A common theme among adult children of narcissists is how to cope with the grieving process once you realize the family you thought you had wasn't real; the pain of realizing that the mother or father, who you assumed loved you, never really did. The foundation of lies has crumbled and you don't know anymore what was real about your childhood and what was manufactured for effect. You find yourself grieving the dream of what you thought you had, or the dream of the happy family you hoped would someday materialize.
I think we all go through a grieving process over the loss of the family we thought we had, the parents we thought we had, life as we thought we knew it. I also think everyone has to find their own way through the grieving process. Notice that we aren't grieving what we did have; we grieve for what we wished we had. We're grieving a dream...a wish...an ephemeral, gauzy fantasy that we were never able to grab onto.
What has helped me the most in dealing with this has been focusing on what I do have and what I have gained by separating from family. That, of course, may be different for everyone. For me it has meant that I have gained much peace (outward and inward), autonomy and integrity, the ability to live my life without someone standing there to judge my every move and assume they know my motives and judge those as well. Freedom of heart and soul...oh, that is worth much more than what I have lost. I have my own family which is healthy and loving...I don't want my focusing on the loss of my family of birth to take up any space in my life because I don't want to convey to my loving husband and daughter that they are not enough to make up for what I've lost. They are more than enough. I focus on them.
The loss of a dream...no more substantive than a wisp of smoke...it was never real and can never be real. As harsh as reality can be, I revel in living in it. I am grateful to have the false reality consigned to the trash where it belongs so I can live life on real terms and end up with something substantive to hang onto. Life is short. I am not willing to let my destructive, selfish family take any more of my life from me than they already have so I have spent very little time pining over them. They are not worth it. They are not real. I will not mourn long over a dream or a wish of "what might have been" because it will get me no where.
I get to live life on my terms, not theirs. Because of how much I have to be grateful for, I don't feel re-wounded when I see families who are happy and whole. I can be happy for them because I am happy for me. I can be happy to know that there are children not being raised by cruel, selfish parents. This world will be better for it. I'm happy for hard experiences which have made me stronger and wiser than I would have been otherwise. By walking away from my destructive family of origin I have gained ever so much more than I have given up.
Gratitude is the antidote to grief.