To have a narcissistic parent
Jessica Semaan


First, the article. You take something so complex, so nuanced, and you deconstruct it into something we can wrap our minds and arms around. It is very well done. I am the step-mother of two adult children of a narcissist. Their mother has also caused PAS (parental alienation syndrome) with her daughters, my husband being the target parent. My husband and I are finally trying to help educate them. Very difficult since one of the daughters has taken on so many of the NPD qualities herself. The other daughter sees it, wants to get help. I considered sending her this article because it so eloquently describes her experiences and the “whys” of it.

However, the last sentence gives me pause. In saying the parent “should have never been a parent,” it feels a little different than the whole tone of the piece. As if a little of the resentment and bitterness seeped through and stained the end. To send this to my step-daughters with that ending, well…it’s quite a harsh pronouncement on this woman who is, at the end of the day, my step-daughters’ mother, a parent they love. Also, the pronouncement might make them feel as though I’m telling them, in a way, that they are a mistake (which I know is not the thrust of the line--and it’s true; narcissistic people are not emotionally or mentally suitable to be parents, at all, IMO.)

I look at you and think how the world would be a much less interesting and wonderful place without you in it. So I wonder if the end is, in a way, a self-flagellation couched in a critique of your mother? (or father. Not sure you specified gender) Anyway, I worry my step-daughters might read it from that perspective, because they are nowhere near as far along as you are, so I hesitate to share it with them. Which sucks, because the rest is so spot-on.

And when you write that they are a “…terrified child,” there is so much compassion there. I wish the final sentence carried that compassion through it, to create understanding, rather than such a harsh condemnation. But you were the child, and it’s not “wrong” or “right” that you chose to end it that way — it is your words, your truth. I’m just saying, from my perspective and where I am personally, I can’t share it with my daughters for the reasons above.

The second thing I want to address is your plea for donations. As a professional novelist/writer, poet, artist, and playwright, I understand the tug-of-war between the act of creation, putting your words out there, and then the seemingly diametrical issue of economics.

You say you’ve written 89 pieces in one year, and while impressive, I’d like to say that part of being a professional writer is that wait, the moment when the tipping point hits and you start earning. I don’t know how old you are, Jessica, but I have been doing this professionally for a quarter of a century. I am now just starting to see the revenue, and while I make a good living, I started out making that ZERO you describe above.

In the past 6 years, I have released 9 published works. That does not include the poems I write daily and put out on social media and here, to get people to want to buy my books. Those 9 books that are out and available? Yeah, I have 2 novels in edits, one WIP novel, 1 book of poems on deck, 2 poetry collections in edits, one short story collection on deck, one in edits, and a couple of plays, and 2 screenplays, all in between the other things I do in the arts community, lectures at university, public speaking and performing, and the other things I do. All of those written works, within the past 8 years.

Now, I’m not sure if you are thinking or recording time spent per piece, and that’s how you determine their worth, or word-count or what, but I’m pretty sure a novel-a-year or so trumps 89 pieces in one year — especially if your pieces are available on a free site. It’s great you have exposure with Medium and Coffeelicious, but what you say to your audience after they read you is, well, frankly, feels a little like a bait’n’switch.

While you are a gifted, clearly talented and skilled writer, you are sharing your work for reasons other than financial gain, I hope. Because after reading the piece, then getting to your “I’ve worked hard, you all benefit from my work and art, and it’s not fair you should get my work for free” missive at the end, I was really conflicted about how to address that, not only as a reader, but as a writer. The thing is, the one woman who commented, while gently and respectfully asked you to re-word, was right — I felt unpleasant, suddenly, after reading your piece. As if I had taken something from you that had not been offered freely, on a free site.

And what I want to convey to you is that I agree with you with my whole heart: we work hard, and we should get paid for our work, but the bottom line is, that’s not how the work of an artist goes (unless you catch the eye of a big 6 in NYC or you get very very lucky). The only way to re-word, IMO, is to write “If you like the article, donate HERE! Support the Arts and Artists — We’re Starving!” Or something like that; humor goes a long way in asking for money when you offer, up front, your work for free.

My impulse, as of now, is to not read anything else of yours, because your comments at the end make me feel like you aren’t trying to connect with me through art, but rather, giving me a taste, and then saying, “Okay, you like me? Pay up.” I felt and feel manipulated, and I felt guilty for something I didn’t do, and it’s a yucky feeling. And the way you have it as of now? Yeah, it’s a manipulation. Reminds me of a mom, saying to her kids, “I work and slave over a hot stove, and all I get are complaints! Look at my bunions! I had no bunions until I had you!” Newsflash, Mom. You chose to have kids, and it’s your job to feed your kids, so why are you making them feel guilty for your choices? You, Jessica, made the choice to post on a free site, so why are you telling your readers that their “likes,” hearts, and shares and loyalty to you are suddenly not enough?

So here’s the hard, cold truth of it, Jessica: for how talented and good you are, there are thousands upon thousands of writers who are just as talented, maybe more, maybe less, than you. And they know it takes a tremendous amount of time, perseverance, luck, and, yes, a whole lot of putting yourself out there for free, to begin generating an audience which will eventually lead to an income.

There are those who will go ahead and donate because of your missive; there are those who will read it, feel bad, and keep reading anyway — or not, and then there will be those like me, who see what you wrote for what it was, and say, “Welp, that was nice, but I don’t feel right about reading her ‘free work’ for free anymore. So I guess I’ll find other writers among the hundreds here on Medium who don’t make me feel like shit when I finish their pieces.” I’m telling you this reader to writer, and professional, as in I-make-my-living- solely-on-writing-now-after-25+ years-of-hard-effing-work-writer to writer, how the end caveat feels to me, and I’m saying this will all due respect. This is my feeling, my subjective experience and I mean no disrespect.

By the way, my poetry book spent appx. 3 days as the #1 best selling poetry book in “Women’s poetry” on Huge sales spike after a national review came out. Another spike when it won an award. Conversely, I provide a local coffee shop with free copies of my poetry trilogy to keep on hand for people to browse through as they sit and relax. Wanna hear something ironic? I’ve had to replace the books a total of 7 times in the past eight months. Why? Because they keep getting “borrowed” and never get returned (read: stolen.)

I could get angry; I could post a sign shaming anyone who takes my book from the coffee shop. I could stop providing copies. But I don’t do any of those things. Because the bottom line is this: people are reading my words. They love them so much, they steal them. No, I don’t get a royalty check for that. But if you became an artist to get rich, you’ll need to get signed with Harlequin and churn out the dreck, or read “So You Want to be a Writer,” by Charles Bukowski and get a reality check. Again, with respect. I wish you “way more than luck,” and I hope you find success, whatever and however that looks to you.

P.S. I sent free copies of the first two volumes of my poems to a guy up in the Pacific Northwest. He was going to give them an honest review for a free copy, so I sent them. After he read them and reviewed them, he let a friend borrow the books to read. The guy’s friend contacted me. He told me that he had been on the brink of taking his own life, and then he read my books. He told me that reading them saved his life, because after reading them he didn’t feel quite so alone. He thanked me. That email: better than any royalty check. Better than any donation. Even better than being #1 on Amazon for a couple of days. Peace to you.