The Chosen Child

A father is abusive to his child. The mother wants to restrict his parenting time. Her attorney asks if the father is abusive to his other son and the mother says he is not. Then, the attorney says, the mother is not likely to win her case because the judge would not accept that the father is abusive to only one son.
Neither the attorney nor the judge understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They do not understand that a narcissistic parent often “chooses” one child. That chosen child, the narcissistic parent believes, “is just like me.” The other children, seen as different from the narcissistic parent, are not special and therefore may be saved from abuse.

Why might the “chosen” child be abused? A narcissist parent identifies with this child. He sees in his son everything he believes himself to be. To him, his young son reflects the public persona that the narcissist believes is his true self. The narcissist then expects this chosen child to behave as the narcissist believes he would behave. The narcissist parent expects his chosen child to do his bidding, the same as he expects his arm to move when he commands it. But the child is an independent person and he may or may not do what his parent expects. This refusal to comply can enrage a narcissist parent who may then physically or emotionally abuse that child. The narcissist parent both adores and despises his chosen child. He adores the fantasy and despises the reality. Their relationship is a cycle of “I love you” and “I hate you.”

This child will grow up doubting himself and his ability to process the world around him. As a young child, he witnesses the public, friends and neighbors, responding to his narcissistic parent‘s charm; accepting his “public” persona as real. But behind closed doors this child is exposed to his narcissist parent’s rage and ridicule. How can this young child understand that his parent has two personalities? If other people think his parent is nice, then he too should believe his parent is nice, and therefore his fear or anger must be wrong.

As this confused young child grows into adolescence, where it is developmentally appropriate for him to begin questioning his parents, the narcissistic parent’s anger grows even stronger. While having been raised not to believe in himself, this adolescent child fights hard to find his own identity. He struggles to separate from the parent who sees him as “just like me.” The “I love you ~ I hate you” cycle becomes weighted towards the anger and hate as the narcissist parents fights to remain in control of both the child and the fantasy. It is then that the chosen child is most at risk for abuse, while the other children, disregarded, remain safe.

The Value of Being Two-Faced

The Urban Dictionary defines “two faced” as a person who acts a certain way in one place but then acts differently in another. Or when someone is nice to you in person but talks trash behind your back. As children we are taught to be genuine and sincere. It makes sense that you cannot have meaningful relationships if you are dishonest about who you are and what you feel. When looking for friends or potential mates, we look for a person who understands or shares our innermost feelings. We look for a connection.

When you divorce, it is highly likely that connection has been broken. Or perhaps it was never there. Some people pretend to be who they are not. They pretend to share your values and feelings when you are dating and marrying, but later, after you’ve been married for a while, they cannot sustain the charade. You begin to see your partner for who he or she really is.

Why do people pretend to be someone they are not? There are many reasons. Perhaps they are insecure and fear they’ll never marry unless they pretend to be someone else. Perhaps they don’t really know who they are. Perhaps they don’t even know they are doing it!

Whatever the reason, when you married that person you thought you shared something with him or her. You accepted the version of themselves they presented to you. You bought into their persona. When you divorce, you divorce the real person. Often, you are angry and want the world to understand that you’ve been duped. You want validation of your truth. But if you and your ex-spouse have children together, you will need to have an ongoing relationship with him or her. At some point you and your ex-spouse will need to resolve issues together. The problem is that if you try communicating with the real person, you have less chance of success. Your anger or your need for validation will seep through your emails and your tone of voice. This will cause your ex-spouse to react angrily because he does not want your truth to be thrown in his face. Like you, your ex-spouse wants validation of his truth. He wants you to continue believing he is the person you married.

If then, you pretend to accept the persona your ex-spouse presents, he is more likely to respond positively. If you act as if you accept his façade, as you did when you dated, he may revert back to that charming persona. It is more comfortable for him to pretend he is still charming rather than have to face your anger and insistence that he is really an ugly person.

There is value in being two-faced. There is value in pretending to be nice to your ex-spouse when you have issues to discuss, even if you despise him. You will have a better chance of success if you act as if you accept the lies he believes about himself. Pretend to discuss the issues with the person you dated, even if in your heart you know are negotiating with the person you divorced.