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Ask Amy

Amateur diagnosis could backfire

Q. My brother-in-law is a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder. He has three young-adult children. Their mom died when they were young. They have put up with years of his raging at them and putting them on pedestals.

I have read that NPD is often passed from parent to child through successive generations. I’m not sure if his children are aware of or understand his personality disorder. Members of my husband’s family recognize this man’s NPD but are unwilling to involve themselves on his children’s behalf.

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I’ve found several very good articles on the Internet explaining NPD and its effects on adult children. I was wondering if I should send these articles to them or stay out of it. What should my responsibility be to help children with a parent with a personality disorder like this? They all live far away from me.

A. It’s dicey and sometimes dangerous for amateurs (like you and me) to “diagnose” another person. Narcissistic personality disorder is a complex condition. My own reading about personality disorders emphasizes that clinicians find it challenging to diagnose and treat disorders along this spectrum.

Rather than abruptly sending these children information about this condition gathered on the Internet (with the admonition that they could also have this disorder), you should try to engage them in an ongoing dialogue, not only about their father but also about their own lives. Learning and facing the truth about their father’s issues could transform their lives.

Reading about this condition might provide answers to lifelong questions and lead these young adults toward healing. However, before sharing anything with them you should urge them to discuss their issues with a mental health professional.

Q. I am seven months pregnant. I am extra clumsy now, and the other day I nearly hit a guy who was crossing the street. I’ve had other close calls while driving. I am trying to be safe and stay off the expressways. My friend has planned a “Girls Night In.” She lives about 40 minutes away on the expressway and insists on my attending. She refuses to meet halfway at a restaurant. I am a little surprised that she doesn’t understand or respect my decision. Is there a better way I can explain myself, or do you think I am exaggerating too?

A. You should not have to provide reasons for not wanting to drive 40 minutes at night along roads you don’t want to traverse, regardless of your condition. All you have to say is, “I told you I don’t feel comfortable doing this, and you don’t seem willing to accept my explanation or compromise, so I’ll just have to thank you for the invitation but take a pass this time.”

Q. “Upset Mother” reported that she gave money to her two daughters unequally based on their need — creating resentment from the more independent and successful daughter. I come from a similar background. My parents poured their money into my needy sister, and I got nothing. You can’t help but feel you’re the “loser” for being more successful.

A. Some parents handle this by “paying down” their inheritance. Whatever amount they give the needier child, they give an equal amount to the non-needy, with the understanding that this diminishes any money they might receive later. But the diminishment happens equally, and I like this solution.

Send questions via e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
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