‘I now realise that my son is in a narcissistic relationship, completely controlled and manipulated’

Tell Me About It: ‘I am not quite sure how to maintain our fragile relationship and where to go from here’


I saw it coming, but didn’t fully understand what was going on.

I haven’t seen my youngest married son for three Christmases now. I do have some communication by text – as a reply mainly to my occasional ones – but they are tentative, and I feel they are being monitored.

Since he got married, I witnessed a gradual negativity from him towards everything in life that he loved – his childhood memories, family, friends, hobbies, until almost complete estrangement. I know him as a sensitive, talented, kind person who was much loved by all who knew him. We were very close on a soul level. I never had a fallout or cross words with his wife, although I witnessed some very strange behaviour and was very generous towards them both when they lived and got married from my home.

But, through various insights, conversations and research I now realise that he is in a narcissistic relationship, completely controlled and manipulated. I understand now that narcissism in intimate relationships is similar to cult control and brainwashing. I cannot describe how painful this estrangement has been – a grief without a death. There have been times that I howled with the loss of it, but facing the reality, research and insight has left me with more compassion than resentment, even for his wife who needs to control to this extreme.

I am acquainted with grief and sorrow, but, believe me, this experience, as a mother, has been the hardest of all. Added to this is the maternal worry for his mental wellbeing. While respecting his boundaries, I have kept up occasional texting, although it was challenging when I often got no reply. But I’m glad that I did now as I feel a shift recently and a little more openness in his brief texts. I am not given to shame or secrecy, and there is a lot of unnecessary shame around family estrangement – it is more common than we realise.

Although close friends and immediate family know, I am reluctant, however, to be more open about it, for fear of him being judged and alienated in the future should the veil of illusion lift and he fully realises what is going on.

I am not quite sure how to maintain our fragile relationship and where to go from here.



It has been a long road that you have travelled, and it sounds as though you have emerged with a great deal of compassion and selflessness.

That you love your son and demonstrate that love through endurance and steadfastness is clear, and this is what he will find should he reach out for it. In fact, it may be this unbreakable bond that challenges his wife and that may be why she manages his contact with you. That you have arrived at a feeling of compassion shows that you have some understanding of the fear that may underlie her seemingly controlling behaviour, but of course, this only exacerbates your sense of grief at your son’s restricted life. Your son may also fear that if he reaches out for support, he will be pulled away from a wife who is vulnerable and isolated and therein lies the challenge for you.

So far you have not badmouthed his wife, and this may be why your son is able to open up a little to you, and perhaps he will grow in confidence as you remain unwavering in you “being there” for him. You know him well enough to know if this approach might work, though, if a crisis presents, it is always a good idea to use it as a possibility for change.

Your comment on shame may be telling in that your son may feel some of this as he negotiates expanding his life to include more than his wife in his intimate circle. Can you continue with your contact and encourage others in the family to offer invites to events, even if they are not responded to? It may be that this knowledge of a caring support system might be leant into at some time when a crunch situation occurs, and your son realises that he is not alone. Of course, this patience is hard to maintain. You have suffered the enormous grief of estrangement and there is no end to it as the lack of contact is lived daily. It is good that you have close friends and family who know and support you, but grief is lonely and desolate, and it can erode any happiness in your life.

Surround yourself with good people, immerse yourself in activities that give you joy or fulfilment, and do not let your love be contaminated by fear or despair. There is possibly too much of the latter in your son’s life already and what is needed is faith in the possibility of a more open and robust relationship. You are doing everything you can to be the steady beam of light for your son, but you too need nourishment and care in order to maintain this position, so focus on this as you await an opportunity for connection with your much-loved son.