A narcissist doesn’t only live in their own perception of reality. They alter reality for those unfortunate enough to have fallen in love with them. And even worse, for their own children. If the divorce and emotional aftermath last too long it can make actual reality almost unrecognizable to these innocent victims.
I’ve written about how a narcissist will hurt their kids if they see it as a means to winning. I’ve explained the control, confusion, and manipulation. I’ve discussed the fear we feel as parents. The tremendous fight we take on to protect our children emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially.
But I haven’t shared the full story because it has been too painful to admit.
Even now, tears crowd my face because I know the narcissist still haunts me.
Yes, eventually we gain freedom but it is not free of cost.
We leave the narcissist’s fantasy world only to discover our own reality has been altered.
It doesn’t seem possible since the narcissist no longer inhabits our four walls. We foolishly believe divorce to be the ultimate liberation, especially for our children. But for many of us, this is not our truth.
It’s difficult to escape the narcissist’s altered sense of reality completely.
Instead, it lingers.
The dust settles and the narcissist is physically gone but emotionally present. The family is still plagued by their lack of respect, a few recognizable phrases, a tiny portion of their worldview. Just enough to continue the damage.
And for this reason, my children and I struggle to heal.
Because our truth became twisted and reality became blurred.
This is what a narcissist is proficient at.
The type of emotional manipulation that can alter a child’s perception of their own mother or father. We might have escaped it had he divorced me in a year. It was clear what he was doing in the beginning, even more so to my boys, because kids are smart.
But a lengthy five-year divorce and severe emotional and financial bullying muddied the waters.
My children now see a hybrid of a woman who is familiar, and the one the narcissist invented.
It’s hard for me to admit this because the pain is excruciating.
I can’t blame the narcissist entirely. I added to the confusion. I stayed too long. I engaged the troubled narcissist in his exhausting, illogical, non-reality-based communication.
But he was hurting my children to hurt me.
They were suffering at the hands of their own father.
The mother in me, while often afraid because of the lengths he was willing to go, fought ferociously. Soon, the combination of the narcissist wearing me down, the fearful mother, my children acting out their pain, and the cruel sense of altered reality turned our house upside down.
Did my children know and understand the truth?
They asked me to leave their father. They loved him but they understood his behavior was wrong. We even went to the marriage and family counselor my husband and I had seen. I tried to educate and prepare my children as much as possible.
But our reality still became altered.
This is what a narcissist does.
And those of us who leave them become so consumed with fear, protecting our children, and surviving that our own behavior digresses. We begin to behave badly ourselves. To react, to yell, to beg, to cry, to do anything, and everything that will make the narcissist stop.
But the narcissist doesn’t.
Because of this, it isn’t long before our children have two parents they no longer recognize.
And our children struggle and suffer even more because of it.
They need the parent they can count on, we know this, we recognize our mistakes, and we attempt to hold up to that responsibility. But the narcissist won’t allow it. Even if their own children are in pain. They will undermine the parent who is as present and devoted as the narcissist is absent.
That’s what my husband did.
He undermined my parental authority when my kids needed me most.
While my children were acting out I attempted discipline but he would say, “Don’t let your mother talk to you like that,” or “Your mother overreacts,” and other things. One day, I told my son I was disappointed in him and what he had done. This was something my own mother had said and honestly, it was worse than when she was angry because we understood we had truly crossed a boundary.
At that moment, my husband said, “What kind of mother talks to her son that way?”
My children were hurting and living with loss, stress, and unpredictability.
But my husband wouldn’t do the right thing.
When he took away my ability to parent, disrespectfulness ensued and created more chaos. It also provoked an intolerable response from me because I had raised overly respectful children.
Again, my children knew our truth.
But narcissism is a complex personality disorder.
Yes, my children wanted me to leave their father. Yes, they understood and were troubled by what he was doing. They understood right and wrong.
But parents are in a position of power.
No child really believes a parent would intentionally mislead or hurt them.
Instead, they rationalize it.
Dad is doing bad things because he’s angry. He’s mad at mom. He’s hurting us but it’s because of the divorce.
It is truly impossible in those initial days of divorce, for kids to comprehend the lengths a narcissistic parent will go to. Let alone the painful realization that the narcissist is not capable of putting them first.
Add to this the truly beautiful beings children are.
Of course, they want to see the best in their father or for some their mother. They want to acknowledge their actions not throw away the love. And they are as caring, loving, empathetic, and kind as the narcissist is not. They do not want to give up on the parent who disappointed and hurt them.
They are rooting for that parent and hoping for the day he or she returns.
Kids are incredibly forgiving.
That doesn’t mean they can’t be angry even with the parent who didn’t let them down.
I understand this and have apologized and owned my mistakes. But I have always said I want to be judged for what I did wrong and seen for what I did right. I chose the wrong guy in my twenties. I didn’t understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And then I stayed too long believing I was saving my family. I was misguided and I allowed my children to see too many arguments. My mistakes pain me.
But I won’t take responsibility for narcissism, a serious and misunderstood personality disorder.
I won’t spend any more time beating myself up because I have three incredible boys and my spirituality tells me this was meant to be their path. They will be stronger, gentler, and wiser because of their experiences.
They should acknowledge the pain and grow rather than change. They should never, ever doubt they are loved. And their faith should free them of any self-pity. Because they have been given a unique path and they are indescribably special and irreplaceable.
I learned this from my own mother.
After my alcoholic father left she did not spend any time apologizing nor feeling sorry for us. She made it clear we were abundantly loved and that God had a plan for us. My mom freed us from any type of victimization. If anything, she empowered us making us feel unique.
I spend a lot of time praying my children will ‘once more’ look at me through their own eyes.
Not the eyes of the narcissist who confused them.
Again, they understand who their father is. They lived it. But my reactions played into the hands of the narcissist. It made the manipulation easier. It kept ‘current’ a few recurring characterizations of how the narcissist portrayed me.
My children aren’t close to their father. They are closer to me. I think this demonstrates how upsetting narcissism is. Despite this fact, a narcissist can still muddy the emotional waters.
I have beautiful, kind, caring, generous, thoughtful, smart, responsible, and talented boys. They are survivors. Had I understood the true extent of leaving a narcissist I would never have left without a financially solid, well-orchestrated plan.
I would have minimized our vulnerability.
I would never have become a hybrid of a woman who was familiar, and the one the narcissist invented.
My children and I continue to heal.
I gained our freedom but it came at a cost.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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