Ask Ellie: Life with narcissists means control by abuse

Readers’ Commentaries on Living with Narcissists (Jan. 22):

Reader #1: “I was married to a narcissist for 20 years. No official diagnosis, because whenever a counsellor/psychologist would suggest he was the problem, he wouldn’t return. But through the years, I recognized the patterns, did research, and concluded what he was.

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“We separated when our daughters were approaching tweens/teens.

“While I once wanted to protect them from their father’s emotionally abusive behaviour, now I see it’s necessary that they learn what toxic behaviour looks like, and develop their own tools to manage it.

“I never disparage him to them, but when they’re upset about one of his outbursts, or feeling he only cares about himself, I listen/guide them to recognize what a healthy relationship with a father should look like. I encourage them to call him out on his behaviour that hurts them. If it’s ever severe enough that they can’t manage it on their own, I do step in and speak with him on their behalf.

“A caution: Narcissists are very effective at using guilt and punishment to keep people close. If the letter-writer’s daughter adores her father, she’s going to be very susceptible to that guilt, feeling she’s not good enough.

That will affect her other relationships. The mother needs to make her daughter aware of that pattern so she doesn’t go through life feeling like she’s the problem.

“Narcissists prey on those who were groomed by other narcissists, perpetuating a cycle.”

Reader #2: “My ex-husband, a narcissist, was an unreliable and toxic father.

“He caused permanent damage to both our kids. Children will do anything for their father’s love, but a narcissist isn’t capable of love.

“The letter-writer’s children will be used for their father’s own needs, or to impress new girlfriends. She should seek an outside support network for them.”

Reader #3: “When my daughter and her husband split, she covered for her ex because their daughter adored him. She didn’t want her daughter to discover that her dad was totally selfish and narcissistic.

“She’d even give him money when he said he had none to buy their daughter a birthday present. I told my daughter to gradually stop covering for her ex. My granddaughter’s eventually going to find out for herself. It seems cruel to disillusion a child but it’s better to understand/accept reality when younger than 20-30s or later.

“At 12, she no longer gave total adoration to her father, as she’s come to see through the lies. The positive result is the many discussions we’ve had about her choosing friends and boyfriends wisely: To not be caught up in the initial charm of someone. To look closely at how a person acts toward their parents, family, and friends. To see if they put themselves out for others or if they are mainly takers.

“And to get to know them before committing to a relationship.

“We also tell her that her father does love her, the only way he can, given his personality and limitations. She knows now, that he’s not going to change. So, she deals with it or not.”

Reader #4: “My grandson is eight years old. When his dad cancels a visitation because he has something more interesting to do, we don’t say, “he had to work” to give his dad an excuse.

“If it’s a visitation day that’s cancelled, he’s told that he can stay at his grandparents. He knows there’s a good chance his dad will cancel and now doesn’t get upset when it happens.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Repeatedly selfish, self-serving behaviour is emotionally hard on everyone involved.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

Follow @ellieadvice.

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