The debate rages. Should those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder be told they’re narcissists…or not!?! As Shakespeare put it,
“To tell, or not to tell- that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outraged narcissists
Or to go No Contact against a sea of troubles,
And by ignoring end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end.”
Well, the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon didn’t say exactly that. Hey! Cut me some poetic license here. But the question remains: to tell or not to tell? Here’s how I chose to handle it…and the result.
I stumbled upon narcissism quite by accident. I was actually Googling (yes, that is a verb) “parents brainwash kids.” I like to think it was Divine Intervention that landed me on a website about narcissism.
Reading down the list of NPD attributes, some of them jumped off the page at me. Jealousy! Control! Lack of boundaries! Other attributes I categorically denied. Lack of empathy. Surely not. Pathological lying. Never! Later, I changed my tune.
But discovering narcissism landed me in a pretty kettle of fish. What to do? That was the burning question. Deep in my gut, I was sick-to-death of the continued communication with my family. Even though I’d moved away, we were still “living in each other’s pockets.” I just wanted to live…not live and then report in to them via long, folksy newsy emails. That’s how it felt anyways. On the other hand, I was also sick of their emails and hearing about their pet paranoias, how they supervised each other’s work…and being warned not once, but twice about listeria-ridden cantaloupe.
Sick…to…death…of…it…all. And feeling jolly (false) guilty for being sick of it all!
Discovering narcissism was like discovering fire. The lights went on, bells rang, whistles blew. Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ about. That moment ranks right up there with falling in love for the first time. You never forget it. Discovering narcissism is like hearing a key crreeaaking in the rusty lock of your jail cell in the depths of the Bastille and being blinded by the blast of light, gasping in great lungfuls of fresh air.
But we are then faced with a choice. To tell or not to tell. But there’s a third option. Give them the choice. Use it as a kind-of litmus test. Use the choice they make to confirm or disprove their own narcissism.
Here’s how I did it.
The Litmus Test
I wrote a letter and sent it (gasp!) through the antiquated system of the U.S. Mail. Here’s what it said:
How are you guys? We’re fine.
I’ve decided to set a boundary on this
paradigm of chronic communication between
your family and mine ~
which has become increasingly
disturbing to me.
I know you’re accustomed to a very “sticky”
paradigm of … relationship,
as this was/is how you communication w/
But that is not my way. I am, and always
have been, a very independent woman & have always
resented “check in” so you don’t get “concerned.”
I even find it disrespectful to Michael, myself &
us as adults & a couple.
This decision was informed by the research
I’ve been doing lately on the core dynamic
in my “family of origin.” If you’re
interested I would be happy to share
this info w/ you. BTW, I think you’ll
find it very enlightening about the conflict
you’ve experience with [name] over your
So, I’ve decided to communicate w/ you
guys when I want to do it* ~ not on a
schedule nor when “triggered.” Thank you
for respecting this boundary.
Mrs. Michael Thompson
*Preferably by U.S. Mail
Did you notice it? The litmus test was my offer to share the “core dynamics” (e.g. narcissism) with them. But I left it up to them. How they responded would be the final confirmation (or denial) of my diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Would they fail the test? Would they pass with flying colors? I was on tenterhooks to find out.
Would They? Wouldn’t They?
Like Martin Luther, my letter was my 95 Theses nailed to the Church Door at Wittenberg. I mailed it and then waited. Surely, people so sticky and lovey-dovey that their emails were signed “Tons of love Xoxoxoxopattipatsandgiggles” would respond immediately. They’d desire to know what was wrong so they could make it right. Surely they loved me enough and respect me enough to display enough humility to ask…just ask! Surely their curiosity, if nothing else, would get the better of them. Surely!
How wrong can a girl be!?!
I waited one month, two months. Christmas came and went. Three months. Four months. Finally, after nearly five months, I received a letter. The only reference to my letter of 10/30/2013 was subtle slap across the face. They wrote, “Per your request, I’m communicating by mail, even though this information on [name] may be useless by the time you get it as he is dying.” See that? The ever-so-subtle guilt trip. If I were too late to say “goodbye” (to an abusive man my family was nearly “No Contact” with anyways), it would be my fault for insisting on snail mail. There was no reference to nor curiosity about the “core dynamic.” No pain over missing me. Nothin’. I was shocked.
So I waited. In the meantime, the police appeared at my door to do a Welfare Check on me, referring to me by my hated maiden name.
Two weeks letter, I finally received the reply I’d been waiting for. They blamed their lateness in replying on ill health as always. The universal, milk-it-for-all-it’s-worth, one-size-fits-all excuse they always used to get their way in everything. When you see them using the Stock Excuse on others, it’s an insult to your intelligence when they try to use it on you. But I digress.
The first paragraph of the letter swore off all knowledge of the Welfare Check, clearing their name. (I already knew they’d had nothing to do with it.) But wait…was that the only reason they were finally replying? Hmmmm.
The next paragraph stated that, “the grievances expressed in your October 2013 letter were totally unexpected.” Okaaaaaaay. Got it. That ever-so-subtle shifting of the blame to me for not telling them before. As if I didn’t have a lifetime of being brainwashed, lectured, shamed and gaslighted out of every complaint I’d ever made. Uh-huh
They went on to say, “we never expected nor wished to create a sticky relationship with you. If we gave you that impression or seemed inappropriately concerned about you, we are sorry and apologize.” Clueless. Absolutely clueless! They can’t even see their “stickyness,” the bashing of boundaries, the complete lack of normalcy. They’re apologizing without actually being able to see the failing they’re apologizing for! If they realized the error of their ways, wouldn’t they have caught themselves (and changed) years earlier!? Or is it merely my marriage that now gives my boundaries validity whereas as a single woman I didn’t deserve boundaries!?
They went on to say, “We hope you find it in your hearts to forgive any past mistakes. We can and will do better in the future.”
Did you blink? Did you miss it? Yep! They 100% categorically and wholly ignored my offer to share the “core dynamics” with them.
By that glaring, in-your-face oversight of the crux of my letter, they spectacularly failed the litmus test and simultaneously confirmed their narcissism. I’d been right all along. The truth was too threatening, too scary. Their ego couldn’t risk it.
I deeply felt the “oversight” as a slap right across my face. It was the height of blatant disrespect. I interpreted their “oversight” as if they were saying, “Ha! Like you, Lenora, would know anything we don’t know. Ha! That’ll be the day.” I felt the disrespect to my core, in my bones as a slap to my intelligence, my research skills, my judgment, my honesty, my grip on reality, my very adulthood.
I didn’t respond and remained No Contact. But I also kept waiting. Kept hoping against hope. Seven more months passed and suddenly I received another letter. It was signed by just one person. (No surprise that the Narcissist-In-Chief did not sign it!) Again, it apologized for being “sticky” and, surprisingly, requested to know the core dynamics.