Exposing the Narcissistic Parent

By Dr. Perry, PhD


“Having a narcissistic parent is like living life as a human doormat.” ~ Anonymous

Children come into the world much like new-born ducklings ready to imprint on their caretakers. They are innocent blank slates waiting to learn the ways of the world. Like a bud on the vine, with proper care, children blossom and grow to be mentally and physically healthy adults. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose our parents. While some of us end up with loving and nurturing parents, others will end up born to individuals who are incapable of loving and properly taking care of a child. It is estimated that up to 6 percent of the US population has narcissistic personality disorder and many of these individuals are parents.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a cluster B personality disorder recognized by the DSM-5 and is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration and a lack of empathy. The narcissistic parent projects an idealized version of themselves to the outside world. They are the perfect father or mother. They are forever doting on their child and basking in the glow of their achievements. Behind closed doors the facade implodes, revealing a parent or parents who subject their child to unreasonable demands. The household is one that is full of emotional and physical landmines. It is far from a normal childhood.

The relationship we have with our parents is one of most important bonds we will ever have. As children, we look to our parents for unconditional love, support and guidance. The parent-child bond should provide a rock solid foundation for the child. A springboard into morphing into a happy and healthy adult. Children of narcissistic parents often grow up feeling like there is something wrong with them. They may also feel unwanted and unloveable. Instead of  a rock solid foundation, the narcissists provide an unstable foundation, like one built on a stack of toothpicks.

To a narcissist, having a child is like hitting the lottery. The narcissist needs constant praise and approval in order to keep their inflated sense of self at full capacity. As a parent, they are guaranteed the ultimate narcissistic supply. Like a giant multi-limbed monster Octopus holding on to its prey, the narcissistic parent uses many ploys to feed off and control their children. The child is denied, even as an adult, a sense of independent self-hood. The off spring exists merely to serve the selfish needs of the parent. Without a steady supply of praise, the narcissist’s grandiose sense of self will begin to wilt much, like a balloon losing air. They must have a steady source of narcissistic supply in order not to crash to the ground.

As children, we are unaware that our parents are different from other moms and dads. It is only as we get older that we start to realize that we are locked in a co-dependent dance with a narcissistic parent or parents. Awareness is the first positive step to take towards recovery from this pattern of narcissistic abuse.

The following is a list of some traits narcissistic parents exhibit.

1. Narcissistic supply
The narcissistic parent relies heavily on the child for narcissistic supply. They require more than love from the child. They want to be adored, worshipped and have an insatiable need to be the center of the universe. The narcissist requires an excessive amount of admiration. They see the child as a mirror of themselves and will use their child’s accomplishments to enhance their own fragile egos and feel better about themselves. Spending time with their children is a way to show others what a great parent they are or how much better their child is compared to the child of someone else.

2. Controlling
The narcissistic parent will use any tactic available to control their child. They will use guilt, shame, feign sickness and even money to control all aspects of their child’s life. They fear their child becoming independent and no longer needing them.

3. Puts down child in order to feel superior
The narcissist believes he or she is superior to all others. They feel they are special and in order to confirm this they will put down their child mercilessly. They may provoke the child, gaining satisfaction by making them cry. They are essentially bullying their child to feel better about themselves. Often, they will disguise their cruel words in backhanded compliments. Criticism may be disguised as concern.

4. Treats child as an object
To the narcissist, the child does not exist as a separate human being. They are seen as a piece of furniture. If they are able to use them in some way, only then do they have value.

5. Superficiality
They are unable to be truly close to their child. There are no mother-daughter or father-son moments. The narcissist is unable to connect on a human level. The child is merely a pawn used to gain praise or admiration for themselves. Like a prized show dog, their child’s accomplishments are only important because they reflect back to them.

6. Manipulation
The parent will use manipulation in order to control the child. They are interpersonally exploitative and will take advantage of the child at every opportunity. They will withhold affection and use the silent treatment in order to get what they want. They will use illness and any ache or pain to gain the child’s attention.

7. Lack of empathy
The narcissistic parent has zero empathy for their child. They are unable to recognize that their child has independent desires, needs and experiences. They are so self-absorbed and expect their child to have no independent identity. The child exists solely to benefit the parent.

8. Dependency/Co-dependency
The narcissist lacks the empathy and the know how to raise a child and will create a bond with their child that is co-dependent. In the narcissistic household, the child has no privacy. There are no boundaries that will not be crossed. Their whole existence is to serve the parent. Any attempt at independence will be met by punishment. For example, you may be told: “If you are old enough to date then you are old enough to pay for your own food.”

9. Jealousy
The narcissistic parent is envious and threatened by their child’s independence. They begrudge their successes and achievements. They devalue anything their child may accomplish and will often compete with their children. If the child is getting any attention then they are not getting enough.

10. Gas lighting
The parent will make child feel sick, crazy or selfish. They will attempt to alter the child’s perception of reality. For example, they may make a cruel remark only to later claim they did not say anything.

11. Parentification
A) Narcissistic Parentification
The child is forced to take the parents idealized projection and constantly strive for perfection. The child is not allowed to have a normal childhood.

B) Instrumental Parentification
The child is expected to take on physical tasks for the family such as paying bills, looking after a sick relative and taking on role of parent to younger siblings.

C) Emotional Parentification
The parent makes the child his or her confidant. Slowly, the child becomes completely responsible for them. The parent will constantly complain about being sick and use any tactic to convince the child not to leave. This may lead to the child growing up to be the parent’s caretaker for life.

12. Infantilization
The parent makes the child feel like they cannot do anything on their own. They foster a dependency so they will never be left alone. The child is crippled and unable to make decisions without aid from the parent. The parent will continue calling the child by childhood nicknames in order to put them in their place

13. Triangulation
The narcissist is a master at manipulation. Triangulation is the use of a third person or group to belittle or abuse an individual. In the case of a narcissistic parent, they may pit one child against another. They may also label one child the golden child and the other the scapegoat of the family. The narcissistic parent may go as far as pitting the other parent against their own child. When the child does something good it will be ignored or countered with something the preferred sibling did better.

This article is not meant to diagnose or to be a guide for self-diagnosis. The sole purpose of this article is strictly for educational purposes. If this sounds like you or someone you know please seek the help of a mental health professional.

I hope this was helpful. If you are in need of further support please click here.

Kindly,
Dr. Perry


www.MakeItUltraPsychology.com
“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues and narcissistic abuse.”
Verified by Psychology Today
Office in Sherman Oaks, CA


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100 responses to Exposing the Narcissistic Parent

  1. Wow Eric! This is amazing. You really get this. This is the most extensive list I have seen. You are the only person I have come across, who really gets down to the nuts and bolts of how the dynamic works.

    Liked by 11 people

  2. Wow, you’ve just described a whole nation. where I come from most of the people I know has suffered and still suffering from those kinds of parents, it’s hard to tell them they are narcissistic parents as they think it’s their right and they are obliged to act this way by culture issues or maybe religion beliefs 🤐🤐

    Liked by 9 people

    • My mother’s birth country is the exact same. And if you try to break away, they will collectively hang up on you to shame you into compliance. Run to church on Sunday, stab those close to you in the back by Monday. I’ve never seen a bigger collection of misogynists, racists, and anti-Semites in my life. Yet, if you wrong them, you’ll bring upon you the wrath of God.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this 😊👏🏼👏🏼. My mom’s mom is a (nonviolent) sociopath and narcissist; she has been all her life. My mom, though, did not identify those issues until much later, and when she did, it brought her immense relief, to finally know what’s going on, to know that my mom herself wasn’t the one in the wrong, and to finally gain clarity ❤️ I will email her the link to this post, just to further vindicate her! 😊

    Liked by 12 people

  4. farrukh says:

    This is so so true. After thirty six years of blaming myself for being not good enough and month and months of therapy i finally was able to break of contact with narcissistic parents. I am so much better now but i can still sometimes feel there claws in me. Thanks for putting up this post. It helps to read such things.

    Liked by 9 people

  5. This is fantastic. What a wonderful resource for anyone who is in the healing process. Once this kind of awareness is achieved – healing, growth and expansion will begin to take place. Rather than drudgery, pain and confusion, life becomes a play of form. Beautifully done and thank you.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. TJ McCarthy says:

    Very true and accurate description! The most difficult piece though may be the recognition that narcissistic parents were often deprived of good-enough parenting themselves, often through loss or through abuse/neglect. But children cannot possibly compensate for this. Trauma begets traumatized children. Narcissism, too. When extended networks of familial supports break down, as they have in recent generations, along with generations now raised in endless war and by wounded warriors, with massive social denial of the emotional cost of war to all of us, such profoundly dysfunctional parenting has become epidemic and inevitable.

    Liked by 7 people

  7. Erica says:

    Wow. I so relate, as a child of narcissistic parent. I’m so glad that you are so aware of the toll as a mental health practitioner.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. terreblogger says:

    Thank you for a most excellent article! Unfortunately, it can take years for a person to work through many emotional situations before realizing that the problem is not them. This information hopefully will bring awareness to something that most people cannot imagine and those who experience it don’t usually talk about. Thank you for your article.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. terreblogger says:

    Eric, I re-blogged your post, but do you know how I can delete it on the WordPress Discover site, so that it doesn’t show in my feed, but first as yours. Do you know how to do this? Also, is there a way I can message you privately? Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. LynDurante says:

    Wow, I didn’t know about these things. Thank you for all these insightful information, Eric. As a parent myself, I know how parenthood can be challenging most of the time. But I always tell myself that it is a privilege to raise children. Especially in helping them develop their fullest potential.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. libster61 says:

    Wow, definitely something to ponder..I’ve always thought we have to have education before we drive a car, but anyone can become a parent..not always a good thing! Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Ting-Ting Writes says:

    👍 very helpful and informative. I’m glad I get to read this before I become a parent. I hope all parents get to read this. 😊

    Liked by 4 people

  13. I see now I was raised by two narcissistic parents. I always knew my father was but this article actually dropped my jaw open as I read line after line that more described my mother….the “one who’s been so victimized and mistreated” by everyone. I never realized how much of a role she played in my life. My parents abused me. My mother allowed it to happen. I’m confident she knew and did nothing to help or protect me. This was so insightful. Thank you for publishing this. Wow.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. You touched the point that hurts the most – my mum. I’m pretty sure I can diagnose her with this… Thank you! I definitely feel less guilty about distancing myself from her now. I needed some breathing space from her overbearing control, and it wasn’t very pretty, but I surely feel a lot happier!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Raised by narcissistic parents that lead to marrying a narcissistic man. The last year or so has been so enlightening with articles like yours, making me finally realize that it wasn’t me, or what I was doing or not doing. I was nodding my head at almost every point you listed, either connecting it to one of my parents or my ex. The ways in which they use their children for their own purpose, and sense of self gratification, is disturbing and sad. I am just sorry that it took me fifty years to finally realize it enough to break away and stand my ground, for myself and my children. But hopefully, I’ve given my children the opportunity to learn how to redefine their boundaries and appreciate themselves, now and in their future emotional growth, without feeling inadequate or unlovable based upon the opinions of a narcissistic parent.

    Liked by 6 people

  16. This is quite an eye-opening article. Although I’ve known about narcissistic behaviour it never occurred to me that my own mother has been exhibiting it. She died 7 years ago and we never were that close since she CV decided to live and work abroad when I was 10. Recently I realised I’ve absolutely no memories from the time before she left – no birthdays or family holidays, etc. I think I better understand now why. Thanks 💙

    Liked by 3 people

  17. This hit Home in many ways and I can relate to being exposed to many of the points listed. It’s a match on many levels but not all and I’m not sure if in my case i would place my mother in this category. She has many of these tendencies but in the end it might have been a lonely life filled with the pain of losing my dad that made her incapable of showing her love for me. Therefore my foundation crumbled and I had to learn to tend to myself at an early age. I was provided for at the age of ten but the emotional bond and connection was missing and this is what I really needed.
    Thank you for putting so much time and effort into this post and into helping people. Beautifully written as always.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Rosa Fors says:

    My mom is a narcissistic parent. Reading this she had most of all the traits, and its calming to know that there is someone who understands my abusive childhood.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I’m pretty sure that both of my parents are narcissistic. I’ve known that my dad is for a long time. Only recently did I realize that my mom is too. I’m really not sure how I survived.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. My mother was a narcissist parent, but wasn’t as bad as some others. I didn’t provide her with adoration, though she got that from her students and strangers. She was controlling & emotionally manipulative, using guilt to control me & my older siblings. She triangulated between me & my older siblings. She put me down & hindered me from being independent. The more I tried to be an independent adult, the more she punished me for it with her put-downs. She used me to get money from my father. She called first my sister, then me crazy. She put down anything I was interested in. She didn’t praise me or my siblings directly, but loved to tell other people that my sister was pretty and independent, while I was smart and “no trouble”. She also used my sister’s death by cancer as a way to make up a story of how she “looked after her”, when in reality she said hurtful things to her and wasn’t even allowed in her hospital room at times.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Simply Me says:

    Absolutely powerful. If we all would have known, if my mother would’ve known. I’m glad that I have found my way through healing. Yet, I pray that I do not do this to my own children. My mother was not entirely this way, but she had her times when I just wanted to disappear. Wrote a piece on my very painful experiences, and my love/hate relationship. I feel that these dysfunctional behaviors can be inherited and passed down. A never ending cycle of hurt. This is a powerful piece that brings self-awareness; at least to myself as a parent. Eye opening; thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. A most interesting article Eric which I can relate to but at a very different time in my life. At 68 my husband and I brought my then 96 year old mother to live with us. It worked pretty well for about a year but now, well, she is a rather unpleasant, selfish and vain old women who continually tries to rule my life and drive a wedge between my husband and myself. She can be quite subtle at times and appears to others to be a sweet old lady. To us she changes between being pleasant one moment and rude and demanding the next. She is not senile, just old and your article in many ways is so true but I am experiencing this behaviour as a senior citizen.

    Liked by 3 people

    • miracarroll says:

      Thank you for sharing about your mother. Yes, ditto on the article. Thank you, Dr. Perry!

      My mother is 92, and I’ve been healing from a very tumultuous relationship with her since I left home more than 40 years ago. She CERTAINLY has narcissistic personality traits–not all of these, and generally subtle. In recent years I’ve come to believe that in her case it was untreated childhood traumas that shaped her negative viewpoint and literally left her stuck in an anxious, reactive brain loop very similar to PTSS. I believe this froze her emotional maturation in the same way that drug and alcohol abuse prevents people from maturing–until the abuse is stopped. Emotionally she’s in the range of 6-8 years old, which I feel accounts for her narcissism. Her “drug of choice” is control. HIGHLY intelligent, she seems convinced that her perceptions are always spot on and any problems are others’ problems. She sees attack in any disagreement with what she’s already decided is true, thus she’s nearly impossible to talk with. I hope I am conveying how difficult it is to get along with her. 😉

      I managed that pretty well–getting along–for the past 25 years or so through the careful exercise of boundaries. This got progressively more difficult as she got older because her needs are that much greater. She had insisted on living alone in her own home despite the collective advice of a family that loves her (anyway) that she needed to embrace a group situation for her own safety. Problem is, she has a lot of trouble getting along with others she can’t control.

      All of this is now playing out in front of my eyes since she fell about a month ago and broke her hip. Although her bones are healing, her first two weeks in assisted living have been nightmarish for me to behold. I sympathize with how difficult it is to be old, injured and no longer in control of many details of day-to-day existence, but she is making the situation so much worse with her distorted view. She began threatening to leave within a few days of arriving. I’m not sure she won’t get kicked out before she can leave. She is a master of constructing “impossible” situations.

      My point is you are not alone. I can’t imagine bringing my mother into my home, which “coincidentally” literally has no room for her. None of my siblings can imagine taking her in either. We won’t abandon her, but we’ve all come up with that boundary through our personal experiences with her. We’re all being triggered again as well.

      I feel the window in which she MIGHT have benefited from therapy has long been closed. Being a spiritual person, I find myself praying for her release from her torment. I pray also for the strength and guidance to deal with her in the most effective way possible. Then I just do the best I can to support her, which is far from perfect. Today I yelled at her. Rest assured I was provoked.

      It is clear what a toll this kind of interaction takes on my self-esteem and peace of mind. I am once again struggling to take care of myself as I meet the responsibilities I am choosing. I know that it’s possible. I know that I’m up to it as long as I limit my interactions with her. I’m being called to be more mindful and learn more about grace under fire. Sharing here with you is part of processing it, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I probably sound narcissistic as well. . . .

      Sending you peace, love, light, strength, protection, comfort and healing as you walk the path with your mother.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Klea says:

    Another awesome article Dr. Perry. I hope you don’t mind but I have again shared this to my own blog. Your words explain things that I never could and if your words reach someone via my blog and they then come to you, I will be one happy Vegemite 🙂 … Keep them coming please, they help me also xxx …

    Liked by 2 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Klea, thank you for the kind words! I am so happy they help. Have a wonderful day ✨

      Liked by 2 people

  24. K. Wilcox says:

    This is amazing. I just made my first blog post yesterday and it was on the very subject of healing from having a mother like this. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 3 people

  25. A family very close to us fits the description here to the letter. A couple of the older kids are in therapy. Recognizing this personality in parents gives children a chance to live a normal life – but they have to make tough decisions to make that happen. Very well done article.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. My husband fits this profile perfectly. I do have a question though if you would indulge me for a moment. I’ve heard that when people read this list of traits and they feel like some of these traits maybe things they are doing themselves then they can’t be narcissistic? Is that correct? Does it make sense because they would be aware of their behavior? I guess basically what I am asking is this…is a narcissist ever conscious of their behavior and how it effects others? Can a narcissist ever change and become non-narcissistic with proper support and counseling?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Hello! I am Dr. Perry’s assistant and blog moderator, Isabel. I am very sorry but for ethical and liability reasons Dr. Perry cannot answer individual questions on his blog. Please feel free to fill out the initial consultation form if you are interested in working with him individually. He offers reduced rates to the blogging community. Kind regards, Isabel

    Liked by 2 people

    • I, too, am using a blog to at least partly work out the final healing on my relationship with my mother, “badpersonsteve” (gosh, that handle says a lot!). I wonder how many of us bloggers are working through old anguish as we both write and read posts such as this, which help make sense of our pain.

      Liked by 3 people

  28. Diana says:

    Ok. I guess I’m not so alone now, after viewing all the comments of people who have been a part of a Narcissists life. 🙂

    Grew up with a Narcisisistic parent…she still is. She has a Jekyl & Hyde personality. Never know what your going to get on any given day. Many broken promises, and denial of things she promised, or even said. Takes credit for things I did. Remembers memories completely different then how they happened, always viewed in the way that she was the bright shining light, when in reality, she was the dark prism of torture.

    It has and still is, a evidentless existence of a relationship. The psycholigical & emotional games she plays. Unable to be witnessed by many. Hard for me to keep track of, or for others to understand it’s stinging impact.

    Me being the feisty, genuine person I am, I have confronted her, head on, about her behavior. She has made some changes, and it has improved our relationship to some degree. But beware, I must, for the darkness will show its evil intentions at any given moment, when I am most trusting of her changes. It never really dies, the narcissist.

    But she is my mother. I quietly endure, look for others for support, that are understanding. For she is not here for much longer, and I hope to have the best of her before she leaves this planet. For she is my mother, and I have only one of those. I want her to know ‘love’ from me, or at least for me to be able to genuinely express it to her.

    As a true Narcissist, she can never truly grasp love, she only does what a Narcissist does. Strangles it with her manipulative ways. Mommie Dearest, is another nick name I remind myself, of who she really is. That I keep quielty to myself. For, I remind myself, I only want to express and give love to her, while she is here.

    It has left many scars, many wounds, that are forever being opened. I do best I can to endure and deal with it all.

    I am sure, when she is gone, I will have plenty of pain and loss to deal with, and plenty of time to deal with it. Till then, I want to do all I can to give ‘love’, and know our relationship as ‘love’.

    Liked by 4 people

  29. George Wahl says:

    Interesting experience to forgive and express hope for forgiveness to narc in-laws. I saw them so seldom, but instinctively felt something terribly wrong. An anger over the injustices in rare short visits had quietly simmered over 20 years until the tipping point was breached and the hard boundaries were drawn two years ago. More disturbing injustices came to light. Anger was eventually replaced by understanding and most recently forgiveness. It really doesn’t matter any more if they don’t change. They, like all of us are still worthy of love.

    Liked by 4 people

  30. As an only child whose father died when I was 2 years old I was easy prey for my narcissist mother, who had no siblings either. Every day was a nightmare. It wasn’t until after she died at 91, and I was 64, did I learn about Narcissism and everything fell into place. In the meantime, I had married a functioning psychopath and I slipped into my normal enabling role. It took courage to write about it all and publish my book, but the feedback I’ve had has been amazing. Despite my children being very angry, it has helped spread the word a little bit more. I have re-blogged this post to my own site – but I see there is no mention of the hereditary factor and sadly this has been evident in my situation.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. What a fantastic article!!! Writing these kinds of pieces allow people to realize they are not alone. Important in my opinion when dealing with an overbearing narcissistic personality. I tried to address this problem in a blog post years earlier but you managed to cover it all so much better than I ever could!!

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Cindy says:

    Can’t help but think that Mr. Lavar Ball, the dad of one of the basketball players arrested for shop lifting in China, is exhibit-A.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    What a great, well written, informative post! So many people suffer from triangulation, gas lighting, etc and have no idea about narcissism . I will share this with clients and friends. Thank you!
    Peace,
    Mary

    Liked by 4 people

  34. This post is very ENLIGHTENING, knowing that there are explanations why other people just cannot get on with their lives.

    AWAKENING to parents who might not have seen this brutal sense of parenting.

    Than you for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

  35. CrankyPants says:

    Yep. My father is a narcissistic sociopath. I saw it at a very young age. Called him on it and was abused for it. I got out as soon as I hit 18. My mother is not allowed a mind of her own, no friends, nothing. Completely lives under his control and has turned her back on me. My sister’s eyes are just opening to this but she is still stuck in the abuse cycle where the honeymoon period pulls her back in. I was the target child my sister the favourite. My dad pits us against each other. My sister and I have a relationship but it’s strained. I got out and moved a way, she’s left to deal with all the abuse (as an adult) and that angers her. It’s a horrid way to be raised. It’s still very painful but I’m glad I was able to see it, get out and get help. I don’t allow them in my life for the most part. I set boundaries and then they won’t speak to me when they are in my life. I’m good with that. Less stress without them.
    I did not by any means come out unscathed. I was lost in an adult world for many years. I was never allowed to think for myself, make my own choices, or say no. All that left me lost and in bad places for many years.
    I only started to learn who I am in my 40’s. I’m doing much better but I live with ptsd and serious health issues.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. none of us are alone 🙂 It’s amazing how many of us have grown up with parents like this….I’m starting to think this is what my own blog is about without even realizing it- thank you Dr. Perry- makes me feel like there are others out there who totally understand 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  37. Jennifer Anne says:

    I wish my ex husband would read this. His narcissistic father was at the center of all our marital problems. What 40 year old man has his father on his joint bank accounts with his wife? I had to fight like hell to get my father in law removed and he never forgave me for it. As soon as I married his son, I became a threat to his power. Sickening. And my ex husband is still too blind to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Kate says:

    I’ve known for a long time but I’m finally out. At 31. Disabled and mentally recovering. Thanks for your article.

    Liked by 2 people

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