How Narcissists’ Damage Children

My boss, the one who recently lost her son, was upset yesterday.  She told me she didn’t know how she was going to handle the upcoming weekend.  Her son is a senior in college, and this weekend is Senior Night at the football game.  She wasn’t too concerned initially, because in high school parents escorted their seniors across the field.  Her son had called the night before though and told her that at his school, whole families act as escorts.  With tears in her eyes she explained that this was exactly the type of event her deceased son loved.

I teared up and stared, like an idiot, at a complete loss for words.  This happens infrequently to me.  I can usually come up with something, like “I’m sorry”, or something.  This moment though…..nothing.

Last night, after having pondered the situation, I wrote her this.



I wish it wasn’t true but every time you are facing a horrendous situation I think of myself.  I know this weekend is going to be really, really hard.  It made me think of John’s (and Connor’s!) Senior Night at PW, which is why I started tearing up and could think of nothing to say today.
I know this in no way compares to the magnitude of your situation but…..
Senior night I was in the off week of my 4th chemo – the only way I could have attended.  My ex, John’s dad,  decided not to attend, choosing instead to go the wedding of one of our part time hostesses.  I knew that this decision had nothing to do with the wedding or John; it was a statement about our marriage.  Honestly, I had felt like a single mother for years, so it came as no surprise.  The pain I felt for John was palpable.  There he was, alone with his sick mother, having to put on a brave, happy face, at an event that was meant to be poignant, but would be anything but.
I was dreading it with every fiber of my being.  I’d be alone, looking stupid in my crappy wig, the only single mom in the sea of happy band parent couples (band nerds generally come from intact nerd families  😂 ).
Worse yet, my son would be there with just me, his sick mother who everyone viewed as the walking dead.  The whole thing was really shitty.
  When we got there and got in line, we ended up standing in front of the one other single band mom with her son.  It turned an intolerable situation into a somewhat manageable one.
I got through it, as will you.  I wish I could say it will become a fond memory, and I hope for you it will.   For me, and for John, it was just another hurdle we were forced to jump, and we managed.  I’m sure I was less than present for him, still mired in the visual of possibly not being there in the years to come.  I wish I knew the impact of that on him, but I don’t.
I guess my only point is this – you and your husband can be there, fully, for your son and daughter.  I know you can’t imagine it, and it will be painful, but it will be a tremendous gift you give them, your foray into your new life together as a family, and as individuals.
I’ll be thinking of you (or perhaps not; maybe I’ll be dwelling on myself!).
I always wonder, when sending an email like this, whether I’m being helpful or self indulgent.  This morning I woke to her response.  She started with the fact that she had laughed out loud at my opening sentence.  Whew.  She then thanked me for my honesty and for sharing this experience.  She ended by posing this question:
 I’m curious how much potential power of healing for you and John.
Initially I perked up.  Perhaps sharing this with my son would open some lines of communication.  I considered sending it to him.  As I considered this I realized that if anything, it would most likely do more damage.
The story though, did highlight for me the impact of being raised by a narcissist.  A healthy person shows up for his sons Senior Night, regardless of his feelings for the mother.  In fact, the single mom standing behind me was accompanied by her ex.  He played no role, as she and her children despise him, but he was there.  He showed up.  He put everything else aside and showed up for his son.
My son spent much of his childhood alone with me.  While his dad went to every sporting event his brothers were in, dad often missed the events of this son.  Most of his concerts were on Thursday nights, the night his dad played basketball, so concerts often went unattended.  Odyssey of the Mind competitions were rarely attended.  His dad always offered plausible explanations.  After all, owning a restaurant is the perfect excuse for getting out of events.
My son, when given these explanations, always said “no problem” and walked away.  Shortly after I separated from his dad I asked him how he felt about all the things we’d be doing without his dad in the months to come (it was his senior year of high school) and he said it was fine, his dad couldn’t always be there, stop making a big deal of it.  And I feel sure he believes that it was fine for his dad to be absent; that the needs of his dad and the restaurant came first.
Perhaps I am incorrectly projecting my feelings onto him, because I can tell you – it is not fine.  Being at the bottom of your spouse/fathers priority list is not fine.  Being told you have no option but accept this status leaves you convinced you are unworthy.  If you ask to be moved up on the list you learn that you are too demanding, that you have no right to want more.
What does that do to a child?  This is a question I’ll be stewing over in the next several days.  Perhaps in there is a way for me to mend fences with him.

2 thoughts on “How Narcissists’ Damage Children

  1. I’m just wondering if your son has the same perceptions as you? You are judging your ex from your own expectations of how a husband and father may behave (not unreasonably!), and getting upset because he doesn’t behave that way. However, your son has been used to his father’s attitude his whole life, and may, in fact, have a different perception and not be as concerned about it as you are. He may have fond memories of his Senior night and have not have been concerned about his father’s absence at all!


  2. This is when you sit your son down and explain to him about people like his father. Tell him instead of being angry at his father you feel sorry for him. Tell him instead of being angry at his father you feel sorry for him. People who cannot love are missing the most important thing in life. The fact that your husband chose anything but his child says that he has no concept of true love. It is a sad thing to know that he is going to live that self-centered life. Who knows how people like him get the way they are, but however it happens it just makes them non-humans as far as I am concerned. Deep, abiding love for your children is the hallmark of a good person.


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