Ask Ellie: How do you protect your children from a narcissistic dad?

Advice columnist EllieDear Ellie: My then-boyfriend of only two months suddenly said he loved me. I was thrilled and immediately ready for the next step. I was then 22 and believed that you “go for it” if you meet the right man.

Ten years later at 32, I now know that it’s smarter to take time in a relationship, until you know the real meanings of what someone says.

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In my ex’s case, what he actually “loved” was his awareness that I already loved him — something he, whom I now believe to be a narcissist, thrived on.

Not knowing that possible psychological basis for his comment, I plunged into planning the wedding after he then proposed to me.

I’ve now been divorced from him for two years and am the single mother of a seven-year-old daughter who adores her father. I can only hope that he never lets her down emotionally, as he did with me.

It’s a story we’ve all heard before. He was frequently late home from work, where he was always the “only one who could solve the problem.”

He was absorbed only in his needs — these included golf, meetings, “business” travel, time away from us to “clear his head.”

I never knew for sure which, if any, of those reasons for his frequent absences, was ever the truth.

But he does love our daughter, though I sometimes fear it’s the same story that he actually loves that she adores him. I fear that, if she ever catches on that everything is all about him, that she’ll be devastated. As I was.

We were legally separated only a month, when he was openly dating someone else.

I know that lots of other people have their own version of this story.

I’m hoping that your readers will write you to tell me how they protected their children from the potential heartbreak of a parent “divorcing” them, too, not just the other parent.

I’m hoping that even a true narcissist (I doubt that he’s been diagnosed, but his behaviour fits what I’ve read) doesn’t want to lose an innocent child’s trust and love.

Looking for Hope

From Psychology Today: “The hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration.”

Even if someone doesn’t have an official diagnosis, they can still have narcissistic traits that can be challenging to any relationship, even if it’s with a child.

Psychologist Elinor Greenberg has written: “When they’re feeling good about you (or more accurately, you’re making them feel good about themselves), they see you as special. Then you do something that they don’t like, such as say “no” to one of their requests, and suddenly you’re now all-bad and worthless.”

However, some people are labelled “narcissistic” without all the negative traits of a pathological disorder. They may be rightfully proud of their achievements. We must be aware that it’s become too easy to slap a label on someone who simply displays a healthy self-respect.

Others, however, display arrogant superiority in an attempt to convince the world that he or she is special. This is known as “pathological defensive narcissism,” according to Dr. Greenberg, author of Understanding Narcissism: The Drive for Admiration.

In your situation, including all your ex’s reasons for looking after himself first, to the point of frequent absences from the marriage, seem to fit this admiration-seeking diagnosis.

Readers: Send your personal accounts of dealing with people whom you considered narcissistic.

Feedback

Regarding the woman who felt her “amicable divorce” had gone sour when her ex didn’t help her retrieve her belongings:

Reader: While I agree with your comments as to trying non-combative communication and being well-informed and prepared regarding legal/logistic matters, I think the bigger point is that her new job suddenly became his problem to pack up her stuff and send it overseas!

As amicable as any separation may be, it’s hard to imagine a scenario with his saying instead, “of course, no problem.”

If she was unable to negotiate a few weeks before the start of her “terrific job,” she should have reached out to one of her friends or a service to arrange for the packing and had a more reasonable conversation with her ex about next steps and needing his important co-operation in this final part of the separation.

Ellie: Good points. Reasonable conversations are always best.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Dealing with someone’s seeming-narcissism requires understanding the root of it and deciding your response, with the help of therapy.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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