The Narcissism Survivor’s Tool Box

Braced against the sheer, shaley side of a ravine, holding the handle bar of his bike, he yelled, “Dad!  Dad, I need help here.  I’m about to lose my bike!  Dad!  Help!”  He was torn between letting his bike fall to the 15 foot pool at the base of the ravine, or worse, falling with his bike.

He was able to reach his water bottle.  After taking a sip, he tried to yell again, but he couldn’t get his dad’s attention.  He would have to hang on longer.

He waited, balanced on the brink, wondering why he’d agreed to go on another one of these all-day adventures.

The adventures had gotten better now that he was older, but he still ended up with an upset stomach from the exposure and risk that his dad took for granted.



Besides Keens, a fishing net, beef jerky and a cell phone, his back pack contained his Narcissism Survivor’s Tool Box.

This tool box doesn’t hold a bike pump, Allen Wrenches , WD-40 or band aids.  This tool box contains all the skills he’d developed to deal with a narcissistic father – tools he would need for the rest of his life.


The Tool Box

Knowledge.  The most important tool in the box is knowledge of narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Through understanding NPD, Will knew to expect his dad to put him in dangerous positions.  He knew that he couldn’t count on his dad to keep him safe and that his dad wouldn’t empathize with his fears.


Acceptance.  With knowledge comes acceptance.  Will knows his dad will not change.  He knows that no amount of pleading will get his dad to see things from his perspective.

That doesn’t mean Will has to give up on having a relationship with his dad.  That means he understands the type of relationship he will have.


Boundaries.  History has taught Will that there are certain adventures that he shouldn’t go on – not yet anyway.  He might be better able to handle the exposure when he gets older.  Right now, Will needs to be afforded the opportunity to pass on some invites.  He needs to be able to feel safe and secure and that can happen when Will sets boundaries.

Boundaries will change as Will gets older.  In the meantime, he can rely on me to help him enforce healthy boundaries.   I don’t prevent Will from going on adventures with his Dad, unless I feel a trip is too risky.    Will needs to learn how to navigate these experiences, but there are times when Will doesn’t want to go.  Those times his dad assumes it is because I don’t want Will to go.  I let Mark believe that.  I can’t change that and it gets Will off the hook.  That’s my job.


Humor.  This tool takes some time to acquire.  It doesn’t come quickly for most young children.  They need time to process their hurt feelings and have those feelings acknowledged before they can start to see the humorous side of relating to a narcissistic parent.

Kids need life experiences before they can make associations and see for themselves what is “normal” and what is weird.  Once they have enough relationships in their lives, they can pick out what’s funny about the way their dad treats them.

It’s seeing the humor in the bizarre behavior of a narcissistic parent that carries them through the difficulties.  The humorous nature of the narcissist’s behavior helps kids see that it is not about them.  Their dad does weird stuff because he can’t help it.  And a lot of times, that weird stuff really is funny.


Snacks.  This tool is in the youngest survivor’s tool box.  Kids need fuel to keep their busy bodies going.  Because narcissists aren’t capable of thinking of the needs of others, they forget that kids eat frequently during the day.

Never send young survivors on an all-day adventure with a narcissistic parent without sending food with them.




When Will finally got his dad’s attention, his dad said, “Hang on, buddy.  I’ve almost landed a big one.  As soon as I bag this fish, I’ll be right there to help you.”

Mark finally managed to crawl out to where Will hung precariously from the side of the ravine.  He pulled Will and his bike to safety and said, “Will, there are more big fish in there.  Knock ’em dead.”


Later, Will was able to laugh at the fact that his dad was more worried about catching the big one than rescuing his son.


After telling the story of this most recent trip, Will decided that he’s going to pass on any more all-day adventures for the near future.

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  1. Smart boy!

  2. God bless Will! I am so sorry for his experience (s). It is so hard to endure the upside-down, inside-out existence when one is with a N. It is especially hard for children because their parent is supposed to look out for them and have their back. This is clearly not the case with a parent who is a N.

    You are a wonderful Mom to Jen and Will. The humor and love you give them carries them and will carry them far in their lives. I keep all of you in my thoughts/prayers!

  3. How well prepared Will is going to be for the rest of his life, even if he’s not on a day trip with his dad! The tools in his life backpack will come in handy for all kinds of people interactions, normal and weird. He’ll always know to be prepared, to look out for his own safety, to laugh at life’s mishaps, and to make judgments about the next all-day adventure. What a great teacher Will has!! Lucky boy…

  4. Z,

    And getting smarter every day….

  5. Lynn,

    I think about that a lot… about how a kid ought to be able to rely on his dad to keep him safe. But then I think, if Will has never had that, maybe there isn’t the psychological damage from not having it. His version of “normal” is to not be able to expect to be kept safe by his father. (Wishful thinking on my part.)

    Which reminds me of how resilient kids really are.

    Think of you and yours often, Lynn.

    Sending hugs.

  6. Pat,

    Thanks for that, but I think I’m the lucky one. ;)

  7. Hi Jesse,

    I think it is ingrained in us to expect our parents to protect us and be there for us. I know my kids have been damaged greatly by the times they thought they could depend on their father and he did not come through or watch out for them as he should have. It is definitely tough. If I had a choice, I would certainly have chosen a much better path for my children. The choice I did have was to get out once I knew it was doing more harm to stay than to leave. I am SO glad I took that leap. I will never regret that for them or for me.

    I know your kids are grateful too for all you have done for them. Hugs to Jen, Will, and you.

  8. Lynn,

    My folks divorced when I was young. I grew up thinking my mom would protect me… not so much my dad. I’m sure I project that onto this situation with my kids. Funny how history repeats itself.

    That leap (leaving) is scary! I don’t think I’d have had the courage to take that leap if I’d been married and didn’t have kids. But seeing the hurts and tears in my kids made me realize I didn’t have a choice. Then it was a matter of packing boxes. No regrets!!

    Your kids are blessed that you had the courage to take the leap!

    Hugs to all of you, too.

  9. As a child of an N, I can tell you that I agree with your tools and your belief that coping skills are needed. They will be ok. They are lucky to have one parent that DOES make them feel safe and loved unconditionally. They will learn how better to deal with Ns and difficult people from their dad…

  10. NM,

    When I made the choice to homeschool, a couple well-intentioned, supportive folks asked, “How will your kids learn to deal with bullies and tough personalities?” I replied, “They’ve got that covered.”

  11. Trust me, not a bad idea from where I sit to keep them from the possibility of a life-long narcissistic “best friend.” I know they have excellent coping skills. I am so glad you share information about narcissism with them! I have often thought I wish my mom had known about narcissism when I was a kid. I might have spared myself some of the agony on playing out those Dad-issues with someone else.

  12. NM,

    Honestly, there are times when I wonder if I share too much. But so far, my gut says this is the right thing to do.

    Their behavior, their spark and their genuine happiness all prove I’ve made the right choice.

  13. absolutely! :) my mom was a big “sharer,” too ;) She felt she needed to protect us, since she’d seen what my dad was capable of…. better too much info than too little.

    tales from the trenches….. went to visit my Dad and his wife a few weeks ago…. a bit of history: have never *ever* been there in the nearly 30 years they have been married. He always came to us (“always” meaning around once per year when we were kids, less than that now). We (my hubby and I, and our kids) moved heaven and earth to make this trip work out. The second day we were there, he decided he’d have lunch with a local friend. His wife said “well if you’re going, I’m going too!” We were left alone in their home, in a strange city, for over 4 hours while they had lunch with a friend they see often, and ran a bunch of pointless errands. Every time I question if he is “one” or not, I get my answer loud and clear! yep, there it is!


  14. NM,

    I like hearing that your mom was a “sharer”. Look how you turned out. ;)

    And after all you went through to see them…. after never having been there before…. they go to lunch with a friend?!?

    I know that questioning – wondering if we’ve misjudged. There’s comfort in learning we’ve accurately labeled what we are dealing with, but at the same time, all hope is eliminated.


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