On Telling the Narcissist No

calm watersThe family had split into separate canoes some time ago.  Initially, the paddling was difficult.  The water was choppy and the canoe carrying the mother and the two children took on water more times than not.  The father was in a canoe by himself.  He didn’t seem to mind the rough waters.  Truth be told, he seemed to prefer making waves and watching the other three struggle to keep their canoe afloat.

In time, the three found their rhythm.  They paddled in sync and enjoyed the view.  It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but they became adept at riding out the storms.  They’d hunker down, breathe through the rapids, remember not to hang on too tightly (because that makes the ride more tense), and make each other laugh.


More recently, when his canoe approached, he’d be paddling more gently.  She dared to believe that he might not want to rock their boat anymore.  A couple sunny days found the canoes gliding side by side as the four exchanged stories of golf, fishing, and fairy gardens.

One afternoon, both canoes were beached as the four discussed a possible journey to be taken by the father and the two children.  The mother was included, and they all smiled through the conversation.  The talking was easy.  Each opinion was heard.  The children were asked to think about the proposed adventure and let the father know, the next day, if they planned to go with him.

As the mother and children paddled off in their own canoe, they waved to the father and smiled.  They told him they would give his idea some great thought.  He waved and smiled and said he was looking forward to hearing from them.

The kids talked of their father’s invitation.  They discussed things like the length of time they’d be gone, the amount of money their father would have to spend, and whether it was even necessary for them to go since they hadn’t gotten a clear indication of his desire for them to go.

They decided to wait until the next day to tell him of their decision, because all good paddlers know that it is good to sleep on a such things.


The children remember the period of rough waters as if it was yesterday.  Sometimes, they even have dreams about rough waters and a tipping canoe.  Because of those dreams and memories, they nodded when their mother asked, “Would you like me to tell your father of your decision?”

So, the mother sent a note explaining the children’s carefully thought out reasons for not wanting to go on the father’s planned adventure.


And because you can never tell a narcissist NO, the narcissist immediately sent a tidal wave in the direction of their canoe.  It was clear that his intent was to hurt the mother and the children, or perhaps even capsize their boat.

The three ducked their heads, took on a lot of water, consoled each other and wondered how they could have thought it might be okay to tell him no.


For the next few days, they paddled their boat as the waters calmed.  They did not see any sign of the father or his canoe.  He did not apologize, or explain, or comment on the most recent storm.

When they finally saw him again, he cruised by in his shiny canoe, leaving only the smallest wake behind him.  He barely glanced in their direction, acting as if there had never been a storm.

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  1. What a great metaphor!
    I know those tidal waves well, as you know, but after each one, I continue to wonder how the preparations could have been better to avoid the flooding afterward.

  2. Z,

    When/if you figure that out, I’m all ears.

    The other thing I keep tripping on is slipping into believing they are capable of change. Bwahahahahaha! I’m an optimistic fool.

  3. OH I beat myself up for that one all. the. time.
    I just really really want it to be true!
    Think of how much easier life would be. There would be no:
    custody cases
    word salads
    book club at work (we are reading Bill Eddy’s It’s All Your Fault! No joke.)

  4. … or
    baby voice
    martyr routine
    contradicting themselves
    unasked for suggestions on what we should wear

    oh…. I’m forgetting some, I know.

  5. … or

  6. … or
    Dr. bills to find out what was wrong with ME
    counseling bills for counselors who couldn’t identify NPD
    false friends who refuse to believe or can’t see who he is ….

  7. … or
    family that tells you to pray for him
    and that you will be appreciated some day
    just hold onto hope that it will happen…

  8. … or
    put a positive spin on it
    he had a difficult childhood, give him a break
    he doesn’t beat you, what’s the problem?
    it’s not like he’s out gambling or golfing or fishing all the time

  9. … or
    all men cheat
    women are on this earth to pick them up when they fall
    behind gritted teeth…

  10. or…
    did you do something to make him mad?
    he’s probably just upset about something at work
    is he getting enough attention (interpret: sex)?

    What we have here is a combination of the inability to recognize NPD and everyday sexism.

    I was going to say that this story sounded sadly familiar. Then I read the comments. Those sound familiar too.

  11. Sandy,

    Narcissists are some of the most sexist individuals I’ve had the “pleasure” of getting to know.

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