When In Rome: Playing Along With A Narcissistic Parent

I am a motherfucking expert at not making waves.

I didn’t learn it all at once. It took many painful lessons at the hands of my narcissistic parent. He was a dedicated teacher.

When he told grandiose lies, you smiled and nodded. You thanked him for answers that you knew he made up rather than admit he didn’t know the answer. Not adhering to those rules resulted in contempt and cruelty that were breathtaking.

Honestly though, even going along with him wasn’t protection against his wrath, sometimes, he just needed to beat someone up. Lucky for him, he had his kids.

I don’t want to make waves for the sake of getting wet. But I’m tired of not saying what is on my mind. I’m tired of not defending myself. I’m tired of being afraid of the accusation ‘You can’t take a joke’.

If the joke isn’t funny, then I’m not going to laugh. If I’m being insulted, then I will defend myself. I will take a stand against opinions and actions that I find hate filled or damaging or hurtful to myself or others. I will do these things with dignity.


I might have to work on the dignity part. Also the standing up for myself part.

It’s funny, because I’m sure that a lot of people I know, people who know me well, would say that I do stick up for myself. That I’m a ‘take no shit’ kinda girl. They would be right, but only in very specific situations.

It would be great if I could tell you what those specific situations were. I would love to say that when <fill in the blank> happens, then I can take care of myself. The truth is though, I really have no idea what those parameters are.

I only know that too often I find myself swimming in molasses filled with impotent frustration and ineffectual anger. This is a feeling that I’ve carried with me since I was a child. Even when I was very young, I understood how completely ridiculous and unreasonable my father’s words and actions were, but I also understood that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it and the best course of action was to shut the fuck up. Or agree. 

Maybe I’m figuring out something here. Perhaps it’s when I’m faced with a situation that is unreasonable is when I feel that I have no recourse and when I find myself shutting down while fighting against tears of frustration. I hide that shit. I either say nothing or I hide behind a flippant comment, but trust me when I say, what I want to do is scream and cry and DEMAND that the other person stop being ridiculous.

I would like my next step to be this: To be able to calmly and rationally tell a person that I don’t like what they are saying and that I don’t accept it. I would like to ask them to stop and if they don’t, I want to remove myself from the situation with dignity.

The next step would be to let it go. I read something on Facebook today that said either let go or get dragged.

Y’all, I do not let go, I definitely get dragged. I have so much road rash on my psyche that I’m pretty sure there is nothing but bumpy scar tissue left.

How do I convince myself that I’m not making waves?

I didn’t make the waves. The tsunami was already there.


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  • Have you seen “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”? It’s a silly story, but at the end, the father has a “thought translator” attached so he can tell his son what he is really thinking. It is a touching moment in the movie.

    In real life, if that happened, probably all hell would break loose. Because what most of us are thinking is nowhere NEAR the polite facade we show the world.

    I know very few people who don’t just shut up and walk away, because it’s easier. It’s the letting go part that’s hard. Here’s hoping you don’t acquire anymore road rash.

    • Yeah, I’ve had enough with the road rash…

      I have not seen that movie..my youngest is too old..but next time my grandkids are here, I’ll watch it with them. They actually used that on Rescue Me where the main character and his dad would talk and there were subtitles saying what the were REALLY saying..and yes, it was kind of touching.

  • I am the Queen of “Shut the Fuck Up”. I have so many masks I hide behind (who do you want me to be today??) I could do a whole play just by myself. I hear ya on swimming in frustration and shutting down. I can also relate to standing up for myself “at times”. The problem is, I take and take and take but when I finally do lose my shit, I even scare myself at times. I have tried to work on sitting down and having open conversations about feelings and how this affects me, etc. In theory, I have it. In practice, not so much. I am trying though but when under a lot of stress, my default is tuck and roll and shut the fuck up. Put on the mask and don’t let anyone know what you’re thinking or feeling….problem is, I am so good, I don’t even know! Half the battle is the awareness I guess. All a learning process. 🙂

    • Exactly! This is exactly it.

      And I do the same thing. I get to a place where I just lose my shit and I feel VERY out of control. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does..it is a spectacular site to behold.

      • Spectacular indeed. I am getting better about talking about my feelings and having open conversations, but when it’s something that is really emotionally charged and I am frustrated and not feeling heard or have taken abuse I should not have taken in the first place, look out. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often but when it does…Holy. Shit. I think only a handful of people have been on the receiving end of this. Usually at the end of an abusive relationship. I have to admit though, the look of shock and awe on their face is pretty cool. LOL If they are getting the full on freak out, then they have done enough crap to earn it. They are used to me taking it, taking it, taking it. Smile. Shut down. Say nothing. So when it does happen, let’s just say there is complete clarity on my feelings. There is probably a better way to handle that…….like making better choices in relationships and not putting up with crap to start with. I am getting there.

        • Mostly, mine has been with COMPLETE strangers. Strangers who behaved VERY badly. I had one guy jump into his car and lock the door.

          • haha! That is so awesome. I am polite with strangers. My mask goes on big time. Unless they mess with my kid. Then all bets are off.

            I would love to not feel guilty about having feelings, about having an opinion and about verbalizing how I feel without having to manage everyone else’s feelings and reactions. Because you “know” if I make waves and they get upset “it’s my fault”. (As my mother used to point out when she made a mistake and I was in the vicinity breathing “Look what you made me do”).

    • Brenda, I feel exactly the same way — the whole shutting down, putting on the mask, and not really knowing how you feel. I’m also working on it, but it was refreshing to see that I may not be the lone freak I thought I was.

      • Jana, trust me, you are not alone. I had a huge “aha” moments in one of the seminars that I took. I realized I put on masks, depending on who I was with. I have been trained to be whatever everyone wants. Who do you want me to be today? However, I realized that while I had that mask on, not only did no one else know who I was, what I was thinking or what I was feeling, neither did I. I was in my 30s before I could even identify my own feelings. It’s a process but it sounds like you are on a similar journey and we are getting there. 🙂 Nice to know I am not the only one with the collection.

  • Yet another experience/feeling I can completely relate to. I’m learning from a friend the valuable lesson of “I don’t have to accept the premise of your statement,” which helps, too.

  • This is exactly what I was feeling when I wrote Who Are You? I completely understand the feeling. This isn’t something that is easy to do, and I wish I could do it way more often than I do. That’s why I can’t wait until I’m “old and senile” and can get away with anything I fucking want to! haha

    • You know, you don’t have to wait until you’re senile…it DOES get easier..I am getting there..much better than I used to be. I just still have a way to go.

  • This post reminds me of my years being bullied. A lot of times people would tell me I was taking things too personally. They said I couldn’t take a joke. Those things haunt me to this day. Whenever I get offended or angry, I wonder if I’m just taking it too personally. Were they right? Am I just that weak of a person?

    You’re right when you say you need to let go. We both do. You don’t need to rationalize what you feel. You don’t need to try and fit someone else’s reality into your own. You are allowed to feel whatever you want in any situation and you should feel free to express yourself.

    • Yes, and the whole ‘you can’t take a joke’ is fucking B U L L S H I T. That is what bullies fall back on and they can kiss our asses.

  • Dear Michelle,

    My daughter Shannon says it the best:

    “Now would be a good time to go fuck yourself.”

    You only have a certain, finite amount of heartbeats left to tick, here on Earth.
    There is no need to eat shit anymore.
    Say the truth as you feel it, and tell these assholes “How,” and “Where.”

    They can kill you, but they can’t eat you…..

    The Doc

    • I love it.

      Now would be a good time to go fuck yourself. Tell your brilliant daughter that I am stealing this and shall use it often.

  • I can so relate to this. When I was a kid, my father liked to argue about everything (or that’s how it felt) and I got so sick of it that I developed strategies to avoid argument. I kind of studied the conflicts my two older siblings had with him and figured out how to avoid having them myself.
    It worked well enough that my siblings sort of resented me for being able to get away with things that they had had to fight about. Maybe this just goes along with being the youngest child, I don’t really know.
    What I do know is this: Be careful what you get good at. because you might end up doing a lot of it. I got proficient at avoiding argument without thinking that I was also avoiding the communication that goes along with it. Cutting out the conflict doesn’t make underlying problems go away. So when I catch myself wondering why some petty-ass issue has me thinking about homicide again, I have to be honest and admit that it’s because I’ve been avoiding/blowing off/denying/not complaining about it for so long that it really is bothering me now. Again.

    • I get that. I HATE conflict. HATE it.

      That’s why I want to learn to stop avoiding it, or deflecting. My therapist says I am an expert at deflecting. So YAY ME…I’m good at something!!!

  • OK – I’ve been nodding my head so much reading your post and the comments that I have a little headache now. Simply, I agree and I can relate.

    • We humans can be pretty incredible. I can’t begin to explain what it’s meant to me to find kindred spirits. People who get it. I’ve felt lonely a large part of my life and it’s so good to know that there are people out there who understand. Not that I want anyone to suffer through any kind of childhood trauma..but still..it’s good to not be alone.

  • Like Jana, i just kept nodding. I could not begin to count the times my goal has been “don’t make waves.” I have some insight into the circumstances that trigger it now: it happens with people i perceive as being in authority, parental figures, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists. I can tell that i feel that i MUST not make waves. To be safe, i must be quiet, agreeable, the whole ball of wax. But that makes me angry, so later, maybe with other people, it explodes. I’m not happy with this, not in any way. I KNOW that ASSERTIVE (not aggressive, not passive) is the goal. and, rarely, i can do that, if i already feel safe. When the safe feeling goes, it is gone from that person forever. No trust, ever again.
    an interesting distinction: “you have no sense of humor” rarely triggers me. I have confidence that i do have a sense of humor. No doubts. But i freak out when someone ( male or female) turns aside my objections with the phrase “You know you love it.”
    “No i DON’T love it. You are ignoring me, and for some reason you think that you understand my thinking better than i do.” I can go from normal to dangerously enraged in a split second when i hear that phrase.

    Dignity. Yeah, that would be great. Maybe if I can get to honesty, i can eventually aim for dignity, but really, it isn’t even in the telescopic view at this point.

    • Very interesting. it’s funny…I was thinking about triggers. Randy bought me a book on parental narcissism and I had to put it down after about 40 minutes of reading..I was grieving for my past and it was too hard. (I’m sick right now with a double ear infection, so there’s only so much I can take).

      I don’t think hearing ‘you’re not funny’ would bother me, either…the phrase, you know you love it bothers me too! I don’t think it inspires rage, but I don’t like it. What makes me insane is this: Sure you do. Which is kind of the same…but it really pisses me off.

      And nothing can brings waves of shame or guilt than someone suggesting that I’m being selfish or making things ‘all about me’.

  • Dear Michelle,
    This is just the kind of post I needed today! I had spent all day yesterday bursting into tears over the memory of my first love, whom I had been dragged by because I simply couldn’t let go. I’d struggled to understand him, and when I couldn’t, I began blaming and hating myself most mercilessly, until I began to spiral into depression and self-hatred. But this post had so much strength and determination in it, it was really inspiring:) I really, really do hope you can follow exactly what you are thinking here, and stand up for yourself when the time comes!

    • Thank you so much. And I can’t tell you what it means to me when people find a connection or comfort or support here. It gives me strength and I promise you, those are not just words. It truly inspires me and and gives me strength and focus.

      Sometimes we need to cry all day. That is something else I’m learning. I hope today, though, that your tears are dried up and you are smiling and maybe you can start letting go of the self hatred…I really hope you can.

  • I’ve learned so much from this post and the comments. I feel like I now have a name for someone from my past who I never understood. I never could make sense of why he’d lie and everyone would just nod, but if you called him on it, it was SO BAD that you just learned to nod along with everyone else. Wow. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about this.

    I also shut down, and shut down, and shut down, and then blow. It’s partially because I hate conflict and fighting, and partially because I don’t trust myself. I question myself every single time I’m angry, hurt, or upset. Am I really, or is that just the depression? Did they hurt me, or am I just too sensitive? Is he an asshole, or am I just in a mood? Does it really matter? If it is how I feel, then it’s how I feel, and my feelings are no less valid than anyone else’s, even if they are dictated by the moon and random chemicals in my brain.

    I’m so glad I found you in the big internet world, Michelle!

    • I am so glad, too!!!

      I understand every word of your comment. And you are so right…your feelings are valid..completely and totally valid.

  • I have a wonderful husband and usually when I have conflict out in the world I find myself going off about it authentically with him and when he jumps in to support me and suggest something be done to address the conflict (e.g. “I’ll just call and tell them we won’t be joining them this weekend) I start losing my train of thought and second-guessing…. “what if I’m wrong and I’m really just being an unreasonable asshole?” I am so justified privately but the words rarely make it to the surface where they can do some good. That’s the part of the curse I hate most. It’s getting much much MUCH better but the tinge is getting really f-ing old. LOL. As always, I hope that makes sense. 😉

    • It makes perfect sense..I am also fortunate to have a supportive husband..we’re so lucky for that. I’m sure it helps in ways that we don’t even realize.

  • Gah!! This post speaks right to my heart. While my dad isn’t a narcicist, he was sometimes just a cruel ass. Most of the time I adored my dad, but he could be a seriously passive aggressive asshole. For example, my dad probably spanked me a grand total of twice in my entire life. Once for punching my brother in the face (though he TOTALLY deserved it), and once for throwing an ice pack and hitting Dad square in the jaw.

    You see my dad likes to make other people feel like shit to make up for his own insecurities. On this particular evening I happened to walk in the room and see him watching some special about the world’s fattest twins. He pointed to the tv and said, “Look, there’s Liz!” I happened to be holding one of those gel ice packs (completely defrosted) and I let that shit fly straight at his face. Then I ran for dear life. To hear him tell the story, it was frozen solid and I broke his jaw. Neither of those statements are true. It IS 100% true that that statement comparing me to the world’s fattest twins is why I have a weight issue. At the time I was 10 years old and skinny as a rail. After that I became a completely insecure mess.

    It had taken me many years to finally be able to stand up for myself. I have also learned that other people’s shitty comments masking personal insecurity are not my problem, but theirs.

    But sometimes I do wish I had more ice packs to throw.

  • I identify so much with many of your posts. You express the ideas so well, putting my thoughts into words.
    I, too, will go a long way to avoid a conflict. Or would. I hope I am getting better. I think that I am getting better. Still, the very thought of a confrontation will make my heart race and my head swim. Stand up for yourself? You’re a bitch. Don’t stand up for yourself? You’re a wuss. Can’t win, either way.
    Elizabeth’s post reminded me that my dad used to call me Baby Huey. In case no one knows, that’s a very large, very stupid cartoon duck. I was neither large nor stupid, but it felt like he was saying I was.
    Sigh. The scarring that can result from thoughtless words.

    • that’s a horrible thing to say to a child! What a dick.

      Thank you for your support, it really means a lot to me. I know what you mean..I feel like I”m making progress, and then I find myself in a confrontation and all the progress…every single bit of it..slides away and I’m 10 years old again.

  • It is good to know that the “keep quiet and avoid conflict” character trait isn’t just me. I hate conflict with a passion, even if I have a passionate and valid argument against whatever it is that I’m ignoring that is bothering me. “Doormat-itis”, I call it. I, too, wait until something has gone far too long, and then I come unglued and have a complete meltdown that no one ever wants to see again (who’s ever witnessed it–fortunately FEW). Not pretty, or dignified. Like Mommy Dearest on crack. Lots of throwing things and screaming unintelligibly.

    As the newly-minted family Keeper of the Family History…I’m finding that I have to go to other sources for our family’s history, because most, if not all (but who can tell?) of my dad’s family history stories are completely made-up BS, starting with NO, YOU WEREN’T EVEN IN VIETNAM, YOU NUTJOB. (sorry, did I say that out loud?)

    I am also so beyond thankful for my husband, who is my best friend and the calming voice of reason and strength and honesty in my life.

    • Oh man…I feel you. I do.

      I’ve only come unglued a few times, but it was awe inspiring. And it is horrible to feel that out of control. I swear, I feel like I’m edging up to it at my job. I have got to get away from there.

  • I quit hiding behind the mask of silence a few years ago after my marriage started going down the shitter. I gave up trying to please everyone, as it sure as hell wasn’t working anyhow.

    I know how to be polite and civilized when it’s needed – I do work for the state, after all – but I am who I am, and anyone who doesn’t like it can go right back out the door. The people who see and know the real me and choose to stick around and the ones who belong here. Anyone who stays because of an illusion isn’t. Either I’m lying to them, or they’re lying to me, but it isn’t going to work.

    Be proud of who you are, Michelle. You’re worth it.

    • Thank you so much! THis is great.

      I am also good at polite and civilized..and I do try to be authentic. But I still have to work on sticking up for myself and clearly state how I’m feeling.

      Proud of myself? I have a little way to go, but I do catch glimpses of it. I like it.

  • I’m the same and I’ll try the nice way of disagreement at first. I’ll be polite and calm, but if it escalates, I tend to back down. Conflict resolution is difficult for the masses. It’s hard to separate emotion sometimes. But you shouldn’t let yourself get dragged. I loved the way you wrote this post out!

By Michelle


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