Turning on a child who was initially loved and doted on is not unusual for malignant narcissist parents. If the child proves to be sensitive, highly intelligent, or can see through the parent’s agenda, they may find themselves suddenly turned into scapegoats. Betrayal of a child means nothing to a narcissistic parent. The child was never a child even before the betrayal, just supply.
My son (who I’ve been calling Ethan on this blog but that is not his real name) was born in October 1991 and initially was very much wanted by his father. During his infancy his father appeared to love him very much and it wasn’t unusual to find my beautiful little boy snuggled up against his dad’s chest. Though Michael (also not his real name) was showing signs of the abuser he would soon become, the abuse was directed at me, and didn’t happen often enough in those days that I was that concerned.
By the time Ethan was 3 or 4 he was showing signs of being a highly sensitive (and very creative) child. He cried frequently and was given to tantrums when he sensed discord, anger or chaos around him. He was always very sensitive to his environment and didn’t react well to everyone and he hated change. He still remembers himself as being an extremely nervous child, but those nerves were due to his high sensitivity. I was much the same way when I was his age. I could always identify with my son.
I remember when he was two, when we were moving from New Jersey to North Carolina. Because we didn’t have a lot of money for a long distance mover, we moved most of our stuff (except large pieces of furniture) in a U-Haul and a car over five separate trips. During the time the house was being slowly emptied, Ethan began to act very strange. He stopped eating, looked pale and his eyes looked too big for his face. He hadn’t really started talking much yet, but did this strange “parroting”–he’d repeat “Hi Mommy! Hi Daddy!” over and over, in a strange high pitched voice. It was creepy. His doctor said not to worry, but he just wasn’t himself. Then it finally dawned on me: a very young child sees things disappearing and doesn’t understand why (he hadn’t come on the moving trips to see where the things were going). His two year old mind deduced that eventually his parents and baby sister would disappear too, leaving him alone, so the nervous parroting of “Hi Mommy, Hi Daddy,” was to make sure we were still there and weren’t going to leave him. To a sensitive child like Ethan who hated change as much as he did, watching the things in his environment disappear must have been traumatic for him. I asked him about this recently and he still remembers it. He told me my suspicions had been correct. He was afraid we would disappear!
Michael saw this high sensitivity as soon as it became apparent, and suddenly his affection toward his son came to a screeching halt. He began to pick on and belittle him, calling him names such as stupid, idiot, “faggy,” pussy, baby, and loser. As young as Ethan was, I could see how his self esteem was already taking a beating. Soon he became nervous and awkward around his father but of course this just fed the abuse.
Soon Michael began to physically abuse Ethan, spanking him almost every day just for being who he was. Whenever I criticized or questioned Michael about why he was treating Ethan this way, he just said he was trying to “toughen him up.” (this from a man who called himself a feminist–go figure that one out!) I told him his aggressive behaviors toward Ethan to “man him up” were not working because Ethan wasn’t built that way, and besides they were very unloving. I told him I was afraid Ethan would think his father hated him, but of course my concerns were dismissed and I was called wrong, stupid or crazy. We had many fights about this, but the abuse never stopped. In fact it kept growing worse.
Michael constantly made fun of Ethan, imitating his speech, his walk, his awkwardness. Ethan was bullied at school for a time, just as I was, and my heart broke for him. I loved my son so much, and couldn’t bear to see the way his father treated him.
The incident that I remember with the most anguish occurred when Ethan was about 8. He had a collection of about 15 or 20 collectible cars his grandfather had given him over several years and Ethan was very proud of them. He displayed them on a 5-tiered shelf in his room. One evening Michael came raging into his room for one reason or another (he was often drunk and some of his rages seemed to be caused by nothing) and knocked over the stand, sending all the beautiful and expensive replicas crashing to the floor. All of them were destroyed beyond repair. Ethan burst into tears and begged him to stop, but Michael was relentless and began pounding on him, calling him a stupid faggot crybaby, and demanding to know why he couldn’t “man up.” I was in the room at the time, desperately trying to push him away from Ethan but to no avail, because Michael was much stronger than me, and by then I was myself afraid of his rages.
This incident haunts me to this day. It’s hard for me to think of it without my heart breaking, because of how painful it was to see my brilliant, creative, sensitive little boy’s car collection destroyed for absolutely no reason at all — and my son’s self esteem taking such a beating from the man who had once seemed to love him so much during his first few years.
Fortunately, Ethan was always much stronger than he seemed, and smart too. He chose to live with me after we divorced instead of his father. Kung Fu lessons paid for by my father (which he stuck with for 3 years and got as far as brown belt) and an Outward Bound expedition for his 8th grade trip began to change him and help him rebuild his self esteem.
He came out as gay at age 17, and since then has become a happy and well liked young man with many interests and talents who is making good choices in life. (He also chose to live hundreds of miles away from the family but I can’t say I blame him for that). While it’s sad he lives so far away, I’m happy that he’s happy now and that after everything he went through, he may be the most mentally stable member of the immediate family. He is the only one of us who doesn’t appear to have a personality disorder.
Not all children who were turned on and scapegoated by a malignant narcissist parent were so lucky. Many were psychologically destroyed or even killed. Ethan was one of the lucky ones.
My Son Didn’t Escape Unscathed: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/05/11/my-son-didnt-escape-unscathed/
My MN Ex’s Weird Attitude to His Son: https://luckyottershaven.com/2015/02/24/my-mn-exs-weird-attitude-to-his-son/