Narcissism Knows No Bounds

Jenny selected the shiny brown bowl circled by a ring of cobalt blue.  She hoped I would love it, and I did.   She was excited to give the bowl to me as a gift.  The ceramic bowl is the perfect size for almonds or pretzels.

Her older brother makes some unusual pieces, and when he has a bunch of new bowls fired, we get to pick whatever he hasn’t set aside for others.


Two days ago, Mark and Will came home from skiing.  They told us of the adventures of the day, the trees they narrowly missed, the jumps they landed perfectly, and the ones they didn’t land so well.  They made plans for the next skiing adventure and Mark headed for the door.

With his hand on the doorknob, Mark turned to me and said, “Hey Jess, you know that bowl that Jenny gave you – the brown with the blue stripe?  Can I have it?  I have a set of three and it matches my set.  I know Jenny gave it to you as a gift, but I wondered if you’d mind trading that for a different piece so I could have a matching set of four bowls.”

I looked at Jenny to measure her reaction.

Mark turned to Jenny and said, “I know you picked that special bowl for your mommy, but I need it to go with my set.  I’m sure you could pick another mug or bowl that your mommy would like just as much.”

Jenny shrugged her shoulders, looked down at the floor and muttered, “I guess that’s okay.”

I looked at Mark and said, “That bowl was a gift from Jenny to me.  Do you really have to have that bowl?”

“Well, yes, I do.  You see, it matches the other three bowls that I have at home.  I have lots of other pieces that you can choose from.”

I looked at Jenny and said, “Are you okay with this?”

Jenny said, “I guess so.”

I handed Mark the bowl and he cheerfully said his goodbyes and was on his way.


Yesterday, we were near Mark’s business, and I asked the kids if they wanted to stop by and see their dad.  We had to be downtown  to run errands and it wouldn’t be right to walk by the big front windows of his building without stopping to meet and greet.

When we walked in the front door, he over-enthusiastically greeted us and said, “Hey, I have a bunch of pottery in my office.  Let me get it and I’ll let you guys pick the piece you want.”  He placed the pottery pieces on a big table in front of the  kids and the employees, explaining, “Jenny gets to pick a piece to give to her mommy!”

A couple of the female employees gushed and said, “Well that’s awful nice of you, Mark.  How sweet!”

Jenny made her selection and asked if I approved.

I told her that whatever she picked would be perfect.

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  1. He just doesn’t get it… never will, no way, no how… He didn’t or can’t see that it (the bowl) would ‘mean’ something to you or that precious daughter. The ‘act’ of giving, is beyond him… Maybe Jenny will inherit the whole set someday… :) xoxo

  2. Annie,

    Or maybe the set would be a constant reminder of what her dad is really like…

  3. Again, I’m speechless. He does like to grandstand, doesn’t he … Silly me – it’s just another hallmark of you know what. Good Lord…

  4. Pat,

    That’s what the kids kept trying to get me to tell you over dinner last night. We had such a pleasant meal with you. I’m glad I didn’t bring this up, although it may have been good for a laugh. :)

  5. Tell us over dinner and spoil a post? I think not …

  6. Pat,

    Good to know, for future reference.

  7. Totally familiar territory.

    My ex “had to have” several items later that she didn’t clean out when she left the house while I was out of town.

    It’s all just a power trip.

  8. Bruce,

    Power, control, manipulation, grandstanding…

    It doesn’t end.

  9. For him the bowl was a symbol of still having power. He did the whole making you believe he wanted a matching set to see if he could get you to fold. He knew if he drug Jenny into it you would. You should have firmly said no and shown him to the door. It may have been just a bowl but to him a mighty victory that he got you to give him what he wanted.

  10. Kath,

    I have been asking myself why I gave him the bowl. I could have refused. Here’s what I have come up with, but I’m not sure I’m right.

    a.) I didn’t want things to escalate in front of the kids, which they surely would have if I had refused to give him the bowl.
    b.) A part of me wanted to see if he would really go through with his request. Of course, if I hadn’t given him the bowl, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grandstand in front of his employees.
    c.) I wanted my kids to see that it wasn’t necessary to stoop to his level over a frickin’ bowl.
    d.) He might control the bowl, he doesn’t control me. That probably sounds contrary, since I did give him the bowl, but I know – in my heart – it’s not really about the bowl.

    Does any of this make sense?

  11. Yes it makes sense. You know we know he doesn’t control you. For him there’s the bowl – he will try something bigger next time. He sees a battle he won. I can picture him walking around a Roman arena with that bowl in his hand, big smile on his face like he is a mighty warrior.

  12. Kath,

    That makes me laugh – the vision of the Roman warrior – and it makes my skin crawl, at the same time.

  13. That is something like my ex would do. I would have been caught off guard and I would have done the same thing you did, to avoid the contempt/sulking that would have followed. But if I had been expecting it I would have tried to invent a good reason for the bowl to stay with me. But you can’t always be prepared for every demand they’ll make. I guess you just have to pick your battles.

  14. Reese,

    I never have gotten good at reacting quickly to the bizarre stuff he does. It always takes my brain a minute to adjust while I’m thinking, “Did he really do/say that?”

    I completely agree with you about picking battles.

  15. I know I have become jaded and hardened working with really tough kids… In fact, on Friday, I had a kid storm out of the office with a loud “Fuck this!!” and it didn’t really make me flinch… That said… I think you need to try on a little “FUCK THIS!” it might suit you (him) well…

    I know…I know…that wouldn’t do anyone any good in front of the kids… But adopting a little of that student’s attitude might do a body good!

    Thanks for coming to McK’s game on Friday!

  16. Susan,

    Gawd! The timing of this. Thank you.

    Yesterday mom called. She wanted me to tell her – in detail – about the paperwork I recently received from Mark’s attorney.

    Truth be told, I’d had my head pleasantly buried in the sand, and I hadn’t read it through. I read parts to mom and literally said, “Fuck this!”

    Your comment was the kick in the butt I needed to address the paperwork head on. Seriously. Thank you.

    I’ve said this before… your girls are amazing.

    So are you.

  17. There are always options:

    * You say “No, thank you” with a smile on your face.

    * You tell him to break or give away one of the bowls, so then he will have an even number.

    * You direct him to the nearest Pottery Barn…they do have pottery, don’t they?

    * You find a pottery class and tell him to make his own. That way he is assured of having it match perfectly.

    * You hit the dummkoff with the bowl as you throw him out the door.


    OK, I think I have it out of my system…………….. (getting back to trying to love everyone!!!!!)

  18. Donna,

    You and Susan have inspired me to get “it” out of my system.

    On this day of cold temps, more snow, no sun, a mood that is surely suffering from SAD (seasonal affect disorder) even tho’ the Packers won, I will take the opportunity to write the fantasy of what I wish I had done when he asked for the bowl.

    I would have said:

    * You can’t have the bowl that my daughter gave me.
    * I want the camera that you gave me as a Christmas present, and then kept when I decided our marriage couldn’t survive and made the desperate choice to move out.
    * I want all the rent monies I paid you every month to be able to ‘live’ in ‘our’ own home.
    * I want the hours back that I spent polishing your hardwood floors.
    * I want the confidence back that I let you siphon out of me with each one of your snide comments about my appearance.
    * I want the money due me based on child support being figured according to you having the kids some of the time, since I clearly have them all of the time.
    * I want my fair share of what I contributed to making your business a success.
    * I want back the hours I missed with family and friends because I let you alienate me from all those relationships.
    * I want back the hours spent preparing meals for you that you then tossed in the garbage because they didn’t meet with your liking.
    * I want back the hours spent sitting in thunderstorms and rain showers in rubber rafts in your version of quality family time.
    * I want back the sleepless nights I spent laying next to you, crying, hoping you would notice and make it better.
    * I want back the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy, relish and celebrate my pregnancies without you making me feel bad about my body.
    * I want back 1990 – 2006.

    And then I would smile, as I showed him to the door, and I would quietly, forcefully, with clenched teeth, say, “Fuck you very much.”

    That felt good.


  19. I have no Shoulds for you, only Congratulations.

  20. Love you!!!!

  21. Susan,

    Thank you, and bless your heart.

  22. Annie,

    And I love you, Dear Sister in Survival.

    One day, we’ll look back and laugh, won’t we?

    I picture two Adirondack chairs, something you can drink, at sunset, blankets draped over our legs, a view of the ocean, and two doting, mentally healthy, funny, smart men preparing our gourmet dinner, in the kitchen.

  23. When I told my 8 year old last weekend that we were moving in the summer because I had a new job and it would be best if we lived closer to my new employment, he said, “Is this like the last time when you stole all daddy’s stuff and moved?”

    Yes, I completely understand you and wonder why I had not found your blog until now…

  24. Zaira,

    Funny thing, really. It wasn’t that difficult to leave his house since it never felt like my place anyway. He made sure to let us know that we were living under his roof.

    Glad you found us.

    My best to you and your son.

  25. Oh yes, same here. My kids were told they are really ‘homeless’ until they pay for a place of their own. And even though I was always to work and contribute, I really had nothing…we are still arguing over his list of things I am to return. It is all quite maddening, but even though most days I find myself sane and know peace, there are some when I question it all. Those are the days when the reality of ‘he will always be this way’ smacks me in the face. It usually catches me off guard, but I always know that tomorrow is another day and if I give in to him today, he will want more tomorrow. I am still trying to figure out if there is any fool proof way of dealing with this.

    Thank you for welcoming me and for listening. :)

  26. Zaira,

    It’s no coincidence that you wrote today. Today I find myself so angry with my ex. The fact that he waltzes through life completely oblivious to the destruction he leaves makes it worse. However, I recently read that Ns are quite aware of the destruction they cause, and they believe the rest of us are just too stupid to realize that dealing with their crap is just a necessary part of living with and sourcing them.

    This weekend I dreamt (again) that I was moving out of his house. (You’d think I’d be done processing that stuff – it’s been almost five years now.) In the dream, he came home and discovered that I was putting things in boxes. He asked what I was doing, and when I told him I was moving out he said, “Well don’t take my lotion or shampoo.”

    I find that the only thing that really helps is the ability to talk to those who know exactly what we’re dealing with.

  27. We are all just extensions of themselves. Here to serve their needs and how dare we say NO to our purpose in life!!! I read that not long ago and it is so true, sadly so true. He called me “selfish with no bounds” the other day, which triggered me to post on this thread today. Classic projection, but still infuriating. After all, I am still sacrificing a bit of myself everyday to him through our son. Aargh!

    Thanks, Jesse for your blog! It offers some comfort knowing that someone really understands.

  28. Zaira,

    I remember being called selfish. He’d resort to that when I would have the nerve to stick up for myself. It would give me pause. For a long time, I believed him. I really thought that I wasn’t giving enough.


    Glad you are here, Zaira.

  29. I needed to revisit this today as he is trying to convince me that driving our son to his martial arts class an hour away 3 days a week is the better choice for him (meaning our son). This is the better choice for the EX not our son. Can you imagine being an 8 year old and commuting like that (2 hours at least round trip) 3 days a week for a class that you can have closer to home? I hate when he imposes his convenience item as our son’s best interest. I think I am still upset that he kept our son at his house during the hurricane when it was clear that my house would be the safer bet. Seething….

    Do I really have 10 more years of this? I mean, I should have known better than to think last week that I may be able to forgive him someday. I don’t want to be angry or fight about it anymore. (but I will!)

    Thanks for letting me rant.

  30. Zaira,

    I wondered if you were impacted by the hurricane.

    “Convenience” is never about anyone but the N, no matter if children are involved, and no matter what their ages.

    God! Anyone knows (even someone without kids) that an eight year old shouldn’t be put through that once a week, let alone three times a week.

    And the thing about the hurricane and your son being at the Ex’s house made with sick. I’ve written it before, but it bares repeating, Ns don’t have a concept of what is safe for others, because they aren’t capable of thinking about others.

    We had an episode last night with Jen being upset about yet another thing her dad did. You know, I can say that while it may never end, it does get easier to process. At least it has been that way for us. (Knock on wood.)

    That’s why we write here – for the cathartic benefits of the rant!

  31. Zaira and Jesse,

    I so appreciate and sympathize EMPATHIZE with your comments. I cannot go into much detail, but I will say I have had my own hurricane experience this weekend, which included my ex N driving into danger instead of away from it with our kids, and there was not a thing I could legally do to stop it. It is a horrible feeling to feel so helpless in such a situation.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers as are your children.

    Take care . . .

  32. Lynn,

    I haven’t looked into it, but I’ve always had this theory that Ns intentionally put their children in harm’s way. I can’t fathom why a parent would do that, but I’ve seen it too many times.

    I’m so hoping things have leveled out a bit for you by now.

  33. Lynn, I am sorry that you had a rough weekend. I have a joke with my attorney that there is no justice in law. Sadly, it is true. I feel that I am the ONLY one looking out for my son in all of this. The rest are on their own agenda.

    Jesse, I think you are right. Maybe they want to prove they are the hero? Maybe it is the inability to redirect their concerns to another human being? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

  34. Zaira,

    I think it (the Ns continually putting their kids in jeopardy) ties in with the lack of empathy, but I’m not sure.

  35. Wow..the subtle power and ability to be so hurtful and acting so unaware…
    As we were divorcing, my ex husband drove 1,500 miles with our few, remaining possessions, including the top of our wedding cake which he kept frozen in a cooler..he had moved it from our home, to his cabin while we were separated and then brought it with him to put in ‘my’ fridge, only to turn around and leave me 5 weeks later…with the cake. The significance being that we never ate the traditional piece a year after being married as I had requested 5 years prior. I almost couldn’t function for 2 weeks trying to understand why he took the wedding cake, but left me…and he left so enthusiastically that he actually called me to share his excitement as he approached his parents home, exclaiming “I feel like I’m 16 again!”
    My desperate, deepest fear is wondering if I do such things to people I love without being aware of it. I pray to God that I don’t and if I do that I am stopped and made well.

  36. Elizabeth,

    That sounds like an edited scene from Fatal Attraction.

    I’ll admit to having a lot of those same fears. I hope that our fear of treating those close to us in such harsh ways is what keeps us from doing so.

  37. I was surprised to see the e-mail about a new comment to this post. I was really surprised when I followed the link to find this started at the other end of this very long-seeming year. The so-called growing part of the year.

    Thank you Elizabeth, for needing to comment, because otherwise I would not have had the opportunity to look back at where I was at a year ago, to think about topics that are as maddeningly insolvable as the ones illustrated, which to me revolves around the raw, unblinking callousness we see being displayed by our exes when they do the things they do that made us leave them.

    It’s been a really growth-filled year. And that growth was horrifically painful, and still not a sure thing (what is?) when it comes to a happy ending of the story. I’m happier. I’m more solid than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

    And, like you all, I can’t fully believe I’m without guilt. Not the guilt that I should have, for not being perfect, for failing to understand, for being angry, resentful, or not working harder at it, at really stopping and working through things. I mean the guilt that says “You could have fixed this.”

    That’s the crazy stuff about becoming more of oneself. There’s a Catch-22 involved, because smart people always look for a reason, and expect to find one. And there is no logical reason for the damage done to people because of the chance assembly of all the noxious things that contributed to the damage we receive as children. Babies are born able to make all the sounds that are used in any language heard that humans have ever spoken. We lose the ability if we don’t hear the sounds. What if that’s what happens to people who never sense the expression of emotions?

    Just musing about how feelings, especially of compassion, get exercised. That, I often feel, is how I became susceptible to the situation I found myself. I used to want to help and be accepted, more than I wanted to make good choices. Tend to the outside maintenance, so that it’s eventually safe enough to fix me.

    That’s kinda what the year’s been about. Progress has been made. And like that Zen saying goes, “Before Enlightenment, chop wood and haul water. After Enlightenment, chop wood and haul water.” Maybe I’m just learning to enjoy the work.

  38. Bruce,

    It’s so nice to see you here again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – always so insightful.

    I’m glad you are able to see growth in the last year. It is difficult work. I believe we deserve the pat on the back we might give ourselves when we take stock of how far we’ve come, and revel in that for a bit, before turning to look at how far we still have to go.

    The impact of narcissism on children is a subject that I get worked up over. I believe we choose our parents. I believe in karma and coming back to work on issues. How many children – who chose narcissistic parents – actually grow up and do the work? How many haul water and chop wood? That’s the nature of narcissism – they DON’T change because they think they are perfect.

    Can that cycle be broken?

    That zen saying is one of my favorites. I’ve never thought about getting to the point of actually enjoying the work. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

    Thank you.

  39. Phooey.

    I’ve had a pretty long year so far, culminating in some frustrating situations. And this post, although older, seemed to exemplify exactly how I’ve been feeling.

    Which is to say, I still at times CANNOT FATHOM how these people can be so “victimized” and still believe themselves to be untouchable.


  40. Kristin,

    I know.

    After having been at this for over six years, I catch myself wondering, “Hey… it seems a little better now. Maybe he’s changing.”

    HA HA HA

    Then, as if on cue, he’ll show his true colors. If it seems easier, it’s because we’ve adapted.

  41. I think it’s easier when it is an attack on me, rather then one on my kids. Then I get all “grumpy mother bear’…we’re in the midst of a couple battles right now, but what he doesn’t realize is I now have this lovely place to give me strength.

  42. Kristin,

    I have this fantasy: As much as I try to be positive and encouraging and send those healing ripples out to survivors, there’s a part of me that envisions gathering all the bears – some are moms and some are not; some grumpy and some grumpier than others – from this site, and watching them unleash and wreak havoc on all the narcissists.

    Whew… don’t tell my kids. ;)

    I’m glad you are here.

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