onto others. If you got angry, they will say you attacked them. If they attacked you and you attacked back, you will be told you were the instigator. If they punched you, you drove them to it. And so it goes on. 

Let go of blaming yourself. Let go of guilt. 

11. Stop any destructive patterns

Stop any patterns of self-abuse. If you have come from a dysfunctional family, you may be prone to risky, self-punishing or self-soothing behaviours. These can be destructive. Recognise that drinking, substance abuse, self-harm etc can be internalisation of abuse. These behaviours will only exacerbate the emotional and physiological trauma you may have endured. Whilst habits are hard to break, the reward is tenfold.  It is a clear sign that you are taking back control and feel you are worthy. It will give you a huge sense of success. 


If you begin to find awareness of the toxic element in your dysfunctional family, take baby steps. There is no rush to understand it all, healing is a continuous journey. There are so many books out there if you want to understand or learn more. Feel free to sign up to my newsletter where you can make contact with me. I will leave you with one more tip that really helps the healing journey…