TRIGGER ALERT: This article is one of many that I will be doing on the subject of abuse. I want to let the reader know that is ultimately the topic being handled here, so if they have any triggers related to it they would not be caught off guard and make the choice to read it or not. I am not a professional, I am only speaking from my own experience. In my life, I have survived child molestation, sexual harassment, a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, spousal abuse (including emotional, mental, sexual, and financial abuse), and sexual assault.
Recently, I collected questions others have concerning abuse. The question I will be answering here is: “How is it that 2 Children raised in the exact same environment of an abusive home turn out so differently? One is so withdrawn, and the other, outgoing?”
As always, there are a lot of factors here. The obvious one is personality types. Those are not purely set by nurture, they’re predominantly a nature thing and it means that from the get-go two people are naturally going to respond differently to the same situation. It’s likely the questioner has already taken this into account and sees a deeper issue.
Next, I’d take the type of abuse into account. Referencing my experience growing up with a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I know from my own research into NPD that children can respond to the dynamic in different ways. For example, extraverted, strong-willed children might cope with the behavior by taking on narcissistic tactics themselves. Fighting fire with fire. Meanwhile, a more empathic and introverted child might grow up to be a doormat, afraid to express their needs because they were raised to by someone who put their own needs first, no matter how it affected others in the family. Another might struggle with feeling they only have self-worth if they are accomplishing/performing/achieving something.
Another factor is the reality that abuse is not dealt out the same for every child/family member. Studies are done on abused children and their non-abused siblings and yet, there seems to be a common misconception that abusers aren’t selective.
I used to think that myself and, while I can’t speak for everyone, I think a part of that is due to not being abusive personally. I don’t understand how their brain works so I make assumptions. I remember believing an abuser would be easy to recognize; younger me didn’t think it wasn’t possible that someone else could treat another person this way unless they were a boorish oaf. As if they’re just lumbering around through life physically threatening everyone. Though such people exist, abusers are often more manipulative and conniving. They play the long game and they groom potential victims. They might have preferences. They might play favorites.
I know other victims of abuse, such as child molestation by parent, who had siblings who did not receive the same abuse due to preferences. Obviously, some abusers have more control over themselves than most would assume. They’re not simply unbound, destructive forces.
I speak from a place of personal experience (and research) when I say children are not treated the same across the board when it comes to NPD. There is often a “golden child” and a “scapegoat.” The treatment of those children is vastly different. One can do no wrong and one can do no right. One is placed on a pedestal, praised as perfect, chosen to reflect the abuser’s best qualities and the other is chosen to be the projection of their blame and shame. Obviously, that’s going to lead to those two people turning out differently down the road.
The favored child changed a few times in my childhood. This makes sense since parents with NPD likes to pit their children against each other. My brother was the golden child, eventually. In a way he deserved it. He was truly smart, accomplished, and diplomatic. His saving grace was also being so practical, otherwise, he might have turned out a smug asshole. He knew he was on a pedestal and thought it was bullshit yet he tried to navigate things with respect, which is why we were able to have a good relationship. Then there was me, the scapegoat. Never good enough, never quite up to the standard, always making trouble, always wrong, always the “reason” he behaved abusively. The irony here is that I was a good kid. I never drank, did drugs, snuck out, dated outside the rules, partied… I followed the rules. As I got older and saw the reality of the injustices, I began to take a stand against it. Thus, I was deemed “trouble”. He was determined to put me in my place.
My brother and I experienced two different versions of the same person. One of us was supported, the other was torn down and yet we eventually overcame all of that through communication. I love and relate so hard to this quote about siblings with an NPD parent from therapist Wendy Behary, founder of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey and author of the book Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed. “They can end up feeling extremely bonded to one another. Common hostages going through different phases of torture, based on how bad the narcissist might be in their life.”
I don’t know the situation of the questioner, and this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breaking down the possibilities of differences, but I hope it opens the eyes of some to know the truth and thus conceptualize why or how two people might grow up with the same parents in the same house but seem to respond so differently.
MRH is a wife and stay-at-home mom of two (borderline feral) children. She loves gardening, laughing and eating exquisite food she doesn't have to cook. She has a wicked sense of humor and nicked her image from a gif. You can catch her on Twitter @MommedRealHard