Saturday was his first unsupervised visit since February. We agreed to meet at my oldest daughter’s award ceremony. This was an outdoor event and I was sitting in the very back row with the girls and my family. My X and his father walked up and greeted the children who didn’t react in the way they were “expected to”. The girls were stand-offish. As they stood behind us, my X father-in-law began talking loud enough for us to hear him. He said, “This is the first time (she) hasn’t acted excited to see us. Tina has her so brainwashed – this is ridiculous”. At that point, I turned around and said, “We can all hear you- stop”. He then looked at me and chuckled before saying, “Maybe I will just talk a bit LOUDER”.
I found an interesting article in Psychology Today titled, “The Narcissistic Family Portrait“ and to say that I was intrigued was an understatement. Now that I understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder and what I am dealing with, I want to try and understand the family dynamics of why my X became the person that he is today.
Background: When I first met X in 2000, there was a lot of oceanfront property in Kansas City being offered to me. The sales pitch went something like this: his family was what every family should strive to be like. They were superior in everything and once again, I felt “lucky” to be in their presence. Initially, I was sold on his parent’s marriage. They had been married almost 30 years. They had raised four boys in a beautiful home and everything seemed ideal. When I first met the family, his parents were in the process of accepting positions out of the country so I met his father once or twice before he left the country.
I was told that his father was going to be an attorney but settled for a career in education. My X sounded mixed when describing the situation. This was the same tone with his mother who he thought should have went into the medical field. He often talked about his parents’ IQ levels which were “off the charts” according to my X. Brilliant people who “settled” for being teachers and sacrificed money and power in the process.
I started seeing the signs within a year of dating. My X and his older brother often spoke poorly of their father in terms of money and his failure to follow rules related to paying taxes and remaining current on obligations. His parents would return each summer and other red flags became apparent but were quickly brushed under the rug. We had a belated wedding reception in 2002 and his father became extremely intoxicated and completely inappropriate. At one point, he told my friend that he would be “picturing her in Victoria’s Secret lingerie later that night”. The next day, several of the cousin’s wives were discussing how creepy and inappropriate he was in general. I was thankful that he lived in another country for the majority of the year.
One night, we were at a baby shower and a young, blonde woman asked me to give her contact information to my father-in-law. I had a strange feeling about the situation and mentioned this encounter to my X’s older brother. I was told never to mention her name again in the family– she had been a student of his at the Catholic High School and I was told that there had been “issues”. I was strongly informed that their mother could never catch wind of this and that I needed to forget about the encounter. I did.
The next summer, we all went wine tasting and my father-in-law became intoxicated. He was making sexual remarks to my friend and was completely out of line. On Thanksgiving that same year, he grabbed my step-mother’s butt and shortly after that there was tension in the family due to his trips to Thailand. These trips were family vacations in which my father-in-law would disappear for extended periods of time. Two of the brothers returned and stated that their mother was probably going to leave him and if she did, they would support her 100%. He vanished for many, many hours while everyone was sleeping and when confronted, claimed that he was getting a massage.
My X mother-in-law was aware of his indiscretions and played the role of the good Catholic wife: turn the other cheek. That seemed to be the running motto in the family- there are no problems that the “outside world” is allowed to know about. We handle things behind closed doors- within the family. There was another message in the family which was loud and clear: We are better than everyone — even people within the family. If you are overweight or of a different sexual orientation, you were fair game for being berated when you were out of earshot. If you didn’t live up to your potential in college or in your career, you were not worthy of their respect and would often be the topic of discussion. This was constant. The message: In our family, we put others down because we are superior.
In my opinion, the following are a few of the things that were applicable in my X’s family. These are excerpts from The Narcissistic Family Portrait:
1. “Don’t tell the outside world…pretend everything is fine.”
2. Image: The narcissistic family is all about image. The message is: we are bigger, better, have no problems, and we must put on the face of perfection. Children get the messages: “What would the neighbors think?” “What would the relatives think?” What would our friends think?” These are common fears in the family. “Always put a smile on that pretty little face.”
3. One Parent Narcissistic, The Other Orbits: If one parent is narcissistic, it is common for the other parent to have to revolve around the narcissist to keep the marriage intact. Many times the other parent has redeeming qualities to give to the children, but is tied up meeting the needs of the narcissistic spouse. This often leaves the children’s needs unmet. Who is there for them?
My X father-in-law is the most narcissistic person I’ve ever known and this weekend I was reminded (again) why I am so happy to be free from this family. It also reminded me that they have no regard for my children and will never follow rules– or care about how their actions will affect my daughters. My goal is to teach my daughters how to set personal boundaries and continue to model how healthy people act.