The Goofy roller coaster

~~~ goofy3In group.  Amy is describing her recent visit to Disney with her four-year-old daughter and her narcissistic husband.

“So he wants to ride the Goofy roller coaster with her,” she says, “but she’s scared of it.  Come on, it’ll be fun, he says. Mommy, I don’t want to, she says.  Maybe you shouldn’t force her, I say.  Damn it, she’s my daughter too, he says.  Yes, but she’s scared, I say.  It goes on like this for thirty minutes: he’s yelling, she’s crying, I’m trying to keep them both calm.”

“So what happened?” someone asks.

“I finally suggested he ride the Goofy roller coaster himself. So that’s what he did.”

The group laughs, sadly.

“But it was a turning point for me,” Amy says. “I gave up on the marriage that day.  Now I just focus on what my kid needs and keep him at a distance.”

“I know,” says Barry, whose wife left him a year ago and whose kids chose to stay with him.  “I have that with my ex. She keeps trying to get our kids to see things her way.  She doesn’t care what they think or feel at all.”

“Narcissism,” someone mutters.

“Right.  And the harder she tries, the harder they resist.  It’s gotten so they’re refusing to spend Christmas with her.  I felt bad about it – they’re kids, they need a mother – so for a long time I tried to help.  I’d tell her what they told me about how they were feeling, and suggested she might try listening to them more.  You just want to turn them against me, she’d say.  So I’ve given up now.  She’s on her own.”

“You got off the Goofy roller coaster,” I say.

He smiles. “I guess so.”

“My brother almost died last weekend,” Cathy says suddenly.  “He drank too much and was ambulanced to the ER.  My parents were devastated, but I felt guilty that I didn’t feel worse.  He’s been drinking and drugging my whole life, and for most of that time I worried and worried, and finally I had to either detach or go crazy.  I had no choice.  But I feel guilty.”

“But you got off the roller coaster,” I say.

“Good for you,” Barry says.

The others nod.

“It’s a good metaphor, the Goofy roller coaster,” I say, “for engaging with a narcissist.”

“How so?” Amy asks.

“We engage with narcissists thinking we can somehow persuade them to be less narcissistic.  We argue, beg, plead and coerce, but nothing ever changes.  The ride is always the same.  So in the end all we can do is just what you guys did: give up on the bad marriage, back off from the controlling mom, detach from the self-destructive sibling.”

Moral, if you have a narcissist in your life:

Stay off the Goofy roller coaster if you can.

It will only make you scared, angry or nauseous.

It cannot be steered.


10 responses to “The Goofy roller coaster

  • Doug

    OK. Point taken. But what of the so called Narcissist? Distilled from what I have read and learned there is always help; support groups, 12 step and lots of literature, etc. for codependents.
    What about the narcissist? How about some empathy for them? They need to wake up too.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Agreed. But (a) this was a therapy group for codependents, who (b) tend to be quicker to admit their need for help than narcissists are.
      In my experience, narcissists are more likely (as illustrated in the post) to blame other people for their problems and pain.
      So accepting responsibility — i.e., that they are narcissistic — is the first challenge they face in getting help.
      Once they do, though, both the waking up and the empathy can begin.

      • Doug

        Encouraging. Thanks.
        What’s discouraging is the lack of content available for a narcissist. Just go to the web, YouTube, a bookstore, 12 step and it’s all about codependency.
        Something is out of balance here.

        • Steve Hauptman

          I see it differently. Codependency and narcissism aren’t opposites, but different symptoms of the same pathology — the belief that safety and happiness can be achieved by controlling others. (See my Monkeytraps post “One root” for a fuller explanation.*) Second, since all addicts are narcissistic — self-preoccupied to the extent that they are unable to create and maintain healthy relationships — a narcissist looking for help can find it in the extensive literature on addictions. But you’re right, there aren’t many good books for the general public that address pathological narcissism directly. The best one I know is Alexander Lowen’s NARCISSISM: DENIAL OF THE TRUE SELF (Collier, 1985).

          *You can read “One root” here:

  • Eunice

    Is this Detached Involvement? I have been learning this for a year or so. It is hard to do as a parent to 3 grown children in their 20’s. I see that I’ve been ‘desperate/co-dependent/controlling’ with them. I recently had someone show me (bear with me as i try to illustrate this) hands on what I have been doing.
    2 people standing up, face-to-face put their arms out in front of them, palms/hands touching and push against one-another with all their might. Then the one person simply detaches, lets go and the other person comes straight towards you all because you let go.
    I will never forget that lesson! Let’s me know that in order to receive what I want with my children (them talking to me/visiting me more) I will need to change my behavior, detach and get off the Goofy coaster with them.

    • Steve Hauptman

      I think so, if I understand the metaphor.

      It seems to suggest that when you push against (= try to control) someone they will push back, but when you stop pushing (= detach) they’re then free to move towards you.

      This illustrates what I call the Second Paradox of control: “The more you try to control people, the more you force them to control you back.”
      (You can read a post about the Second Paradox here: )

      But this post was about narcissism, which complicates things. Often codependents try to control narcissists by pleasing, appeasing or helping them. Narcissists like this, and don’t want it to stop. So when the codependent detaches, the narcissist is less likely to “move towards them” in a positive way than to get disappointed, frustrated and angry. Which is why it’s so tempting to keep riding the Goofy coaster, and so hard to jump off.

      Re: your relationship with your kids, I can’t tell who you see as behaving narcissistically. (Maybe everyone?) But I think it’s safe that say that, in general, narcissists want other people to try to control them — want others to please, appease and make them happy — and get upset when those others give up the attempt.

      • Eunice

        Thanks for clarifying these things and for the input. I believe the Second Paradox seems like the pattern in which my children and I existed.

  • Ali

    Wow. How timely is this post Steve.
    Kind of hits nail on head.
    I’ve recently experienced the narsisst in my life wanting me to please him, reassure him by his neediness and acting like a child.
    So I tried controlling him..unsuccessfully, leaving me angry and scared.
    Now I’m backing off and I feel his resentment.
    However this cold place is better than being controlled and controlling back.
    Getting off that roller coaster is essential for my sanity.
    However, I realise it will bring resentment from the narsisst. Can’t win!
    Great post, thanks.

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