enabler parent

‘Better you than me’ – Going unprotected from narcissistic abuse by the enabler parent.

Nothing in this world lasts without protection.”

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

Good things in the world do not survive unless they are protected. Think of a human baby. As cute, fun, and loving as they are – they are equally vulnerable. Most often these awesome creatures receive joy, warmth, and protection by their caretakers. In the natural order the young and defenseless are to be loved and protected by the stronger and older.

Sometimes – tragically – something unnatural happens. A child is born to someone motivated by something other than human connection. Instead this person wants to see others – even his or her own children – suffer. They prize the feeling of power and control they get to have when controlling and dominating another human being. This feeling becomes so valued that no appeal to morality will impede them. A person with kind of motivation structure is known as a malignant narcissist. Saving others from harm does not matter to them. Or worse, it matters, but in the opposite direction – they want to harm others. They react to confrontations of their abusive behavior by denying, blaming the victim for ‘overreacting’, or claiming the victim deserved it.

In my practice, most of the clients who’ve survived such vicious upbringings had one primary abusive parent. The other “enabler” parent was typically less overtly abusive but passive and compliant in the face of the other parent’s abuse. This enabler parent buries himself or herself in work, alcohol, extramarital affairs, and/or household tasks in order to avoid intervening in what is happening to his or her children under his or her roof.

Today’s blog post will discuss surviving and recovering from going unprotected from narcissistic abuse by the ‘enabler’ parent. When a child is chronically derided, blamed, and scapegoated without intervention by the ‘enabler’ parent – it is tragically easy for the child to conclude that he does not deserve protection. Such a kid can may even conclude that he deserves to be abused and neglected.

Sins of Omission: What the Enabler’s underprotection can look like

In my experience, a malignant narcissist does not get away with hurting his or her children without the endorsement – implicit or otherwise – of the other parent. I suspect that many malignant narcissists choose partners who are meek and submissive so that they will not encounter resistance. They may search for partners with whom they feel dominant. The prevailing theme in the relationship becomes whether the narcissist will be made happy. The enabler partner makes that his or her life’s goal. He or she also knows it’s a fickle achievement. Despite his efforts he can still be found inadequate in making the narcissist happy. This lack of consistency is designed to keep the partner feeling insecure about his or her worth in the narcissist’s eyes. Enabler partners are unable – or unwilling – to recognize how they are being strategically tormented. Instead they double-down on the efforts to please.

Once this type of pseudo-relationship is established, the fate of their children is often sealed. The narcissistic parent will inevitably find fault with, devalue, and demean a child. The enabler parent only sees that the narcissist is unhappy and will want to make him or her happy. If the narcissist identifies the child as the reason for his or her unhappiness then the other parent will too. The enabler parent may gang up with the narcissist against the child. He may seem distracted or uninvolved while the narcissist abuses the child. He may find a way to be out of the house – due to work obligations, extramarital affairs, etc. Whatever the tactic, the enabler parent signals to the child that he will not be offering protection. Gallingly, the other parent communicates “better you than me” to the child getting abused. This attitude flies in the face of the concept of parenting yet unfortunately happens in families ruled by narcissists.

Terry* had a narcissistic mother and ‘enabler’ parent as a father. When he was 4 years old, he came out to say goodnight to both parents. His mother may have found him to be in too high of spirits and decided he needed to be knocked down. She asked him if he had brushed his teeth and he told her he had. She recoiled with an over-dramatic gasp and said, “Oh Terry, how can you tell a lie like that?”. He had, in fact, brushed his teeth so he was confused but knew something bad was going to happen. He insisted that he had brushed them and was met with her turning to his father and saying, “Can you believe that he is standing there lying to us?”. Terry’s father put down his beer, grabbed him by the elbow, spun Terry around and spanked him three times. The physical pain was not significant to Terry. The knowledge that Terry had a mother who wanted to set him up for such abuse – and a father who would go along with it – was.

Terry’s parents had very little love between them. A master-slave relationship does not afford such experience. They did find consensus when targeting Terry for trumped up reasons. In therapy, Terry grew to suspect that his father’s lack of power in his marriage was addressed by feeling powerful with his wife against his son.

Jason*, grew up with a malignantly narcissistic mother and ”enabler’ father. His mother would ask Jason to perform chores then scream at him for ‘not doing them right’. Once his parents divorced, Jason was the only male left in the home. His mother would continue her psychological and emotional abuse of him. In sessions, Jason initially reported that he was grateful that his father stayed local after the divorce. “My Dad could have moved back home to California where he grew up”. When I asked Jason whether he could appeal to his father about how his mother was mistreating him he said, “My Dad would tell me that he knew she could be this way. He’d just tell me to try not to make her upset.” No calls to Child Protective Services. No battle for custody of Jason and his siblings. In essence, Jason was told to appease his mother and suffer her abuse on his own.

Jason was told in no uncertain terms that he would not receive protection from his father. Since his father was his most viable parent, he had to find a way to continue thinking highly of him. At the start of therapy, Jason revealed how he did this – forcing himself to believe that he did not deserve to be protected from his mother’s abuse. His statement that he was grateful that his father stayed local after the divorce reflected this. Only if he believed he was undeserving of protection, could his father’s gesture of staying local seem like a show of parental love. As an adult, Jason found new relationships inside and outside of therapy that afforded him the safety he had always sought. These new connections allowed him to identify and question the belief that he could not have asked anything more of his father. He grew to feel entitled to feeling safe in relationships and recognized how his father’s passivity in the face of his mother’s abuse denied him this.

Narcissistic Abuse as a family system

Scott Peck writes how targeted, remorseless and systematic cruelty (i.e. evil) get woven into a family’s ways. His book “People of the Lie” emphasizes how narcissistic abuse starts with the narcissist’s motivation to act cruelly towards people and utter refusal to take responsibility for their actions. They do not possess empathy for others’ feelings or needs – just their own. They often construct lives that seem “normal” from the outside – posing as civic leaders, loving mothers, teachers, nurses, business executives, etc. These appearances also function to offer the narcissist cover so that they do not get caught abusing their victims. Many adult children of narcissists exclaim that nobody would have believed them if they spoke of how cruel their parent really was. Such narcissists go to great lengths to convince the public of their virtue and good will. They know they could get caught and are adept at avoiding it.

Peck describes the “lie” as the system of denials and collusion that the family members around the narcissist must adopt. The lie starts with the tacit agreement that the narcissist is entitled to act cruelly and bears no responsibility for how she hurts others. The enabler parent as the second highest authority in the house endorses the narcissist. The narcissistic and enabler parents can have such strong faith in this lie that they feel no dissonance. The narcissist abuses the targeted child because that child is so bad – that’s it. The enabler readily agrees.

This system of cruelty allows its perpetrators to take no responsibility for themselves nor their actions. If a child feels sad or shame for being derided that’s the child’s fault for being ‘overly sensitive’. Terry’s mother was fond of telling him that she was not yelling at him just “telling him things he did not want to hear”. The narcissist is intent on shifting all accountability for her bad behavior onto a vulnerable target. Her enabler partner colludes with her along these lines and they perpetuate the lie of “evil” together.

In plying the lie that the narcissist’s target is to blame for all the family problems, both parents show no empathy to the targeted child. This child is faced with the chilling knowledge that he is getting hurt by people who either do not care about his pain or are want to see him suffer.

The Enabler’s own psychology: A sheep looking for a shepherd

Enabler parents were often forgotten children in their families of origin. They may have adapted to a “children should be seen and not heard” ethos. Typically the enabler parent was not singled out and attacked as a child, however they did not receive much attention nor recognition by the parents. As a result a deficit of needed self-esteem, empathy for oneself and others, and initiative can develop. Such people emerge from their childhoods believing that they are expendable and “lucky” to find a romantic partner who will accept them. They learned in their families of origin they do not deserve consistent respect and connection. This required belief guides their search for a romantic partner. They will often comply with this belief and find a partner who also ignores their needs in favor of his or her own.

When a to-be-enabler is met with the affection of a man or woman, they ma be astounded. They may never have thought they would get such treatment. After a long history of deprivation this affection will often be clung to – regardless of the offerer’s other traits. A malignant narcissist will see such a person as a preferable and relatively easy target. Such a person seeks to find a partner she can control and manipulate with her affection. Their partners have to be more interested in making the narcissist happy than making themselves happy. People who were chronically ignored by their parents were often so starved for affection that they will fit this bill.

“Terry’s father was in the Army. He attended West Point then served a tour in Vietnam. He met Terry’s mother on a double-date when they were on opposite sides of the date. His father showed up at mother’s door the next day to ask her out. Despite Terry’s father’s recollection that his mother began acting very angrily towards him in the months before and after the wedding, he just hoped that he could make her happy with him. In Terry’s 12 years growing up with both of his parents in the house he could only recall his mother screaming at his father. Never the other way around. In the end, his father had a series of extramarital affairs that led to a divorce – effectively leaving Terry alone with his narcissistic mother.

Terry’s father seemed to not have much of a center in himself. He was easily influenced and did not have empathy for Terry – just his wife and himself. Although Terry’s father was not predisposed to active acts of cruelty – like his wife – he had no trouble passively allowing her to commit them against his son. Terry’s father’s only goal in life was to find people who were happy with him. If these people showed disapproval to someone other than him he may have felt relief that he was not being rejected. His father did not have the innate instinct to protect those who are more vulnerable.

Recovering from going unprotected by the enabler parent

Enabler parents are unlikely to take responsibility for their devastating impact on the scapegoated child. Even if the scapegoated child confronts this parent as an adult, she will likely be met with disbelief, denial, dismissiveness or blame. Such enablers are too far down the rabbit hole to turn back. They have fused themselves to others rather than themselves and have no way to ascertain the reality the scapegoat would describe.

Rather than holding this parent accountable, it can often be more helpful to have little or no contact with them. Although this may seem harsh, it is important. Doing so can give the scapegoated victim the distance needed to see the abuse was all about their narcissistic family members rather than anything about the scapegoat. If you have been scapegoated, then you have been blamed or refused to be believed when you expressed your suffering. These experiences need to cease for you to be able to recover your own rightful narrative. Your family’s audience will never give the needed response and will likely do more harm.

Once enough emotional distance is created, then the victim can begin to hold the enabler parent accountable for how they shirked their parental duties. Victims often feel guilty at this stage as they have learned to feel protective towards the enabler who was the lesser of two evils in the family. This can be worked through as the victim grows to know the immense suffering he was put through as a result of the enabler parents lack of empathy for the victim.

Lastly, but importantly, going to therapy can be very helpful – even necessary. It is critical that such a therapist have an understanding of narcissistic family dynamics and be willing to identify and hold your family members accountable for their abuse of you. If you find yourself in therapy where the therapist is questioning your perception of family members or identifies the problem as your emotional dysregulation – you might want to find a different one. I believe that a therapist must come down hard on the side of the scapegoated client to be able to undo the brainwashing that their families have undertook to convince the client that he is the crazy, rageful, or pathological person. It can be scary for the scapegoated child as an adult to risk trusting a new person with his or her story. These stories deserve to be honored and respected. Anything different will not be helpful in my strong opinion.

*All references to clients are amalgamations of people, papers, books, life that do not directly refer to any specific person.  

Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).  If you are considering therapy for overcoming a childhood with one or more narcissistic parents please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Comments 30

  1. Hi Jay, This in an excellent blog. You should think about organizing your case studies into a control-mastery casebook. You should also think about attending the CMT conference in Sicily this Oct. Best, Marshall

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      1. Since it is now OCT, I bet I’m not the only one who’d be interested to know if this happened and if there will be any kind of follow-up report (even if we don’t speak Italian :-))

        Thank you so much for this. Newly discovered, so now I’m working my way through the archives (with Kleenex box handy)

    2. Your assessment of the sickest most convoluted family system is very good. It’s hard to find a shrink who can fully understand the insane horror we all were raised with. The adult pain has no words when you wake up one day with nothing – knowing all was destroyed by the family. I have never experienced such cruelty fro my own siblings now that my parents are dead. My parents left a legacy of pain destruction and horror. Facing the truth that are lives were ruined takes courage. I have that courage. But how to continue after coming out of the carnage is a mystery.

  2. Yes indeed this a great blog ! Thank you for helping me 100x more than my enabler “parent” (smh!!) ever did. Please continue to write more articles such as this so that it will empower all scapegoated children.

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      Thank you for this feedback. I am very glad to hear that it was helpful to read about this aspect of being scapegoated.

  3. You just blew my mind with that article. Especially the part about the focus on emotional regulation as opposed to acknowledging the family dynamic. After 7 years with the same therapist it came to a very strange ending two months ago.

    You just help me realize that the problem is not me but rather Her lack of being able to recognize this dynamic.

    Your writing is clear and articulate and really helped explain this dysfunctional dynamic which I am now realizing was not only mine but also that with my partner which might explain why we’ve had so many issues!

    Thank you so much!

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  4. You mentioned Peck’s book but do you recommend any resources or other readings on how to recover from the enabler parent? It’s been devastating lately with my enabling parent ignoring me and refusing to acknowledge anything I’ve said. Though I am in therapy, this post helped me more than anything else has. Most resources focus on the narcissist parent and touch on the enabler either all too briefly or in a very one-sided context, which is that said parent is complicated but ultimately weak and undeserving of contact.

    As far as additional context goes: My dad …. saved me in so many ways. But he threw me to the wolves as well. He took care of me after an accident but ignores me now/only says he will call (but never does), because that I won’t play family and put on airs with the abusers in it. He saw some of this hell but not all. I put him on a pedestal as he’s only ever been everything I’ve ever had in terms of family, and the only one who was remotely kind. It’s all I had and being cut loose is terrifying even though I am well into adulthood. Recommend any books? Articles? Blogs, anything? Few focus on the “enabler” problem.

  5. There is another scenario where the passive parent is really a covert narcissist who is “riding the coat tails” of the more overt. My covert narc Dad finally ditched overt Mother when he had an exit available that freed him from the repercussions- he was headhunted into a job in another country and promptly bailed.
    He found himself another overt narc and married her, and thought he could ditch her a few years later when he wanted to move to a third country and she refused to go. He moved and thought he had escaped without dealing with any fallout for a second time. Not so. On a visit back to country number two, second narc wife followed him and stabbed him in the chest.
    Seriously, you could not make this stuff up.
    ( he survived, she got jailed for attempted murder. So glad I didn’t know about it until years later after going no contact with all concerned)

  6. Wow! This totally describes my narc family. Thanks for this article, as a scapegoat in a narc family system, your words made me feel validated.

  7. Just found your site today and see you wright very thorough articles on the subject. Also read this one and have a question about it.
    First some explaning. It took me a very long time to truly learn, see and accept how abusive and disruptive my mother has been to me and our family since childhood. It has been a full-blown malignant narcissist till the day she died. All my siblings are victims of her in some way but I happened to be her- and the family scapegoat (which is still the case, I went no-contact with all of them ~8 years ago, I had to to stop the ongoing abuse).

    Occasionally I have the urge to fresh up my mind and spirit when some doubt creeps in coming along with the sadness of missing my siblings and extended family. The doubt then soon passes but the pain never quite fades. Then your article made me wonder about my ‘enabling father’.

    I see he enabled her to abuse me by distancing himself more and more from involvement in his task of being a caring and active parent. Along the way he started drinking more and more. But I also saw from a very young age the relentless devaluations she put him through over and over again. She just broke him down over the years till there was nothing left.
    He killed himself when I was 19 and he 48.

    What I mean to say, is; I believe he was also a victim of her. Although detached most of the time to me, he has been the only one who showed me kindness and stability in his behaviour (never abusive). At crucial points in my live then, he supported me but then told me not to tell my mother.
    She scared the hell out him I realize now. I cann’t see him as an active enabler but see him as a victim too of this sadistic malignant narcissist.
    What are your thoughts about some(most maybe) enablers being mostly victims of the narcissist themselfs?

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      Hi Ge,

      I think you and the comment posted above raise a very important question. First of all, thank you for sharing your story and you are one tough individual to have survived what you describe.

      Maybe both are true: that the other parent can also be a victim of the narcissistic parent AND their lack of protection of the children paves the way for the children to be victimized. It is very tough to see that the other parent seems to have a good heart but just cannot muster the strength to stand up to the abusive parent. At the same time, from an outside perspective the other parent – by virtue of being an adult – is the most capable of standing up to the abuser. The children – by their very nature – cannot stand up for themselves definitively because they are programmed to secure the bond to their parents. So, given those different starting points, I personally would argue that responsibility lies with the other adult to protect his or her children. As you wrote, though, when that other parent is the only person in the family who’s shown some love and kindness, it can be very difficult to hold them accountable.

      In any case, I don’t claim for these categories to be too formalized and I’m speaking broadly about what constitutes and ‘enabler’ parent. Every person and story is unique and deserves to be understood on its own terms. Again, thank you for sharing and I wish you the best.

      -Jay

      1. This is my father exactly. He defended my mothers abuse. He does what ever she says, never once protecting me. She would tell him to take my car keys, lock the doors of the house from the inside so they could both gang up on me and verbally torture me for hours and I had no way to escape. Once,, while being victimized I screamed at him that I knew he knew this was wrong and why won’t he protect me?? He looked at me like he felt bad for what he was doing and he knew it was wrong but something he had to do to make my mother happy. My father would buy me new expensive cars, pay my insurance , gas etc. I always believed he did this because he felt guilty for the way they treated me. I would have much rather had loving parents , then money. So at times I do feel guilty for cutting him off bc at times he was nice to me but I shouldn’t because he sat there and let this happen.

    2. If your father ended his life through suicide, in such circumstances, that says to me that he doesn’t fit the “enabler” mold because he had a conscious. There was an incongruity between whatever he was doing, and the people who surrounded him, and his true self. Some people see no other way out.

  8. Hi – I’m married to someone who – after 20 years – I now understand has some form of NPD. I am not an ‘enabler’. I fought daily against their unjust behaviour towards all family members. Our four kids were told that my ‘anger issues’ were the problem. I was misrepresented so relentlessly that everyone – including me – believed I needed psychiatric help. I spent 5 years in and out of clinics and consultations, being drugged, scanned, blood-tested and pretty much straightjacketed until a 60 year old psychiatrist who happened to have seen one of his parents die as result of narcissistic abuse stopped the process. His dead parent wasn’t an ‘enabler’, nor ‘victim’ – more ‘warrior’ engaged in battling unscrupulous covert ops…
    Kids raised by a Narcissist and their profoundly abused partner aren’t in fact hurt by lack of protection by the latter: witnessing emotional domestic violence and enduring parental alienation (if the abused parent is non-compliant) supplants the failures (read: further scapegoating) of the embattled (ie. determind to dis’enable’) parent. But only if the effects of narcissistic abuse are understood.

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      Hi,

      Thank you for sharing this perspective. You and the commenter below raise an important point. It also sounds like you very much did not fit the ‘enabler’ heuristic but suffered the gaslighting and goading tactics that the narcissistic person employed – until you met the psychiatrist who saw you clearly. I agree that if the other parent is a fighter or warrior against the narcissistically abusive tactics that it is of tremendous benefit to the children in the family. It can show that truth or rightfulness is worth fighting for and that treating people without due respect and dignity is unacceptable.

      Thank you for sharing your story. It is a real contribution to this thread.

      -Jay

    2. Sam,

      I can so relate to your story. And I’m kind of glad you’ve become aware of what’s been going on all those years. I know becoming aware is devestating too. You’ve lived defending/believing a lyer and abuser without realizing this was all she/he was. You now know you were not to blame for trying your best to solve the problems. You stood no chance at all against a narcissist who thrives on creating problems for keeping control and attention.
      And I surely relate to your statement you were not an enabler. Most aren’t unless they are themselfes narcissists or other Clustr B disordered.
      You had the the luck to encounter this psychiatrist to make you aware.
      It must have been quite a shock to you coming to terms with this reality.
      Sending you kind regards.

  9. Thank’s for your reply and also to Sam who makes a similar point.
    I think it’s also in the word ‘enabler’ what’s makes it more confusing. For it suggests the narcissist needs someone else to enable his/her abuse. And this isn’t true. A narcissist will conduct their lies and abuse regardless from who is around them. No-one enables them. It’s just who they are. They will lie, gaslight and abuse everywhere for as long they can get away with it

    Their best prey though are those who are basically quite trusting, empathetic and willing/tending to look at themselfs too when problems arise to solve problems. I.e. the fast majority of normal people.
    It’s this general normality they prey on and the common unawareness of people about this dangerous disorder.
    They confuse and abuse people till the point of erasing their personalities if they get the chance. Awareness of the disorder is the key to stop the cicle of abuse and the start of healing the damage done.

    I’m sure most victims who really become aware of the dynamics in play, will stop parcitipating in the narcissists game of lies and abuse.
    This is not the same as stopping actively ‘enabling’ the narcissist.
    Enabling is a consious, active behaviour. It suggests the enabling person is consiously aware of the abusive dynamics the narcissist plays out and supports it actively or passively.
    I don’t think this is the case in most cases, unless the parcipitating party is a narcissist/Cluster B themselfs.

    My father had the misfortune to fall in love and marry a malignant narcissist. I remember he argued her often fiercly when I was a kid. But he wasn’t aware he was dealing with a full-blown sadistic narcissist who loved to make him angry and to play with like a cat plays a mouse.
    It must have been totally crazy-making/ confusing to him. A battle he never could win but only loose. And he did. He paid with is live in more than one way.

    I’m sure if he had the chance/luck early-on or later to get the right information about narcissists he would never have married her or divorced her in time. Not being aware of this he stayed a victim of her till his self-chosen end not able to protect us enough likewise.
    But surely not an ‘enabler’ by my definition of the word.
    In the sence used in your article it lightly becomes another form of victim blaming.
    I think this needs some carefull thought.

  10. I like to add something to clarify my thoughts on this better.
    In my case -and I learned it often goes this way with narcissists- my mother performed here incidious abuse on me and my siblings only openly when my father was at work or away otherwise.
    She scared me by telling there would be even more terrible consequences when my father got home and she would tell him of the ‘terrible’ things I had done. So ofcourse I kept quiet. She kept him in the dark of her abuse and played the victim to him for having to deal with such a difficult kid, children and live.
    In between controlling all the money he earned in the end (she never worked for a serious moment in her entire live), spending a lot on herself (clothes, haircuts and so on, all pretence) and later made her adolecent children pay half their salaries to accomodate her greed and lifestyle. It was just a parasite.

    She even stole all the money that was granted to her children lawfully after my father died. She just kept silent about it and collected the money for herself for years. She was very shrewed, completely egocentric but pretending being a victim of us and everyone. Triangulating all, in her need for absolute controlle, greed and centre of attention.

    I just can go on about the wickedness of this women. But what I want to make clear is that no sane human is prepared for this kind of insanity.
    They don’t enable it. They play no role at all in their disordered conduct. It’s what they are. If you stop connecting with them they just go on doing the same with other people.
    The victims just show a normal stress-reaction to a very abnormal, disordered human without a developed conscience.

    Enabling isn’t the right word. It suggests you are partly to blame for their behavior. Which isn’t the case. They’ll do it anyway regardless of your personality or what you try to solve with them.

    But ofcourse those people have to be confronted and adressed in their tracks. This is where awareness kicks in. Calling the beast by it’s name and not taking blame for their abuse and misdeeds but fighting them.
    Not excepting the guild and stigma of being an enabler of their abuse and misconduct as though you caused them to act this way.
    This is pertenitally not true. It’s them who are wicked and disordered, not you. Don’t take the bait.

    Most of their victims are nice, empathetic, intelligent, normal people just not prepared to deal with such individuals.
    They are the evil the Bible and all other religions speak of.
    Awareness is key. They understood this allready ~2000 years ago. And even beyond when the Greeks wrote down their Narcissus-story.

    They are the evil in our society throughout the ages getting far too much credit and misguided blame-shifting which leaves them free to play-out their totally egocentric and wicked ways.
    It’s not right to serve them this way I believe. To not grant them this excusse of being ‘enabled’ to do the abuse they commit.

    1. Enabling is absolutely the RIGHT word. Anybody who watches somebody else abuse others, or allows themselves to be abused, is, in fact, an enabler. I understand that enablers suffer. But suffering does not make you less of an enabler. Even if you have no way out, you are still an enabler.

      When we become aware of our roles in such a dysfunctional and profoundly evil tango (or cabaret for that manner) we become empowered and emboldened to do something about it. Like get ourselves out of it, and quit makimg excuses for evil.

  11. You enabled me to figure out why my enabler father has become more and more distant over time. He’s become more under nmom’s control. I recently sensed embarassment and shame coming from him under there somewhere. It’s like he “caved” to her. Dad stood up for me from time to time during my formative years. which I feel fortunate about. At those times he always took flack from my nmom.

    As time has passed he has become less and less of the Dad that I knew…he used to write me emails. Now he just writes one liners because nmom does not allow him to write me or talk to him on the phone without her listening. She always answers the phone and puts us on a three way. I am 66 years old and they are in their 90s. Why do I call them on birthdays and holidays? I stopped in November of 2019. I finally figured this out and have been learning all I can about this. Thank you for shedding light for all of us targets.

  12. My dad is aspd, my mom is profoundly submissive enabler. My mom is also daughter of malignant narc. When I was 18 months old and my mom was at work, my dad left me unattended and my main blood vessel in my left leg was punctured. My dad did not want to be arrested, so he hid me and left me to die once I went into shock from blood loss. When my mom returned home from her job as a registered nurse, dad physically prevented my mom from taking me to the hospital. Somehow I lived. But the blood loss created dysfunction in my blood and health issues that became obvious once I was about 10 years old. Until my age 17, my dad stripped me and then beat my butt and scar with the metal end of a belt on a regular basis when he could get my brothers out of the house and when my mom was at work. My dad told everyone that I was just lazy in that I was often in bed ill, and made sure that I never received medical care. I was born in 1964, and it was easier to get away with these things back then in Minnesota. By my mid 20s, my body started shutting down. I still had no correct information as to the enormous scar left by the puncture to my leg, and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatique Syndrome. I have been unable to do much of anything and have little money for doctors. My parents have money to travel but I am kept poor by them on purpose so that what they have done is not known. But, a new doctor just recently figured it out from the scar and my symptoms. When I told my mom what that doctor believed happened, she actually admitted that it’s TRUE about the puncture when I was 18 months old and that all the other medical problems developed as a result. But, now, my dad won’t let my mom tell anyone else that it’s TRUE. So, my 2 brothers don’t know what to think- it’s just so unimaginable. You’ve written an insightful article here. My life story illustrates that these terrible behaviors can and will ramp up all the way to attempted murder of their own child if that’s what it takes to hide what one has done. These people are much more dangerous than most people realize. The world needs to recognize that people like me exist but we are not out in the world for you to easily see because we are very ill. Recognize that many more like me died from the original wound or the beatings. I survived only by my dad’s fear that an autopsy and analysis of my leg scar might have revealed the truth; otherwise, he would have just broken my neck many years ago. I, and likely many others, have fallen between the cracks society has built that are suppose to find and help people like me.

  13. Wow Jay,
    I can’t thank you enough for these blogs. These dynamics are so slow growing and insidious (The whole frog in boiling water scenario.) It’s a journey you didn’t know you were on. To see the confusion I experienced being explained in written word; It’s like a chronically ill patient who finally received a diagnosis. When you can put a name to the symptoms, we can start to treat them as well.
    Anyone who’s been through it knows all know too well this is such a tricky subject. It’s hard enough to understand it ourselves, much less explain it effectively to someone else. Which brings me to my question: I really struggle on how to navigate relationships with extended family members or “bystanders” as I call them. Our loved ones that witnessed my family’s interactions and treatment of one another (Mostly me as the family scapegoat) and never spoke up or intervened. Instead they gave a laundry list of excuses for the seemingly Narcissistic person’s behavior. (I say seemingly as I am not a qualified practitioner) How does their relationship with a narcissist impact their relationship with the other dynamic roles? (especially the scape goat) from my experience it felt like my relationships with my aunts and uncles were poisoned as well. I feel like my mother spent a lifetime assassinating my character (calling me selfish ungrateful entitled,untrustworthy, difficult) before I even had the chance to establish myself. I feel like no matter what I say or do they only see me through that lens and ANY expression of emotion it’s just difficult me being oversensitive, over dramatic, exaggerating, etc. Because that’s how My mother has always explain things away. I’ve been slowly I’ve been going no contact with everyone. It gets easier every day. I would love to hear your thoughts on the ”bystanders” in our lives;

    – How do Aunts, uncles, cousins, another family and friends read the narcissistic Family dynamics? Experience thedynamic
    – Why do those who see the mistreatment for what it is not speak up? – Why do they minimize minimize or excuse narcissistic behavior
    – how there Experience watching narcissistic abuse in a family impacts their relationships with each dynamic role once their niece, nephews, or cousins reach adulthood

    – What possible effect does silence or inaction on the part of the bystander have each narcissistic family dynamic role?

    If you feel so inclined I would love to see a blog on this subject as I’m sure I’m not alone and wondering.If you feel so inclined I would love to see a blog on this subject as I’m sure I’m not alone and wondering. I look forward to reading your future posts.

    1. Cesaly, I am writing today because I just had a major breakthrough, and I feel the right way to commemorate this moment is to share my story, which addresses your question. My nuclear family of my dad, mom, older sister, and me was always pretty distanced in our house when we were growing up. We spent little time together and had few moments of actual joy. My older sister pushed the boundaries. I was a rule follower (I still generally am). As I got into my teens, I started to realize that my mom was very controlling and didn’t allow any privacy for me from her. She would scream at me if I ever wanted to see a friend or invite a friend over, so I rarely did and became isolated. In my late teens, I started to hate her. When I got to college, I saw healthier ways of relating and realized I should do something to change it all. I wrote a letter to my mom explaining that I had been frustrated with her, that I had hated her, but that I wanted our relationship to improve and that I was going to spend the summer away to work on myself so we could relate better. I gave her a list of things I was going to do to improve myself and become a more capable, complete person so we could connect better. She received it and was “livid” – her favorite word. For years, any time she had the opportunity, she would explain what a terrible daughter I was. How she loved me, she wasn’t perfect, but she had done the best she could. And why was I so ungrateful and obnoxious? Anytime there was an opportunity, she wanted to have this “dialogue.” The same one. Even if I just invited her to bake cookies with me. I started to distance myself. The conversations were more spaced out. I said less. I moved. She threatened to disown me, and I said okay and moved anyway. Over time, I got further and further away. She became angrier and angrier even when I was saying less. She began manipulating others in the family to draw me in. I have received passive aggressive comments in Christmas cards. My sister came at me using my mom’s words verbatim. My nuclear family took to calling me “ice princess” when I would use the gray rock method. I got Kind bars and ice cube trays for Christmas one year from my sister. They talk about how they all have a super healthy relationship with each other. None of them can understand what my problem is. My extended family – I have heard from the one source I trust in the family – has conversations about how selfish I am and attempt to drop hints that I should move back to where the family is or be more receptive. Not one of them has ever reached out to me to see how I’m doing even though “family is everything” in my family. My mom even got to my ex-boyfriend and used her guilt-tripping, victim story and actually got him to schedule time with me for her (without telling me). Long story short, he’s my ex.

      For years, I had a question mark about my dad. He stood by and always let this stuff happen. They would always call me together. If my mom yelled, my dad would stay silent as what he called a “mediator.” He has almost always appeared to quietly endorse my mom, but I still questioned his true feelings. I continued to expose myself to my mom through phone calls on holidays, and I didn’t go no contact because I was trying to figure out a way to keep the door open with him. A couple years ago, for my Grandfather’s 100th birthday, I planned to go to NY to honor him. I arranged to stay at a friend’s instead of at any family member’s place (not how we do it). When my grandpa asked me if I was coming and I told him yes, the phone tree got activated. I had a call from my parents within 30 minutes assuming I would stay with them. I politely told them I wasn’t, and my mom went ballistic on the phone. My dad quietly attempted to change the subject. When I got to NY, my dad had a quiet conversation with me, encouraging me to “cut my mom some slack.” A terrible sales pitch. He was effectively asking me just not to have boundaries anymore.

      Last week, my parents decided to mail me a gift that I do not want. I’ve been down this road before. My mom has always attached strings and listed the strings for me later. I reached out to my dad by email – for the first time in my life – and explained to him what I have been experiencing for 15 years. I told him that I have boundaries with mom, what they are, and why. I told him I was open to having a relationship with him separately. I shared some noteworthy particulars and then told him he could make the choice he wanted.

      His response – after giving it a couple days of thought – was to not acknowledge almost any of what I told him in the email. He assures me that my mother and he both love me, that I can accept the gift or not, he didn’t address the unfortunate particulars about threats of being disowned or anything that would disrupt the narrative. He didn’t feel right about creating secrecy and wasn’t going to entertain it. He wrote a lengthy, pleasant email that had nothing to do with almost anything I said to him.

      Today, I blocked my parents number, my mom’s email, and I plan to not respond to anything from my dad moving forward. Here’s what I know: this will be a topic of conversation among the bystanders in the family. I will be deemed selfish and ungrateful. They already say all that. I moved away long ago. I stand on my own two feet. It was hard to get there, but I did that on purpose. I don’t need them. There may be a couple tiny threads still connected that are at a point of snapping. I am removing myself and behaving like a person who really wants to be left alone. This particular cult can exist without me.

      The good news for me is that the hard work and pain of cutting those threads is work that I have been doing for 15 years. I have already rebuilt my life, a business, and new relationships that I can lean on. When guilt creeps in or I question my actions, I have a number of friends who can see my situation clearly and help me validate my boundaries.

      Today, I feel relief.

      I know this is a lot, but I do hope that someone someday finds this – someone who needed to read it. For that someone, if this story sounds familiar, please know that there is a path forward for you. It’s a hard one, but it’s a healthier one.

  14. Thank you for the blog – finally found information that explains my experience. My mother was killed in a car accident when I was 13, and I was glad. but the abuse from my brother esculated. At 14 I had a total mental breakdown and was institutionalised in a mental hospital (1970s); at one point the doctors wanted me to have a labotomy! I refused but this is where I grew up, it was safer there then to return home to an abusive father and sibling. I escape the mental health system at 22 years, moved to another state and started a new life, new job, and got on with life as best I could. Then in 2019 I was diagnosed as having CPTSD, it was a total break through, my early life began to make sense. I have a ways to go, but it is a start.

  15. It is amazing how this describes my family. I have always thought I was making this up in my head. It makes me feel anger, hate, and resentment for both parents.

  16. I am full of memories of highly intense and theatrical events, the patterns of which fall into the depiction described, my father the narcissist, and my mother an enabler, although occasionally defending me.

    Most are extreme in nature, and involve violence towards me from my father, and my mother attempting to kill my father three times.

    It has taken me all of my life from 27 to about 60 to understand just how messed up I have been, this disrupting all of my working and intimate relationships, and now I have to face having had a life of relative failure in career, and no family of my own.

    This annulment of the individual’s self is because of an effective ‘downloading of software’ from the early environment, an adaptation necessary in order to survive, and negating the real potential inner self, a form of psychological ‘rape’.

    The difficulty now is facing the end of my life, knowing that it has been largely an exercise in adapting to those internalisations necessary in childhood, in order to survive. The result is to me a sense of futility.

    1. The article and comments on this page resonate with me at a deep level , thank you to everyone who has shared such heartfelt truths. I have found the work of Ross Rosenberg, Gabor Mate / Compassionate Inquiry and a book titled Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker to be invaluable resources in my healing from attachment trauma from my early childhood environment and parents with narcissistic and co-dependent personalities.
      Thank you for sharing such an informed article and comments.

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