The Insidiousness of Narcissism

I’m tired tonight.  I’m that kind of tired where I tell myself, “It’s okay if you go to bed without brushing your teeth.  No one will know.  You never do that.”  Except — I remember telling myself that one night last week, too.

Mark was here for a visit this afternoon.  It drains the energy out of all three of us.  After he leaves, we snip at each other.  We lose patience with each other.  We all know that it happens, and yet we have to tell each other to calm down.

On the second day of this new year, I had what I hoped would be a potentially relationship-changing conversation with Mark.

Okay, so I thought I’d had these with him in the past, but this was different.  We were going to start the New Year off on the right foot.

The kids had ended a “Goodnight Call” with Mark, and after hanging up, they both started crying.

I’m done with this stuff.

The kids are done with this stuff.

I immediately called Mark back to find out what had happened to make them both cry.

We hammered out a lot of things in that conversation.  None of it was new.  He’s heard all of it before.  “Don’t treat them like babies.  Be interested in their lives.  Ask about what they have been doing.  Interact with them and try to relate to them.”  In that call, we made a plan to have the three of them get together the next day.  He was going to try hard to be an interested and involved dad.  Jen and Will were going to give him a chance, and give him a little slack.  They spent five hours with him.  When they got home, they didn’t appear to be bruised, flattened or deflated.  I assumed that it had gone reasonably well.

The pattern goes like this:  After a visit with their dad, they come in the house, take off their jackets, and they tell me, with contrived little grins, that all went well.  They don’t elaborate on anything.  Their bodies appear to be stiffer than when they left.  Their shoulders seem tense, and their eyes dart around the room.  They can’t sit still, and they have a difficult time figuring out what they want to do.  They can’t focus on anything.  They are agitated, with stiff little smiles on tight faces.

After about an hour of this tenseness and distraction, they begin to melt a bit.  Their shoulders relax.  They quit fidgeting.  Then they flop on the couch.  It’s as if the very act of flopping on the couch springs the lock on a gate that has been holding in all the things they really want to say about their visit.

Then they unleash.



Everything that they don’t like about the visit doesn’t seem earth shattering.  It’s not anything that would make me call the authorities.  None of it warrants a restraining order.  None of it even makes me want to call Mark and launch another attack.  When I press them to try to explain just what it is that makes them so miserable, they can’t come up with a specific cause.

In the end, all they can say is, “Mom, it’s just not comfortable to be there.”

How do you qualify that?  What is it?  So I fire off a bunch of possibilities.

  • Is his couch uncomfortable?
  • Oh, I know, he doesn’t have cable.  Is that it?
  • He doesn’t have all your favorite snacks?  Well, have him go shopping and get Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup for warm chocolate milk and the occasional bag of Cheetos.
  • Does he need to turn the heat up?  What is it?
  • Is it uncomfortable like going to a doctor’s appointment?
  • Is it uncomfortable like having Great Aunt Mae pinch your cheek and tell you how tall you’re getting?
  • Is it uncomfortable like running into the teacher you don’t like when we’re at the grocery store?
  • Just what kind of uncomfortable is it?

They can’t describe it.  All they can say is, “Mom, you know what we mean.”

I do know what they mean.  It is never one particular thing.  In fact, outsiders would think that the three of us are just being hyper-critical or picky.  He doesn’t beat them.  He calls them and brings them treats and buys them presents and has their pictures up in his office.  It can’t be described by any tangible event or behavior.

It is a subtle dismissal of who they are.

It is a continual denial of their characters and their worth.

It is the fear that another pick is coming.

If Jenny let’s down her guard, he’ll make fun of her for growing out her bangs.  If Will tries to show Mark his new golf swing, Mark will say, “Why don’t you stick to skiing, instead.”

It’s a slow and steady whittling away at who they are.  It creates this gnawing in the pit of their stomachs.  It creates a restlessness in their hands, a twitch in Will’s eye, and the beginnings of self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence in Jenny.


So tonight, all three of us are tired.  Again we have the discussion about where we ought to be moving to.


I made the kids brush their teeth.  I guess I better brush mine.


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  1. I used to have a job that I considered hell on earth. Truly. Someone recommended a psychic shield. It goes like this:

    Visualize yourself surrounded by a bullet-shaped piece of metal with a glass floor. The metal rebuffs things you don’t need or want in your space. The glass floor allows your ‘stuff’ out.

    There were days when I put three ‘coats’ of protection on, in case it was a bad day. It seemed to work for me.

  2. I LOVE this idea! And the kids will so be able to relate. We’re headed to the hardware store right now.

  3. Oops…..I did say visualize, right?? :)

  4. Funny how these posts resurface when I need them. Thanks!
    And I am glad your hardware shield turned into a gentle light shield! xxx

  5. Z,

    Yeah… the gentle light shield is much more comfortable. Plus, it’s one size fits all. ;)

  6. Jesse,

    It is sad and bizarre to me how similar the experiences are between Ns and their children–it is like reading from the same script. ugh . . . sorry for everyone who deals with the crazy-making behaviors of a N.

    Be kind to yourself . . .

  7. Lynn,

    It is formulaic. It’s imperative that those dealing with narcissists understand that. It helps them help their children.


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