The feeling that they do not deserve anything good often appears in adult children of parents who were/are narcissistic or addicted to any substance or behavior. The child commonly believes that s/he is responsible for keeping the family together, for handling business, for compensating for the parent’s deficiencies, for looking after siblings and the parents, and for persuading the parent(s) to stop the addictive behavior.

This is toxic for any child’s sense of self-worth. No child can really manage the business of a family, especially not keeping the parent from indulging in his/her substance-of-choice (except it really isn’t a choice – the parent is just insane from the addiction). Thus, the child comes to think that it is his/her job to keep the parent and family functioning and to accept blame when this is impossible. All of the guilt and shame for the dysfunctionality of the family tends to fall on the child who makes the most effort to try to ‘fix’ or manage things.

That guilt for having ‘failed’ to keep the parent sober, the family functioning, and school performance managed, leads the child to believe that s/he does not deserve any better than whatever adverse circumstances occur in life. Good things should not happen because s/he ‘failed’ those near and dear. Children tend to hold their parent(s) dear regardless of how little the parent’s behavior may have earned such respect. Therefore, the child thinks s/he does not deserve better things, a better life, or even small treats.

Over-giving to others, putting others needs first, feeling that one’s own needs are selfish and less important than others’ needs, are symptoms of the kind of thinking that results from this dynamic in childhood. People who grow up with this guilt are often easily manipulated by those who want to have obedient helpers, especially dysfunctional parents.

The rational way to think about a better life and what is deserved for people in this situation is to think that good things are long past due. Believing that one deserves better may require a significant shift in fundamental outlook that might not be easily achieved. However, the reduced volume of pain in life and relationships will be worth whatever effort is required to make that transformation.

Even when one has committed some serious transgression against others (and ‘failing’ a dysfunctional family is not among them), whatever mistakes exist in past, they are past. They cannot be compensated for by over-giving, not taking care of your own needs, depriving yourself of meaningful treats, over-acquiring, living in pain or squalor, or by berating yourself.

The feeling that one does not deserve a better life is particularly pernicious in hoarding. The hoarder feels that since s/he created this situation, s/he does not deserve better things or a better life until and unless the hoarding is resolved. The level of blame is so high that no one could feel self-respect or self-esteem as long as these limitations on self-acceptance exist. However, blaming and shaming works against being able to overcome hoarding. Further, the sense of failure is so acute and pervasive that even if the excess belongings were cleared out and the house were neat as a pin, the sense of guilt and failure would remain.

The solution to this problem requires working through the painful feelings that created it. Overcoming the false idea that you do not deserve nice things or a better life is essential to stop punishing yourself, reduce mental pain, and move forward towards a better life. On the other hand, it is also important to realize that no object, nothing that you own, can ever compensate for what you suffered as a child, ease the ‘hole in the heart’ feeling, or make you a better person.

No child deserves to be brought up in the chaos of addiction or narcissism. No child should be blamed or feel guilty for being unable to persuade their parent to change or being unable to manage adult business. Your efforts to help the adults who were failing you is proof of how much you deserve a better life.


© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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