I am reposting this book review today because it’s relevant to today’s fresh blog content. It was written June 2, 2016, and appears here as/is.
Several years ago, I read a great book by Dr. Karyl McBride called Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. McBride is a very experienced psychotherapist whose mother was a narcissist. Due to her own upbringing and the issues she faced growing up, McBride learned a lot about narcissism and has become an expert on the subject. In 2015, she published another great book, Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family. I just finished the book this morning and I think it’s an excellent tool for men and women who are in the midst of a high-conflict divorce from a narcissist.
As some regular readers of this blog may know, my husband was once married to a woman we believe is a narcissist. She definitely has a high-conflict personality and went out of her way to make things difficult when she and Bill were splitting up. I wish Dr. McBride’s book had been around win Bill and his ex wife were divorcing. Even though reading it might not have changed the outcome in their situation, it would have shed some light on some of the behaviors we observed in Bill’s former wife and the two kids they had together.
Dr. McBride does an outstanding job of explaining what narcissism is. Many people have the misconception that narcissism is about being extremely vain and selfish. It’s true that vanity and selfishness are aspects of narcissism, but narcissistic personality disorder goes way beyond simple self-centeredness. Narcissists lack empathy and crave adulation and attention. They overestimate and exaggerate their abilities while tearing down the people around them. They go to extreme lengths to meet their endless need for narcissistic supply and they hurt good people in the process.
If you are unfortunate enough to be married to a narcissist, you may find yourself losing inches of your life in support of the narcissist. Your hopes and dreams become completely lost as the narcissist’s hopes and dreams become the center of importance. Your health, financial stability, and self-esteem will suffer. If you have children with a narcissist, you may find yourself constantly fighting parental alienation tactics.
One thing I liked about McBride’s book is that she teaches readers some effective communication skills that can be used with children. She explains that children can’t process their emotions the way adults can. They may lash out and say things they don’t really mean. Many parents will retaliate by getting angry and dismissing or discounting their children’s feelings. Children of narcissists are especially at risk. What McBride advocates is using very basic therapeutic skills to communicate with children who are upset or angry.
Here’s an example. If a child is upset that you won’t let him or her sleep over at a friend’s house, he or she might say “I hate you!” Many parents might have a knee jerk reaction to that statement and say something like, “Yeah? Well, I hate you right back!” While that response might feel good and seem justified at the time, it’s not constructive. The situation will only get worse as the child feels like he or she isn’t being heard or respected. There will be mounting frustration and the situation will likely escalate.
Instead of saying, “I hate you right back!” you could say, “I’m sorry. It sounds like you’re very upset. Why don’t we talk about why you’re upset and what we can do to make things better?”
When the child explains why he or she is upset, you could paraphrase what he or she says, making it clear you’re listening. Then the two of you can come up with a solution. Or not… the point is, instead of yelling at the kid and reacting in anger or annoyance, you can express empathy and show respect. Then, the child might eventually learn to behave in the same manner.
All of this may seem unrealistic to some readers. It’s easy for a trained therapist to say that a parent should show empathy and respect. And I’m sure that McBride knows parents are humans who lose their tempers sometimes. The point is, she offers a new way to communicate. Children who have a narcissistic parent have it tougher than other kids do. They have a parent who doesn’t respect them and treats them like a possession rather than a person. Non-narcissistic parents can ease the situation by learning how to communicate respectfully.
I also liked that Dr. McBride reminded readers that they should never badmouth the child’s other parent, even if the child is complaining. Kids complain about their parents, but they don’t want to hear other people complain about them. Like it or not, the other parent most likely shares DNA with the child, so when you criticize the other parent for being a jerk, it can come across as a personal insult to the child. McBride advocates always taking the high road, at least until the child is mature enough to understand other perspectives. And even then, it’s probably best to keep the badmouthing to a minimum.
Now, I write all of this realizing that I badmouth Bill’s ex wife all the time. However, we have no contact with Bill’s kids. I am not their parent and they are both now grown women. Bill is their parent, and he hasn’t actually spent time in person with them since 2004. Sadly, they are both strangers now. But when he was able to see his kids, Bill didn’t trash talk his ex to them. (Edited to add: Bill now speaks to his younger daughter, and she does understand the different perspectives now.)
That brings me to my next point. As many readers may know, sometimes people who divorce someone with a high-conflict personality may end up losing contact with their children. I think this happens especially often with men who marry narcissistic women. I think McBride’s book would have been stronger had she addressed this phenomenon. Also, she doesn’t really explain as much about how to deal with narcissists themselves. Her book was more about protecting children. Unfortunately, if you have joint custody with a narcissist, it may be difficult to employ some of McBride’s strategies. If your narcissistic ex has sole custody, as Bill’s ex did, you probably might as well forget it (and for the record, I think Bill was unwise to allow his ex to have sole custody, but he was naive and trusted her).
I think Karyl McBride’s book is a worthy read for people who are divorcing someone who has a high conflict personality. I’d probably give it 4 stars on a scale of 5.
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