There is a lovely little story, “Little One Step” that I used to read to my daughter when she was younger. I find it to be very relevant now and a story can come in very handy when you’re not sure what to say.
You never know when a child will feel comfortable or feel the need to share their feelings. My daughter had spent the day playing with her dear friend she hadn’t seen for quite a while. They had gone to a birthday party together, and by all counts, she should have been flying high on the way home. But half way there, she brought up her father.
For the sake of creating a context, let me backtrack a bit. When I had picked her up from her father’s a few days ago, she told me that just before I arrived he suddenly brought up her reaction to a documentary he had forced her to watch. She didn’t know why. He was just talking and the next thing she knew he was talking about – no, mocking her about her reaction to this documentary three days previous. She was very upset about this.
The documentary in question was a history documentary about one of the bloodiest dictators of the middle ages. When he had mentioned this to me, at a breakfast meeting, I told him I thought that was a bit much. I actually wanted to scream at him, “Are you f-ing nuts????”. Understand, this is the child who had to leave a Scooby Doo movie at the theater, because it was too scary for her.
But even though I wanted to scream at him, I still feel compelled to censor what I say. When a narcissist has custody of your child, and you know she’s going home with him shortly after your conversation, you not only have to watch what you say but what kind of look you have on your face. I can drive away, but my daughter is stuck to deal with the fallout of any altercation we may have had.
So, anyway, at this point, at breakfast my daughter started to act distressed over even hearing the name of this murderous dictator, to which her father got a disgusted look on his face and said, “She’s fine…she liked it.” Which is a real slap in the face, but I was not surprised he would assert that. And I wasn’t surprised by his tone.
Narcissists don’t have real relationships with people – only what they need to believe about them. And that includes their children. And when you disagree with them with the reality of who you are, it’s an affront.
But I was taken aback when he said, “She’s faking it. She’s only acting this way for you.” It was so ignorant, so disrespectful of who she is…and he should talk about faking! There’s no bigger fake than a narcissist. And here he was on his “best” behavior in front of me! I felt sick. What does he do when he doesn’t need to impress anyone? Well…I don’t need to ask myself that.
I tried to smooth things over with my lame response about it being “a bit much” and some comment about how history has a wide range of things to choose from – like he doesn’t know this! He puffed up his chest and announced, “She’s going to watch what I want to watch”, with emphasis on the “I“.
You know, in his own twisted way he really does believe this is fair and that he’s right. After all, if she can watch her kid T.V. shows, then he should be able to watch his shows. That it may be inappropriate for a child her age or of her sensitivity, that she shouldn’t be watching as much T.V. anyway, is totally beside the point. In his mind he is not being abusive for forcing her to watch shows that are distressful to her. She’s being selfish for not watching what he wants!
Maybe I should have just yelled at him. Maybe I should have shown how disgusted I was with him. But I was afraid of angering him more and taking it out on her. And I did see those signs, those warnings of potential violence, even if “only” emotional…that look in his eye. The way he glared at her, held his anger and looked away.
I truly was afraid for her…
But maybe I’m deluding myself into thinking I can somehow protect her by how I behave…
Spitefulness and Humiliation
Maybe that’s more of the delusional thinking I have had all that time I was with him – thinking I can control him by being nice, by placating him, by giving in to him, by watching what I say. Maybe it would do more good for her, for me to get angry with him in front of her for being ignorant to her, than to bite my lip. I don’t know…
I have to give this more thought…
It turns out he didn’t say anything more about it after he took her home. Not until a couple days later when he was driving her to meet me. Then out of the blue he started mocking her in a high whinny little voice, “Me, me, me, me…me, me, me…”, as he claimed to imitate her response to his mention of the documentary at breakfast the other day.
But she didn’t sound like that at all. She really didn’t say anything. She had just averted her eyes and lowered her head behind my arm a bit, and used body language to show that she was distressed and frightened by that film. But he berated her as if she had bawled and made her feel like she was so wrong to feel what she felt.
And narcissists are like that. They feel they have a right to dictate how you should feel. And the whole point wasn’t to convey how he might have felt about the situation, but to humiliate her.
And she knew it.
Thank You for Listening
Last night as we were driving home and she was expressing her anger and frustration over how he treats her, I again validated how she was feeling. But I’m getting tired of just doing that. There needs to be something more. As we were getting ready for bed, dd came out of the bathroom and said, “Thank you for listening. Thank you for being my family.”
I am listening. I just don’t always know what else to do. Listening is good, but not always enough.
So today as we were on the road to meet up with her father again, I reminded her of the story of “Little One Step” and how this little duck took the long trek back home just one step at a time. I asked her to remember especially the part of when he felt totally overwhelmed by all the trees and lost sight of his goal, but his brother reminded him to focus only on the task at hand and not be distracted by the overall challenge before him.
I told my daughter that she, too, was going to make it out of this woods, and that she would be stronger for it.
Then I came home and called two separate counseling services and set up preliminary appointments. She needs to be validated by more than me. She needs to know, really know, that her dad is the one who is messed up, and that she is fine. She needs to hear it from more voices than my own, though mine is important and powerful.
We can do this. I don’t have to see all the way down the end of the road. All I need to do is take it one step at a time…”one step…one step…one step…”