Narcissists and cleanliness


I read an interesting post about Joan Crawford over at Five Hundred Pound Peep’s blog. Crawford was definitely a histrionic malignant narcissist even though most sources say she had BPD (another Cluster B disorder that can mimic and is easily confused with the histrionic form of narcissism). The issue of Crawford’s obsession with cleanliness and order was raised.

There seem to be two kinds of narcissists: those, like my ex, who are complete slobs who refuse to lift a finger around the house and expect everyone else to pick up their mess for them; and those, like my MN mother (and Crawford), who are obsessed with cleanliness and order.

I’m going to talk about the second type.

My mother’s house was like a museum–it was all for show. Even magazines on the coffee table were forbidden because it was “clutter.” Family photos were consigned to bedrooms only because she felt they looked “tacky” in public rooms. She vacuumed, scrubbed, polished and dusted every day, in addition to hiring a weekly housekeeper to keep things spruced up. She invaded boundaries too–every day she came into my room (without knocking of course), and would start straightening up and criticizing my teenage sloppiness. She’d go into my closet and rearrange my clothes, making it hard for me to find what I was looking for (because I had everything in an order that made sense to me). When cooking, she’d wash dishes while she cooked, so there were no dishes inthe sink after dinner (actually, I picked up this habit from her and do it myself).

My mother loved beige, white and eggshell. Everything in the house was in those boring colors, with no bright spots of color to liven things up. I read somewhere once that beige is the devil’s color, not black. I think that person was onto something. I hate beige. It’s the most boring color on the planet. Is it even a color at all?

The glass tables in the living room with their chrome legs and edges were spotless and free of any clutter: what was the point of having tables at all if you weren’t going to put anything on them? The television was tucked inside a cabinet because a visible TV in the living room was gauche and low class and offended my mother’s upper class pretensions.

Even our Christmas tree (after my parents divorced) would be decorated in white lights only, with red and silver balls and bows–no other colors or shapes allowed. She always hated the colored lights, tinsel, and varied ornaments my father bought for our tree when they were still married. Me? I happen to love lots of colored lights. Tacky or not, they seem much more homey and Christmassy to me than the all-white lights you see in offices and banks. Another thing she did after their divorce was refuse to hang any ornaments I had made at school, because again, they were too tacky. My father, though certainly far from perfect, always took pride in my childish little creations, and proudly hung them from our tree, while my mother held her nose in distaste.


When company came over, she became an obsessive basketcase, zooming through the house with the vacuum and duster, and woe to you if you didn’t match her level of obsession and jump in and help out.

But of course, it was all for show, intended to impress. Narcissistic cleanliness is another way they can control everyone around them. I also think it’s an unconscious attempt to hide the “dirtiness” inside them. That’s why they’re so obsessed with it and rage whenever they see dirt or disorder.

I’ve also noticed how many of them (especially women, but some men too) are obsessed with bodily functions. I’ll warn you right now we’re getting into the ick factor here, but I’ll try to spare you too much detail.

I’m acquainted with a narcissistic woman who told me she douches every day. Not just after intercourse or after her period, but every freaking day. I mentioned to her how unhealthy that is and how it can rob her vagina of healthy bacteria that prevents infection, but predictably, she looked at me like I was crazy and said I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I know other narcissists (both men and women) who are obsessed with keeping their bowels clean. They are big fans of enemas, cleansing drinks, diuretics, fasting, and laxatives. They obsess over these things and even talk about their rituals in public, with no sign of embarrassment. If you know someone who goes in for colonic irrigation sessions on a regular basis, and then talks about it to everyone as if they were discussing the weather, it’s a good bet they’re a narcissist. I had a narcissist boss once who made his colon cleansing sessions a regular topic of conversation and would describe the process in the most intricate, intimate detail, even in front of customers. He didn’t care who heard and seemed to want everyone to know about it. The ick factor was off the charts with that one. It made me want to throw up.

Cascade Treatment

They’re also obsessed with their children’s bowel functions. This is a little embarrassing but I’ll talk about it anyway because it’s so typical of the type of abuse (and it is a form of abuse) some children of narcs are forced to put up with.

When I was a child, my mother obsessed over whether I had a daily BM. If I skipped a day, out came the big rust-red rubber enema bag with its snakelike black hose. It was an adult sized contraption and not meant for children, but she’d fill that unholy thing up all the way with soapy water and make me lie down on the bathroom floor on a towel while she shoved that thing into me.

Of course it was extremely painful and my small body wasn’t equipped to hold all that water. If I cried or had an accident, she’d get mad and shove that medieval instrument of torture up me even more and hold my butt cheeks together with her cold hands, her long sharp nails digging into my tender buttocks like thorns from Hell.

It was much worse than the yardstick or any other punishment ever inflicted on me. I developed terrible constipation due to my terror of that thing, but of course that just made the enemas even more necessary and frequent. When it wasn’t in use, that evil device hung on the back of the bathroom door, facing the toilet, like a constant threat of what would happen if I didn’t produce.

You see, I wasn’t a real person, but merely an extension of my mother’s mask of narcissistic perfection, her little baby doll she could do whatever she wanted to with, her mini-me. Like an infant, she couldn’t seem to tell where she ended and I began. She obsessed over my hair, my clothes, my weight. She dressed us in mother/daughter matching outfits. In the morning before school she made me sit at her dresser while she took a hard bristled brush to my fine hair that tended to tangle and form knots. If she couldn’t undo a tangle, she’d angrily yank it out, making me scream in pain while my scalp felt like it was on fire.

Mother-daughter outfits like these were the rage in the ’60s, but were tailor-made (pun intended) for mothers like mine who wanted to make their daughters into their own image.

When I was five, she decided she wanted my fine, straight hair to be curly. So she gave me a home permanent and while rinsing my hair under the kitchen faucet with a glass milk bottle, the bottle accidentally slipped from her soapy hands and broke. A shard of glass buried itself into my forehead, and I had to get stitches. She didn’t try to perm my hair again after that but always complained about how flat it was and insisted on keeping it short.

I never got to choose my own clothes until my teens. Until I started going to Catholic school and had to wear a uniform, she’d lay out the clothing she had chosen for me to wear the night before. Most of the time it was some frilly frock I hated. But if I complained, I was immediately silenced. I wasn’t allowed to be myself, have opinions, or an identity of my own. All she cared about was the image I presented to make her look better in her own mind.

As a teenager, I rebelled by wearing the sloppiest, grungiest clothes I could find, refusing to have my hair cut and styled (even though I really don’t have the type of hair that looks best when it’s too long because it’s so thin), and even gaining weight on purpose just to spite her. I wore a lot of black even though it wouldn’t be fashionable for another few years (I probably would have been a Goth kid had I been a few years younger) because my mother hated black. Part of this was normal teenage rebellion (and in the ’70’s, dressing in unisex, sloppy clothes such as workshirts hanging over beat up jeans was the fashion) but for me it was also a way to say “fuck you” to my mother’s obsession with image at the expense of my growth as an individual.

Obsessive housekeeping and obsession with their own and their children’s bodily functions is another way narcissists can exert control and dominance, as well as a desperate and sad unconscious attempt to hide or try to “clean out” their own spiritual filthiness.


21 thoughts on “Narcissists and cleanliness

  1. The narcissists I know are ALL “clean freaks”. Your mother and mine would have got on swimmingly – reading your post brought back all of my nightmare childhood. And for the record, beige is NOT a colour.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can easily relate to all this stuff. Part of feeling like I was less than human, merely an extension is hard to recover from. No wonder we go out in the world as targets for more narcs. I’m starting to realize this now, and its aggravating.

    But yeah, the line of clothes perfectly pinned up, all the whites white, all perfectly done. Mother bragged about. And we had to practically bow at the laundry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not respecting a child’s boundaries and acting like they’re an extension of the parent presents a real handicap once the child becomes an adult and has so much trouble establishing an identity of their own, and being too afraid to assert themselves when it would be in their best interests to do so. I think for aspergers people in particular, who already have problems making the social connections to succeed in life, having narcissistic parents who treat them as part of themselves(and usually as scapegoats), almost guarantees a lack of success in life. If we were scapegoated (in my case I served as both scapegoat and golden child since I was raised without siblings), we find out later that we were trained to fail, and really, that’s exactly the way they want it. They don’t want a successful child who “shows them up” even though they will criticize us endlessly for being such “losers.” My mother actually uses that word to describe me to her friends and her extended family of flying monkeys.


  3. Reblogged this on galesmind and commented:
    Interesting. I had a mother in law like that she ironed underwear. I am sort of a lackadaisical person and she couldn’t change me. She ran behind people if they sat on the special couch and fluffed the pillows up. We have her furniture now. I reupholstered it as yellow silk ages no matter what you do with it. She would be have seizures to see my four dogs sleeping on it. I know it may not be nice but it really gives me a lot of pleasure. πŸ™‚ Enemas are horrible things I was the oldest and they did it to me once. It is sick. I got so upset my parents never used it again on any of us so I know what you mean. She must have really been narcissistic to put you through that but they can only feel their needs. Well written as usual and heart wrenching. Must have been difficult to share.


    • I am sure it probably was. I bet she got “off” on it, ugly as it sounds. She also took them herself a lot. Hmmmm.
      No wonder I’m so f’d up.


  4. My NM and N sister were both extreme clean freaks and still are. Both have no hobbies and spend literally hours a day cleaning. Their homes look like museums. I was abused for not being clean enough, for not having clothes be tidy, forced to clean at least three hours a day after high school and not allowed any social times with friends. I was basically like Cinderella. I remember the long cleaning lists. My N sister is obsessive and even has as a house rule, after a sink is used for it to be dried out so there are no water spots. This is insane to me. Her kids all ended up being neatfreaks too, no messy Aspies there for her to hate I suppose.

    Both of mine had endless extreme neat freak rules, you had to do things exactly their way, and any task was rendered extremely miserable, from their criticisms, hitting and other problems. I remember even being beaten for not hanging pants up right, they had some weird folding method I still haven’t figured out to this day. Oh, I had to fold the towels exactly in thirds, the stupidest and hardest way to do it. Everything was about being on display for the neighbors and perfect. There were endless hours of yardwork too, we had this giant 2 acre yard when I was a teen, and I had to rake leaves from the 30 trees in the front. I think later people cut them down. That huge house was 3500 square feet. I have never lived in over 800 square feet as an adult. They never hired a maid though, they had me.

    I believe the cleaning is to cover up the evil inside, kind of like Lady MacBeth washing the blood off her hands over and over.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am so sorry you had to go through all that shit
      Another thing related to this is my mother’s obsesson with table manners. If I put my elbows on the table I got stabbed with a fork. It worked alright but made mealtime unpleasant and anxiety producing. If I wasn’t being grilled about school or my table manners being corrected I was ignored. Everything in that house was crazymaking.


  5. Wasn’t rectal feeding and exams just been considered as torture by the US government?

    I am surprised that you still have an intact functioning colon. Too many enemas can cause serious damage especially for a child’s developing one.

    Except for that, everything sounds exactly like my childhood experience. Right down to the hair brushing.

    My adolescence was during the 60’s, so I shopped at thrift stores. You can imagine my mother’s humiliation with that! She would never let me leave the house wearing those clothes, so I would bag them up and change at a friends house.

    My friends were creeped out by my house because it never looked “lived in”.


  6. My own mother seems to be somewhere on the narcissistic spectrum, though I’m not sure if she’s a full blown narcissist or simply has pronounced narcissistic traits.

    Now, my experience is different given that I am male, but nonetheless embarrassing. My mother has always taken an inordinate amount of interest in my sexual health and performance. When I was 11, she took me to an urologist because, in her opinion, my penis was small. I could almost sense the mixture of discomfort and disbelief coming from the doctor, as well as the immense effort he put into not bursting into laughter. After he pretended to examine my penis (really, just looked at it), he just said “It’s okay.” My mother, however, was incensed when I failed to have an erection and assist in providing an accurate measurement… It’s weird and I try not to talk about it.

    She’s also taking interest in my brother’s sexual health and performance, regularly discussing his sexual fantasies with him, openly discussing his masturbatory practices with him, frequently over dinner. Whenever I object, she calls me conservative. While I admit that I am more conservative than most people of my generation, I think that not discussing sexual fantasies and masturbation with a 16 year old boy over dinner is conservative, rather that it is common sense.
    What scares me is that my brother seems to enjoy this attention and has taken to ejaculating on a heart-shaped pillow which is left for my mother, me and the cleaning ladies to find, as a sort of trophy or proof of his virility… might my brother be a budding somatic narcissist? He’s also a fitness freak who frequently fasts and uses more cosmetics than I believe a man should even know exist (terribly gender-normative, I know, but that’s my opinion).

    I know this will sound silly, but I believe the penis incident has left me with some insecurities about my penis size (though my girlfriend assures me it is larger than average)… or is that just regular dude anxiety about penis size?


    • Nixter, wow, that is some story.

      I would definitely say your mother is a somatic narcissist and a pretty sick, malignant one at that. What she’s doing is incestuous. Her mocking and criticism of you being “too conservative” because you are embarrassed by what she’s doing is nothing more than a form of gaslighting–she’s telling you your very normal reaction to such a thing is abnormal. This is classic MN behavior.

      It’s not entirely uncommon for a child to grow up with sexual fantasies involving the incestuous parent or their requests if they derived any pleasure from it.

      I wouldn’t worry about your penis size. If your doctor told you it’s normal you should go with that. Your mother sounds very malignant and is telling you it’s too small to make you feel ashamed about yourself. That’s what they do.
      Her interest in your brother’s private affairs (for lack of a better word) is definitely not normal maternal concern. She has no need to know all that stuff unless she is somehow getting off on it.

      It sounds like you may be her scapegoat and your brother the Golden Child–is that the case? For both of you, if at all possible, I would strongly suggest disconnecting from this psychopathic woman.


      • I’m new to the ‘narcissistic family dynamic’, so I probably misunderstand the lingo, but I don’t think my brother is the ‘golden child’. More often than not, he is ignored and objectified as a pretty boy (and my mother privately believes he’s stupid, which is not true). My mother seems to save most of her attention for me, even though it is negative attention (belittling, insulting, gaslighting etc.). Sometimes I feel like she’s trying to drive a wedge between me and my brother for fear of a unified front… That’s not going to happen if I can do anything about it, but things are tough.

        Ever since my father left, my brother has been acting out (typical teenager stuff, nothing to write home about), so I decided he needs to be instructed in the way of proper behavior. My mother has never been much of a disciplinarian, so I took to scolding my brother and making sure he knows the things he does are wrong (refusing to do chores, smashing stuff, using the c-word to describe teachers etc.). The main problem is that my mother frames my attempts to impose discipline on my brother as abuse and seems poised to convince him that I’m some monster.

        Difficult, to say the least.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. My ex Narc was not a parent, but my partner for six years- the cleanliness thing makes sense! IT was weird though- he would have me do his washing because he hated doing it whilst pretending to do the rest of his housework, but I always ended up doing it anyway. He enjoyed watching me do any of this work because it reduced me to the level of a servant. He’d leave the door open when I was in the loo and he would nearly always be there when I showered, often showering with me. It was horrible. I had no personal space. I feel awful for you, having to endure what you did, and I can only imagine how horrible it made you feel. I send you safe hugs and the hope that you feel like these memories can no longer hurt you like they once did. x

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.