The Narcissist’s Lens

She gets off the phone and sighs and says, “Dad says he’ll go to the park with me for a little bit, but he doesn’t want to stay too long because he gets bored.”

He comes back from riding his bike around the block and says, “How come dad doesn’t ever want to do what we want to do?  If he does finally do what we like, he mopes and pouts and tells us he has to get going.”

He shows up at the house with a new baseball mitt for him, and nothing for her.

He sits on the step and pretends to listen to her talk about her imaginary pony until an adult walks up.  Once he sees the opportunity a new audience provides, he stands, turns to this new person and tells him tales of mountain bike rides and how many hours he logs at the office.  Realizing that he is no longer listening, she looks down and continues drawing her pony.

He tells me that he’d like to call his dad and tell him about how high his ollies are now, but his dad doesn’t listen and act excited.  He’s thinking that maybe his dad says that it’s cool that he loves skateboarding, but he can feel that his dad is pretending to care.

They have both told me that they don’t know why they can’t be themselves around their dad.  They don’t show him their silly sides or their tired sides, or the side-splitting funny sides because they fear he won’t approve.

It’s exhausting having to be perfect all the time.

It’s no fun pretending to be something you aren’t all the time.

“How come he doesn’t want to love who we really are?”


After the last visit, he turned to me and said, “I think they’d want to spend more time with me if they weren’t missing you while they were with me.”

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  1. Lizard brain.

    What was his family like? I recently finished “The N Epidemic” and it talked a lot about parents who give their kids anything they want and tell them how perfect they are.

    Then there are parents like the ones featured on the Oprah show today: they kept their little daughter in a cage in the basement.

    Both examples make my skin crawl.

  2. Donna,

    Mark’s parents were not the doting kind. He was basically left to his own devices. I think he was starved for attention.

    I’ve seen examples of the kind you mention – the over-the-top, spoiling parents.

    Our culture seems to be cranking out narcissists left and right.

  3. The last statement of this post stood out to me the most. It’s a fact your kids miss you terribly b/c with you they are safe & secure to simply be themselves. There is no wearing faces, or pretending to be a certain way. It is true there can never be any solace or comfort in pretending. It is unfortunate your little ones have to shift gears when with their dad. I am sure it’s even harder for you to see. I tend to think it’s tolerable or at least easier for them, because they know what to expect, they know themselves, and they know you love and acknowledge every part of them.

    Sidebar: Mark seems to be a definite attention seeker, probably linked a great deal from the lack there of in his own childhood. It’s still no excuse for such behavior, but sometimes it allows us to form some correlation. One can only hope that he gets it at some point, but again wishful hoping.

  4. Kira,

    As I read your comment, I wasn’t just thinking of Jen and Will, I was thinking of all those in relationships with narcissists who are never loved for who they are.

    It’s heartbreaking.

    And you are right, Mark is continually compensating for what he didn’t get as a child. I still feel sorry for him because of that.

  5. C wanted to get to know my father and to work out here on the country property so, he and I have been staying w/my parents since Sunday. I haven’t spent more than two nights in a row here since I was 18. TODAY WE”RE GOING HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    After the first 12 hours, despite all of my self-awareness and best intentions to remain open, I resorted to doing what Jen and Will do: I hide the real me. The pain of the response or non-response of both of my parents is too much to tolerate. I used to think it was my father who was on the narcissistic end of the spectrum, but this trip I was particularly saddened to find that it is my mother is more critical, judgmental, bigoted, and cynical than I realized. She can be generous. But she doesn’t see me. I thought she couldn’t see me because I was hiding, so I came out from behind the masks, but she only sees what she wants to see, and she doesn’t want to see me.
    Please don’t feel sorry for me; I don’t. I am glad to have friends who do want to see me!

  6. Alyson,

    That part – “the pain of the response or non-response” – really hit me. The lack of a response can be just as hurtful as a response.

    I’m glad you are going home.

    I have to feel a little bit sorry for you because I care. No matter how tough we think we are, that stuff hurts. a lot.

  7. My ex’s mother left the family to come to the US when he was 7, his middle sister was 5.5, and the youngest just 2. She did this to make a better life for them, but I can never understand how you leave your kids. She didn’t come back, but after a couple of years or so, she established enough for her husband to go with her. The kids were left behind with a poor caregiver and my ex was the oldest trying to look out for them all. The kids were brought over a few years after that. His compensation for the abandonment is narcissism. I do feel sorry for him too. But even though he recognized this right after we separated, he has reverted to being worse than ever. He would say that his parents are his best friends, perfect people you would think by the way he talks about them. They are not bad people, but they feed his narcissism to the fullest. Still. They were shocked when he confronted them about his feelings of them leaving him and of course, denied that it affected him.

    My youngest son puts on his ‘game’ face when he is with his dad, then comes home and lets all the emotion out. It tears my heart up to see the torment he puts himself through to be another person for his dad. He has said a few times he wished he had a clone. Then he wouldn’t have to go back and forth between us and he could leave the clone with his dad. I mentioned that he would not get to have time with his dad himself if the clone was there all the time. He paused and said that was ok because the clone could do whatever his dad wanted him to do and everyone would be happy. :(

  8. Zaira,

    Classic narcissism to completely deny any harm his parents might have caused. Then it can be turned into, “Well, you should have a thicker skin by now. Quit being so sensitive. Toughen up. Life isn’t fair. Get over it.”

    How convenient.

    And today, my two and I are headed to Mark’s for a two hour visit. It’s either I go with them, or he will physically come and take them and make them go to his house. They are not excited. I am telling them that they will be less uncomfortable knowing that I am there.

    God, I wish the three of us had clones.

  9. Jesse, Good luck today! I hope it is not too painful for the three of you. Cloning may be the answer after all…

  10. Zaira,

    Thank you. If I don’t make it back, will you and the others continue the good work you’ve done here on the blog?

    (Bad survivor humor, sorry.)


  11. Quit being so sensitive; lighten up; stop taking everything so seriously. Chorus in the soundtrack of my life. Hey, that’s who I am, and really, you ought to be glad because I, and people like me, are creating a society based on love, acceptance, transparency, honesty, compassion, and joy. I am beginning to wonder if there is an upsurgence in n-type behavior or if it is those of us who envision and now demand something more, better, different which has thrust us into this new place where it seems as if people are worse than before, but perhaps we’re simply evolving…Faster than others.

  12. Lol! You know I would get it!

  13. Zaira,

    I knew you would get it! ;)

  14. Alyson,

    Ab-so – fricken – lutely!!! That’s right where I have been going with all of this. Let’s inhabit an island of sensitive people who emote and feel for others and are empathic and don’t make excuses or apologize for who they are.

    God. My bags would be packed in a nanosecond.

    Two Springs ago, I ended up in the ER with heart palpitations. My followup appointment with my family practitioner was enlightening. He said, “You are stressed. You feel things. You pay attention when your body is stressed. Other people don’t hear their heart when it beats out of order. You do. You are sensitive. That is good. That isn’t something to apologize for. The herd needs you. The herd needs you to sense when danger approaches.”

    The herd needs us because we care for the young and care for the old. The herd needs us because we keep us together.

  15. Wow! If I had a FP that thought that way, I might end my boycott of the medical-industrial-complex. I’m happy they exist and you have one.

    My world changing plan puts the empaths in charge and relegates the naysayers to the island. Truly. This is what I spend my days (and the nights I lie awake) doing.

    I’m viewing my recent trip to the homestead as a trial by fire–which I survived quite well, thank you. :)

    At the risk of adding too many thoughts to this comment, here’s another: I found that I am not disturbed at all by people who are showing their emotions. This became apparent to me in my work as a mediator. It’s when people are shoving their feelings down that my body can’t help but become the conduit for the release of those feelings–even though they aren’t ‘mine’. I cry an awful lot of tears that aren’t ‘mine’.

    I can’t tell you what a relief it is each time I find another who moves through this world in the same way. The more we share, the more we will encourage others to step forward, and the circle will grow. Hurray for us!

  16. Alyson,
    He’s an interesting Doc. First person to ever tell me that it wasn’t bad to be sensitive.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about relating to those who show emotions versus those who don’t/can’t. There’s a level of comfort or maybe it’s trust when someone isn’t afraid to deal with feelings. You know where they are coming from.

    When those feelings are stuffed, I tend to worry about the landslide that will surely come once the dam breaks.

    I could get excited about your world changing plan. It sounds like a world I would thrive in – be accepted in.

  17. I think this is why my closest confidants are Pisces. As much as they appear tough on the outside, the inside is mush. They understand that part of me that is suppressed. :)

    I too liked the response your doc gave. I never thought about it like that. I have palpitations when I am really stressed, drink energy drinks, take diet pills…even though disconcerting, I know they will pass. I don’t do anything I know will cause them, but the stress is sometimes uncontrollable. I was joking with my colleagues about needing to enroll in one of the studies we are conducting for an atrial fibrillation device that monitors the heart and will alarm or shock if needed. lol!

  18. Zaira,

    This weekend I was caught without Pepcid – my go to for stomach acid from stress. I know better. There’s usually a one-day delay from event to acid. Visit at their dad’s was Thursday. Friday night I was doubled over. I should know better by now, but I’m always telling myself that I’m getting tougher.

  19. You poor thing! I am grateful you survived even though it wasn’t without injury. Wouldn’t it be something if we could sue (I am not that type, just contemplating the concept) for emotional and physical damages? I mean, if you are in a car accident, you can sue for pain and suffering. If you are injured in a medical facility, most often they offer a settlement for lifetime impact of damages.

    I know it would only be more harmful on ourselves as they will never ever, even if found responsible to a court of law, recognize the extent of the damage they cause.

  20. Zaira,

    In my most vulnerable moments, I have often thought life would be so easy if I were an N – no cares, no worries, no concerns for others, no wasting time being empathetic. Wouldn’t life be a cake walk if all you had to think about was yourself?

    Ha! Who am I kidding? My greatest joys come from my connections – to my kids, first and foremost, and then to friends and family.

  21. I thought about 2 things reading your reply. The first one was that a N doesn’t just think about themselves. They are worried about who will be there to pick up the crumbs and wipe up the frosting during their cake walk. (I do agree with your intention of the original statement.)

    The second was I am wandering aimlessly a bit with one child not currently living at home and the other gone 50% of the time. I can keep myself busy, not a problem, but I need other connections. I can’t fill that void with a run or a pottery class.

    Thank you for exercising my emotional mind while I break for lunch. Now back to science. :)

  22. Zaira,

    Now that is funny! My Ex-N also has OCD, so I’m pretty sure he’s never met a source who could do an adequate job of cleaning of the crumbs and frosting. Oh, I could take out the trash, but even then, he’d comment on the accuracy of the pitch or the way I tied the garbage bag.

    Try writing to fill the void. You have a knack.

    Would it be possible for me to join you in the science world for a bit? I could use a change. ;)

  23. UGH! The nit picking! Don’t you know there is only one correct way to do things??? The N way! :p

    I would like to think I can write, but like my humor, I tend to crack myself up mostly so I kinda think my writing may be the same.

    Come on over! I study brain stuff…highly stimulating and very nerdy. I was just at a meeting with some Neurointensivists and trauma specialists. One guy looked like Beaker from the Muppets and another reminded me of the young Marty McFly in Back to the Future. LOL! You see…my attention wanders when my brain is full or they start to bicker. This is also when some of us start talking dry ice bombs and how much fun that is or where we should have the next happy hour. It’s fun over here.

  24. Zaira,

    Oh nevermind. I’m smart but not that smart – not enough to do what you do.

    So… reread the last paragraph of your comment and tell me, again, why you think you are the only one laughing.

    Very funny – especially because you reference descriptive things that people actually know… or at least I do. ;)

  25. Thanks, Jesse, you are so kind.
    You ARE smart enough! It’s all about translating those big words into normal comprehension. Who gave doctors their own language anyway??? lol!

    Hope you have a splendid day.

  26. Zaira,

    You, too. ;)

  27. How sad…It frightens me because my boyfriend’s daughter is being raised by, I think, a narcissistic mother…the child expresses almost no emotions, never speaks of herself or her interests or if she does when we ask her, the responses are concrete and brief..almost robotic. I worry that I lack some parenting skill which she needs (I have no children by choice from my own childhood…I figured surviving it and raising my siblings was all I could safely offer. I wanted to keep the rest of me for career/my clients, friends and my partner of choice.)…I see her starved for attention..I see her lavished with expensive, over-the-top gifts that she feels incredibly entitled to (she got an iphone for xmas at the age of 8) and I see her animalistic and detached interactions with other people and the world around her..almost as if she lets nothing in or out.
    It is exhausting trying to be perfect all the time…
    I wonder if your kids feel like ‘why bother’ sharing a range of emotions with dad when he fails to share a range of emotions with them…so the shutting down is a combination of protection and despair making the whole visit feel like a futile waste of time…and yet, it’s still dad and we long for, and hope for, and wait for and maybe just maybe, we will get that praise, that recognition, that love we seek… I think I hear the same voice in the wounded inner-children of my adult clients..long after the parent is gone even. Some of the resilient ones among us find our way back to life. This is called Hope.
    And to your Pepcid, I smiled because I never had heartburn until I was divorcing my ex…I lived on Tums and probiotics. for about 2 years. It’s amazing to me that someone can be passive and destructive at the same time.

  28. E,

    Yes and yes on the part you wrote about my kids and their “visits” with their dad. I see them wrapping their little bodies in insulation or armor, depending on how strong they feel at the time.

    I’m sick to read of your boyfriend’s daughter. How can “adults” be so cavalier with the feelings of children? Those adults are acting from injuries, and the cycle continues.

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