Tag Archives: children of narcissists

Dating a Narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

(This blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)


I had wanted to write something to provide to parents, particularly parents of daughters, to help them discern if the person their child is dating could be a narcissist.  Obviously, that’s a tall order – since not all narcissists are the same.  Then I found this and I doubt that I could have written it better.  Take your daughter (or son) through this and see how the questions are answered.  Or just give it to her/him and see what happens.  The webpage, on which you will find more, is at the end:

Is there anything you can do to avoid abusers and narcissists to start with?
Are there any warning signs, any identifying marks, rules of thumbs to shield
you from the harrowing and traumatic experience of an abusive relationship?

Imagine a first or second date. You can already tell if he is a would-be
abuser. Here’s how:

Perhaps the first telltale sign is the abuser’s alloplastic defenses – his tendency to blame every mistake of his, every failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large. Be tuned: does he assume personal
responsibility? Does he admit his faults and miscalculations? Or does he keep
blaming you, the cab driver, the waiter, the weather, the government, or fortune
for his predicament?

Is he hypersensitive, picks up fights, feels constantly slighted, injured,
and insulted? Does he rant incessantly? Does he treat animals and children
impatiently or cruelly and does he express negative and aggressive emotions
towards the weak, the poor, the needy, the sentimental, and the disabled? Does
he confess to having a history of battering or violent offenses or behavior? Is
his language vile and infused with expletives, threats, and hostility?

Next thing: is he too eager? Does he push you to marry him having dated you
only twice? Is he planning on having children on your first date? Does he
immediately cast you in the role of the love of his life? Is he pressing you for
exclusivity, instant intimacy, almost rapes you and acts jealous when you as
much as cast a glance at another male? Does he inform you that, once you get
hitched, you should abandon your studies or resign your job (forgo your personal

Does he respect your boundaries and privacy? Does he ignore your wishes (for
instance, by choosing from the menu or selecting a movie without as much as
consulting you)? Does he disrespect your boundaries and treats you as an object
or an instrument of gratification (materializes on your doorstep unexpectedly or
calls you often prior to your date)? Does he go through your personal belongings
while waiting for you to get ready?

Does he control the situation and you compulsively? Does he insist to ride in
his car, holds on to the car keys, the money, the theater tickets, and even your
bag? Does he disapprove if you are away for too long (for instance when you go
to the powder room)? Does he interrogate you when you return (“have you seen
anyone interesting”) – or make lewd “jokes” and remarks?
Does he hint that, in future, you would need his permission to do things – even as innocuous as meeting a friend or visiting with your family?

Does he act in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes you
often? Does he emphasize your minutest faults (devalues you) even as he
exaggerates your talents, traits, and skills (idealizes you)? Is he wildly
unrealistic in his expectations from you, from himself, from the budding
relationship, and from life in general?

Does he tell you constantly that you “make him feel” good? Don’t be
impressed. Next thing, he may tell you that you “make” him feel bad, or that you
make him feel violent, or that you “provoke” him. “Look what you made me do!” is an abuser’s ubiquitous catchphrase.

Thanks and acknowledgements to Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-Love“.  The webpage where the above is found is:



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I see you!

 It’s Narcissist Friday!  

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)



Okay, I may be the last person in the US to watch the Avatar movie.  I watched it last week.  No particular comments on the movie.  But there was one thing that stood out and I think I will remember for a long time.  When the people wanted to communicate real connection, they said, “I see you.”

A couple of weeks ago I had an encounter with one of the narcissists in my life.  I have to limit the details because I don’t even want to come close to identifying him.  I was visiting with two friends when the narcissist came up to me (most likely to see why I was there—this was his turf).  He put his hand on my shoulder and I turned and we exchanged greetings.  So far, so good.  It lasted about a minute.  After very brief conversation, he began to berate the two friends with whom I had been speaking.  He spoke so negatively about them that I was afraid of what they would think.  Apparently they were (or pretended to be) in conversation themselves and didn’t hear what he said.

Now, the narcissist couldn’t have missed the fact that someone was standing with me.  He should have known them by name and position.  The only thing I can figure out is that he simply didn’t see them as anything important to him at the moment.  After his statements, he looked up at the clock and said that it was slow.  Then he walked away without a further word to me.

So, what happened?  He didn’t see them; at least not in the sense the Avatar movie uses the phrase.  Because his mind was on what he was saying, because he was positioning and preening, because he didn’t know if I was still a threat to him, he didn’t pay any attention to the people standing nearest to him.  He sent the same message to me when he walked away without finishing the conversation.  Once his little purpose was over, he moved on to the next opportunity to make himself look important.

You say, Dave, didn’t you try to defend your friends?  Didn’t you try to fix the situation?  Nope.  As I often am around narcissists, I was dumbfounded.  What had happened was so far from anything I saw as normal that it took me a few moments to understand it.  By that time, the opportunity had passed.

This is what the narcissist is like.  Others are not important until they are important to him.  He simply doesn’t see them.



Filed under Narcissism, Relationship, Uncategorized

After the Narcissistic Parent

It’s Narcissist Friday!

A friend asked me to go with him to see his mother as she lay dying in the hospital.  He wanted me to reassure her about her faith.  He may also have wanted me to understand something about him.  You see, I was privileged to witness her last words to her son.  At first it seemed like a holy time, one into which I should not intrude.  But her words shocked me.  The last words he heard his mother say to him were words of anger and accusation, telling him how he never measured up and was such a disappointment to her. 

I have always carried a special grief because of that situation.  It is hard for me to understand how a parent could leave a child with such words.  It is hard to know how I would have handled something like that. 

But I have learned since that time that many people have that kind of relationship with a parent.  For some reading this, that scenario doesn’t seem hard to understand at all.  It may be one you remember or it may be one you expect.  After all, why should the end be any different from the whole?

But now that parent is gone.  And you bear a peculiar grief.  Your grief is not so much for the loss of a parent, but for the loss of what could have been.  You could have had a good relationship.  You should have received encouragement and praise and guidance.  You could have grown up feeling good about yourself and knowing that you had loving support.  It could have been the way that relationship should have been.  But it didn’t happen.  Your loss is something most people don’t understand.  You didn’t lose a mom or a dad; you lost the opportunity for things to be right.

And, yet, you know things were never right.  Something about your parent was broken.  It may have happened way back in childhood, but it had nothing to do with you.  The problem was there before you came along.  It affected you, took some things from you, left you with conflicted feelings about yourself and life—but it wasn’t your problem.

I once stabbed myself with a meat prong in the palm of my hand.  The prong went through and pushed up the skin on the back of my hand.  That was a few years ago and no lasting damage was done.  Yet, when I think about that event, my hand almost involuntarily closes to protect my palm.  Pain leaves a memory.

Yes, you will hear that voice in your ear from time to time.  You will struggle against the criticisms and condemnation.  You will wonder if you are still being manipulated.  You will wonder whether you have the same characteristics or if you have passed them down to your kids.  And you won’t forget.

All of this is natural and normal.  Nothing is wrong with you.  You can’t just forget a parent and you can’t just wash away years of life.  You had to learn to deal with a person who was very difficult and the habitual responses will take time to unlearn. 

Many people feel a strange mix of relief and loss when a parent dies.  The relief comes from the release of a source of stress.  This happens even in good relationships.  You don’t have to make that trip or do that work or watch the suffering anymore.  With a narcissistic parent, the battle is finally over.  The relief is normal and not bad.

And you can heal.  You can move forward with your own life.  You can acknowledge and accept the mixed feelings in your heart and not worry about them.  You may have some things to work through, but you can do it.

Find a good counselor to talk with.  Find a good friend who will listen and affirm you.  Build your own life again.  Don’t focus on the negative of what was, focus on the positive of what will be.

One caution: You have had a narcissist in your life as long as you can remember.  Even though it was difficult, it was what you saw and felt as normal.  Normal has a strong pull.  If normal meant being criticized and depersonalized, you may find yourself seeking that again.  You may be wide open to other narcissistic relationships.  Be careful.

Perhaps for the first time, you are able to look at your parent objectively.  You can remember the charm new people saw.  You can remember what was said behind their backs.  You don’t need a friend or lover like that.  Watch for the clues—you will recognize them—and let yourself reject new narcissistic relationships.

There is life after the narcissistic parent.  Good life.  You are loved and you are valued. 


Help me out here.  What would you say to someone who is just starting to move past the narcissistic parental relationship?


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Hard Hearts

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Almost as long as people have been throwing things at each other, we have used shields to deflect the attacks.  I suppose the first shields were wood and then leather and then metal.  Some balance had to be struck between weight and protective ability.  Rocks could be repelled with wood or leather, but arrows needed something thicker or stronger.  Eventually, shields developed into body armor, from the knight’s mail to the Swat team’s ceramic plates.  But in all of this the purpose remains the same—protection.

The Bible speaks of an interesting phenomenon that occurs in leaders, in marriages, and even in relationship with God.  I usually think of the Pharaoh of the Exodus when I hear the term: hardening of the heart.  What makes this interesting is that sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart, sometimes his heart is simply hardened, and sometimes God is said to be responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart.  How can they all be true?

Well, over the years I have explained this using the idea of hardening an egg.  What’s the difference between a soft-boiled egg and a hard-boiled egg?  The only real difference is time.  The natural process of the egg in the boiling water is to harden.  The longer you leave it, the harder it gets.   You could say that hard-boiled eggs are the result of someone not doing something (taking the egg out of the water). 

So, in effect, Pharaoh decided to stay in the hot water and God let him.  And the longer he stayed in the hot water, the harder his heart became.  It took the death of his firstborn son to get Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go—and, even then, he reneged on the deal a little while later. 

It may be that narcissism “boils” down to simple hardness of heart.  Over time the narcissist learned not to trust anyone, to protect his heart against real connections and love.  He learned that any good thing he got out of life had to be what he got for himself.  Others could no longer be people, certainly not equals with him.  They were something to use to get what he wanted.  The narcissistic heart is hardened against pain and disappointment.  It has learned to deflect attacks.  It has learned to stay apart.

Much is made of the narcissist’s lack of empathy.  In fact, lack of empathy is part of the definition of narcissism.  But the narcissist’s lack of empathy is not simply a shortcoming, it is a decision.  The narcissist does not want to empathize, does not dare to empathize, because to do so is to risk his heart.  Many people have noticed the peculiar desire the narcissist has for relationship and then the abrupt rejection of that relationship when things get a little too close.  Narcissistic relationships are supposed to give to the narcissist, but never expect anything of his heart.  This is why the narcissist both needs and hates people. 

Sadly, this hardness of heart seems to be communicable.  Children and spouses of narcissists can develop something very similar.  The way the narcissist handles relationships causes others to develop coping techniques and sometimes coping means to let the heart toughen against attacks and disappointments.  Often this manifests as numbness or apathy.  Some counselors understand that a particularly quiet and unresponsive client could be the victim of a narcissist.  The numbness is very similar to the narcissistic hardness.

Spouses of narcissists frequently ask whether their children are destined to become narcissists.  The answer is a strong negative.  However, the children may develop this hardness to protect their hearts from the manipulations of the narcissist and may appear to be narcissistic in their responses and relationships. 

I am very much of the opinion that a loving parent can affirm the heart of a child in spite of a narcissistic spouse.  Children do not require perfect consistency from parents, but they do need acceptance, affirmation and hope.  One parent can give that.

Protect your heart, but don’t let it harden against others.  Find people and activities and interests you enjoy.  Risk being excited and having hope.  You may have to have a “thick skin” in dealing with the narcissist and his manipulations, but don’t let that damage other parts of your heart.  Allow yourself to separate the narcissist and his/her problems from other areas of your life. 

And if you know someone who is cut off from friends or family or heart interests, find a way to be a friend.  Make a point to be dependable, affirming, and loving.  Narcissists often try to isolate their victims to keep them under control.  The relationship they have with you might bring the hope they need to survive.


Filed under Narcissism

Useful People


It’s Narcissist Friday!


Imagine walking into a room full of people and beginning to categorize them by their usefulness.  Imagine pursuing a relationship with a person with energy and persistence and then abandoning that person just a few months later.  Imagine every relationship in your life having a certain purpose and plan.

What?  You can’t imagine living like that?  The narcissist can.

It seems important to re-examine this thing called “de-personalization” once in a while.  It is so foreign to the way most of us were raised or grew up that it is just plain hard to believe.

The narcissist either cannot see or has trouble remembering that other people are real.  They are, as we have said before, “tools, toys, or obstacles.”  Because life is all about building and maintaining the great image of self, the narcissist only sees people according to their usefulness.

For example, I have known narcissists who viewed their children as either useful or not useful.  The children might have a certain place in the narcissist’s mind almost from the beginning, or might fall into one spot or the other as they grow.  The oldest daughter might be useful because she carries part of the load.  The oldest son might be useful because he proves dad is a man.  The second child, however, may not be so useful.  The obedient child is useful, while the rebellious child is not.  Or, and this may surprise you, the obedient child may be seen as less than useful.  Notice that the child does nothing wrong, but is simply less useful.

Some readers will identify immediately with this.  They were the useless child, the one who received little admiration or attention, while their sibling seemed to receive everything.  There may have been useful times which gave hope to a real relationship, but those times passed and so did the usefulness.  When the useful child leaves home (if he ever does) there is great turmoil.  When the non-useful child leaves home no one seems to care.  Narcissistic parents sometimes simply write off less than useful children.

This is incredibly sad and very hard for most of us to understand.  But if you realize that relationships are only for certain purposes in the narcissist’s life, you can see how this works.  The girl who gushes admiration and submission may be lifted up by the narcissist because she is so useful to his image or his feelings about himself.  But when she begins to see the truth and holds back, she becomes less useful and the narcissist simply looks for another.  The church leader courts people on the basis of their usefulness to his goals, but when they become burdens or ask difficult questions, he pushes them aside as he reaches out to new people.  The co-worker is a friend and confidante while you are working on the project together, but can’t remember your name afterward.  The relationship had a purpose and you were useful.

It can be very hard to be the one deemed less than useful.  To be pushed aside while another is lifted up hurts deeply.  No wonder people who grow up in narcissistic homes struggle with their feelings about themselves.

This is part of why I believe it is so important to give a message of love to those who have suffered in narcissistic relationships.  I believe that understanding the real love of Jesus will bring some wonderful healing.  To know that you are valued just because you are you, rather than because of what you can do for someone, is an important revelation and blessing.

Listen: the narcissist is broken.  The most basic aspect of human relationship is far from him or her.  It is not right to view others according to their usefulness.  Others are people, too.  That’s one of the first things love teaches us.


Filed under Narcissism, Relationship


It’s Narcissist Friday!

Adult children of narcissists find themselves with special struggles.  Like adult children of alcoholics, those who grew up in narcissistic families suffer identifiable and treatable obstacles that usually manifest in relationships.  In fact, because of the special circumstances of the family dynamics, these people often find themselves enduring the same kinds of problems repeatedly in adult relationships.  They also find themselves unable to conquer the struggles of their narcissistic family, even though they may be grown and away from home.

One of the common challenges for those with narcissistic parents is the ability to express feelings.  I recently visited with someone who said that when she was in a new relationship she had no opinion on where they should go out to eat.  She simply didn’t care.  Her boyfriend found this very frustrating because he wanted to make her happy.  But she could express no desire for one place over another.

Someone might suggest that this is an inability to make a decision, but that is not the case.  This is a lack of feeling.  And where did it come from?  Well, imagine the little girl who expresses her desire for something only to be told she is bad for wanting it, or to have her desire ignored.  I knew a young woman who expressed to her mother that she liked a certain dress in a store window.  The mother bought the dress for her sister.  She never understood why, but she also never expressed that kind of desire again.

Children of narcissistic parents find that their own feelings are an offense to their parents.  The daughter learns that she can only express happiness when mom is happy and then only for the same reason mom is happy.  If the daughter expresses sadness, she becomes a burden to her narcissistic mother.  Even the baby, who brings so much positive attention when things go well, becomes a burden when sick or tired or upset.

So children of narcissistic parents need to be given the freedom to express their feelings.  They may not do well at first.  They may find it difficult to trust someone else with honest feelings or they may find their new freedom intoxicating and offend others.  Those who care about these folks will want to be patient and understanding.

Sam Vaknin suggests that one of the most common feelings expressed by the victim of a narcissist is rage.  Anger, shock, sadness, pent-up frustration, and more may come together to create powerful emotion.  Children of narcissists should be allowed to express those feelings and then may be helped by moving beyond them.

Bottom line: your feelings are yours and are legitimate.  Don’t let someone tell you how you ought to feel and don’t let that person manipulate your feelings.  If you have suffered a narcissistic home, let yourself feel and express sadness, anger, joy, etc. and don’t be ashamed or afraid.  Those who truly love you will let you be who you are.  (Even God.)

Please feel free to comment and please consider subscribing so you can receive these posts in your email!


Filed under Narcissism, Relationship

More Books

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Since we have had several things on the general narcissism topic this past week, it seems like time for more books.

Where Egos Dare, Dean B. McFarlin and Paul D. Sweeney, Kogan Page, London, 2000.

Narcissistic leaders are found in almost every profession and organization.  They feed on the sense of accomplishment and glory that can come with leadership and they often claim credit for the work of others.  Identifying them and dealing with them is the subject of this book. 

Why Is It Always About You?, Sandy Hotchkiss, Free Press,  New York, 2003.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the label given to a certain set of characteristics by psychologists.  Hotchkiss takes the major points of the NPD symptoms and explains them in an easy-to-read book that I found to be very helpful.  This would be a good book for beginning a serious study of the issue.  The author presents strategies for dealing with narcissists and explains how and why people got that way.

Trapped In The Mirror, Elan Golomb, Quill William Morrow, New York, 1992.

Children of narcissistic parents have peculiar struggles that a counselor may not recognize at the outset.  These people often believe they have no value or even any real existence.  They also often grow up to become narcissists themselves.  Golomb writes to explain the narcissistic parent and the lasting effect on adult children.  The book is a series of case study stories that give a look at particular problems. 

Help! I’m In Love With A Narcissist, Steven Carter and Julia Sookol,M. Evans & Co., New York, 2005.

Narcissism does its greatest damage to the people who are drawn into close relationship with the narcissist.  Why do some people find themselves in love with these hurtful people?  Why do these people hurt others?  Through many case stories, the authors attempt to answer these and other questions about narcissism in relationships.

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Children of Narcissists


It’s Narcissist Friday!

Imagine being raised by a narcissist… 

Unfortunately, many people don’t have to imagine at all.  They have lived that life.  And many don’t understand what happened to them.

I have neither the time nor the expertise to write the kind of help the children of narcissists need.  However, I can tell you what happened and that may be a place to begin healing.  After you read this, you may want to follow up with books like “Children of the Self-Absorbed” by Nina Brown, or “The Mirror Effect” by Drew Pinsky (the final chapters of this book are quite helpful).  Then you may want to find someone to talk with, someone who understands narcissism.

So, what happened?  Step back for a moment and think about your parent(s), particularly the one(s) that fit the narcissistic characteristics we have discussed here.  Let’s pick on Mom.  Mom cares very deeply, on a true heart level . . .  about her own image.  What, you thought I might say “about you?”  No, that wouldn’t describe a narcissist.  She cares about what others think of her.  She got married for that reason.  When she got pregnant, she pictured herself as the center of attention and just knew that her baby would cause people to say “ooh” and “aah.”  She would be the envy of the neighborhood and the extended family.

So, the baby probably was never really seen as a separate person.  You were just an extension of her.  Praise given to you was hers.  Attention given to you was hers as well.  Because the narcissist has an inability to empathize with others, you got attention from her only when she was affected by you.  In other words, only when you brought her something positive or something negative.  The rest of the time you just were not that important.  Not exactly real. 

Think about this.  When you did something good, she felt praised and important.  When you did something bad, you were a threat to her image.  The same mother could tell you how special you were and treat you like a prince or princess—and then cuss you out or degrade you for some minor infraction.  You might have worn the most expensive clothes, because you were so special.  But when you got those clothes dirty, you were an ungrateful little wretch.  But you were only three and you didn’t understand.  You didn’t know whether you were special or disgusting, worthy of praise or a disgrace to the family. 

Children of narcissists grow up without foundations.  They never quite know where they stand with people.  Sometimes that becomes their primary concern in life, what people think of them, and they carry the narcissism into the next generation.  Sometimes, so weakened in personal resolve and value, they become supply/food for other narcissists. 

What do you do now?  First, understand that it was never about you.  You were used and abused.  Read the books I mentioned and seek out some help.  It will help.

There is so much that could be said about this.  I apologize for keeping it short, but it could be very long.  In my experience, when the father is a narcissist, look for religious legalism.  His image is reflected by the behavior of his family.  Bottom line: it isn’t about the kids.  The kids are just normal kids who grew up with narcissistic parents. 

There is a love that is beyond the love of parents, more foundational, more important.  That love is there for you.  It has never changed.  You are acceptable to Jesus.  He does love you.



Filed under Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship