The “Dollhouse Effect” of Narcissism



I had posted relatively recently a surprising interaction with my husband’s ex-wife, who I believe has narcissistic tendencies.

In the phone call exchange that I overheard, she asked him. “What was Kim doing talking with another mother?”

As I wrote previously, this “another mother” had called me in regards to a situation. I then returned the favor and called her in regards to another situation she needed to be informed about.

My husband’s ex-wife floored me at first. I could not believe someone was so clueless as to not realize that there is a whole network of communication around each of us. None of us live in a bubble. Then, I remembered she saw the world through the eyes of narcissism.

To her, we are all flat, one-dimensional doll figures that exist in her world to be subject to her manipulations, much like a doll is a one-dimensional object, simply present to fulfill a child’s projections at that moment.

The child has sole control over such a doll. The doll can be “good” one day and very “bad” the next. The doll can be a friend, a child, a baby, a student, and so on- depending on the child’s imagination. The doll simply exists where ever the child places it.

I realized that this is how a narcissist treats all those who “interact” with them in life. Narcissists never see us as complete, whole people in our entirety with a range of strengths, weaknesses, emotions, behaviors and thoughts of our own.

No, we are simply the “dolls” of their lives, with a role only assigned by them.

When my husband’s ex-wife expressed surprise that myself and this other mother had spoken (without the ex-wife’s awareness), I realized we were the doll figures in her life and she was surprised, because in her mind, she had never placed both these “dolls” in the same room of her delusional, “life is like a dollhouse” world.

She could not envision we would talk, because in her controlling world, she never would have placed us in the same room of the dollhouse. If we weren’t in the same room of her dollhouse, then there would be no possible way for us to communicate.

Children will do this when they play with dolls. They will completely create worlds and partition who gets to interact and who does not get to interact. They are the maestros and they control it all.

Narcissists never out grow childhood. They see us all as the dolls of the dollhouse world in which they have ultimate control- regulating who goes where and when, who interacts with who and why, and so on.

As a child eventually learns, there is a whole real world beyond a dollhouse and the child’s imagination. The delight in life is in interacting with the newness and evolvement of things beyond your control.

Too bad, narcissists never learn this. They are always shocked when they receive the message “This ‘doll’ has a life and won’t be living in your dollhouse anymore.”

They never understand we were only doll-like in their minds, never our own.


23 thoughts on “The “Dollhouse Effect” of Narcissism

  1. Great insights! I am so glad both my boys are adults and I don’t have any communication with my ex or his extremely narcissistic wife. I have the choice not to include them in my life and that is a true blessing. I am able to cutout all the people that are just too needy from my life right now and I feel so much better. I will keep you in my thoughts because it’s so damn hard to have to be in a relationship with people that just don’t see beyond themselves.

  2. Magnificent post! A wonderful analogy! Very insightful!

    This reminds me of a South Korean horror film which I watched a while ago – Hansel and Gretel (2007) – which struck me as being a metaphor for narcissists as it was about three children who were stuck as children and had been that way for decades, they lured adults to their house and turned them into living parent dolls with which they would play ‘happy families’. As long as the adults played along, the children were sweet, but if the adults tried to escape or refused to play along, then the children became nasty.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  3. WOW! What a great post – it makes so much sense! I’d never have been able to describe it like that, but you just laid it all out and it totally makes sense why the ex would think it impossible for you and the other mother to talk – bc I remember that post, and remember thinking that she was nuts, people talk to each other all of the time! And while, she might be nuts, it makes sense that in her mind, you and the other mom have never been in the same “room”, thus, couldn’t be talking to each other!

    • thanks for this comment, Kate! We think alike on this matter. I really thought we all (especially parents) were talking to one another ALL the time. My gosh, we all see each other at 100s of school events, pick-ups and drop-offs, and so on. We converse all the time. Apparently, this is foreign to my husband’s ex-wife, though. I really have enjoyed all the great parents I have met and I will continue to foster supportive relationships with them. I am glad we can help one another (Lord knows I need it!)

      • I agree! Last week when Mr. T hurt himself, I didn’t reach out to my old friends, but a new one, one of the parents that I’ve been working with at the concession stand – because I knew that she’d understand more than anyone else in my life. 🙂 It takes a village, and we really should be encouraging those connections – even if others can’t comprehend that we are!

      • Hey, I hope Mr T is o.k. I love this story as it speaks to EVOLVING relationships. It truly does take a village and we receive gifts in so many forms- including new friendships. Get well soon, Mr. t!

  4. As always, you create something with your art, or your words to give a fantastic ‘visual’ affect to your post. I love the correlation between ‘dolls’ and ‘us’ {us being the victims}. Fabulous post~ one of my favorites!! ❤

  5. Some of you may be interesting in watching the Joss Whedon series “Dollhouse” about an underground facility that “creates” perfect dates for hire. I watched it before I had completely realized what my parents were, but I think that it helped my recovery since I could see the obvious correlations of brainwashing, etc.

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