The choice is yours.

 

A reminder from James Martin, SJ (via Twitter)

In case anyone has forgotten:

Child abuse is a sin.

Sexual abuse is a sin.

Sexual harassment is a sin.

Racism, and white supremacy, is a sin.

Jesus asks us to welcome the stranger.

Jesus asks us to love the poor.

There are indeed two sides to these issues: Good and evil.

The choice is yours.

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Child roles in dysfunctional families.

dysfunctional-family
Credit: Artist unknown.

 

Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed article about dysfunctional family dynamics. Here I am just going to talk about the roles various family members play, and the kinds of families that become dysfunctional. If you’d like to read the whole article, click on this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family

Dysfunctional families are usually of two types:

1. One or more of the parents are active alcoholics or addicted to drugs.
2. One or more of the parents have a Cluster B disorder, usually Narcissistic Personality Disorder but sometimes Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Histrionic Personality Disorder (or a combination of any of these).

The Cluster B Connection.

Outside of alcoholics and drug addicts, dysfunctional family dynamics are most prevalent when one or both of the partners suffer from a Cluster B disorder, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Malignant Narcissism.    After NPD, BPD is the most common disorder seen in the head of a dysfunctional family, though because it’s more common in women and Borderlines have more empathy than narcissists, BPD is most often seen in the codependent, passive partner.

ASPD (psychopathy or sociopathy) rarely appears by itself in dysfunctional families, as antisocial people and psychopaths tend to not be raising children at all (either because they’re incarcerated, their children have already been removed from the home, or they simply have no interest in raising children,) but a parent could have Malignant Narcissism, which is a combination of NPD and ASPD.   Also, people with pure ASPD, though more likely to be criminals or involved in illegal activities, tend to be less emotionally abusive than people with NPD or even BPD. They are merely selfish and lack empathy, and they are manipulative to get what they want, but they don’t care about getting emotional supply from others so they don’t engage in mind games like gaslighting, triangulating, projecting, and scapegoating (unless there is a material reward involved or they are trying to avoid culpability). However, some people with ASPD are sadistic and enjoy tormenting family members for fun.

Of all the Cluster B disorders, HPD is probably the least toxic (Histrionics are shallow, attention seeking, and dramatic, but not usually that abusive), but HPD is usually comorbid with another Cluster B disorder, such as NPD.

cluster_b_chart

In some cases, a non-Cluster B mental illness (such as Bipolar disorder) that causes abusive acting-out behavior may be the culprit, but it’s less common because most other mental disorders are less easily hidden from others and the person appears “crazier.” Non-Cluster B disorders are also more easily treated with drugs or therapy, and except for psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia, the afflicted person knows they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Cluster B and addictive disorders. 

Parents of dysfunctional families can also be both mentally ill and addicted to drugs or alcohol. The two often go together. In fact, alcoholism and drug addiction are extremely common in people with Cluster B disorders. Alcohol and drugs are their attempt to fill the emptiness they feel inside themselves.

Even if an alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an underlying Cluster B disorder, the behavior of an active addict/alcoholic is very similar to someone who has NPD. The only difference in the behavior of a narcissist and someone with active alcoholism is that for the narcissist, the “fix” is emotional; for the alcoholic, it’s chemical. A non-Cluster B active addict or alcoholic can be every bit as emotionally abusive, self-centered, and manipulative as someone with NPD. Only getting their next fix is important. (As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the 12 steps of AA and other 12-step programs almost all address the problem of narcissism by encouraging humility, responsibility, and amend-making. A person on a so-called “dry drunk” is basically a sober person acting out in narcissistic ways, which may be their nature).

The Codependent Partner.

Sometimes only one partner has a mental disorder or addiction, but the non-afflicted parent is always going to be codependent to them. The codependent parent, whether they have a disorder or not, almost always suffers from PTSD or Complex PTSD. If both parents have a Cluster B disorder (which I think is usually the case), the one who has NPD or Malignant Narcissism is almost always going to call all the shots and dominate the other family members. If a Borderline is paired up with a Narcissist, the Borderline is almost always going to be codependent to the Narcissist, colluding in the abuse but also being abused themselves. Similarly, if a Covert Narcissist is paired up with an Overt Narcissist, the Covert one is going to be codependent to them and possibly abused. Such a scenario can lead to the Borderline or Covert Narcissist developing Stockholm Syndrome (identifying with and colluding with their abuser). Non-Cluster B codependents can also develop Stockholm Syndrome, because it’s a complication of C-PTSD. The codependent parent often (but not always) has a high degree of empathy, which is what drew them to the narcissist in the first place, in a misguided belief that they could “fix” them or they were led to believe that the narcissist could “rescue” them.

The Roles of the Children.

In the ACON community, there’s a lot of talk about Scapegoats and Golden Children, but there are other roles children can play in a family that are rarely addressed. In a two child family, most likely there will be a scapegoat and a golden child, but in larger families, there can also be a Lost Child, a Clown, and a Rescuer (codependent). It’s unhealthy for a child to be in any of these roles, but the Scapegoat and Golden Child role are probably the most dangerous to a child’s mental and emotional health, for different reasons. Even in a two-child family, the roles can shift back and forth (according to the Wikipedia article, families in which the children’s roles change and shift are called Balkanized families–this alludes to the constantly shifting loyalties and borders of the Balkan countries in Eastern Europe).

1. The Scapegoat.

scapegoat

Both this and the Golden Child role are the soul-killing roles, but for different reasons. The Scapegoat is the child who is targeted by the narcissistic (or alcoholic) parent. The parent often is able to get the rest of the family to serve as flying monkeys and gang up on that child, projecting anything they don’t want to “own” onto them. Like the sacrificial goats described in the Bible who were banished to the wilderness and tormented by villagers, the Scapegoated child carries all the shame the rest of the family doesn’t want to confront or deal with. All the unwanted emotions and bad qualities are unloaded and projected onto them, so the abusers don’t have to confront or deal with these problems in themselves.

Usually it’s the most sensitive child of the family who becomes the Scapegoat, because that child tends to be the Truth Teller, the only family member who can see the dysfunction and may even react against it. The most sensitive child, being the child who shows the most emotion, is also a threat to the narcissists in the family because emotional expression is such a frightening thing to them. In many, if not most dysfunctional families, the expression of emotion is not allowed. So the most emotional or sensitive child becomes the scapegoat, especially if they rebel against the dysfunction or criticize it.

The Scapegoat may be assigned the role of Bad Child, the Loser, the Stupid One, the Ugly One, the Crazy One, the Weak One, or any combination of these. No matter what they do, they cannot please the parents (or the siblings who have been turned against them). Scapegoat Children usually develop severe C-PTSD or possibly another mental disorder, and having been trained to be victims and never given the emotional, financial or other tools to succeed in life, tend to fulfill their families’ predictions of being “losers,” so then their families can say to others, “See? This child really is worthless.”

Scapegoated children also tend to attract other abusers throughout their lives and are at risk for being targeted for bullying even as adults and for entering into abusive relationships. If the adult child doesn’t go No Contact, the abuse continues, usually through some form of isolation, silent treatment, or exclusion. Scapegoated adults are talked badly about by the family and not invited to family functions. They are given no emotional or financial support, even though other members of the family are given these things. It’s not unusual for a scapegoated adult child to be living in poverty, even if their families are wealthy–not only because they were denied financial support when they needed it, but also because their self esteem took such a terrible beating that they have no confidence at all and never take any risks that could improve their lives. Severe C-PTSD can also cause a person to have an inability to focus or concentrate or set realistic goals.

A Scapegoat isn’t always a child. It can also be a parent, in which the children are turned against that parent by the abusive one.

2. The Golden Child.

girl with a gold medal and cups.

The Golden Child, often (but not always) the eldest child, is the parent’s trophy, pride and joy. The parents may seem to love that child, but being incapable of real love, their “love” is conditional and is based on their fantasy of what they want that child to be, not on who the child really is. The child is assigned to be a Mini Me of the narcissistic parent.

The Golden Child, basking in constant approval, showered with toys and gifts, never held accountable for any wrongdoing (which may be projected onto the Scapegoat), and often recruited as a co-abuser in the abuse of the Scapegoat, grows up entitled, grandiose, and spoiled. Because their Real Self has never been appropriately mirrored and their less than perfect traits are ignored or projected onto someone else, and because they were rewarded for playing a the role of the Perfect One, a Golden Child in a family is the most likely to develop NPD and become a clone of the abusive parent. In this way their souls are destroyed even more than the Scapegoat’s. To continue to be the parent’s favorite, they had to play a role which became internalized. This becomes their False Self. After awhile, they are no longer able to access their Real Self at all. Golden Children who have become narcissistic continue their entitled, bullying, manipulative, grandiose behavior into adulthood and are likely to head dysfunctional families themselves, continuing the cycle.

A non-Golden Child, even a Scapegoat, can become a narcissist too (usually the covert form of NPD), for self-protection, but Golden Children tend to develop the grandiose, malignant form of narcissism and as such, are the least likely to ever seek help for their disorder or admit they have become abusers themselves.

3. The Lost Child.

lostchild

In larger families (three or more children), one child is likely to be ignored and treated as if they don’t exist. This isn’t a form of silent treatment; it’s as if the parents don’t notice the child is there at all. The Lost Child isn’t victimized like the Scapegoat, but they aren’t spoiled either. They may or may not be recruited to assist in the abuse of the Scapegoat, but they won’t necessarily be punished if they don’t cooperate; they will simply be ignored. The Lost Child tends to be quiet and shy, and not make any waves. They are probably aware of the family dysfunction and may sympathize with the scapegoat (but don’t let anyone know this). As they grow older, they may crave attention or develop addictions, or they may remain shy and retiring throughout their lives. They tend to avoid confrontation and drama, and may become extremely introverted.

4. The Clown/Mascot.

classclown

The Clown/Mascot attempts to divert attention away from the family dysfunction (and also get attention for themselves) by making light of everything. Everything becomes a joke to them, and they even use their own families as sources for humor. Clowns can be disruptive in class as children, to get attention, but because of their ability to see the humor in things, they tend to be outgoing and develop a large circle of friends during adolescence and adulthood (even if they are never taken very seriously). Family Mascots are almost never scapegoated, because they entertain everyone and take the focus off the family problems.

David Sedaris, a writer and humorist, is a good example of this dynamic at play.  Several writers in the ACON community (and even outside that community) were outraged by Sedaris’ callous essay (“Now We Are Five,” which appeared in the New Yorker after his younger sister, Tiffany, committed suicide).   Tiffany was clearly the family scapegoat and had evidently gone No Contact with the rest of the family. At the time of her death, she was living in poverty and only had, as her father put it, “two lousy boxes” of belongings. I don’t know all the details, but it seems as if she was offered no support, either emotionally or financially, in spite of the family’s wealth and Sedaris’ success as a writer. She was probably mentally ill, but her mental illness may have been due to being the family reject.

In a candid interview Sedaris gave for Vice, he describes Tiffany and her relationship with the rest of the family. His words are very telling.

Even as a child I looked at my sister and wondered what that would be like, not to feel the warmth of my mother’s love. Tiffany didn’t. There was always a nervous quality about her, a tentativeness, a desperate urge to be in your good graces. While the rest of us had eyes in the front of our heads, she had eyes on the sides, like a rabbit or a deer, like prey, always on the lookout for danger. Even when there wasn’t any danger. You’d see her trembling and think, You want danger? I’ll give you some danger

It’s been suggested that David Sedaris is himself a narcissist (possibly the golden child) and that could certainly be true, but I also suspect he served a secondary role as the family Clown/Mascot. His callousness toward Tiffany in his famous essay (and grandiosity about how great the rest of the Sedaris family was–it’s very common for narcissists who were golden children to hold their dysfunctional families up as paragons of perfection) seemed to be drawn both from narcissism and from a need to hide his anger and pain behind a wall of humor. Here’s a link to his essay (it’s heartbreaking and may be triggering):

Now We Are Five

The accompanying photo is interesting. Tiffany, the second to youngest child in a family of six children, sits in the bottom right hand corner. Her hair is cut short and unkempt, and she looks very unhappy. David, wearing the glasses, stands above her. Actually, none of the kids look very happy. Not a smile in the bunch.  Something’s definitely not right about this family.  It’s common to see family portraits where no one is smiling in the 18th or 19th centuries,  but not in the late 1960s, when this photo was taken.   Here’s another photo, from the Vice interview, where only Tiffany (again in the bottom right hand spot) looks desperately unhappy and disconnected from her siblings.

tiffany_sedaris
Credit: Vice.com / Left to right: Amy, David, Gretchen, Paul, Lisa, and Tiffany

I used to enjoy Sedaris’ writings and looked forward to his books and essays, but after this essay, I just can’t read him anymore. (Augusten Burroughs is a better alternative and doesn’t seem to be a narcissist).

In spite of their raucous and jovial manner, Clowns are likely to be depressed because they have never learned to confront or deal with their true feelings.  They hide behind a wall of laughter.  Their sense of humor is really just a cover for their pain. Many Clowns become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a few become suicidal. Many of our great comedians served the Clown role in their families. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of them had drug issues or killed themselves.

5. The Rescuer.

superman_child

This is the codependent child who attempts to “fix” the family dysfunction by being obedient, always good, non-confrontational, overly generous, and self-sacrificing. The Rescuer may be highly empathic. The Rescuer tries to serve all the needs of the narcissistic/addicted parent, which of course is not possible. They will never argue with or criticize the narcissistic parent, and are always trying to get everyone to get along, which also is not possible. They may be the only family member who doesn’t abuse the Scapegoat, but they might if they feel like it’s required. However, even if they do collude in the Scapegoat’s abuse, they will be less abusive than the other family members, tending to take a back seat or even sympathize with the Scapegoat in private. In trying to please everyone, they please no one, and grow up feeling impotent and helpless. It’s a no-win situation.

When Rescuers become adults, they tend to unconsciously look for other abusers to “rescue,” having failed to do so in their families of origin. Like Scapegoats, Rescuers are likely to become abused themselves as adults, but it’s hard for them to leave an abuser because of their high level of empathy which keeps them tied to the abuser in their attempt to want to “help” them. They also tend to fall for an abuser’s promises to change and are easily “hoovered” back into a codependent relationship.

Shifting Roles.

In Balkanized families, the child roles can shift. The most common situation is a Golden Child becoming a Scapegoat, often upon reaching adulthood, if they fail to fulfill the unrealistic expectations put on them. (“You were such a disappointment to me!”) If a Scapegoat goes No Contact or leaves the family for some other reason, another child, possibly the Lost Child, becomes the new Scapegoat. Someone has to carry all the family shame.  If the family only has two children, the Golden Child may find themselves suddenly scapegoated or serving both roles.

Children who serve as both Scapegoats and Golden Children (very common in only children)  often develop Borderline Personality Disorder as well as severe C-PTSD and possibly other mental disorders like Dissociative Identity Disorder (almost always the result of severe emotional abuse).

Serving as both a Scapegoat and Golden Child is the ultimate mindf*ck because there isn’t even any consistency. The child never knows if they will be punished or rewarded from one minute to the next. Their only advantage (if they are an only child) is that they don’t have siblings who have been turned into flying monkeys who collude in the abuse.

If the family ever develops a need for a new Scapegoat (if the Scapegoat goes No Contact, dies, or disappears), the Lost Child is usually picked as a replacement, due to their non-confrontational, malleable temperament and lack of any real pre-existing role in the family.

Words as weapons.

by Photos8.com

by Photos8.com

If you were raised by narcissistic parents, you are probably familiar with these.  These are the words I heard from my parents (yours may differ somewhat but the devastating effect is the same).  I’ve broken them down into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, since the emotional abuse doesn’t stop when you become an adult.  Sometimes it gets worse. No matter what stage of life you’re in, these words are intended to destroy your soul. They are extremely effective weapons.

Childhood:

child-abuse1

You are too sensitive (the #1 criticism)

You have no sense of humor.

You cry too much.

Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about.

Your hair looks like a rat’s nest.

You always look so dirty and sloppy. (after being outside playing)

What did you do to your hair? (I did nothing; my hair was naturally thin and fine and tangled easily–and also grew in a strange way with cowlicks and weird curls)

You read too much.  (what?)

You’re too obsessed with your books, drawing, and solitary games. (These were my escapes)

You act so immature; no wonder you have no friends.

You know you hate competition (when I wanted to join the swim team)

You know you’re not good at team sports. (I wasn’t, but this made me doubt myself even more when playing team sports)

I don’t think you really want that. (subtle gaslighting intended to make me doubt my own reality)

Here, let me do that for you.  (a favorite of my mother’s when she didn’t have the patience to teach me or supervise me in a new or unfamiliar activity)

You’ll only make a mess of things. (another way to discourage my competence).

They’re just jealous of you because you’re prettier/smarter than they are (this seems nice but wasn’t based on reality and even I could see through that BS; I was bullied because of my high sensitivity, not my “superior” looks and intelligence)

You come from a better family than they do. (better in what way?)

We don’t associate with people like that. (see above–my parents were VERY into social status)

Don’t tell anyone what goes on in this family.

Keep your mouth shut about what happened here tonight.

Adolescence

teenager_sad

You’re gaining too much weight.  (my mother’s #1 favorite criticism, usually done in front of others)

You’re too fat (when I weighed 120 lbs at 5’4″!)

Your hair looks too stringy/greasy/what have you done to it, etc.  (a variation on the childhood hair criticism)

You eat too much chocolate, you will get pimples and no one will think you’re pretty anymore.

You’re boy-crazy!

You don’t study hard enough; you will fail all your subjects and not graduate (always catastrophizing)

You’re too pretty to wear that/do that/say that, etc.

You know you don’t want that. (making me doubt my reality)

You know I don’t like it when you act “tough” (but my sensitivity was hated too–I could never win).

You always get too hurt by everything (no empathy after a breakup or lost friendship, etc.)

You always get too obsessed with a boy.

This dress will make you look slimmer (this was a dress given to me in front of my friends at a birthday party)

Your butt is too big (I do have a big butt–I couldn’t help it!  It’s the way my spine curves. What was I supposed to do? Slice it off?)

Your breasts are so big they will hang down to your waist when you’re 50.  (I’m over 50 now and they don’t, they weren’t THAT big, and I think there might have been some envy in this anyway because she wore an A cup and I wore a C)

You’re acting like a crazy person.

What a stupid thing to say.

You have a terrible personality. I wouldn’t like you either.

You should change your personality.

You need to learn to control yourself.

You’re not goal-oriented.

Adulthood:

depressed_woman_bw

You’re living  a loser’s life.

You have nothing to show for your life.

You make terrible choices.

You’ve always made terrible choices.

You probably did something to deserve it. (always said when someone else treated me unfairly; no empathy shown)

Well, the way you are, I’m not surprised they are so angry with you/don’t like you, etc.

You’re a disgrace.

You never learn from your mistakes.

You overreact to everything.

You have no sense of humor/too sensitive, etc.

You don’t know how office politics works.  (I don’t, and I hate it, but this was meant to insult me)

You never did have a knack for making it in the business world.

You’ll always be poor because you make such terrible choices.

Don’t expect any help from us.

You made your bed, now lie in it.

Why don’t you join a convent? The nuns will take care of you.  (said when I was threatened with homelessness during my divorce).

Go live in a homeless shelter (see above).

You don’t take good care of your kids.

You’re a terrible parent.

Those kids are going to grow up with so many problems.

You weren’t raised to be this way.

It’s not my responsibility that what I said upset you.

You chose to be upset by that.  (again, taking no responsibility and blame-shifting).

You choose your own emotions. (see above).

You made a choice to be depressed/miserable, etc.

****

I could go on, but I think this is enough for now.   Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Further Reading:
Lies My Narcissists Told Me

Is narcissism caused by nature or nurture?

narc_child
Credit: davidwolfe.com

Although the consensus seems to be that narcissism or NPD (clinical narcissism) is a result of abuse or neglect during childhood, there may also be genetic factors involved.   An article from The Narcissistic Life cites several studies and concludes that narcissism results from a combination of nature and nurture, describing it this way:

These factors include biological vulnerability, social interactions with early caregivers, and psychological factors that involve temperament. There are studies that suggest that a gene (or genes) for narcissism can be inherited but that a person also needs the “right” environment for narcissism to be manifested.

What this means is that while a child may be born with a predisposition to becoming a narcissist, they won’t unless environmental factors are also fulfilled.  If the parents do their job well and give the child a secure emotional foundation, they will not develop NPD even if they are predisposed to it.    In this way it works a lot like alcoholism:  alcoholics are probably born predisposed to becoming alcoholic, but if they don’t take their first drink until they are well past adolescence or if the culture they are raised in discourages heavy drinking (or drinking at all), they will not develop alcoholism.

Some babies are born more demanding or needy than others.   These may be “difficult” children who are easily hurt or upset and have trouble learning self-soothing.   Such a temperament doesn’t necessarily indicate the child will become a narcissist, but they are probably more likely to than a calm baby who can soothe themselves, if the parents fail to mirror them properly or don’t attend to their emotional needs.

Most children whose parents were abusive or neglectful do not become narcissists.  They may develop some other problem like C-PTSD or BPD or be prone to depression or anxiety instead.  These are probably children who have a calmer, less sensitive or less demanding temperament than children who grow up to be narcissists.  Personally I think people who develop narcissism were children who were especially sensitive and had no emotional defenses at all so they sent the true self into exile and replaced it with a false one.   No other mental disorder causes a person to completely reject their own vulnerability and authenticity.

geneticNPD

It’s not always abused children who become narcissists.  Some are children who are spoiled by their parents. Spoiling may actually be a form of abuse, because it’s a lie and doesn’t acknowledge the child’s real self.  It still fails to mirror them properly.  The child is constantly told how perfect they are and showered with gifts and praise for being so “perfect.”  As a result, they feel like they must always be perfect which of course is a lie.  They feel entitled to whatever they want because of this belief in how perfect they are, and they never learn how to deal with criticism or setbacks when they get out into the real world.

I also think the nature of the abuse and role in the family plays a big part in whether a child develops narcissism and what type of narcissism they develop.   Golden children, who are essentially spoiled children, are more likely to become narcissists than scapegoats are.   Children who serve as both scapegoats and golden children (common in only children) can also become narcissistic, but I think they’re more likely to become Borderlines.   If a scapegoated child does become a narcissist, it’s more likely they’ll become the covert, fragile type of narcissist than the grandiose, overt type.

Some studies have also shown that narcissists’ brains have less grey matter in the left anterior insula region of the brain, thought by researchers to be involved with both the regulation of emotion and the generation of empathy.   But the jury is out on whether these brain differences are genetic or if the brains of narcissists fail to develop properly due to being raised in a narcissism-inducing (abusive or spoiling) environment.

Further reading:

Does Excess Praise and Spoiling Create Narcissists?

 

The #1 thing that makes me question God’s existence.

why-god-why

TRIGGER WARNING: Photos in this post may be triggering to abuse survivors.

I believe in God. I also believe God answers prayers and God sometimes even performs miracles. I’ve seen it happen in my own life, and in the lives of people close to me.

But tonight I was reading a site about abused children–not children with narcissistic parents who grew up into emotionally damaged, but physically and mentally normal adults, but children who never had a chance at all. Children like 3 year old Jeffrey Baldwin, who was tortured almost from the day he was born, and whose photos show both the emotional and physical destruction of a human being, and ended in a painful, horrible death by starvation at the age of three. Or children like a 4 month old baby girl, whose name escapes me, who was repeatedly raped and tortured by her own father, and died of internal injuries. These are just two examples of children who God seems to have forgotten, but they are far from the only ones.

PLEASE RETURN IMAGES TO PHOTO *P51 PRON *U42 GRAPHIC NE-JEFFERY-B@@IP1AW6Z3@#STAR@#@#MAIN@#NEW@#@#CITY Various images throughout his life, other faces in images other than Jeffrey should be obscured.
There’s bruising on Jeffrey’s face, but he could still smile.

AppleMark

AppleMark

Jeffrey Baldwin, second from the right.  He could no longer smile; in these later photos he looked this way in almost every picture, before the light went out in his eyes.  

 

Local Input~  UNDATED -- JEFFREY BALDWIN -- Photo of Jeffrey Baldwin at the time of his death from evidence provided by the coroner.  The inquest into the murder of Jeffrey Baldwin, whose grandparents beat and starved him to death began Monday, September 9, 2013.  Jeffrey weighed less than 10 kilograms and was emaciated when he died of starvation in November 2002. CREDIT: CORONER EXHIBIT (source: From: "McConnach, Robert (MCSCS)" ŠRobert.McConnach@ontario.ca>, Rob McConnach -Coroners Constable , Office of the Chief Coroner, Province of Ontario, 15 Grosvenor St., Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1Y6, Tel. 416-314-4200, Fax 416-314-3935 )/pws

Local Input~ UNDATED — JEFFREY BALDWIN — Photo of Jeffrey Baldwin at the time of his death from evidence provided by the coroner. The inquest into the murder of Jeffrey Baldwin, whose grandparents beat and starved him to death began Monday, September 9, 2013. Jeffrey weighed less than 10 kilograms and was emaciated when he died of starvation in November 2002.
CREDIT: CORONER EXHIBIT
(source: From: “McConnach, Robert (MCSCS)” ŠRobert.McConnach@ontario.ca>, Rob McConnach -Coroners Constable , Office of the Chief Coroner, Province of Ontario, 15 Grosvenor St., Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1Y6, Tel. 416-314-4200, Fax 416-314-3935 )/pws

 

A few days ago, there was a thought provoking and inspiring article called The Surprising Gifts of Suffering on the Dreams of a Better World blog (the post is in two parts), in which my friend speculated on the reasons why God allows people to suffer, some horribly. For emotional abuse victims, her argument that God is attempting to hone us and shape us into something more and draw us closer–knowing our souls are strong enough to withstand the abuse–make a kind of sense. We may not realize we were even abused until 40, 50, or even 60 years of age, but once we realize what happened to us, that’s when we begin to heal. Then we have something to teach the world. Many of us grew close to God because other humans proved to be so untrustworthy. We may never fully overcome the emotional damage, but if we keep an open mind and ask the right questions and learn the right lessons, we can reach out and begin to help others who were in the same situation. God knows we have the ability to turn our pain and suffering into something good and beautiful, which may be the reason we got handed that particular crappy deck of cards.  Maybe.

I can even understand, to a point, sick and starving children in third world countries. Although they live in unimaginable poverty and squalor, suffer physically almost from the moment they are born, and in all likelihood will die at an early age, they usually still experience joy, acceptance, and love. Their families suffer along with them, and photos show these children being held and loved by mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors, who are all in the same boat. They don’t suffer alone. The healthier among them may still even laugh and play.  Not knowing anything about prosperity, they are more able to enjoy the simple, natural pleasures that life offers.

But when I read about a case like little Jeffrey Baldwin, I just shake my head in sad bewilderment. I don’t understand how God could allow something like that to happen. For what reason? Some people may think it’s because God allows free will and Satan has dominion over a fallen world. But as I explained in a post I wrote a few days ago, I don’t believe the devil, if he exists at all, has that much power. Even if he did, why wouldn’t God step in and protect a helpless child who never had a chance, who no one prays for and no one cares about? If God loves us all, why would he allow an innocent life to be completely wasted, with no chance of redemption? Even if their souls go on to heaven, why would he put them here on earth, if their only fate here is to suffer and then die? If yelling at and cursing God is a kind of prayer, as a commenter the other day suggested it really is, then I guess I’m praying when I angrily implore to the heavens, “God, why THE HELL do you allow these things to happen?”

The Adverse Childhood Experience study (CDC)

Under my post Adult Poverty and Scapegoat-hood: A Connection?,  one of my commenters (katiesdream2004) mentioned a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the mid-late 90’s that researched the connection between adverse childhood experiences (which includes emotional abuse by parents and early caregivers) and ill health and general low quality of life in adulthood.  I decided to Google it and here’s what I found.

From their webpage:

ace_study

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) members undergoing a comprehensive physical examination chose to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. To date, more than 50 scientific articles have been published and more than100 conference and workshop presentations have been made.

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences. Realizing these connections is likely to improve efforts towards prevention and recovery.

A correlation was found:

Childhood abuse, neglect, and exposure to other traumatic stressors which we term adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are common. Almost two-thirds of our study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one of five reported three or more ACE. The short- and long-term outcomes of these childhood exposures include a multitude of health and social problems.

The ACE Study uses the ACE Score, which is a total count of the number of ACEs reported by respondents. The ACE Score is used to assess the total amount of stress during childhood and has demonstrated that as the number of ACE increase, the risk for the following health problems increases in a strong and graded fashion:

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Depression
Fetal death
Health-related quality of life
Illicit drug use
Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
Liver disease
Risk for intimate partner violence
Multiple sexual partners
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Smoking
Suicide attempts
Unintended pregnancies
Early initiation of smoking
Early initiation of sexual activity
Adolescent pregnancy

None of this should be surprising. Abuse early in life, whether emotional or physical, takes a huge toll on a person’s sense of self-worth and these people tend to enter adulthood lacking the emotional, financial and practical tools others have to create a healthy and successful life. They also lack the support systems others do, and I would guess the enormous stress of facing challenges that others get help with also has ill effects on health and wellbeing.

I did notice the list mainly includes unhealthy life “choices” such as smoking, illicit drug taking, and early pregnancy. However, I also see depression and general health problems on the list too. I’d include other mental illnesses such as PTSD, Complex PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder, and Social Anxiety, all which interfere with a person’s ability to function well in the working world and in interpersonal relationships. These mental disorders could also cause a person to make “bad choices” such as smoking or sexual promiscuity.  Some, like Social Anxiety or Avoidant Personality Disorder, could cause a person who doesn’t engage in unhealthy behaviors, to be afraid to take any risks in life, limiting their opportunities and setting them up for failure.

More research needs to be done, particularly on the connection between emotional/narcissistic abuse during childhood and poverty later in life.

You can read more on their website:
http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

My fractured memory.

FracturedMemory2
“Fractured Memory,” by Hanna Trussler, 2012

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my early years–childhood and adolescence. As many of you know, my parents were active alcoholics, narcissists (my dad more likely covert NPD or maybe Borderline), and that I spent almost all of that time miserable and lonely due to emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse both at home and at school (because I was already trained to be a good little victim and had no self esteem or the ability to defend myself, I was bullied a lot).

The problem is, most of these early memories are fractured, hazy, or both. I remember snippets of traumatic events, but in most cases I can’t remember the entire event, or it’s spotty. Some of my memories seem more like dreams than reality and therefore I can’t remember the specifics of what happened. The same is true of my abusive marriage. I can only remember fractured pieces of that time. The two and a half decades I spent with him don’t seem like a cohesive whole, but more like a photo album with many of the photos missing. But this post isn’t about my early adult years.

I think something happened when I was 12 that was significant and a kind of turning point for me–it was when I stopped trusting anyone, I think. It was the moment when I realized how truly alone I really was and that no one cared and anyone who said they cared was probably lying. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is when I stopped reaching out to others and began my avoidant pattern of behavior. Of course, this coincided with puberty, so maybe that had something to do with it too.

Here’s what I do remember. My parents and I had taken a two week trip to the beach. Another couple and their two children came along with us and rented the cottage next door. That couple was friends with my parents. I didn’t know my father was sleeping with the wife at the time, and my mother probably didn’t either, but I remember how jealous she was of that other woman because she was younger and blonder than she was and my father paid a lot of attention to her. Their daughter was a year older than me and was adopted. She was from India and was a close friend of mine at the time.  I envied her beautiful long, glossy black hair, permanent tan, and huge soft brown eyes.  Her little brother (her parent’s natural child) was an adorable little blond-headed boy of about 5 or 6. To me, they seemed like the perfect family. It may have been an illusion (for all I know, they were putting on appearances too), but to my 12 year mind, they seemed like they were in love with each other and their kids were both well loved and well-adjusted. My friend always seemed happier, more focused on a future (she eventually became a doctor) and much more emotionally stable than I was. I loved her and envied her.

My parents at the time were drinking heavily and fighting almost daily. Some of their arguments became physical, and I remember lying silently in my bed at night listening to these arguments as they escalated. I was both fascinated and terrified. What if they divorced? What if they abandoned me?  What if they killed each other?  What if I became an orphan?  I seemed to be the cause of an awful lot of their problems (and they did fight over me a lot).

This beach vacation didn’t put a stop to their constant fighting, and one night, my father left. I don’t know where he went, but my mother and I were left alone. My mother didn’t speak to me about this and her demeanor toward me was cold, as if I was an annoyance to her. I was terrified my father was never coming back, and I remember crying myself to sleep the next night. I don’t think my mother ever came in to comfort me. She was probably getting drunk, but I don’t remember.

Desperate for someone to talk to, I pulled the father of my friend aside, and asked him if I could talk to him in private. He always seemed like a warm and sympathetic person to me, someone who loved kids. We sat down outside on a bench near the parking lot, with the sound of the waves crashing behind us on the beach,  and I spilled out all my worries, all my pain, and all my fears.  I talked for about an hour.  He just held my hand and listened. I started to cry and he held me.  He told me everything would be alright. He didn’t say he was going to talk to my parents.

sad_child_beach

He must have talked to them, because that night I was told by my mother that my father was returning to talk to me. She said he was not happy and was in fact enraged.
He came back as promised, and that’s where my memory gets all hazy and fractured. I remember snippets, like quick-flashing frames from a movie: getting beaten severely (but I was always beaten in a way that bruises didn’t show), being told I was a troublemaker and was the reason the family was falling apart. That I was nothing but a problem to them and never knew when to keep my mouth shut. I don’t remember the rest but I know there’s even more. I just can’t access it.

I also don’t know if my friend’s father had told my parents what I’d said to him because he was concerned about me and thought they might listen to him, or if he was just another participant in the abuse against me.

I realized even then my parents were drunk and probably not fully in control of what they said and did, but I think behind their alcoholism was narcissism. I think a lot of narcissists become alcoholics or addicted to drugs, and even after they become sober or clean, refuse to look any deeper into the core issues that caused them to drink or use in the first place. But that’s a subject for a later post. One thing that did occur to me, was that the only time my parents seemed to come together as a team and weren’t attacking each other, was when they joined forces to attack me. Only then were they the unified couple I dreamed of, unified in their abuse of their only child.

I don’t remember much of what happened after that beating and berating. I’m pretty sure our vacation ended at that point. I might have been sent to stay with relatives for a week or two, or left with a babysitter, so they didn’t have to deal with me. I feel like something important got blacked out, but I can’t remember what it was. But it was around this time that I stopped being able to confide in anyone at all. I remember one of the nuns who taught me in 8th grade, a woman who seemed to favor me for some reason, once called me aside and asked me if I was abused at home. I thought to myself, how can she tell? Of course I told her I wasn’t, that everything was fine. But nothing was fine in my life anymore.  I think my emotional growth stopped that summer.  At age 12.  But it might have stopped even earlier than that.  How in the name of God was I ever supposed to grow into a happy successful adult, able to form healthy attachments to others, when I never grew beyond the age of 12?

The next summer I was sent to sleep-away camp for the entire summer, and while I did enjoy it for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a rejection, a way for my parents to get rid of ‘the problem child’ so they didn’t have to deal with my “issues.”

Wow. Suddenly I feel like crying. The pain is getting real.

I’m asking the little girl who still lives somewhere inside me to tell me everything she knows.

This is why I can’t hate people with NPD.

what_they_dont_feel

Not too long ago, I was criticized by some other ACON bloggers for being a “narc hugger.”   First of all, let me clear that up right now.   I don’t hug the narcs, I don’t believe in enabling them in any manner, and I believe and always will believe that No Contact is the only viable way to deal with a narcissist.   They are dangerous to be around.

But do I think they’re demons who have no souls?  Well, no.   But I can understand why many  people, especially people who were unfortunate enough to be raised by them, think they are.    I think many of the things narcissists do are evil but I’m also all too aware that they are mentally ill people who do the things they do because they can’t help themselves.  If narcissism is a choice, for most that choice was made at such an early age it was never a conscious choice.

Some people think we shouldn’t feel sorry for narcissists or care about the poor little hurting inner child that went into hiding so long ago and constructed a false self in its place.   I can understand their viewpoint too.   That abused and hurting little boy or girl no longer exists and is not likely to ever emerge again, unless the narcissist is fairly low on the spectrum and becomes self aware and willing to change, and NPD by its nature means the lack of insight and empathy, which are prerequisites to make real healing possible.

However, people aren’t born narcissists.  Almost all people (unless they are psychopaths, in which case they were born with a defective brain capacity to feel much emotion) with NPD were once normal children with a normal capacity for empathy and love.   This was something that was done to them, and the “choice” to become a narcissist was usually made at an early age, from about ages 3 to 6.   These kids were so abused or so neglected that they turned to narcissism because it was the defense mechanism that was most efficient in allowing them to cope with their intolerable caregivers.    Some grandiose (not usually covert) narcissists may have been spoiled, but spoiling a child is abuse too, because it negates the presence of the child’s true self, an imperfect human being and tells them they are perfect, which is a lie they come to believe and try to live up to.

However their narcissism developed, and whether they are happy being that way or not, people who have it are prisoners to their own disorder.  They are not happy people.  They are living a lie and in many cases believe the lie they live is the truth.  They live in mortal terror of being exposed or losing supply.     This doesn’t mean we should enable them or let them get away with the things they do.  They need to be exposed.   They need to have consequences.   Just like the children they are.

I can no longer hate narcissists.    My mother is a somatic malignant narcissist but I also know she had a horrific childhood.  She’s never talked to me about it but I know of it.   It makes perfect sense to me that she would have become a narcissist, given the environment she was raised in.   She’s been this way since she was a very young girl and simply knows no better.   In her 80’s now, she won’t ever change.  She has never been a happy woman, has never known joy, has never really loved anyone.  She can’t.  And it’s sad.

narcissist-discard

I am no contact with my mother.   For most of my life, I felt like a victim, even after I became an adult.  I felt like the things she said and did she was doing to me because she was an evil, soulless witch who hated me.   Feeling so hated by my own mother, I felt defective and defenseless. Why would any mother hate her own child?   It must have been me.  I must have been unloveable.  I must have been a horrible child who brought her shame and misery.   For years, that was the only explanation that made sense to me, because mothers just don’t hate their own children!

When I first learned about NPD, I immediately recognized it as my mother’s problem, the reason why she couldn’t love me or anyone.   I read a lot about it. (This was years before I became so deeply involved in the narcissistic abuse community–that would come later, after I left my ex for good).   I read M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie and thought to myself, well, that explains it.  My mother is evil.

But why me?  Why was I so unfortunate to be born to an evil parent?   I felt sorry for myself.  Other people had loving parents, but I got an evil one.  It wasn’t fair!  Again, I felt like a victim.

Only in the past sixteen months, as I’ve learned about narcissism on a much deeper level (including a short time where I thought I hadn’t escaped the disorder myself), have I realized that narcissists are mentally ill and became the way they are because they were abused themselves.    All of us who escaped developing NPD are extremely lucky.  We could have become that way too.   Maybe due to temperament or some slight difference in our circumstances as children, we somehow managed to escape.   Yes, we might have complex PTSD, Borderline Personality or other personality disorders, we might have a bad case of narcissistic “fleas,” we might have severe neuroses like OCD or even Dissociative Identity Disorder, or we may be prone to severe depressions, but we haven’t ever needed to hide our true selves completely behind a mask. We can still sometimes be what God intended for us to be.   Narcissists can’t.  They are imprisoned forever by their own defense mechanisms.

By coming to this awareness, I’ve been able to develop an understanding of what makes narcissists the way they are, and to me they seem like victims too.  And no matter what you may think of that, thinking of them as victims helps me, because when I think of my mother now, I don’t think of her as being some demon that I had the back luck to be born to; instead I think of her as a victim who had no idea how to raise a child and victimized me because she just didn’t know how to be any other way or even know there was another way.  It’s a lot easier for me to regard my mother with pity (not enabling!) than with hatred because feeling pity helps me be able to move on with my narcissist-free life and feel less like a born victim.   Somehow that makes me feel less afraid.    It’s God’s job to fix a narcissist if that’s his will and it’s God’s job to judge them if it isn’t.    All I can do is worry about healing myself and pray for people like my mom.

Further reading:  We Were The Lucky Ones

“The Narcissistic Mother”

SO.0511.Mothers2.HO.Copy of 1955 file photo of Joan Crawford.

TRIGGER WARNING!
This 2007 article from the Deconstructing Jezebel blog may be the most comprehensive, descriptive, detailed, and yes, extremely triggering article about narcissistic mothers I have ever read. Reading this was like reliving the trauma all over again. But if you were raised in a narcissistic home, it will open your eyes too, and if you had any doubt your mother (or father) was a narcissist, this should clear up any doubt.

Although written about mothers, all of these things could apply to fathers too.
It’s also very long but well worth reading.

The Narcissistic Mother

gretel-ella-smith

The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self.
It’s about secret things.
It’s about body language.
It’s about disapproving glances.
It’s about vocal tone.
It’s very intimate.
And it’s very powerful.
-Chris

Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers

1. Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help you.

She rarely says right out that she thinks you’re inadequate. Instead, any time that you tell her you’ve done something good, she counters with something your sibling did that was better or she simply ignores you or she hears you out without saying anything, then in a short time does something cruel to you so you understand not to get above yourself. She will carefully separate cause (your joy in your accomplishment) from effect (refusing to let you borrow the car to go to the awards ceremony) by enough time that someone who didn’t live through her abuse would never believe the connection.

Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She’ll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you’ve also done or how highly she thinks of them. The contrast is left up to you. She has let you know that you’re no good without saying a word. She’ll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is, again, completely deniably. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or they way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. As a result, you’re always afraid, always in the wrong, and can never exactly put your finger on why.

Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her. She’s also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She’s very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don’t wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done. The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that no one who might intervene will hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public. She’ll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!). Unfortunately therapists, given the deniable actions of the narcissist and eager to defend a fellow parent, will often jump to the narcissist’s defense as well, reinforcing your sense of isolation and helplessness (“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that!”)

2. She violates your boundaries. You feel like an extension of her. Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you. Your food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate. Your property may be repossessed and no reason given other than that it was never yours. Your time is committed without consulting you, and opinions purported to be yours are expressed for you. (She LOVES going to the fair! He would never want anything like that. She wouldn’t like kumquats.) You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there. She keeps tabs on your bodily functions and humiliates you by divulging the information she gleans, especially when it can be used to demonstrate her devotion and highlight her martyrdom to your needs (“Mike had that problem with frequent urination too, only his was much worse. I was so worried about him!”) You have never known what it is like to have privacy in the bathroom or in your bedroom, and she goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, snoops into your email/letters/diary/conversations. She will want to dig into your feelings, particularly painful ones and is always looking for negative information on you which can be used against you. She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.

Any attempt at autonomy on your part is strongly resisted. Normal rites of passage (learning to shave, wearing makeup, dating) are grudgingly allowed only if you insist, and you’re punished for your insistence (“Since you’re old enough to date, I think you’re old enough to pay for your own clothes!”) If you demand age-appropriate clothing, grooming, control over your own life, or rights, you are difficult and she ridicules your “independence.”

3. She plays favorites. Narcissistic mothers commonly choose one child to be the golden child and one to be the scapegoat. The narcissist identifies with the golden child and provides privileges to him or her as long as the golden child does just as she wants. She attempts to replicate herself in the golden child. The golden child has to be cared for assiduously by everyone in the family. The scapegoat has no needs and instead gets to do the caring, or is ignored, or is harmed. The golden child can do nothing wrong. The scapegoat is always at fault. This creates divisions between the children, one of whom has a large investment in the mother being wise and wonderful, and the other(s) who hate her. That division will be fostered by the narcissist with lies and with blatantly unfair and favoritizing behavior. The golden child will defend the mother and indirectly perpetuate the abuse by finding reasons to blame the scapegoat for the mother’s actions. The golden child may also directly take on the narcissistic mother’s tasks by physically abusing the scapegoat so the narcissistic mother doesn’t have to do that herself.

divide_and_conquer

4. She undermines. Your accomplishments are acknowledged only to the extent that she can take credit for them. Any success or accomplishment for which she cannot take credit is ignored or diminished. Any time you are to be center stage and there is no opportunity for her to be the center of attention, she will try to prevent the occasion altogether, or she doesn’t come, or she leaves early, or she acts like it’s no big deal, or she steals the spotlight or she slips in little wounding comments about how much better someone else did or how what you did wasn’t as much as you could have done or as you think it is. She undermines you by picking fights with you or being especially unpleasant just before you have to make a major effort. She acts put out if she has to do anything to support your opportunities or will outright refuse to do even small things in support of you. She will be nasty to you about things that are peripherally connected with your successes so that you find your joy in what you’ve done is tarnished, without her ever saying anything directly about it. No matter what your success, she has to take you down a peg about it.

joan_crawford

5. She demeans, criticizes and denigrates. She lets you know in all sorts of little ways that she thinks less of you than she does of your siblings or of other people in general. If you complain about mistreatment by someone else, she will take that person’s side even if she doesn’t know them at all. She doesn’t care about those people or the justice of your complaints. She just wants to let you know that you’re never right.

She will deliver generalized barbs that are almost impossible to rebut (often in a caring tone): “You were always difficult” “You can be very difficult to love” “You never seemed to be able to finish anything” “You were very hard to live with” “You’re always causing trouble” “No one could put up with the things you do.” She will deliver slams in a sidelong way – for example she’ll complain about how “no one” loves her, does anything for her, or cares about her, or she’ll complain that “everyone” is so selfish, when you’re the only person in the room. As always, this combines criticism with deniability.

She will slip little comments into conversation that she really enjoyed something she did with someone else – something she did with you too, but didn’t like as much. She’ll let you know that her relationship with some other person you both know is wonderful in a way your relationship with her isn’t – the carefully unspoken message being that you don’t matter much to her.

She minimizes, discounts or ignores your opinions and experiences. Your insights are met with condescension, denials and accusations (“I think you read too much!”) and she will brush off your information even on subjects on which you are an acknowledged expert. Whatever you say is met with smirks and amused sounding or exaggerated exclamations (“Uh huh!” “You don’t say!” “Really!”). She’ll then make it clear that she didn’t listen to a word you said. She doesn’t care what you said.

6. She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” (this is a phrase commonly used by abusers of all sorts to invalidate your experience of their abuse), that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened, nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds but especially used by the subtlety of narcissists.. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up being extremely confused, and wondering if you are as she says you are; usually, you will begin to believe deeply her lies about you. You will end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the narcissistic abuser.

Narcissists gaslight routinely. The narcissist will either insinuate or will tell you outright that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things or be so uncooperative. You’re oversensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re hysterical. You’re completely unreasonable. You’re over-reacting, like you always do. She’ll tell you that she’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down and aren’t so irrational. She may even characterize you as being neurotic or psychotic to your face, but often will say these things to others, particularly to other family members in her efforts to destroy your credibility Once she’s constructed these fantasies of your emotional pathologies, she’ll tell others about them, as always, presenting her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She didn’t do anything. She has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. You’ve hurt her terribly. She cannot understand why you won’t talk to her or won’t spend time with her. She thinks you may need psychotherapy. She just doesn’t know what to do (and she’ll ask others for their opinion of you, carefully skewing the impressions they have of you to fit her image of you). You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.

She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious antipathy towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners. She plays the role of the doting mother so perfectly that no one will believe you.

7. She’s extremely envious. Any time you get something nice she’s angry and envious and her envy will be apparent when she admires whatever it is. She’ll try to get it from you, spoil it for you, or get the same or better for herself. She’s always working on ways to get what other people have. The envy of narcissistic mothers often includes competing sexually with their daughters or daughters-in-law. They’ll attempt to forbid their daughters to wear makeup, to groom themselves in an age-appropriate way or to date. Or they will encourage you to present yourself in a sexually provocative way, and then they will directly compete with you for male attention. They will criticize the appearance of their daughters and daughters-in-law, no matter what their appearance is like. This envy extends to relationships. Narcissistic mothers infamously attempt to damage their children’s marriages and interfere in the upbringing of their grandchildren.

8. She’s a liar in too many ways to count. In fact, her lying usually reaches pathological proportions. Any time she talks about something that has emotional significance for her, it’s a fair bet that she’s lying. Lying is one way that she creates conflict in the relationships and lives of those around her – she’ll lie to them about what other people have said, what they’ve done, or how they feel. She’ll lie about her relationship with them, about your behavior or about your situation in order to inflate herself, cause divisions between people, and to undermine your credibility.

The narcissist is very careful about how she lies. To outsiders she’ll lie thoughtfully and deliberately, always in a way that can be covered up if she’s confronted with her lie. She spins what you said rather than makes something up wholesale. She puts dishonest interpretations on things you actually did. If she’s recently done something particularly egregious she may engage in preventative lying: she lies in advance to discount what you might say before you even say it. Then when you talk about what she did you’ll be cut off with “I already know all about it…your mother told me… (self-justifications and lies).” Because she is so careful about her deniability, it may be very hard to catch her in her lies and the more gullible of her friends may never realize how dishonest she is. If you do try to take action to expose her lies, you will look like the one with ‘the problem’ as she has carefully cultivated others to believe you are. The more emotional or dramatic you become in trying to have others see the truth of how you are treated by her, the more unbalanced you will look and the more solid will become their agreement with her subtle assessment of you that she’s planted into them.

To you, she’ll lie blatantly. She will claim to be unable to remember bad things she has done, even if she did one of them recently and even if it was something very memorable. Of course, if you try to jog her memory by recounting the circumstances “You have a very vivid imagination” or “That was so long ago. Why do you have to dredge up your old grudges?” Your conversations with her are full of casual brush-offs and diversionary lies and she doesn’t respect you enough to bother making it sound good. For example she’ll start with a self-serving lie: “If I don’t take you as a dependent on my taxes I’ll lose three thousand dollars!” You refute her lie with an obvious truth: “No, three thousand dollars is the amount of the dependent exemption. You’ll only lose about eight hundred dollars.” Her response: “Isn’t that what I said?” You are now in a game with only one rule: You can’t win. If you press the issue, you will slowly see the outrageous anger that a narcissist can display towards you – she will only show you or others whom she has devalued and ‘split off’; others who are still useful to her will not see this side of her. Thus, if you try to tell others of the depth of her anger or her fury or her harm, they simply will not believe you.

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9. She has to be the center of attention all the time. This need is a defining trait of narcissists and particularly of narcissistic mothers for whom their children exist to be sources of attention and adoration. Narcissistic mothers love to be waited on and often pepper their children with little requests. “While you’re up…” or its equivalent is one of their favorite phrases. You couldn’t just be assigned a chore at the beginning of the week or of the day, instead, you have to do her wishes on demand, preferably at a time that was inconvenient for you, or you had to “help” her do it, while she quietly glories in the command and control she wields over you. For a narcissist, it is always, and only, about them. Your primary function is to satisfy their needs and wants.

A narcissistic mother may create odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as memorials for someone close to her who died long ago, or major celebrations of small personal milestones. She may love to entertain so she can be the life of her own party. She will try to steal the spotlight or will try to spoil any occasion where someone else is the center of attention, particularly the child she has cast as the scapegoat. She often invites herself along where she isn’t welcome. If she visits you or you visit her, you are required to spend all your time with her, doing as she wants. Entertaining herself is unthinkable. She has always pouted, manipulated or raged if you tried to do anything without her, didn’t want to entertain her, refused to wait on her, stymied her plans for a drama or otherwise deprived her of attention.

Older narcissistic mothers often use the natural limitations of aging to manipulate dramas, often by neglecting their health or by doing things they know will make them ill. Sometimes they will do this by addictions to alcohol or drugs or other obsessions. This gives them the opportunity to cash in on the investment they made when they trained you to wait on them as a child. Then they call you (or better still, get the neighbor or the nursing home administrator to call you) demanding your immediate attendance. You are to rush to her side, pat her hand, weep over her pain and listen sympathetically to her unending complaints about how hard and awful it is. (“Never get old!”) It’s almost never the case that you can actually do anything useful, and the causes of her disability may have been completely avoidable, but you’ve been put in an extremely difficult position. If you don’t provide the audience and attention she’s manipulating to get, you look extremely bad to everyone else and may even have legal culpability. (Narcissistic behaviors commonly accompany Alzheimer’s disease, so this behavior may also occur in perfectly normal mothers as they age. But, in narcissistic mothers, it is a given.)

10. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain. This exceptionally sick and bizarre behavior is so common among narcissistic mothers that their children often call them “emotional vampires.” Some of this emotional feeding comes in the form of pure sadism. She does and says things just to be wounding or she engages in tormenting teasing or she needles you about things you’re sensitive about, all the while a smile plays over her lips. She may have taken you to scary movies or told you horrifying stories, then mocked you for being a baby when you cried. She will slip a wounding comment into conversation and smile delightedly into your hurt face. You can hear the laughter in her voice as she pressures you or says distressing things to you. Later she’ll gloat over how much she upset you, gaily telling other people that you’re so much fun to tease, and recruiting others to share in her amusement. . She enjoys her cruelties and makes no effort to disguise the smaller cruelties – the most serious cruelties, she will perform with you in secret or when just you and she are alone. She wants you to know that your pain entertains her. She may also bring up subjects that are painful for you and probe you about them, all the while watching you carefully. This is emotional vampirism in its purest form. She’s feeding emotionally off your pain. She enjoys your pain. This may be the hardest aspect of the character of mothers with narcissistic personality disorder to believe and accept. After all, she is your mother.

A peculiar form of this emotional vampirism combines attention-seeking behavior with a demand that the audience suffer. Since narcissistic mothers often play the martyr this may take the form of wrenching, self-pitying dramas which she carefully produces, and in which she is the star performer. She sobs and wails that no one loves her and everyone is so selfish, and she doesn’t want to live, she wants to die! She wants to die! She will not seem to care how much the manipulation of their emotions and the self-pity repels other people. One weird behavior that is very common to narcissists: her dramas may also center around the tragedies of other people, often relating how much she suffered by association as she cries over the horrible murder of someone she wouldn’t recognize if they had passed her on the street.

11. She’s selfish and willful. She always makes sure she has the best of everything. She insists on having her own way all the time and she will ruthlessly, manipulatively pursue it, even if what she wants isn’t worth all the effort she’s putting into it and even if that effort goes far beyond normal behavior. She will make a huge effort to get something you denied her, even if it was entirely your right to do so and even if her demand was selfish and unreasonable. If you tell her she cannot bring her friends to your party she will show up with them anyway, and she will have told them that they were invited so that you either have to give in, or be the bad guy to these poor dupes on your doorstep. If you tell her she can’t come over to your house tonight she’ll call your spouse and try get him or her to agree that she can, and to not say anything to you about it because it’s a “surprise.” She has to show you that you can’t tell her “no.”

One near-universal characteristic of narcissists: because they are so selfish and self-centered, they are very bad gift givers. They’ll give you hand-me-downs or market things for themselves as gifts for you (“I thought I’d give you my old bicycle and buy myself a new one!” “I know how much you love Italian food, so I’m going to take you to my favorite restaurant for your birthday!”) New gifts are often obviously cheap and are usually things that don’t suit you or that you can’t use or are a quid pro quo: if you buy her the gift she wants, she will buy you an item of your choice. She’ll make it clear that it pains her to give you anything. She may buy you a gift and get the identical item for herself, or take you shopping for a gift and get herself something nice at the same time to make herself feel better.

12. She’s self-absorbed, totally self-centered. Her feelings, needs and wants are very important; yours are insignificant to the point that her least whim takes precedence over your most basic needs. Her problems deserve your immediate and full attention; yours are brushed aside. Her wishes always take precedence; if she does something for you, she reminds you constantly of her munificence in doing so and will often try to extract some sort of payment. She will complain constantly, even though your situation may be much worse than hers. If you point that out, she will effortlessly, thoughtlessly brush it aside as of no importance (It’s easy for you…/It’s different for you…). If you refuse to give her the attention that she demands, she may cut you off and ignore you outright.

13. She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism. If you criticize her or defy her she will explode with fury, threaten, storm, rage, destroy and may become violent, beating, confining, putting her child outdoors in bad weather or otherwise engaging in classic physical abuse and emotional abuse. It’s easy to provoke her wrath because she takes everything personally and any attitude short of constant emotional and physical availability is perceived as a slight. If you’re short with her because you’re exhausted and depressed, she has to have it out with you over your “hostility.” If a toddler shouts “I hate you” at her she gets angry and punitive – punishment is payment and is often cruel and way out of proportion to the event. If you refuse her nosy request to let her read the letter you got she shouts about how unappreciative you are and how you only think of yourself…. She has no sense of perspective or separation – there are no boundaries between narcissistic mothers and their targeted daughter – and she can’t let anything go. Because the narcissistic mother is so extremely defensive, she is completely resistant to change. Narcissists infamously cannot be helped because they simply refuse to see that there is anything wrong with their behavior – it is not them, it is you..

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14. She terrorizes. All abusers use fear to control their victims, and your narcissistic mother used it ruthlessly to train you. Narcissists teach you to beware their wrath even when they aren’t present. You are very very afraid of them, to your core. The only alternative you have is constant placation. If you give her everything she wants all the time, you might be spared. If you don’t, the punishments will come. Even adult children of narcissists still feel that carefully inculcated fear. Your narcissistic mother can turn it on with a silence or a look that tells the child in you she’s thinking about how she’s going to get even.

Not all narcissists abuse physically, but most do, often in subtle, deniable ways. It allows them to vent their rage at your failure to be the solution to their internal chaos and havoc (narcissists are deeply self-loathing but absolutely will not let themselves feel that), and simultaneously to teach you to fear them. They want you to fear them. You may not have been beaten, but you were almost certainly left to endure physical pain when a normal mother would have made an effort to relieve your misery. This deniable form of battery allows her to store up her rage and dole out the punishment at a later time when she’s worked out an airtight rationale for her abuse, so she never risks exposure. You were left hungry because “you eat too much.” You always went to school with stomach flu because “you don’t have a fever. You’re just trying to get out of school.” (She resents having to take care of you. You have a lot of nerve getting sick and adding to her burdens.) She refuses to look at your bloody heels and instead the shoes that wore those blisters on your heels are put back on your feet and you’re sent to the store in them because “You wanted those shoes. Now you can wear them.” (You didn’t want these shoes. All you said was that the ones she wanted to get you were ugly. She liked them because they were just like what she wore 30 years ago). The dentist was told not to give you Novocaine when he drilled your tooth because “she has to learn to take better care of his teeth.” Unlike psychopaths (which is an extreme version of narcissism), narcissists do understand right, wrong, and consequences, so they are not ordinarily criminal. She beat you, but not to the point where you went to the hospital. She left you standing out in the cold until you were miserable, but not until you had hypothermia. She put you in the basement in the dark with no clothes on, but she only left you there for two hours. She sadistically used you in some way, but never when someone else could witness it, and she bought you an ice cream or let you watch a movie afterwards.

Narcissistic mothers also abuse by loosing others on you or by failing to protect you when a normal mother would have. Sometimes the narcissist’s golden child will be encouraged to abuse the scapegoat. She finds some kind of pleasure when she is able to turn others against you and manipulate them into harming you. Narcissists also abuse by exposing you to violence or to horror of various kinds. If one of your siblings got beaten, she made sure you saw. She effortlessly put the fear of Mom into you, without even touching you.

15. She’s infantile and petty. Narcissistic mothers are often simply childish. If you refuse to let her manipulate you into doing something, she will cry that you don’t love her because if you loved her you would do as she wanted. If you hurt her feelings she will aggressively whine to you that you’ll be sorry when she’s dead that you didn’t treat her better. Anytime she feels hard-done-by, she pouts and whines, or she gives the silent treatment. When you were a child, she would justify things she did to you by pointing out something that you did that she felt was comparable, as though the childish behavior of a child was justification for the childish behavior of an adult. “Getting even” is a large part of her dealings with you. Scores must be settled, and she will wait for an opportunity to take action to settle a score. Anytime you fail to give her the deference, attention or service she feels she deserves, or you thwart her wishes, she has to show you.

16. She’s aggressive and shameless. She doesn’t ask. She demands. She makes outrageous requests and she’ll take anything she wants if she thinks she can get away with it. Her demands of her children are posed in a very aggressive way, as are her criticisms. She won’t take no for an answer, pushing and arm-twisting and manipulating to get you to give in.

17. She “parentifies.” She shed her responsibilities to you as soon as she was able (sometimes as early as birth), leaving you to take care of yourself as best you could. She may deny you medical care, adequate clothing, necessary transportation or basic comforts that she would never have considered giving up herself. She, without exception, will deny you herself – she will give you nothing of her. She never gave you a birthday party or let you have sleepovers. Your friends were never welcome in her house. She didn’t like to drive you anywhere, so you turned down invitations because you had no way to get there. She wouldn’t buy your school pictures even if she could easily have afforded it. As soon as you got a job, every request for school supplies, clothing or toiletries was met with “Now that you’re making money, why don’t you pay for that yourself?”

She also gave you tasks that were rightfully hers and should not have been placed on a child. You may have been a primary caregiver for young siblings or an incapacitated parent. You may have had responsibility for excessive household tasks.You may have been the go-between between she and your father, or she and others with whom she had a rocky relationship. Above all, you were always her emotional caregiver which is one reason any defection from that role caused such enormous eruptions of rage. You were never allowed to be needy or have bad feelings or problems. Those experiences were only for her, and you were responsible for making it right for her. From the time you were very young she would randomly lash out at you any time she was stressed or angry with your father or felt that life was unfair to her, because it made her feel better to hurt you. You were often punished out of the blue, for manufactured offenses. As you got older she directly placed responsibility for her welfare and her emotions on you, weeping on your shoulder and unloading on you any time something went awry for her, and forcing you to carry the weight of her emotional burdens.

18. She’s exploitative. She will manipulate to get work, money, or objects she envies out of other people for nothing. This includes her children, of course. If she set up a bank account for you, she was trustee on the account with the right to withdraw money. As you put money into it, she took it out. She may have stolen your identity. She drug you into her schemes and made you a part of her wrongdoing. She used you as a protective cover for herself. If she made an agreement with you, it was violated the minute it no longer served her needs. If you brought it up, demanding she adhere to the agreement, she brushed you off and later punished you so you would know not to defy her again.

Sometimes the narcissist will exploit a child to absorb punishment that would have been hers from an abusive partner. The husband comes home in a drunken rage, and the mother immediately complains about the child’s bad behavior so the rage is vented on to the child. Sometimes the narcissistic mother simply uses the child to keep a sick marriage intact because the alternative is being divorced or having to go to work. The child is sexually molested but the mother never notices, or worse, calls the child a liar when she tells the mother about the molestation.

19. She projects. This sounds a little like psycho-babble, but it is something that narcissists all do. Projection means that she will put her own bad behavior, character and traits on you so she can deny them in herself and punish you. This can be very difficult to see if you have traits that she can project on to. An eating-disordered woman who obsesses over her daughter’s weight is projecting. The daughter may not realize it because she has probably internalized an absurdly thin vision of women’s weight and so accepts her mother’s projection. When the narcissist tells the daughter that she eats too much, needs to exercise more, or has to wear extra-large size clothes, the daughter believes it, even if it isn’t true. If she is sexually conflicted, the mother will often project her own insecurities, or propensities for ‘acting out’ behaviors onto you. If she wishes that she could ‘go wild’, she will accuse you of being a whore.

She will sometimes project even though it makes no sense at all. This happens when she feels shamed and needs to put it on her scapegoat child and the projection therefore comes across as being an attack out of the blue. For example: She makes an outrageous request, and you casually decline. She’s enraged by your refusal and snarls at you that you are such an ungrateful child that she regrets having you, and says that she’s refusing to talk to you anymore. And she ‘disowns’ you. Your refusal has made her feel the shame that should have stopped her from making shameless demands in the first place. That’s intolerable to her. She can transfer that shame to you and rationalize away your response: you only refused her because you’re so unreasonable, and so selfish. Having done that she can reassert her shamelessness and indulge her childish willfulness by turning your refusal into a subject for further discussion. You’ll talk about it again “later” – probably when she’s worn you down with histrionics, anger and the silent treatment so you’re more inclined to do what she wants.

20. She is never wrong about anything. No matter what she’s done, she won’t ever genuinely apologize for anything, because she does not feel responsible. She will not take responsibility. Rarely will she apologize. If she ever feels she is being made to apologize, she will issue an insulting apology or negate the apology she has just made with justifications, qualifications or self pity: “I’m sorry you felt that I humiliated you” “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad”, “There’s nothing I can do about it now” “I’m sorry you feel clumsy, stupid and disgusting” “I’m sorry but it was just a joke. You’re so over-sensitive” “I’m sorry that my own child feels she has to upset me and make me feel bad.” The last insulting apology is also an example of projection.

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21. Sometimes she seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings, and yet she can seem to be sensitive to other people’s emotions, just not yours.
Every child of a narcissist recognizes this contradiction because narcissistic mothers do possess the ability to exercise faked – empathy, and in abundance. They can perform in ways that make them appear that they identify emotionally with people who are suffering and to express caring for them. When caring about another’s suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes. When a narcissistic mother wants validation, when she feels like eliciting some emotional pain, when something she wants hurts someone else, the faked-empathy is turned off as though it never existed. Narcissistic mothers have a very ‘cold’ feeling to them.

From the perspective of ability, narcissists are ‘sensitive’ in a strange way to others; indeed they have a gift of telling what other people are feeling and thinking. Their skill at discerning and guiding the emotions of other people is the basis of many characteristically narcissistic interactions. Narcissists are very socially adept which is why no one ever believes their children when they complain of their mothers. They know just how to make everyone think that they’re delightful. Narcissistic mothers are exceptional manipulators, and manipulators must be extremely aware, on a moment-by-moment basis, of the emotions of their targets. If you don’t know what people are feeling, you can’t push their buttons. Their exceptional sensitivity to the feelings of others is also the wellspring of their pleasure in inflicting emotional pain through dramas and no-win scenarios. Narcissistic mothers enjoy inflicting emotional pain and they do it very well because they know just what their “target children” are feeling. That exquisite sensitivity is the reason they don’t need to batter. They can inflict agony without lifting a finger, so why risk exposure and waste effort with beatings when they can elicit the same pain and suffering with words alone?

What narcissistic mothers lack is concern for the consequences of their actions, a behavior that seems rooted in profound selfishness. Mothers with NPD are certainly capable of feeling for others: they’re always feeling for the people with whom their scapegoat has conflicts. They feel for their fellow narcissists. They feel for people who have validated and praised them. They feel for people that they can see have potential to be used by them. They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re using or abusing her. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs.
22. She engineers “no-win” situations that leave you violated and angry and not sure why you feel that way. In the classic “no-win” scenario, the narcissist’s child is subtly manipulated into a corner and then presented with a demand that the child do something degrading, humiliating or painful in order to please the narcissist. Any response other than compliance triggers retaliation.

These sadistic scenes are a defining characteristic of the narcissist. As so often with narcissistic behavior, the payoff for your mother is the elicitation of painful emotions. Whether you subject yourself to her degradation or you fight back and provoke punishment from the narcissist, you will experience a sense of entrapment and fear, and those emotions are very satisfying to her. Her pleasure is augmented by the pain she elicits by undermining, insulting and demeaning you and, as the scene winds down, by blaming you for the entire event. There is no way out for you in her scenarios at all.

These scenes are set up very stealthily; so much so that the children of narcissists rarely realize that a trap has been laid before it’s sprung. As always, the narcissist maintains deniability, but the consistencies between scenes betray their deliberate nature. Although the narcissist plays the scene as though it was spontaneous, it never is. It is scripted and premeditated and the stage is set well in advance. If a scene plays out away from home, you can be sure that the mother is in charge of transportation so that the child doesn’t have the option of walking away. If the scene is staged at home, it’s almost always in the absence of others, or if the child is an adult, it will occur in the mother’s home, not the child’s home, and engineered so that once again, it’s extremely difficult for the child to walk away. The narcissist commonly arranges things so she is alone with her victim, but she may also use the presence of a young child or complicit spouse to ensure that her target doesn’t react with any real force.

Often the worst part of these scenes for the child is the awareness of how much her mother enjoys her distress; the children of narcissistic mothers often describe their mother’s “little smile” and air of pleasure as she plays out the no-win scenario. When confronted, some narcissistic mothers will even defend their behavior by saying they were “just having fun.” There is no betrayal more wounding than knowing your own mother is reveling in the pain she purposely caused, nor any emotion more delicious to your narcissistic mother than your sense of shock and misery at your knowledge that she is hurting you deliberately and for fun.

In the following story, an adult daughter is manipulated into a no-win situation. If she does not want to provoke retaliation from her narcissistic mother, she must accept and express gratitude for a gift that was clearly meant as an insult:

A few days before Christmas, my mother walked into the room where I was sitting carrying a pair of old, worn tennis shoes – the kind with the rubber soles and canvas uppers. She said “I know you asked for a pair of running shoes for Christmas. I thought I could give you these and get myself a new pair instead.” My mother was a clothes horse, and always had many pairs of new running shoes in her closet. What’s more, her feet are bigger and narrower than mine, so there’s no way her shoes would have fit me, but I was too shocked and angry to think of that. I said “I don’t want your cast-offs” and she looked very satisfied and pleased and said “Fine” and walked away. That year I got no gift for Christmas, even though I had bought her something from her wish list, and even though my brother and sister got gifts from her.

I did get a letter after I got home that started “I’m sorry you felt that I offered you “cast-offs” and went on to describe how good her intentions were, how she thought I would be happy to let her do something nice for herself, and how hard she had it as the mother of an “unappreciative” child like me. This wasn’t the first time either. The preceding year she had tried to give me an old, rusty bicycle for Christmas with the stipulation that she would then get herself a new one.

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Conrad (Tim Hutton) tries to hug his cold as ice narcissistic mother in “Ordinary People.”

This story illustrates a classic no-win scenario (although the stakes here were much smaller than many ‘no-wins’ that capable narcissists perform). Although the young woman did not realize it at the time, her mother had manipulated her into a corner. She had traveled to her mother’s house for Christmas and it was late at night. As a graduate student, she was perpetually short on funds, and going to a hotel, even if she could find one at that hour, was out of the question. None of the rest of the family was there yet, so she and her mother were alone in the house. There had been no argument or tension, and the attack by her mother came out of the blue. Her mother proposed something very insulting: she would give the daughter her own worn shoes (which didn’t fit the dtr and, for which gift the dtr was to be “appreciative”). You would have to be very aware and self-possessed to respond calmly to such a demeaning suggestion, and the dtr, tired, shocked, and angry, blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Her mother got exactly what she wanted: a good feed on the dtr’s hurt and anger, and an excuse to punish the dtr with exclusion and withholding and later with a letter filled with guilt-inducing remonstrations.

In reality her mother never planned on giving her a Christmas gift. She was angry that her dtr had made herself unavailable for abuse by going to graduate school in another state, and seeming to enjoy it very much, and she wanted to punish the dtr for her defection. So she manipulated a no-win scenario in which she could simultaneously insult the dtr and turn her predictably angry response into an opportunity for punishment and narcissistic venting. In her letter, she projected her own hostility and selfishness on to her dtr, blamed her dtr for her own bad behavior, and depicted herself as a martyr, all the while maintaining complete deniability about the deliberate nature of the original interaction. In fact, in telling of this to her other children, it is certain that the mother arranged the story so that the other siblings would ‘blame’ the daughter, thus drawing them closer to the mother and separating out the ‘split off’ daughter even more.

23. She blames. She’ll blame you for everything that isn’t right in her life or for what other people do or for whatever has happened. Always, she’ll blame you for her abuse of you. You made her do it. If only you weren’t so difficult. You upset her so much that she can’t think straight. Things were hard for her and your backtalk pushed her over the brink. This blaming is often so subtle that all you know is that you thought you were wronged but now you feel guilty. You may find yourself telling her time and time, “I’m sorry” and not quite knowing what you are apologizing for. Your brother beats you and her response is to bemoan how uncivilized children are. Your boyfriend dumped you, but she can understand – after all, she herself has seen how difficult you are to love. She’ll do something egregiously exploitative to you, and when confronted will screech at you that she can’t believe you were so selfish as to upset her over such a trivial thing. She’ll also blame you for your reaction to her selfish, cruel and exploitative behavior. She can’t believe you are so petty, so small, and so childish as to object to her giving your favorite dress to her friend. She thought you would be happy to let her do something nice for someone else.

Narcissists are masters of multitasking as this example shows. Simultaneously your narcissistic mother is 1) Lying. She knows what she did was wrong and she knows your reaction is reasonable. 2) Manipulating. She’s making you look like the bad guy for objecting to her cruelties. 3) Being selfish. She doesn’t mind making you feel horrible as long as she gets her own way. 4) Blaming. She did something wrong, but it’s all your fault. 5) Projecting. Her petty, small and childish behavior has become yours. 6) Putting on a self-pitying drama. She’s a martyr who believed the best of you, and you’ve let her down, again. 7) Parentifying. You’re responsible for her feelings, she has no responsibility for yours.

24. She destroys your relationships. Narcissistic mothers are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted. Unless the father has control over the narcissist (which is nearly impossible) and holds the family together, adult siblings in families with narcissistic mothers characteristically have painful relationships. Typically all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all. In part, these women foster dissension between their children because they enjoy the control it gives them. If those children don’t communicate except through the mother, she can decide what everyone hears. Narcissists also love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in their children’s lives. Watching people’s lives explode is better than soap operas, especially when you don’t have any empathy for their misery.

The narcissist nurtures anger, contempt and envy – the most corrosive emotions – to drive her children apart. While her children are still living at home, any child who stands up to the narcissist guarantees punishment for the rest. In her zest for revenge, the narcissist purposefully turns the siblings’ anger on the dissenter by including everyone in her retaliation. (“I can see that nobody here loves me! Well I’ll just take these Christmas presents back to the store. None of you would want anything I got you anyway!”) The other children, long trained by the narcissist to give in, are furious with the troublemaking child, instead of with the narcissist who actually deserves their anger.

The narcissist also uses favoritism and gossip to poison her children’s relationships. The scapegoat sees the mother as a creature of caprice and cruelty. As is typical of the privileged, the golden child doesn’t see her unfairness and she/he excuses her abuses. Indeed, they are often recruited by the narcissist to adopt her contemptuous and entitled attitude towards the scapegoat and with her tacit or explicit permission, will inflict further abuse. The scapegoat predictably responds with fury and equal contempt – or is so beat down that she acquiesces and goes silently inward. After her children move on with adult lives, the narcissist makes sure to keep each apprised of the doings of the others, passing on the most discreditable and juicy gossip (as always, disguised as “concern”) about the other children, again, in a way that engenders contempt rather than compassion.

Having been raised by a narcissist, her children are predisposed to be envious, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity that presents. She may never praise you to your face, but she will likely crow about your victories to the very sibling who is not doing well. She’ll tell you about the generosity she displayed towards that child, leaving you wondering why you got left out and irrationally angry at the favored child rather than at the narcissist who told you about it. She may tell you of gifts she’s given to the golden child, or lunches they’ve had together, or trips they’ve taken, always in glowing terms, intended to make you, the scapegoat, feel confused or less-then by comparison.

The end result is a family in which almost all communication is triangular. The narcissist, the spider in the middle of the family web, sensitively monitors all the children for information she can use to retain her unchallenged control over the family. She then passes that on to the others, creating the resentments that prevent them from communicating directly and freely with each other. The result is that the only communication between the children is through the narcissist, exactly the way she wants it.

25. As a last resort she goes pathetic. When she’s confronted with unavoidable consequences for her own bad behavior, including your anger, she will melt into a soggy puddle of weepy helplessness. It’s all her fault. She can’t do anything right. She feels so bad. What she doesn’t do: own the responsibility for her bad conduct and make it right. Instead, as always, it’s all about her, and her helpless self-pitying weepiness dumps the responsibility for her consequences AND for her unhappiness about it on you. As so often with narcissists, it is also a manipulative behavior. If you fail to excuse her bad behavior and make her feel better, YOU are the bad person for being cold, heartless and unfeeling when your poor mother feels so awful.

© 2007 Psychological Services, Inc.

Does excess praise and spoiling create narcissists?

mini_me

Many experts, including Sam Vaknin, think spoiling a child or pouring on excess praise (placing them on a pedestal) is actually a form of child abuse, because it does not mirror the child as who they really are, but as who the parents wish them to be or believe them to be. Children not mirrored appropriately, whether excessively criticized or excessively praised, grow up unable to form a viable true self and are vulnerable to developing disorders of the self, especially NPD.

The following article explains in further detail why excessively praising a child can actually hurt their self esteem, rather than help it develop normally. It also describes the two types of praise–one that builds self esteem because it takes a child’s effort into account (“you worked hard to win that contest” or “you showed a lot of dedication in getting those A’s”) and one that fosters narcissism because it implies inherent superiority over others (“you’re the prettiest girl in school” or “you’re the smartest kid ever”).

Do Parents Nurture Narcissists By Pouring On The Praise?
By Poncie Rush, for NPR.org

When a kid does something amazing, you want to tell her so. You might tell her that she’s very smart. You might tell her that she’s a very special kid. Or you might say that she must have worked really hard.

On the surface, they all sound like the same compliments. But according to Brad Bushman, a communications and psychology professor at Ohio State University, the first two increase the child’s chances of becoming a narcissist. Only the last one raises the child’s self-esteem and keeps her ego in check.

Bushman and a group of collaborators surveyed parents to see how they show warmth and value their child’s accomplishments. They then compared those findings to the children’s levels of self-esteem and narcissism. The results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of course, self-esteem and narcissism are two very different things. The difference has to do with how you value yourself compared to other people. “Self-esteem basically means you’re a person of worth equal with other people,” Bushman tells Shots. “Narcissism means you think you’re better than other people.”

And not in a good way.

“Narcissism is a somewhat toxic personality trait,” Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic and psychology professor at San Diego State University, tells Shots. Narcissists tend to overestimate their abilities, take too many risks and mess up their relationships, she says. Some people see narcissists hurting the people and society around them, but they hurt themselves, too. “In the long term it tends to lead to failure,” Twenge says.

While narcissists tend to have high self-esteem [my note–this is not true], not all people with high self-esteem are narcissists. Bushman needed to separate the two. So he asked children ages 7 to 12 years old how they felt about statements like “Some kids like the kind of person they are,” or “Kids like me deserve something extra.” The first statement measures self-esteem; the second, narcissism.

Bushman made sure to focus on children between 7 and 12 years old, so that by the time the study finished all of them would be older than 8. “You can’t measure narcissism in children before age 8, because every child is a narcissist,” he says. If you ask younger kids in a classroom if they are good at math or good at baseball, Bushman says all the kids will raise their hands.

Then he surveyed the children’s parents, asking them to respond to statements to determine whether they overvalued their children. For example, “I would not be surprised to learn that my child has extraordinary talents and abilities,” or “Without my child, his/her class would be much less fun.” And he asked how they expressed warmth toward their child by measuring how strongly they agreed with statements like “I let my child know I love him/her.”

child_on_pedestal

When he analyzed the results from the surveys, Bushman found that the more narcissistic children had parents who consistently overvalued their accomplishments. He ran additional tests to make sure that the parents weren’t narcissists, too — after all, it’s possible that the children could be mirroring narcissistic behavior. But statistically, the children of narcissists aren’t more likely to be narcissists themselves.

The research team continued to survey the same group of 565 children and their parents for a year and a half. They watched the children develop, and they could link each child’s tendency toward self-esteem or narcissism back to what the parents had told them six months earlier.

“We’re not just measuring their narcissism at time one; we’re using these measures to predict the behavior a year and a half later,” says Bushman. “Parental warmth doesn’t predict it. Parental narcissism alone doesn’t predict it. But parental overvaluation alone does predict it.”

Bushman is particularly worried about narcissism because both he and other researchers have linked it to aggressive and violent behavior. He thinks it’s partly because narcissists are less likely to feel empathy toward others.

“Empathy involves putting yourselves in other people’s shoes, but narcissists have a very difficult time putting themselves in other people’s shoes,” Bushman says. Plus, he says that narcissists respond poorly when they don’t get special treatment. “Whenever people have this sense of superiority, then they lash out at others in an aggressive way.”

Of course, someone who appears more narcissistic at age 10 isn’t necessarily going to grow up to be a narcissistic adult, let alone aggressive. And the results of this study hinge on a handful of short surveys — no extensive personality testing here.

“There are definitely going to be things that influence the personality after that stage,” says Twenge. “Those [narcissistic] tendencies may start to show up around then, but will continue to be influenced by parenting and environment throughout adolescence.”

But this study has Bushman thinking about the way he praises his own children. “It’s a lot better to say ‘You worked really hard’ than ‘You must be really smart,’ ” he says, “because if you tell the kid that they’re smart and then if they fail they think ‘Oh I’m stupid.’ ” If the praise relates to effort, a child who fails will work harder next time.

Bushman is also trying to cultivate self-esteem in his children, because people with high self-esteem tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression over time. Based on Bushman’s research, parents can raise their children’s self-esteem just by expressing more warmth.

Both researchers agree that voicing the connection you feel to your children really helps. “If you want to look for a substitute for ‘You’re special,’ just say ‘I love you,’ ” says Twenge. “It’s what you mean, and it’s a much better message.”

Have a child age 8 to 12? Find your own “Parental Overvaluation” score here.

Original article is here.