Tony shares questions and answers from his forum for women in relationships with narcissistic or emotionally immature people. The questions deal with narcissistic family systems, whether or not to "confront" or air out the narcissist's drama to the entire family. Two forum members share their "aha" moments, one bringing more clarity (their narcissist having to continually explain that they were a good person vs. simply being a good person). Another brings frustration (having to do with narcissistic projection and control). 

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WUTN 58 Transcript

Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 58 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. And host of the Virtual Couch podcast. And please sign up for the newsletter, go to Sign up for that. I have a lot of things I want to share and I feel like it's going to be best done via the newsletter, but I will say one of those things is the Waking Up to Narcissism Question and Answer premium edition. That is a subscription-based podcast and the trailer is up. So please go find out, I'll put the link to that in the show notes, and that will be a weekly Q and A, and then the proceeds will go to help people who are in emotionally abusive relationships and help them get the help that they need. 

So for today's episode, we are going to go to the Facebook group that I have for women that are in relationships with emotionally immature or narcissistic fill in the blanks, which always sounds like I'm saying that dirty rotten fill in the blank, but it's fill in the blank is it could be a spouse. It could be a parent, it could be a boss. It could be an adult child. It could be a neighbor, a friend, a company, a religious institution. You name it. So one person said that they had their big popcorn moment about a year ago, but sometimes they said, “I still get that late pop,” which I just love that concept. “The other day, my ex and I were texting regarding logistics of kids scheduling. And he states in the conversation, ‘The only reason I was asking that is because I was being nice to you.’” 

And then she said, “It all the sudden dawned to me that no one else had ever said that type of phrase to me. No one else has to tell me that their actions were intended to be nice. They just let their actions speak for themselves. Then it dawned on me even more,” she said, “that I have heard him use this type of phrase to me so much more over the course of the last 15 years and to the kids and to other people. And it was just not a normal thing to do. How did I not see that until just now?” And she said it just blew my mind. And I keep a tab in my notes of talking to people when, and this is just from a curious standpoint, as a therapist, when people say things that they say them, and they assume that this is, this is a normal way that all humans communicate. 

I'll give you another example. This one was pretty recent. Somebody was talking about there, there was a couple session and the person was saying, “He never got back to me.” And then the guy who initially said, “Well, I didn't get your text.” And then she said, “Well, but you then did talk about some of the things that I'd put in the text.” And then you watch him say, well, yeah. No, I may, I got your text, but, you didn't really, I didn't know that you wanted me to get back to you. And then she'd kind of brought some more awareness to something else that was in the text or the literally something that he had gotten back to her on. And then he said, “You know, I just actually had a whole lot going on right then. And it just really wasn't a good time.” And so then I felt like it was as if he looked over at me and said, how did I do? Did that work? And the reality is that isn't the way that we normally communicate as human beings that, “hey, I'm going to throw a bunch of stuff and see if any of these work, how about that?” 

And I hope that both the person who would be speaking and looking at me saying, “Hey, did that work?” And the person that is listening to that conversation will see the significance of why I bring up this example. Because to the person that is listening, and if you are this kind, pathologically kind person that is just saying, “okay, well, I guess he didn't get my texts.” Except for he did. And, maybe, it was not a good time for him. Test your spidey sense? That doesn't really seem like a healthy way to communicate. Because to the other person, I want that person in this scenario, this guy to really sit with that concept, that it isn't a normal way to communicate when your first response is, “Well, I didn't get the text.” And then if she digs in and there's proof that you did get the text, then it just doesn't even dawn on you to stop in that moment and say, why, why didn't I feel that I couldn't say I just didn't respond. Or, I didn't know what to say or I feel like my response was going to sound like an excuse or any of these moments to self confront versus okay, next up, okay, I didn't get the text. It wasn't a good time for me. 

Almost to say that if that one didn't work, he had plenty more coming. Probably had chambered up there, “Well, you don't always respond to my texts,” or, “Okay. What am I supposed to do to sit on my phone all day and wait for you to text?” Because I've heard all of those in my sessions as well, but that isn't a mature adult way to communicate. Because if we go back to that concept of these popcorn moments, I know I talk about them in more dramatic terms. So that concept of the popcorn moment is that the emotionally immature or narcissistic person is going to say things to try to get you to take the bait or they're pushing the buttons. So if you just sit back, and eat your popcorn and watch the show, then you'll see them start to cycle through all the different buttons that normally work. They may start with the, “Man. I am just a big piece of garbage.” and then they can almost subconsciously look over and see if you go. “No, you're not, you're a good person,” but if you just grab a bite of popcorn, watch then the next act might be, “but apparently you think that you have everything figured out.” Because that button's probably worked in the past. And then I say, I don't, I just have another bite. And then the next one might be the sad version of , “oh my gosh, what am I doing? I'm just, I'm going to lose my whole family.” Or, and it can get to be the really scary ones too that have to do with, “I don't even want to live. I hope that a boulder hits me” or these sorts of things. And then if you don't take any of those, the bait or let those buttons work, then you'll typically have the narcissistic exit where it's just the “Fine, you know what? This is a ridiculous conversation anyway, I'm leaving.” And I have more people when they learn to just stay and be present. But it's hard because those buttons are, they usually work. That's why people push those buttons. 

But then they start to recognize, wow. It really is. It doesn't really matter what I say or do, because they are just looking for me to engage so that then they can get out of accountability. So I feel like the mini version of the popcorn moment, and if we call it a hot tamale moment or something, but in those moments, it would be, “I didn't get your text. Oh, that text. No. Yeah, I did. But I don't remember. You didn't really ask me anything. Okay, well, I guess that's fair. I mean, you did ask those things, but it really, it just wasn't a good time for me or, well, you don't always get back to me with your texts. I mean, if we're being honest,” so it's more of this junior version of, we called it junior mint version of the popcorn moments, but I just loved that she had shared that, once she was aware of that, she said that that  just helped so much more. And a couple of the comments that I liked from people commenting about that post, someone said, you know, “Seriously, the things that we see when our minds are more clear and not being controlled anymore.” And I think that is such a good way to put it. 

Someone else said, “When we were at the worst in our relationship, he would say, ‘You know, I'm not a bad person’ or sometimes, ‘You know, neither one of us is a bad person.’” And she said, “I was so baffled because I hadn't ever thought I was a bad person. And later realized he was just validating himself. But it really is telling because why would somebody really need to say that if they were showing up being authentic and emotionally mature and knowing, oh, I I'm not even, I'm not a bad person. We're just trying to learn how to communicate more effectively.” And, and so that can really, it can be an eye opener. 

I want to get to a question that someone had posed, and I really feel like this is where we'll spend the time today. And I got the permission of everybody in the group or the people that had posted about this. So I'm gonna change some of the details just to preserve some of the confidentiality, but this is going to be talking about the narcissistic father. So this person said they need some perspective. And they said, “I'm so emotional that I can't even think straight,” which right out of the gate, I appreciate the vulnerability of this person, because when we are so emotional, we're, our amygdalas are hijacked. Our heart rates are elevated, our cortisol is flowing, and we can't access that prefrontal cortex frontal lobes of the brain. We can't get to our logic because we're just in this anger fight or flight mode. So she said, okay, “So my dad is the narcissist” and she said, “I've been no contact now for a few years. Until my mom's funeral, that was very recent.” And I'm so sorry to hear that. I really am. She said, “My issue is that I get a phone call from one of my siblings because my sibling is freaked out by my dad's girlfriend. And my sibling finally couldn't handle my dad's silence. So my sibling called to rant to me. She said, my dad doesn't want anybody to know that he's been dating someone since just shortly after my mom had passed away. But he is serious enough that he's introduced this person to some of his siblings and word is he's preparing to propose.” So she said, “When I say he doesn't want anybody to know, he doesn't want me or my other siblings to know. He doesn't want the members of his church to know, and he doesn't want my mom's family to know. 

“So he's avoiding calls from all of these people. So she said, now I'm sitting here and I'm just really fed up with the lies and the deceit. And I just feel like I want to let everybody know. Like publish it to the world. I want everybody to know, especially my mom's family, who he really is.” And she said, “I'm guessing that's because I'm so mad because it feels like a betrayal of my mother,” but she said really doesn't her family deserve to know? And she said, “I think I would want to know if it was me, but am I just letting anger lead me to some toxic place?” She said, “I did just find out tonight, so I know that I'm super raw,” and then she just posed to the group, “is this legitimately something that needs to be shared.” So, let's break this thing down. One of the things I think is pretty fascinating, and these are the situations that I would not be aware of unless I was sitting in the chair that I'm sitting, working with, the population that I'm working with. But I can honestly say that within the last year I've had three different situations where the emotionally mature or narcissistic person got married within a month, two months, a very short period of time of the divorce or in this scenario, the passing of a spouse, and I'm, and again, who am I to be that judgemental? The point that I'm going to, well, I'm a therapist that has dealt with this, I remember one time working with somebody that had come to meet with me and they did feel guilty about moving on to a new relationship shortly after their wife had passed, but their wife, the more we broke things down, had been dealing with a terminal illness and had not really been herself for almost four years. And so this person had been reaching out and having a connection with someone for the last six months or a year of her life. And the irony here is that the wife had said, “Hey, I know you can't be alone. So I give you my blessing.”

But then he felt like if he shared that with anybody, then it was gonna make him just sound like a horrible person. So I, again, I know that the situations, every situation is different and this person had just such empathy and they were actually coming into counseling to deal with this. But the situations I'm thinking of just within the last year are, I'm just going to say the narcissistic person, who didn't even tell their children, their adult children, their teenage children, that they were even getting married. In one scenario, the person found out, the person that I, that I'm aware of, found out that their father had gotten married through a social media post of someone else. And so they just said that they just found out that this had happened. And, or another scenario where someone got married and didn't tell, they had several kids and didn't tell them. Which that's the part where that isn't and I'm going to pull the I'm the normal police card, but that isn't a normal way that people act or communicate. And I feel like that's where the emotionally mature narcissistic person does not want to deal with any discomfort or any invalidation and so they have most likely confabulated a narrative or a story that makes their version of that, the right version. That whether, well, I want to spare all of my kids, that could be painful or, well, um, nobody asked me if I was getting married, even though I haven't even introduced them to the person that I'm thinking about marrying. 

So I think it's one of those just interesting things where I only see that admittedly in the emotionally immature narcissistic person, where they can quickly move on and then not tell certain parts of the family because they're still trying to control the narrative, because in my opinion, they don't want to deal with any invalidation or discomfort. So, let me start to work through what I thought were really powerful were the comments that people shared to this person that asked the question. You know, the first person and I just, I love it, just said, “I'm so sorry,” I mean, that's empathy right there. She said, “you have every right to feel the way you do. 

And take a few days or weeks to think on this.” So I love the concept where the first thought is some validation, some empathy, and then saying, yeah, maybe calm that amygdala down a little bit. The next person responded and said, “I was surprised that my ex's family turned a blind eye to all his indiscretions and then decided to cut me off instead.” 

And she said, you know, “Narcissists are very good at telling their victim story and oftentimes have their own set of enablers.” She said, “Just because you share the truth to them or about them doesn't mean that others will see or validate it.” And she says, I'm so sorry for what you're going through. So if we dig into that answer alone, which is so good, is that is where we start talking about the concepts around a narcissistic family system. So if the family system is more emotionally mature or narcissistic, then what ends up happening is let's just say in this scenario, the family doesn't want to think that someone in our family could do something like not tell their adult children or get married to someone so soon. So they're doing a whole family confabulated narrative of, well, what was he supposed to do? 

Or, I'm sure his kids would not have approved. And he doesn't need to go to his kids and get validation. So they're creating a narrative, which is an unhealthy relationship because now we're triangulating, we're isolating. We're not being honest with our family because most likely there's been a pattern of that that has led up to this situation. And I appreciate her saying just because you share the truth of them doesn't mean others will see or validate it. And I think that is one of the most difficult things that people are dealing with, especially. When they are getting ready to end a relationship with an emotionally immature person. I have a couple of men right now that are in situations where they are looking at divorcing. And one of the things that comes up so often is the narrative that is going to be put out there that if in this scenario where the female is the narcissist or the emotionally mature person, that they are going to now spread the word that the husband was such a bad person. And he left me and I didn't want this. And so the husband at times will just be so just frozen by the narrative that's going to get out there. 

That then it can cause him to start to feel like, “okay man, maybe I am the jerk.” You know, “what, what is wrong with me?” One of, I think a difficult thing is just knowing that as you come to realize what is best for you or what's best for you and your children, and need to do the thing that it might be a difficult thing to know that unfortunately, you still can't control the narrative and what someone else is going to say about why things happen the way that they did, the next comment I think is a, is a insightful one as well. The person said, “We've learned that narcissists can't be alone.” And I think, in this scenario, we're talking about the narcissist that we really go back to that whole childhood wounding and trauma, so they have no sense of self. And require external validation for their sense of self, which then also comes with a dose of no empathy or low empathy. Then they have to have someone in essence around them at all times for them to either take that one up position on or to go victim on and in order to understand how or who they are. And so they don't really have, again, that, that internal sense of self. 

So she said, “We've all learned that narcissists can't be alone.” She said, “I think your mom's family will see his true colors over time. And you can be there to verify,” but she said, “I think your emotions are just super raw right now and you're hurt and you're angry.” She said, “Remind yourself, he isn't doing this to hurt anyone. He just doesn't care. He's doing this for his own selfish wellbeing. Don't give them the gift of your anger about the situation, or it will only make him happier. And you more hurt.” And I just, I think there's so much wisdom in that answer. That it can't be you, you, aren't going to be able to say, hey, everybody look at this, look what he's doing. Because it's going to make it sound like you are the one that's trying to be mean or make this person look bad. But if you just start to live more of a life of integrity and honesty, and not feeling like you have to convince others that you are in the right. If you know that you are in the right. Then you just do and you be, and you become, and people start to recognize that and those true colors do come out over time. 

It's interesting if we look at that line, which I think people, if they have not been in this situation, they may think that, how does that make sense? But it's the, when she says, “Remind yourself, he isn't doing this to hurt anyone. He just doesn't care.” And that can sound really difficult, but it's not about hurting the other person. It's about needing that narcissistic supply. He is doing that for his own selfish wellbeing. And I love her phrase where she says, don't give him the gift of your anger about the situation because it will only make him happier and you hurt more. 

And that will, that's where people then burn a lot of emotional calories and spend a lot of energy, trying to figure out the best way to navigate a situation with an emotionally mature narcissistic person. And that is giving them far too much of your time. It really is. Another person said, “Most men, whether they are a narcissist or not, struggle being alone.” She said, “Outside of the fact that he's a narcissist and he's been hiding this,” she said, “I might take some time to think about why it is affecting you so much.” And then she shared a story of her own mother being single for over three decades after her dad passed away. She said, “When I was younger, I didn't want her to get remarried because I didn't want a new dad.” And she said, “Now that she's in her seventies, I really do wish that she had a companion.” And this really is one of the things that I love about this group is that they are offering a variety of insights based on people's own experiences. 

So in that scenario, I love that she's saying that. Okay. Yeah, it does stink and it doesn't seem healthy or the right thing to do. But every opportunity is an opportunity now for self confrontation. So is it something that just makes me mad? Is it something I have any control of, or is it just something that I need to let go? And then someone else said this and I love, I love her passion, this answer. She said, “I want you to hear me when I say this, this situation is so hard,” She said, “so many of us know. And when the information comes unsolicited from you,” she's talking about, I just want to shout, you know, shout from the rooftops that my dad's a horrible person. She said, when that information comes unsolicited from you, “it will inevitably make you look bad. Like you are the one stirring the pot or creating drama that you're the problem. And you will become the target or the scapegoat.” She's saying, “I'm not saying lie for him. If somebody were to ask or if it were to come up in conversation with other family members, confirm what, you know. But don't be the one to announce it in the world. Narcissists can't be alone. They need a supply. So it makes sense that he moved on so quickly.” And this person is so true and that is called the discard. She said, “Remember, you're no contact for a reason, not your circus, not your monkeys.” I love that phrase. “Keep your side of the street clean and you won't look like the crazy one.” She said, “Believe me when I say that this is the most frustrating and hardest thing that I was ever told to do. And when his world started to unravel, because others were starting to wake up,” she said, “I was able to witness from a distance which was the best satisfaction of all.” And I just loved this thread. And that is also hard to say, because I hate the fact that the person is posting this, but I just feel like it shows the power of people that are learning how to interact with the emotionally immature or narcissistic people in their lives and just the power that can come within a group. 

And I want to share one more from the group today because I just feel this pattern is emerging of the way that the emotionally immature people communicate with others. That is not, and I'll throw out the word again, normal. Actually, let me play this one backwards. So here is an emotionally mature conversation. Let's pretend that my wife is going out to do something and it's when we had younger kids. And then I'm in charge of the nighttime routine. The healthy response or the healthy question for me to ask would be, hey, honey, what time are you gonna be home? And then she may say, I don't know, about 10. And if I know that the kids are normally down by 8:30, then. I know that that is my responsibility. And then I say, okay, have a great time. I'll see you when you get home. Period. And then I am going to take care of the kids. What a wonderful opportunity for a dad to be able to spend that one-on-one time with his kids and the nightly routine and being able to support his wife because no doubt, there are plenty of times where I would go out or I would be late, or I would be out of town for work. And she was going through the nighttime routine on her own over and over again. So there's a normal, healthy interaction. Now let's go to the way that this was presented in the group. 

The person said, “I just had an aha moment about an issue that has been a huge one, our entire relationship. And it goes something like this.” She said, “I'll be planning to do something like anything, go to the store, go out with friends. Anything.” She said, “Literally go anywhere and my husband will throw out the worst case scenario. Okay, so you'll be home really late and you won't be able to help me with the kids.” So she said, I get annoyed that he's already decided what I'm doing. And immediately, I jump into defense and I say, come on. It's not going to be like that. And now he's got me saying, okay, well then I guess you'll tell me that you won't be home late.” And she said, “Without even telling you're asking me not to be home late when my plans, then if they even go slightly off what I've said, now I'm held to the decision that he made when he made me say that I would be home much earlier.” And she just said, “Does anybody else get into these twisted situations,” 

And she said, “where, what would that be like if he just said, hey, what time will you be home? And then I can respond with somewhere between X and Y.” She said, “Like I know in my head that we could already have had a normal conversation.” And then, there were so many comments that were so supportive. People just saying this would literally happen all the time. And, one person said that her husband had a job where he was out most evenings. And so then when he would be home, she would try to go out and do something with her friends. And it was then continually about, well, what time and how late? And I guess now I'm, I'm in charge of everything. Someone else said, “I think we've had that exact conversation.” 

And she said, “I think the key is jumping to the defense,” she said, “which is so easy in the moment. And she said, I've started just setting a boundary and saying, well, I didn't say that, which then will also turn into the, no, I didn't mean that. And I love the point that she made, where she said, they're just looking for conflict. And that is the truth in that button pushing, and let me try to just, I'm going to go on a little bit of a, just a train of thought here and talk about why does the emotionally mature narcissistic person push buttons to begin with? And here's just that scenario where it, when it wasn't modeled in childhood or when people just weren't allowed to do and be, that everything had to have an angle or everything. There was this, almost this social capital or currency in every transaction. So that, well, what are you going to do for me or, okay I need to make you feel bad so I can keep this in my back pocket and pull it out when I need something. So everything becomes this tit for tat or this, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, kind of a mentality. But what the emotionally immature narcissistic person doesn't realize is that isn't reciprocity. They're just trying to make sure that they will get their way. 

So when the activity or the event benefits them, they're not keeping track saying, oh man, my spouse is an amazing human being. And now I owe them. I owe them the same respect if they want to do something. No, they go and do when they want to do, because that's what they want to do. But then when it's time that you want to do something, now here's an opportunity to make you feel bad or guilty. So that now they can have this, you know, again, this currency, this emotional currency to then use against you. To then make themselves feel even better when they want to do whatever they want to do, and then make you feel worse when you want to do what you want to do because that's impacting them. Because then all of a sudden, now they are being asked to take ownership or responsibility for something and it can be anything. I mean. You know, a dad can actually enjoy bath time with his kids, but it's the concept that will, where now I have to do that. Instead of looking at that as an opportunity that they have to connect with their children. So that question, it just leads to so many other, other thoughts or concepts around why the narcissist wants conflict. And it's because if you go to the very depths of attachment and attachment issues with the emotionally mature narcissistic person, this is where they weren't, they did not have a secure attachment with their parent. So it really did matter what they did or who they were, how they showed up in order to get their needs met. And so, this is that, it's that concept where a kid will do anything to know that they exist or that they matter, now matter doesn't mean that they are cared about, but matter means to know that they exist. So as a child, that constant conflict, whether they were doing something that they're, then they're emotionally immature narcissistic parent then said, hey, nice job champ. Yeah, you remind me so much of myself. Or, I notice how good you are doing whatever this, whatever it is you're doing. And that must be because I have taught you that. Or there's that conflict of the parents saying that, I see what you're doing there, and I was so much better than you at that when I was your age. But it's always, there's always a transaction happening. There's always a one up or one down position happening. So by the time this emotionally immature narcissistic person hits adulthood in their, in their relationships, that's just again, the air that they breathe. And so that can just be very, very difficult when everything does start to seem like what's the angle or why can't we just have a normal conversation or a normal night? Or why can't we just do things because we want to do them and it doesn't have to be, well, you did this and I did this and you never do this. 

But that is the relationship. That's how that relationship evolves with an emotionally mature narcissistic person. So when you, then again, start to pull back, or disengage or not play into that, there's always an angle narrative. And you just start to go and do, and like this person said in the group, where they just said the key is not trying not to jump into the defensive mode, which is so easy in that moment. It's our reaction that we do. So when we can just know that it's okay for me to go out and it's okay for you to take care of your kids, because that's what we do as parents. That's why we have, when we have kids where we're signing up for that. Then I don't have to defend myself and I can come home when I'm going to come home. And I can let you know that. And then if that is something that then you will try to use against me, well then bless your heart. I mean, that's a you problem because we're too adult human beings and we're interacting in a relationship and we both have responsibility for these kids. And so we need to start changing the dynamic that the kids then are not the pawns to be used. To then have this, I don't know this emotional currency that can be used against each other. 

So, we'll end things there today, but if you have additional questions, comments, if there's anything that this episode brought up for you, feel free to shoot that over through my website at And if you are looking to become part of my women's Facebook group, or if you're a guy who is in a relationship with an emotionally immature and narcissistic female, please reach out. Or if you are the person that is starting to say, hang on a minute. I do a lot of these things. I mean, and, you know, I can wrap my head around the concepts around emotional immaturity, and maybe I need some help starting to become more emotionally mature. Then I would love to hear from you too. And I just, again I appreciate all the support and we'll see you next time on Waking Up to Narcissism

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