The Difference Between Can’t and Won’t

all that ocean and not a narcissist in sightGuest Post by Jenn

Way back in May of this year I was dealing with issues stemming from the sideline Narcissist in my life.  I call her a sideline Narcissist because she doesn’t live in my home, or in my town, but she very much influences my life because she raised my husband.  Thank the Gods he managed to survive his childhood and now we have our own little darlings, who are also influenced by the sideline Narcissist.  But I digress.

Back to the issue the sideline Narcissist was inconveniently causing back in May.  After I had sent out an email to extended family members letting them know that we wouldn’t be traveling to Kentucky as we normally do, the husband received an email from his mother.  She stated she would like the kids for two weeks in July and then again for another two weeks in August – at her house, which is ten hours away from where we live.  The big problem here is that my MIL cannot physically handle the rigors of caring for two very active young boys plus their sister for more than a few days.  She wanted them for two weeks at a time.  Cue the drama where the sideline Narcissist does a happy dance.

So the husband and I actually agree that his mother cannot have the kids for two weeks.  Then we even go so far as to agree that he should go with the kids for their one-week visit.  We then agreed that he would talk to his mother about why she couldn’t have the kids by herself.  And that’s where all the happy dancing on my end stopped because although the husband said he would talk to her, in reality it wasn’t happening.  I even gave him a date to have it done by, since he’s horrible at procrastinating.  That date came and he hadn’t had the TALK.

We were in July now, and I was angry – grinding my teeth and harrowing-in-my-gut angry – when I saw him.  Because what I saw was that he wouldn’t talk to his mother even though it was in his kids’ best interests. He didn’t want me talking to the sideline Narcissist about this problem because I was “too aggressive” –  in his words.  Whereas what I saw was that he was entirely too passive.  So I sat in my anger and I felt my body drawing in around me, and at some point I got tired of the anger.  It takes a lot of energy to maintain that kind of anger and I didn’t want to do it anymore.  So I pulled myself aside and had a chat.  The fancy schmancy counseling degree I have teaches you certain skills.  So I asked myself what I would do with some random dude off the street who walked in and had an angry wife and a mother he couldn’t talk to.  And that’s when it hit me.

Can’t not won’t.

He’d been raised to never question his mother, to never express his own wants and needs, and now he didn’t know how to even begin standing up to her.

The change in thinking helped tons in letting that icky anger go.  I would offer new ideas to the husband, which usually earned me only wide-eyed looks, but I felt like we were on the same page instead of fighting against each other.  At some point he did have the TALK with his mother.  In true sideline Narcissist fashion, she refused to acknowledge any of his concerns and basically just said, “I would have no problem watching the kids on my own, but you’re their father so what can I do?”

So yay! for the counseling degree (that I can’t really use do to licensure issues in the Commonwealth of Virginia) because in so many ways (such as this one example) it’s saved my sanity in dealing with the sideline Narcissist.  And yay! for letting go of anger.  Not being angry all the time is a much better feeling.  ;-)


Here are some quotes that help me deal with Narcissists in general:

“People will do very bad things to keep their perceived power intact.”
             – Doyle, Laurell K. Hamilton


“Just because you’re human doesn’t mean you aren’t one of the monsters.”
             – Anita, Laurell K. Hamilton


“The second you stop questioning yourself is the second you become the monster.”
             – Merry, Laurell K. Hamilton

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  1. Good job! I need to get to that place where I am sidelining myself quicker….before I pull the reactive trigger. oops.

    Getting over that “can’t” is a tough one. It’s the sole reason my son is in therapy. You know, the whole “I am in therapy to deal with someone who needs therapy” thing. ha.

    Hope you have some peace now for a while. xx

  2. I love that last quote, which was very aptly illustrated in the narrative. Well done. I feel like I should paste that quote on my forehead.

  3. Jenn,

    I recently had an intense visit with one who has dealt with narcissism all her life. She sees her hand reach for the phone to call that narcissistic parent and get the love she’s been trying to get her whole life. She hears her brain say, “Don’t do it. They haven’t changed. You won’t get what you need from them.” And still… she makes the call.

  4. Loved the guest post.

  5. Thank you for the post Jenn! Coping and coping more and trying to let go of all the ways it tightens up our bodies and minds–seem to be the ways to survive interactions with Ns.

    I try to remind myself when I am hit with some ridiculous, insulting verbal right-hook, that this is the Ns norm. I have no reason to be surprised. I try to show no emotion in response.

    Take care . . .

  6. Lynn,

    I constantly have to remind myself when in the presence of the N’s (yep there are two) in the hub’s family that THIS IS JUST WHAT THEY DO. I get the brunt of it because I don’t cater to them, but still.

    The problem I continue to struggle with is the hubs WANTS them in his life. And…I just don’t get that. But it’s not going to change so you either find a way to deal or you get out. And that’s pretty much life with an N. And yeah, showing no emotion or giving no response at all…those are some of the best ways to deal with them.

    Hope you all are doing well :-)


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