A Therapist’s Guide to Living with a “Narcissist” – Chapter Two

This is part 2 of a multi-part blog focusing on one person’s struggle living with a narcissist. Please reference Part 1 for further parameters on this blog and background history.

In our second session, I asked Sally about her family background.

Sally is the older of two children born to blue-collar working parents. Her father was a bus-driver and her mother, a nurse. She has an older brother, born with Cerebral Palsy. He needs fairly constant attention and still lives with her parents. She describes her mother as giving and nurturing.  She says she has always been close to her mother.  Her father is described as “unhappy” and “always complaining”. She cried at describing her father and said they have never been close. She indicated her father, when in public, could be kind and optimistic. Recently, she learned that her grandfather, her father’s father, was mean/emotionally abusive with her father growing up, giving her some insight into his negative perspective.

As a child, she saw her parents fight often and wondered at times why her mother stayed with her father.  She says often she saw her father throw into her mother’s face mistakes she had made; leading her mother to become secretive in regards to her father.

Sally conveyed a story of Bob insisting on buying her a “promise ring”; an expensive ring that has become such a symbol of their struggles. Sally was uncomfortable with the cost of the ring. After much discussion, Bob described it as a pre-pre-engagement ring, a cultural tradition from his parent’s country.  In light of this (tradition) and despite the cost, she accepted the ring.  Later, however, it was stolen.  Bob was quite upset at this; suggesting she had lost it on purpose. For months thereafter, he brought that up in arguments suggesting he really didn’t care about him.

Sally also describes Bob having a strange relationship with his mother.  She calls him every week.  These conversations are kept private between him and his mother, Bob refusing to share with Sally anything they discussed. Recently, Sally discovered a series of texts on Bob’s phone between Bob and a woman. From these texts, Sally realized his mother had brought her son and the woman together in hopes that Bob would leave Sally and return to his home country and marry the young woman. Sally confronted Bob on the texts/woman. He refused to admit wrong-doing, citing Sally contacts with her old boyfriend, “Now you know what it feels like!”

A few observations….The parallels between her parents’ relationship and her and Bob’s relationship are undeniable. Families teach us how to “dance” and when we leave home, we look for someone who knows how to dance like we do. We recreate what many of us ran from when we left/ran from home.

Sally’s comment about being uncomfortable being alone and the short period of time between boyfriends points to a critical piece in this situation; namely that Bob may/is not the only culprit.  Sally describes Bob’s behavior as problematic but her behavior also contributes to her struggle.  If she were more comfortable being alone, she may be able to stand up for her-self, perhaps leave if necessary, then she’d not feel so trapped.

Third, Sally’s connection to her mother, essentially against her father is paralleled in her connection with me, against Bob…not that I am against Bob but I am certainty working with Sally.

I encouraged Sally to begin focusing on specific situations with Bob that she struggles with knowing how to deal with. These will be the focus in our next sessions.