The Narcissist’s Nightmare

An absorption with the self is a classic trait of narcissism. This absorption is total and not just the self indulgent symptoms of a society which is concerned with how we look to others online and elsewhere.  For the narcissist, the whole world begins and ends with how they feel  and whether or not they are receiving the attention they feel that they deserve.  When the attention is focused upon them all is well, should the attention shift away to the needs and experiences of others, the howling black void which is being defended against, makes itself known and rage surges up as a defence.  For anyone who is involved with a narcissist in any capacity, knowing that the warmth and charm masks rage and vindictiveness, is a critical level of awareness.  When the narcissist feels that the game is not being played in the way which best benefits their needs, a shift in the wind follows close behind.

The narcissists nightmare is not to be the centre of attention and to find themselves in a place where they are required to see another point of view.  In fact, rather than getting to the place where another point of view becomes apparent, narcissistic rage is triggered as a defence. This effectively puts a stop to any kind of interaction which allows for two people to hold different ideas.  For the narcissist it is their way or the highway and there is absolutely no in between.

This is how narcissism is similar to the psychological splitting which is seen in children. In fact narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis includes splitting as a core defence mechanism.  This is a way for the narcissist to preserve their sense of themselves as being wholly in the right with a sense of purity of mind and intention, whilst others who challenge the narcissistic world view become devalued and demonised, cast out into the wilds as being beneath.

The tragedy for the children of narcissistic parents is that they were never valued for themselves but only for what they can bring to the table of the narcissist in terms of feeding their needs.  A narcissistic parent will often appear to be wholly invested in their child only to simply lose interest in them if they can no longer control the child and manipulate them to provide the supply of devotion and obedience which is required of them.  This is why removal of children from parents with such personality disorder often leads to the narcissistic parent walking away.  If there is no control then there is nothing for the narcissist to use to uphold the defences and so the child must be demonised.  In some cases I have seen narcissistic parents tell their children how useless and wicked they are for not being obedient.  In others I have witnessed parents blame their children for not providing them with the support for their desires in life.  When children are rendered into beings to feed the needs of their parent, the narcissistic march continues through the generations.  Children need their parents to be wholly focused upon their developing needs and to be able to provide appropriate boundaries as they grow older.  There are no boundaries in the narcissists house, just a whole mess of nebulous desires waiting to be filled.

A narcissist is revealed when the wind changes and the true nature of their projections upon the other become apparent. This can happen in an instant should the narcissistic wound be activated through opposing ideas and beliefs or through refusal to act and react on the narcissists terms.  It is the diminishing of all others into meaningless minions which gives away the narcissist and this which ultimately means that there can be no real movement forward in terms of giving help.

One of the strange things about narcissists is their tendency to believe that everyone else is a narcissist and they are normal. This projection of the shadow self (that which cannot be seen in the self is only ever seen in others) is a delusional state of mind which is seen clinically when the person with narcissistic personality disorder finds it impossible to understand the diagnosis.  This is because of the defences which are employed in narcissism, which act always to protect the person from the reality of their lack of an integrated sense of self.   This trait can be seen regularly in online spaces which are filled with armchair amateur psychologists who diagnose others with  narcissism.  It can be seen in the untrained and unqualified self appointed expert who deconstructs every action of others into evidence of narcissism or a variation of the same.  Narcissists are often highly intelligent, extremely clever and able to use their knowledge to protect themselves from what is felt like an assault on their reality when they are challenged to accept a difference of opinion.

When a child has been captured in a delusional state of mind by a narcissistic parent and that delusional bubble is popped on removal of the child, the most common outcome is that the narcissistic parent walks away from the child and does not return.  I have seen this occur in several residence transfers where narcissistic traits were present and in the four cases of diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder I have worked with in my time. When this happens, the tragedy for the child is that they have to reconcile for themselves, the fact that they as an individual human being, never really mattered to the parent who inveigled them into rejecting the other parent.  That loss for the child is a powerful one and great care has to be taken to protect the child by helping them to understand that the problem is not theirs but that of the parent who is no longer there.

Achieving this with a child without maintaining the split state of mind is our goal in reunification work. Repair of the split is the protection the child needs against development of personality disorder in their own selves.  This work is delicate and time consuming but very necessary.  It is achieved through the building of a sustained relationship with the child which offers them the therapeutic support that they need to understand that a parent thinks differently to others and to develop the internal recognition that this is not their fault or responsibility.

For a child to have a parent who loves with a glow warmer than the sun and who then switches that warmth off and abandons without a second glance, is a truly terrifying experience.  For the receiving parent of such a child, therapeutic parenting is the key.  The reunification of the child with the rejected parent is only the beginning of healing, what comes next is critical to the child’s onward healthy journey to a life lived in integration of the self.

For the narcissist the nightmare is to be challenged, for the healthy parent the nightmare is to repair the damage done by the imposition of the narcissistic defences upon the child.

As the narcissist walks away, the healthy parent  is left holding the evidence of the generational march of defences.

Transforming these into wellbeing and strength is what comes next.

Find help and information about narcissism here


  1. I recently saw this Agony aunt letter, which to me describes exactly how these children must feel as adults, if they have not been completely subdued:
    It is not a good choice in life to cut out a parent however dysfunctional, but it is a hard and life long job to set the boundaries and create the distance needed. Also don’t expect your surroundings to support you in trying to do this job, mostly they will not understand why you simply do not cut out that parent from your life.


    1. I am not really an advocate for cutting people out of the picture although it does happen sometimes and when it does it simply has to be accepted. However bad a parent or relative is, whether we see them or not, they have to be related to somehow even if it is only through resolving the lack of the person in one’s own life and working through the issues which caused that. When we cut people out or are cut out and we do not do the work of reconciling ourselves to that reality, trouble is stored for ourselves. Relationships are tough stuff, they are hard work but they are also the stuff of life. This person’s mother was toxic and yet she still yearns……the mourning for the loss of what could have been needs to take place – only that way lies freedom.


      1. I just find it amazing how many people do advocate and think it is easy to simply cut out a dysfunctional parent. I grew up seeing my mum struggling to relate to her mum, who was toxic and I now see my step children doing the same. For all the struggling there are good moments and that parent is part of who they are so compassion is better than rejection.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for explaining this so well Karen. I also read your other post on Narcissists from 2014 and that was helpful too about putting a protective moat around you so you can deal with things. I know we are not perfect and no parent or step parent is, but when on the receiving end of behaviour described above it puts things in perspective. I probably need a pyschologist to tell me that I keep wanting to save children because one of my parents was abandoned as a child. And that you can’t do all the saving and it’s complex and we need to navigate our way to find back up and a direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our own personal past will affect how we react in our own personal present and future. What I know most of all is that the unresolved wounds from childhood will keep speaking until they are heard. Those wounds affect how we deal with things like alienation too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another brilliant article, that shines a light on the slash and burn world of the narcissist. In my case, I haven’t seen two of my three beautiful children for over three years and with a bankrupt family justice system I’m not likely to see them again during their childhood. I also wonder whether adulthood will see them understand the damage and the wrong or whether the damage will be beyond repair. Still I live in hope…….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The saddest thing about alienation Gavin is that the sins of the alienator are revisited again on the children when they become parents themselves – often by marrying or partnering with someone like the parent who alienated them. Alienated children do not become alienators, they become alienated parents and there lies the true tragedy for it is a double loss for those children. The hope you bring to the lives of your children is to be the healthiest, strongest, and most alive parent possible when the time comes for them to come back, if you are then balance and health is possible – you are their best hope for a healthy future – never ever forget it. K

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So interesting but doesn’t always ring true from my experience. I either see the rejected parent painfully unconditionally trying to maintain a place in their children’s lives. I have also seen people give up after years of losing to the narcissist as well as the courts. They believe sometimes, rightfully so, that stepping back from the rejection is the only way to altruistically provide some peace for the child.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you might be mixing up my meaning Beth, what I am referring to is that when the narcissistic parent loses control – as in the child is removed, they most often walk away completely rather than try and maintain a relationship.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I don’t blame alienated fathers for walking away. When the mother and courts decide that you aren’t part of your children’s lives any more, there’s often not much you can do about it. I’ve seen it happen too many times to imagine that it would be worth fighting. Cut your losses and hope that some day feminists will stop opposing shared parenting bills and attacking fathers’ rights advocates. It’s better to do this than to see your love for your children used as fuel.

        I think it’s amazing that so many women think that the alienated father in this scenario is the one with narcissistic and controlling tendencies. If he’s offered meaningful shared custody and he still walks away, or if he tries to alienate her, then we can talk about male narcissism.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I see. I’m sure your right. I’ve never seen the courts remove a narcissist from a child’s life.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I have worked in four case of diagnosed NPD and in all four cases the parent with NPD walked away and did not come back. Not a good outcome for the child at all sadly.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a fantastic article. it is the spitting image of my daughter-in-law. She wants to have a child now. She already controls my son and very recently has now had my son terminate our relationship. She is very highly agitated if she loses control on anything and I worry about them having children. Of course, I was told I will never see my grandchildren and to tell you the truth, I am not sure I want to. She is a very strong narcassist and the more she practices her “craft” the better she is getting. it almost scares me on what she will do to those children. My son has a depressive disorder so he was easily manipulated and she has tapped into his old anger and rage and brought that back out. His Facebook page is full of anger. I don’t see this ending well at all. i did try to reach him, through an email, sent pictures of him, his brother and grandmother and grandfather, to see if he would talk to try and at least keep some communication open without assaulting her but have not heard from them and knowing her, she can’t keep her mouth shut nor pass an opportunity to go after me so I am waiting for the big boom. Her narcassism doesn’t frighten me, she acts too much like an immature child, but them having children does and I assume, sooner or later, their relationship will blow up and my son will end up in a psych ward again or in jail.


  6. Beth that is a really tough one. We were in that situation last year and almost gave up and stepped back so that the child didn’t have that conflict. But even just thinking about that decision helped us see that we couldn’t do that. Not for ourselves but for the child, who would then feel abandoned and that you didn’t care or hadn’t fought for them. Although each situation is different of course. All that child wanted was the hostility and negative pressures to stop I think. We decided to apply to the courts and I think it was the right decision. From the moment that application went in, things improved for the child – it was like a Christmas Truce in World War I. Although the other parent told child every detail of the court application and used it as something else to criticize his Father over. When he arrived angry and saying Dad had accused Mum of xyz we just told him it was just Mum and Dad didn’t agree on some things so someone was going to help sort it out and not to worry and all he had to do was carry on having fun and being a child. He seemed much happier then and I think he was relieved someone was going to try and help sort things out. It isn’t completely sorted out, and I still worry but child is more himself. We’re prepared to go back if necessary. Again depends on circumstances and the age of the child maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I say truce I mean the other parent began to behave differently and reasonably in front of the courts and Cafcass but couldn’t help still accusing other people of what she was doing herself but we had clear evidence. We know this won’t change the other person but it has shifted the circumstances slightly and made it a bit more public which seems to have led to things settling down – although it may be temporary.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is so well written and it shows exactly what I am going through. It is so f. hard to accept that I can’t do anything else but to wait for a faulty court system to remove my daughter from her mother…It is even harder to accept that the damage is done and if I can “rescue” my daughter, I will have to start another difficult road…the healing for her to understand that I have always loved her and that her mother has been psychologically abusing her…What a nightmare of a life…how can I remain sane??? sometimes I think of walking away right now and leaving life to sort itself out but feel guilty about not being able to “save” my daughter…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fascinating article, with much to consider. As a family mediator the more of the root cause is understood, the better the mediation. I often think that more training in the psychology of relationships is key. The more I read, however, at times, the less I feel I know !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You are turning tables. Educated victims see straight through. Knowing how to use the knowledge about narcissism in your favour, now that is a trait of narcissism. I can see your manipulation here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is this article about my understanding and knowledge of narcissism and my training and experience of working with families where narcissism is present or is it an article which is directly focused on you Liesbeth? Being educated about narcissism does not make anyone an expert capable of diagnosing or labelling someone as a narcissist and that is a simple fact. I cannot diagnose narcissism because I did not undertake a five year clinical training which would allow me to do that and so I don’t diagnose other people with narcissism. I know about narcissism, I recognise narcissism. But I don’t go around labelling people as narcissists online and writing about someone I don’t know and have never met as if I am somehow entitled to demonise them in that way. Do you?

      ‘Diagnosing’ others as narcissists without training or experience is dangerous and misleading.

      And if you are triggered by this article, I wonder why?


      1. You gaslight me, shaming and blaming me that I am an expert. I said educated. You are turning tables. That is a narcissistic manipulation tactic. Doesn’t work.
        You devalue me, telling me in front of an audience of flying monkeys that I am labelling. That is turning tables. That is shaming. That is blaming. That is what narcissists do. Your tactics don’t work on me. Educated.


      2. Liesbeth, I am sure you feel you are being devalued but you are not. This post is not about you, you are not being labelled, shamed, blamed or otherwise. This post is not about you or anyone else you know. I am pleased you are educated, that means you don’t need to be here telling me that I am a narcissist – you chose to leave a comment, I chose to let it through, if you don’t want this stuff to be in public – am sure the readers of this blog will be happy to hear themselves referred to as flying monkeys – then don’t post here – simple as that. Shame/blame/narcissism/gas lighting/labelling and table turning is not being done here – this post is just not about you. If you don’t like what you hear here, don’t leave comments.


      3. Reluctantly dragged into this arena having been accused of being a narcissist, it seems to me that there are many many social media groups which feature a lot of unqualified people proffering opinions ranging from the bizarre to the downright libellous. Any disagreement with said opinions results in an outpouring of accusations ranging from borderline personality disorder to narcissism or enabling (flying monkeys spring to mind).

        Whilst I understand the need for support and the desperation for answers, caused by genuine alienation or the heartache from dealing with a partner with mental health issues, these sites seem to be about reinforcing one viewpoint and one view point only to the exclusion of reason and logic, and ultimately the other side to these one dimensional life stories.

        So I have to question what real purpose these groups serve, when those running them are often as far from the field of Psychology and child development as is humanly possible to be, though many seem to be “certified” !!!!. These sites seem to be a so called “legitimate” way to vent and allow certain individuals to absolve themselves or all responsibility and culpability for the situations they find themselves in.


    2. Well I tried for 5 years with my Narc ex wife but I was always remained confused as I was not aware of the Narcissism which I lately came across on net recently, whereas I escaped uninformed from death bad. I was constantly getting sick and loosing my health. I have been abused a lot and it became unbearable and left with no choice. I faced a lot of lies, manipulation, cheat and lost 2 decades of savings and left empty pocket to save my life and breath. I was so much drained and suffering trauma bond attacks.


      1. She is a Nurse but very sick mentality. She never cares for her boundaries and have couple of supplies and making triangulation. She is lack of empathy, remorse nor emotions.


  11. “Being educated about narcissism does not make anyone an expert capable of diagnosing or labelling someone as a narcissist and that is a simple fact.”

    And yet that’s exactly what so many folk are doing! I’m wondering why Karen, given discussions on your other recent posts, you felt it necessary and useful to do a complete post on ‘narcissists’? Isn’t this just feeding the ‘labelling’ frenzy?

    Surely lay people need to use layman terms when describing other lay people’s behaviours… self absorbed, obstinate, needy, moody etc, with examples of this behaviour, not lump on labels they are not qualified to give….a little knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing….as you wrote recently you have only worked with a handful of diagnosed narcissists over the years… that case isn’t a disproportionate amount of air time being given to this category? Isn’t it just feeding a link with PA that is not that helpful? We have always known some people are more difficult than others to get along with and are perhaps best avoided rather than welcomed into our lives. Lay folk who diagnose others with mental health labels have their own agendas for so doing. As you said elsewhere, we don’t go round diagnosing physical health issues like cancer in others, why do we think we can diagnose mental health problems! Apparently everyone can be psychologist, just as everyone can be a nutritionist/ food adviser… perhaps the real problem in our society is self appointed gurus who can pontificate on anything as if they have proper training, when in essence they know very little.

    Can everyone stop labelling their exes as narcissists, psychopaths, BPD, and any other label they can think of……it helps no one, least of all the kids caught in the crossfire. Rant over!!


      1. What occurs to me is that anyone who thinks they have a nightmare ex has to face one rather large uncomfortable truth……… ie. they chose this person, they chose to have kids with this person. No one else is to blame (unless an arranged marriage). The responsibility lies at our own two feet. Awkward? Yes. Embarrassing? Yes. But then that’s the reality of being human…….we all make mistakes.

        That then raises the question of why?……why were you attracted to this kind of person? Karen has written elsewhere about the benefits of looking closer to home, ie namely at oneself and one’s family background, to uncover why one did what one did? This is not an easy path, nor a comfortable one, but one that has many benefits, not least teaching you how not to repeat the mistake again! And that is priceless….

        Focusing on the ‘other’, labeling them this, that and the other, is distraction and avoidance. We can only change ourselves. It is in looking at ourselves that we can improve things for the future….

        Liked by 2 people

      2. and I would like to triple like your reply SS, I just cannot find the reply button to that one – but it is the truth – at the end of the day we can only take responsibility for ourselves and recognise that labelling other people is both pointless and a continuation of the very dynamic that causes alienation in the first place.


  12. I have only read the first comment from Kat and Karen’s reply (so far). I too read the letter in the Daily Mail, a very sad, desperate letter. I just wanted to say that again, in reply to Kat, Karen has hit the nail on the head by writing “the mourning for the loss of what could have been needs to take place”.

    Karen you are so right. This is the case in many situations. It was the case for me with my own mother who could never be the mother I wanted because she didn’t know HOW to be and therefore in her eyes, she didn’t miss out on being my mother because she couldn’t feel it, but…………. that mourning Karen spoke of came to the fore when my first child was diagnosed with a rare genetic and degenerative brain condition. It is more than fair to say that even though my child was still very much with me she was deteriorating and losing skills so fast that long before we lost her, I went through a prolonged period of mourning the loss of what could have been. It’s the same thing in both cases.

    Off topic perhaps but the post and reply about mourning the loss of what might have been just struck a chord with me

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your article about NPD and the effect of parents with NPD on their children directly relates to, and explains much about, an extreme example I began to describe from different angles on a new blog:

    mcdanielsakhapedia.wordpress com

    McDaniel and his Akha wife are both currently involved in legal proceedings following police charges in Dec 2017 of sexual abuse and torture of his teenage daughter. Their other children are too afraid to speak up about what their father did to them.


  14. Thank you for your articles, I have just found your blog today and I can feel the tears welling up in relief that someone understands. Please could you let me know if you have articles on the following:
    How to speak to my alienated child and how to prevent my younger child from befalling the same fate.
    I so appreciate your work.


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