Parental Narcissist: You Don’t Get To Do That


Randy and I went to my mother’s house recently. The family was together for the last time until Christmas.

My oldest son, Zach, got a promotion and he and his new wife are moving 2 hours away. I am happy for him and sad for me, but it’s not too terribly far away.

Anyway, we were sitting around the dining room table talking and Zach rubbed my shoulders. It felt nice.

Zach spoke and I realized he was standing beside my chair, not behind my chair. I glanced around the room and through a quick process of elimination, I determined it was my dad rubbing my shoulders.

I discovered this mid-sentence and had the teeniest hiccup. Whatever I was saying, I just turned into a long drawn out “aaaaaaaaaaaa” and then forgot what I was saying. I recovered, but it fell short of graceful.

So much went through my head in those few seconds.

No. No, he doesn’t get to do this. This is the man who told me throughout my childhood that his life would have been better had I never been born. Who told me I was ugly. Who told me I was stupid. Who told me I was an embarrassment. And that I was supposed to be a boy. He doesn’t get to  rub my shoulders. 

I didn’t say anything to him. My father had a heart episode decades ago that left him slightly brain damaged. There have been a few incidents of cruelty over the past 24 years, but not much, probably no more than a normal Tuesday when I was a child. Mostly, he is quiet. Kind of annoying. Not at all scary.

I wanted to scream at him and slap his hands away, but instead, I stumbled over my words and stiffened up.

I don’t know if he felt my intense desire that he go away, or if he just got bored, but he stepped away and life continued.

I went from having a lovely conversation with my family to feeling like vomiting. I wanted nothing more than to leave and to take a nap. Anything to get a handle on the white hot anxiety fire raging through me.

I looked at my father when we left and I tried to feel something. Anything.

The only thing I have, the one feeling I have for my father is sadness. Sadness because so few people care whether he exists or not.

Very few people on the planet will give a moments thought when he dies. His family. His brother and sister, his nieces and nephews. Around 60% of them will go “awwww” and then they’ll have toast. Or vacuum. Or suck a dick. I don’t know, I haven’t kept in touch.toast

I will also make some toast when my dad dies.

This makes me more sad than anything. Which is funny, but not in a haha way, more in a “that is fucking tragic” way.

When I was 17, I walked in my parents bedroom because my mom was crying.

She told me that she was crying because she knew that when her dad died, she wouldn’t be sad.

I love my mother. And in many ways, we are alike. In many ways we are not. But in this way? We are sisters.

My mom knows exactly how it feels to have a malignant narcissist for a father. She had one as well. Then, she married one.

I know that taking care of my brain damaged father can’t be super easy on my mom. But I have to think it is easier than dealing with him the way he was. Loud, cruel, capricious and petty. At least now, he is mostly quiet.

We wrapped up our afternoon and Randy I left. I put the whole shoulder rubbing thing behind me. Mostly.

Randy had a play list going in the car. He turned down the music.

Randy: You freaked out a little back there.

Me: Hmmm?

Randy: When your dad rubbed your shoulders.

Me: Oh. Yeah. That was bullshit.

He turned the music back up and that was it. There wasn’t anything more to say. He already knows how I feel about my dad. He knows the guilt that comes and goes.

What gets me, every time something like this happens, is how quickly all my progress flies out the window.

How a simple gesture, like a father rubbing his daughter’s shoulders, can make me feel every single bit of the helpless rage that I’ve carried around for so many years.

I remind myself that I have made progress. I didn’t spend hours pacing and crying and ranting. I discussed it with Randy in a few sentences and we moved on.

It’s never quite that easy, though.

But on the other hand, it is easier.


Photo courtesy of Cord Media Stuttgart


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  • I don’t know why people attempt holiday feel goods with the family I guarantee if we got the spouse’s family together with my sister’s family there would be police called. On me too probably.

    My brother-in-law screwed up all Thanksgivings and Christmases until he dies and I hope to be a long way away without any of my current clan by then. In the next couple of months as a matter of fact. Fuck all of these people, tyvm.

    Screw all of the holidays. Summer holidays too. Celebrate them at your own risk, I say. I’m alone here no matter how many sonsabitches there are. See the last sentence in the paragraph above.

    • I am mostly lucky in regards to holidays. We mostly get along fine and my dad is mostly just quiet. Every once in a while, though, I am forced to deal with all the issues in my head in regards to him and it is painful.

  • How hurtful can holidays be? They are already emotionally charged. Sometimes, all the bad stuff just comes out and I am so sorry you had to endure his touch and suffer like that. So very sorry.

    • It’s okay, it really is. I was just taken aback by how fast and hard all those bad feelings rushed in. I am trying to find compassion for him because he is a human on this planet.

  • Thanks for sharing. I have a few such “trigger” people in my life. It’s amazing that you can go from happy, comfortable to a ball of rage (inside) in a split second. It catches you off guard, and deeply disorients you in an instant, and to most onlookers nothing has changed. Your husband is a good one, he noticed, that’s for sure, and he gave you a chance to vent about it when it was safe. I’m sure you know, but he’s a keeper. I’m sure you don’t waste one second feeling sorry for the old man. He made his bed, and now the chickens have come home to roost. (I love mixed metaphors.)
    My second husband passed away a year ago, and while I loved him, I very rarely miss him. He was less than loving to my adult son, and took every opportunity to criticize him. In his last few months, he knew his time was short, so he took up painting….I don’t know whether he was aware of why, but I could see that he wanted to leave something of himself behind, for us to remember him by. In the same vein, I have an elderly aunt who has been quite a shrew most of her life, judgemental, and all around unpleasant, and now she’s reduced to a bedroom in a caretaker’s home, with very few of her belongings surviving the multiple moves to increasing levels of health care. I am visiting with her now, and she is consumed with a few boxes of Christmas ornaments and decor that she wants myself and her mentally disabled daughter to divide; again, so hopefully she’ll be remembered fondly on occasion in the years to come. She’ll pass on soon. And while I do miss the good parts of these relationships, neither my husband nor my aunt cultivated good relationships. In the classic biblical sense, they did reap what they sowed;as we all will. Personally, my feeling is that if I can’t leave a mark on this world with my life, it’s pointless to leave a mark on it in death.

    • Yes to all of this! And my husband and I are so good together. It’s been 24 years and we still really dig each other. He’s my 3rd husband. I made some mistakes. hahahaah.

  • Whenever you write about your father it hits home for me …. I feel your pain.
    Mine died at 92 and was awful to the bitter end. My Mum is mostly a lovely person but constantly defended our father’s actions against us girls. She still does it now, 3 years after his death, wanting us to say nice things about him…. it’s exhausting. It makes it hard to visit her, but she’s 91 so I do my best. Sigh.
    I’m so glad you have a wonderful husband who knows how you feel.

  • And then comes the stray thought that maybe he now knows what a prick he was all through your life and is trying to say he’s sorry. Nah. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that forgiving.

    • He’s not sorry. And even if he were? The damage has been done, I am who I am for the rest of my life. I don’t know how to forgive that.

      I’m not saying I am sorry to be me. It has taken years to love myself. I just hate the physical pain of anxiety every single fucking day. I hate it.

  • Forgiveness just doesn’t need to happen. Many people believe they must forgive to be free. If I could forget I could forgive but forgive and forget, easier said then done, and why bother?

  • I am so sorry that this is who your father was. You are an incredible person to handle this as gracefully as you do. I’m glad there are some good people in your life now – you deserve it.

  • A friend talked me into going to see my dad, whom I hadn’t seen in years, when he was on his death bed, telling me I might regret it if I didn’t. And he was right, I’m glad I went. Better to have seen him then, and let him get things of his chest if he chose to (he didn’t) rather than go to his funeral, or not, and always wonder. I’ve never missed him, not for a moment, but still, it was good for me to finally accept that once a narcissistic prick, always a narcissistic prick. I won’t say I forgave him for that, but I think I finally rose above it a little. And that’s an OK kind of feeling.
    Thanks for sharing your story – it always helps me come to terms with my own a little. You might not realize it, but your strength is contagious.

    • Thank you for this. I don’t feel strong today. Not even a little. I feel broken and tired and I want to give up. (not because of daddy dearest, just life). So, I needed this a lot. Thank you again.

  • Sometimes what you do doesn’t feel like strength when you’re doing it, and sometimes it is anyway.
    You’re awesome, Michelle, and the way you handled the situation seems hella graceful to me.
    You operate within the options you have available to you, and your father didn’t avail you with the kind of options you would like to have as the person you have become.
    Maybe that says as much about who you have become as it does about who he was, I don’t know, but being able to share your progress seems like a step in the right direction, because in my experience these things don’t improve much when they are bottled up inside.
    My sister’s therapist told her, about her relationship with our father, that “Families just are. There’s no real way they are supposed to be, and if you try to hold them to an arbitrary standard you’re likely to be disappointed.”
    I think hearing that helped me as much as it did her, but that’s not something I can know for sure.
    I feel like maybe your dad should keep his hands off of you at this point, but again, that’s not my call, just my feeling.
    I hope you are OK now.
    My dearly departed friend Dirty Dan once told me, about some fairly outrageous misfortune or other: “You should be glad these things happen to you, Doug, they might have killed a lesser man.”

    • I truly think he was being friendly. In his mind, he is not a bad guy..he never was. Thank you so much. I need this. I don’t feel strong right now, for many reasons. Y’all are the best.

    • THank you so much! I love all of you, too. I do so much. You have no idea how much this community has helped me through the years and I appreciate you all so very much.

  • Oh Michelle. I wish I had some wonderful words of wisdom that would make this all better for you!! I come from a mother who is a cruel, nasty, narcissist. To the rest of the world she she seems like the kindest, most giving woman on the planet. I could go on and on and on about the horrible stories about her, but I won’t waste even an extra 5 minutes of my time giving anything to her. I also have no contact with my two brothers who are equally as big of a narcissist as she is. One of them is also a compulsive liar. I have gotten screwed over and hurt by them, that I will no longer have anything to do with them. In the rare event that I do speak to my mother, she will always try to convince me to give my brothers another chance. The answer I give to her is this, “if you repeatedly keep sticking your hand on to the burner on your stove, and receiving a severe burn that takes a long time to heal, how many times are you going to do it before you realize that it is ALWAYS going to be painful, and it’s going to leave a scar.” I’ve learned from my burns, and the scar will never leave. It took a long time for me to completely break free and not have any contact, but it has definitely worked better this way. I had to go through my grieving, but I know there is no other way to handle it. I’m glad that you have a great support system. That is really important. I’m sending you so much love, & a great big hug!! Thank you for your thoughts!! It really helps people like me!!

    • This just really makes my night. Thank you for sharing your story. I think if my dad weren’t brain damaged I would be no contact. But it’s just a weird ass situation and it’s not horrible. Mostly I handle it fine. I’m never comfortable seeing him, but I can deal. It just wigged me out when he touched me. Blah.

  • YOU DID GREAT!! That was really hard. No way in hell I could’ve, but since my Doug isn’t brain damaged, I would know for sure it was just a fucked up ploy, in public – with witnesses who would be on his side, to observe my horrific, ungrateful behaviour, when he was just trying to be nice….
    Nope. You’ll draw back a stub, motherfucker.
    I am sooooo glad I’m not watching any “…film at 11 where we have breaking news from Kentucky: Famous Blogger of Rubber Shoes in Hell Fame – Michelle Poston Combs – was seen running…”
    You did good and here’s your kudos <3 <3 <3

  • I wrote and erased this a bunch of times.
    I teared up a little with this one.
    You give me a little of your strength every time I read yours.
    Thanks for sharing it with me.

  • I’m okay with most of my immediate family, but there are a lot of people I don’t care to see any more than necessary, and even then only in short bursts. It does hurt to say that I don’t care to see certain people I should want to see but… eh.

    Glad you made it through and have an understanding person around in Randy.

  • Thank you.
    I’ve been flailing a lot recently about how seemingly small things can feel like they’ve undone years of progress. I’ve been beating myself up about it… It’s okay not to do that. ❤️

  • Triggers – the link to the emotional and mental trauma we have suffered.

    I do my best but have to admit that the times I least expect it, it hits me like a ton of bricks and all of a sudden I am no longer a (somewhat) confident 61 year old woman. I’m someone who can’t cope and is overwhelmed.

    I have an ‘open house’ kind of Xmas every year – buffet style so everyone can arrive between the hours of 12 and 4 and visit on a schedule that works for them. It works for us. (But then I’m a stickler for booting them out the door by 5:30pm.) My nephew picked up my sister and came to our house. As usual she didn’t listen to me and brought shitloads of food & stuff (fuck! just for once LISTEN TO ME!!). She’s on disability so I don’t expect her to bring anything but I know for her it is important. But shitloads! WTF! My eldest went to the door to open it and my sister breezed past criticizing her for not going out to help, walked into my kitchen and dropped bags of stuff onto the floor (including pop).

    I calmly said something along the lines of “my only rule was no drama and no arguments and if you’re unable to do that then maybe this isn’t the place for you”. Calm (I was so proud of myself :-/ ), measured, nice tone – the whole bit. That has been our agreement since the last time I ‘let’ her back into my family fold. It goes to years of her raging at me, criticizing me and telling me how to live my life.

    She grabbed her stuff stormed out the house yelling at my nephew to put the rest of the stuff back into the car, she wasn’t staying. That wasn’t what I wanted but at the time I thought it was for the best.

    But…….. I failed her. She is blind in one eye, has major spinal issues and lost her man to a sudden death about 6 years back. I didn’t recognize at that moment that Christmas was a trigger for HER! How overwhelming it must be and she comes to our place and financially we’re doing well, and my man is still here and both my daughters (her one son is estranged, the other has been but he’s a sweetie and does what he can). How incredibly selfish I felt when I realized it months later. A big ‘smack forehead’ moment. 🙁

    I have yet to apologize. And I will. Not so much because I feel guilty because I’m not responsible for what has happened in her life. But because I have had the same thing happen to me. The overwhelming rise of anxiety; the emotional load on your brain smothering out the logic, the inability to cope. I pretty much felt that way as soon as she started in on my daughter at the door.

    I write this because I think we all put too much expectation on Christmas & the holidays (I’m Canadian so thank gawd our Thanksgiving was 48 days ago). That no matter how much we are prepared for the people who are our ‘triggers’ we’ll get caught unaware just about every time.

    Families are just trainwrecks at times. Gawd knows I feel like I’m in the midst of one with my mother right now. I’ve been responsible for holding the Christmas dinner for about 25 out of the past 40 years. This year we’re living in our motorhome after selling our house. My uncle has kindly agreed to let us host at his place where I hope to play a much smaller role in the whole thing. And YaY! we get to leave instead of kicking everyone out ;-p

    So Michelle, I’m sorry you had to go through that. I think you recognize that you handled it the way you needed to “while in the moment” and no doubt it brought a lot of shitty memories back. You handled it how us women usually handle things which is neither good nor bad in those types of situations. You’re not responsible for your Dad, neither his behaviour in the past nor now. You’re not responsible for why he was like that or what he is like now. You’re not responsible for what that trigger does to you. And you didn’t nope yourself right out of there – I’m assuming out of love for your mother. It’s what we do at times – squash everything inside of us and make peace or be the ‘better person’ or whatever passes these days for subjugating our suffering. There was no good or bad way for you in that situation. No shoulda/coulda/woulda.

    And (one of my favourite expressions) no looking back because you are not going that way.

    Christmas – well it’s overrated. I keep it simple and will again this year. No big expectations, no “I havta’s”.

    I don’t know if you’re like me – always trying to make things right – but we can’t and all we can do is simply guard ourselves and have exit plans. Sounds like overkill but exit plans are great – often letting us maintain a little grace and peace.

    I’m working on my exit plan for this year plus I have a brand new little granddaughter who is an excellent diversion. So hoping for the best but planning for the ‘triggers’ (mostly my mother). 🙂 <3

    hoping for the best for you too,

    • I really am fortunate in that there is very little drama in my family. And yes, I do keep the peace with my dad for the sake of my mother who I love so very much. And, it has always been my place to make sure she is “okay” which is completely fucked up, but I have no idea how to stop doing that. When I don’t, I feel way worse.

      I love your open house idea! Brilliant. And I love how you saw the other side when your sister behaved badly. That was good for me to read and I appreciate it.

  • Shit that was long!

    And shit! I just remembered I have to pick my mother up for xmas and drive her back to her home.

    OMG – what the hell is the exit plan for THAT!?


  • No one could fairly expect you to put your past experiences with your father behind you. Every trauma leaves a scar. But I’m glad it’s getting easier for you to bear those scars, even if they’ll always be with you.

  • This is an awesome piece of writing. I love your sassy but also serious approach to a very difficult subject. These narcissists don’t mature much beyond the age of 15 and as we do mature – they become more and more pathetic. Yes it is funny in a “fucking tragic ” sort of way.

  • I’m super late but I just read this today and I had to comment because it hit so close to home. I could feel my own father’s hands on my shoulders and how awful it feels. A mix of wanting to vomit and to scream and to cry and to run away. I often wonder how it is possible for some to have healthy relationships with their dads. I was recently thinking about how much I didn’t want my dad to walk me down the aisle… but I didn’t feel it would be any easier to deal with questions and judgment from my family (incl. my in laws )… and so I walked with him… *smh*
    Anywho, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. Almost feels like I know you. I think you’re great. *hugs* (virtual ones… no pressure of physical contact 🙂

    • I’m sorry you relate, but I am happy to tell you that you are not alone. Thank you so much for your kind words and I would gladly accept your hug. I’m getting better at that. Haha.

      Thanks for commenting! I am glad you are here.

By Michelle


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