Guest post #13: Panic and Narcissism

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Don Shelby, who writes the blog Living With Narcissism, and suffers from depression and panic disorder, had a surprise for me today.  I opened up my email and there was his guest post!    He’s been busy and had some personal issues so was unable to send it earlier, and I’d completely forgotten about it, but after I read it I was very glad he remembered to send it because I could relate to it and I think a lot of you will be able to also. Most of us who had narcissistic parents learn to be afraid of everything. It’s why we take so few risks.

From Don’s About page:

I’ve lived with narcissists for most of my life and only recently understood the phenomenon of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Co Dependency in relationships.  From my humble beginnings being raised by a single Narc mother to several long term relationships with Narc women I have been fully and completely indoctrinated to be a good little obedient co dependent with very low self esteem.  I personally suffer from depression and anxiety/panic disorder.  I currently still live with my narcissistic partner of nearly 20 years and for now intend to continue in this relationship.  This blog is my safe space to openly discuss what goes on in my world around this dynamic and to explore coping mechanisms and ways to heal the co dependency in me.  I am not a mental health professional.  I’m just a victim of narcissistic childhood abuse who’s on a mission to heal my soul and gain back my life once and for all.

Panic and Narcissism 
By Don Shelby, Living With Narcissism

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I had my first full blown panic attack in my mid 20s. Since then, my life has become a quest to understand why I felt so anxious and panicky over situations that I used to not have any fear about whatsoever in my younger years. For a long time, I thought that the panic attacks started then, but now I believe they started at a much younger age and only manifested fully in my 20s when life got too overwhelming.

My mother was a narcissist and she terrorized me and my brother throughout our lives until her death in 1997 in order to manipulate us and get us to do what she wanted. My brother and I flip flopped between being the golden child and the scapegoat depending on which of us was on her good side at the moment. I grew up with uncertainty, no boundaries, and rules that changed with my mother’s moods. I was taught to distrust my own feelings, thoughts and desires and especially of anyone outside of our family unit. I was taught to only trust my mother and to believe everything she told me as if it was written in stone. Whenever I would want to do something that she didn’t want me to do she would try to scare me into not doing it by telling me that I’d end up dead or worse if I did the thing I wanted to do. She’d paint a pretty scary picture for me and then I had to choose whether to take the “risk” and go for it or to take her word for it and not do the thing. I’m not talking about risky behaviors like skydiving or rock climbing here. I’m talking about going to college out of state or going on an amusement ride she didn’t want me to ride or swimming in the ocean. Normal stuff a lot of kids do. Every day stuff. Her justification was always that we’re not like other people and it’s okay for them but not us. Why were we so different? Because my mother said so.

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So I was raised to be fearful and to only trust my mother. Still, today, when I’m about to embark on something that I perceive as scary or challenging I can hear her voice telling me how crazy I am to try something that foolish and that I’m going to end up dead because of it. I was a fearful kid and I grew into a fearful adult. The real crazy part is that, despite my fear, I still went ahead and did most of the things that my mother warned would kill me. I rode that roller coaster. I swam in that ocean. I went to college out of state. There was a big part of me that didn’t believe her lies. I pushed my luck often and did what I wanted to despite her warnings. But it cost me too. This pushed me into the Scapegoat role constantly with her while she admonished me for disobeying and looked for any sign of failure as a chance to show me how right she was after all. It forced me into a corner where I could never fail because failure would usher in an unwelcome torrent of “I told you so’s”. I could not let her win. And I didn’t. For years I put a ton of pressure on myself to show my mother that she couldn’t keep me from living my life. Zero failure was my mantra. Never show weakness. Always tell her only the positive things going on and hide my vulnerabilities from her.

So all those years of being strong actually broke me down until my nervous system couldn’t handle it anymore and I started experiencing panic attacks over the slightest little thing. I guess there were triggers but I wasn’t aware of them. My own mind became my new battle ground and I didn’t feel safe anywhere. I changed career paths because of it. I stayed in lousy relationships because of it. I lived in places I hated because of it. I didn’t have the confidence in myself to take care of my own needs like I once had. Still, I struggle to lead a happy, normal life. There are a lot of things I simply don’t feel strong enough to do anymore. My nervous system is so sensitive to fear triggers that I can’t handle much stress at all in my life. I’m a shell of the person I used to be and I feel like an old warrior, battered but not broken from my experiences in life. My mother waged mental warfare in my youth and other women have continued her battles as I’ve been attracted to a lot of narcissistic type people over the years.

The silver lining is that with understanding narcissism and the effects of C-PTSD I now know what caused my panic attacks to start and why my life has been challenging in ways that most of my friends were not. I can’t go back and change the past but I can take what I’ve learned into my future and make it better. Sure, I still struggle with anxiety and panic, but with understanding has come some tools to help me persevere through my triggers and symptoms. I know the value of setting boundaries and having self respect and listening to my inner voice above others. I remind myself daily what I knew when I was five. My mother was wrong. I’m not crazy and I’m not going to die on that roller coaster.

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More narcissist word salad.

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I found this rambling diatribe on a forum for bereaved parents. I understand there is always anger during the grieving process, even toward the deceased, but the entire manner and tone of this post, as well as the whiney, self-pitying, blaming attitude and total lack of empathy for her deceased child’s emotional needs, screams NPD. I didn’t see any other posts by this author on the forum. Note the contradictions and inconsistencies, the irrelevant interjections, and the total disregard for her child’s emotional (as opposed to material) needs.

I’m suspecting the deceased daughter was the family scapegoat, who she seems to regard unfavorably. It doesn’t surprise me too much she would have been suicidal.

Hello, I hope you can all help me figure out what I’m supposed to do. I can’t stop crying the tears are always right on the surface, I had to quit my job because of what an emotional wreck I am. You can’t have someone running a busy, productive office if they’re always mopping up their eyes with mascara streaks everywhere and blowing their nose, can you. I never used to be like that. I could always hold my composure, which is why I always make a good impression on interviews and why I always get promoted. Well, not anymore, so I had to quit. I couldn’t concentrate. It was quit or be fired! What has made me such an emotional basket case is this. My beautiful, perfect daughter killed herself in January. She was 18. She swallowed a bottle of pills and downed them with liquor. I always told her she should go to AA because of her drinking but she never listened. She never did what I or her father advised. Oh, she was a rebel. Always a spitfire. After she did this she did not call anyone and she didn’t leave a note. Of course this shattered me, her father, and her brothers and sister, who all of us only tried to help her. We didn’t deserve to have her do this to us. She always got everything she always wanted. She wanted to be in pageants when she was a little girl, so we spent thousands of dollars on dresses, tiaras, fees, hotels, etc. and we never pushed her, she wanted to do this. But she changed her mind when she was 12 and decided she didn’t like it anymore. All that money we spent for no reason. She got everything–the new car, the computer, the new big screen TV, the gadgets, all the clothes, makeup, jewelry, everything she wanted! She had no reason to be depressed! Last Christmas we took her on an expensive Ski trip to Colorado and she spent the entire time watching TV instead of out on the slopes. We tried to talk to her but she wouldn’t budge, just sit there sullenly sulking and making things very unpleasant for the rest of us. She was never an easy child, no sirree! She was a fussy baby who cried all night and all day, a tantrum throwing toddler, an unruly child, a rebellious teenager. Even when I was pregnant she gave me trouble. I developed gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with her (not with my first two children, she was my third) and I threw up almost every day for the entire nine months! Maybe we gave her too many things, but we always tried everything to make her happy. I just don’t understand how a child who is given everything–all the expensive and beautiful clothes, good food and plenty of it, good schools, a nice room with her own bathroom and sitting area, how a child like that can be so unhappy. She acted like she hated me! I never did anything to her, I was always giving her what she wanted and trying to make her happy! I was a good mom, even my other children always tells me what a good mother I am and my friends think so too! They are jealous because I am such a good mother and they have so much to learn. I don’t know what I did to deserve a child who acted like she hated me and then had to go and make things even worse by killing herself. The ultimate slap in the face! I just don’t know what to do, where did I go wrong? This should never have happened! If she had not been so hard headed and done the things we told her to do (like go into real estate–her father is a successful Realtor) [My note: You said your daughter was 18 so that makes no sense!] instead of pursuing all these wild pipe dreams then she would have been happy and would not have done this horrible thing to her family. And not even have the decency to leave a note? Please tell me what I can do to cope with this mess. Oh god, I’m crying again. Please help me.

The Making of a Psychopathic Narcissist

Linda Lee makes a very important distinction here, one I’ve always believed. I agree with her that, like her mother, many narcissists switch back and forth between the covert and overt subtypes. When supply is abundant, they tend to become more aggressive and grandiose (this is why my ex was harder for me to deal with when things were going well for him) but when supply is low, they switch to the more covert form. Whether or not someone is “covert” or “overt” might have more to do with their life circumstances than a real difference in the type of NPD they have. NPD is NPD and it’s all pretty much the same at it’s core.

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NPD mother.

matchingoutfits

I read this post on City-Data.com tonight,  and this sounds so much like my mother it’s not even funny.    Even the time frame seems to be the same.

There is a difference though. My mother wasn’t above taking me to Sears, J.C Penny’s etc. to buy MY clothes, while she always shopped at Lord and Taylor’s for her own. Later, when we moved to New York, she bought her clothing at Bloomingdale’s but mine always came from Alexander’s (closed in 1992).    Not that I minded (I didn’t care), but it’s interesting that I always got the “low rent” stuff.

As for the hairbands mentioned in this post, my mother always bought me elastic ones.     At least they came in different colors.  I doubt she would have bought me a glittery plastic hairband either if I had asked for one, although she probably would have let me wear one and griped about it endlessly.   I remember she went nuts when I bought some pale blue nail polish and little decals to stick on my nails because of how “unnatural” and “tacky” it was, but she didn’t make me take it off.  When I was around 5 or 6, she  was also into those “mother and daughter” matching outfits that were so popular in the mid-196os.  Perfect for creating a mini-me to perfectly mirror the narc mother’s impeccable taste.

 

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I was an extension of my mother. And I reflected her beauty and taste.
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and attended public schools. But my sisters and I looked as though we were “high society” – but you wouldn’t know it.

While my friend’s parents bought their clothes at Sears, Penny’s or even Macy’s; my mother pronounced those stores as “common” – pretty much her absolute worst word for anything.

She took us to Lord and Taylor, B. Altman, and Bonwit Teller. Frequently, the suburban branches were not deemed “good enough”, so we were made to drive an hour into NYC to buy triplicate Scottish wool kilts or velvet portrait collar dresses for Christmas day.

Same with the dentist! She didn’t like the shape of my lateral incisors, and they were capped in 6th grade!

As with everything though, there was a dark side to all of this.

I really wanted to wear a plastic hair band in the summer. Some were pearly and others were glittery. I thought they were “beautiful”, I was seven and I liked things that sparkled! Everyone in my neighborhood and my day camp had them in many different colors!

She wouldn’t let me get one. Not one. I mean it was a hair band and not a tattoo! It was a fad one Summer forty years ago.

She did relent about hair bands towards the middle of the Summer and bought me a tortoise shell one. It was drab. It was tasteless. It didn’t stand out on my head the way the wonderful glittery ones and lavender pearl ones did.

Worse, for a seven year old, no props from my friends. They thought it was ugly.

I took it into the woods and snapped it in half.

One afternoon she asked what happened to “that thing that you forced me to buy for your hair”.

I told her that I’d lost it. Her reply “thank God”, followed by a snicker that confirmed that she was lacking in any empathy at all.

 

Truth teller.

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I am the truth teller in my family. Because of that I have been scapegoated and disowned. I’m well aware of the possibility of my family seeing this, but due to the indifference I’ve been able to develop toward them (which I think is healthier than the hatred and rage I used to feel), I can now say this without guilt. It’s also the only way I can ever “communicate” with them about how I really feel, as if that would make any difference. It won’t, but at least they will know, and they should know. I’ve hesitated about ever writing a post like this, but I’ve kept this inside too long, and need to get it out there for all to see. That’s what this blog is for, after all.  It’s about MY life, not theirs.

1. I was trained by my family to be a victim (scapegoated child). I was never given the emotional tools to do well in life, or much financial help either after I turned 18. My family had money, but would not pay for my college education. I had to pay for it myself and take out loans. (My father did pay for my son’s college education. I’m not bitter about this but grateful at least he got help).

2. I live in poverty because I lacked those emotional and survival tools to do well on my own. I have had extremely low self esteem my entire life and felt incompetent in most things because of the way I was treated. In addition to having no confidence and being painfully shy (which is a handicap out in the world today), I also can’t connect in any meaningful way with people, so I am all alone in my 50s as well as poor.

3. My family, who still has money, refuses to help me. Not that they should have to at my age, and not that I would ask, but they never have (except during the few times they were shamed into it by people in authority, but I won’t get into that here because it’s irrelevant). In loving families, when a child, no matter how old, is struggling, everyone pitches in to help. That doesn’t mean support them forever, just help them get back on their feet so they can make a fresh start. But my family isn’t normal. My mistakes are not tolerated. I failed to meet their unrealistic standards of perfection, so I don’t deserve a second chance. But this shouldn’t surprise me. They are a family of narcissists, both covert and overt, with my mother at the helm. Others in the family live well and get help when they need it. But not me.

4. I have been disowned, even though I was a “good kid” who never got in serious trouble, didn’t do drugs, get in trouble with the law, etc. No, I wasn’t “easy” (I had lots of BPD and complex PTSD episodes and severe mood swings), but overall, I wasn’t a bad kid, just really fucked up in the head. They hold it against me that I “went back” to my sociopathic malignant NPD ex, even though I was so victimized at the time I felt like I had no other choice. I felt like I had nowhere else to go. But I think I would have been disowned anyway, because I was the scapegoat of the family and singled out for this treatment when it became clear I was the one who saw through all the lies and bullshit.  Even though I’m no longer with my sociopathic ex, as far as I know, I’m still written out of the will.  No one ever tells me anything.

4. My mother has triangulated against me and turned the entire family against me so everyone thinks I’m crazy and evil and wants nothing to do with me. She has actually told her relatives I deserve nothing and “brought this on myself.” No one in the family (except my children and my father) talks to me.  (My mother and I do exchange cards, but they are very generic and impersonal).   I’m never invited to any family functions. I’m grateful at least my kids  know I’m not this horrible person the rest of the family thinks I am. Actually, they told me they think I was a good mother who did the best I could with what I had to work with.  That means a lot.

4. They throw their disdain and contempt toward “the poor” in my face all the time, quoting Tea Party screeds about how all poor people are lazy and leeches on society and deserve to be poor. This is done to shame me and make me feel like an outsider, which of course I am.

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I try not to be bitter about all this, but it’s so hard sometimes. To survive, I had to become indifferent toward them and think of them as pathetic little victims themselves, otherwise the rage would have destroyed me. Actually, I do have love for my father, who I do believe loves me. But he’s under the thrall of the rest of the narcs, who keep telling him how useless, crazy, and undeserving I am.

That’s what I get for being the truth teller in my family. The one who can see through all the bullshit.

Until I found the narcissistic abuse community, I felt all alone. I’d never known anyone who was treated this way by their family of origin. But my experience seems to be a common one among so many victims of narcissistic parents. So many of us have “failed at life” because we were never given the tools to do well, or allowed to develop any self confidence. We were always told we’d fail at anything we ever did and not allowed to try things when we were young. But then later we were blamed for not achieving great things in life. I’ve never seen so many people living in poverty in their 40s and 50s except among other children of narcissistic parents.  Why is it that so many of us don’t discover what we’ve been up against until so late in life?

It’s incredibly painful to realize our own family doesn’t love you and probably never really did.  I used to envy others for their loving families and still do, but it’s time to move on.  Indifference is the only way I can cope with having been rejected by the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally.

I’m getting enraged now so I need to stop writing this and go back to being indifferent.

Further reading:

Why Family Scapegoats Become Lifelong Victims

It’s All About Image: The Skewed Values of Narcissistic Families

 

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

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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

My narcissist mother’s hate-crush on Martha Stewart.

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I hesitated about posting this because earlier this year I found out my mother has read this blog and ever since,  I’ve felt inhibited about posting anything bad about her.

But why? What’s she gonna do? Not talk to me? We don’t talk anyway. Say bad things about me behind my back?  She does that too.  Why am I still so worried she might “disapprove?” She’s never approved of me and never will, so fuck it, I’m posting this because it’s funny.

My mother was consumed with Martha Stewart-envy, but would rather have laid on a bed of nails than ever admit it.

She was a woman who perceived herself to be the perfect housewife, perfect corporate hostess, perfect chef, perfect decorator, and perfect party-giver.  She held herself up as a paragon of upper-middle class feminine virtue.    When she was married to my father, she prided herself on her flawless and memorable cocktail parties (no matter that both she and my father spent the entire time drunk and arguing loudly at these events in front of their guests).  She crowed to anyone who would listen that she could whip up a gourmet meal worthy of Julia Child’s praise (to be fair, she actually was a good cook but she wasn’t THAT good).  She also thought of herself as a world-class interior decorator even though the kitchen in the house we lived in was outdated by about 40 years and never had any modernizations or improvements done to it (the fixtures were all white enameled metal, the floor was cracked multicolor-speckled brown linoleum, and counter space was nonexistent), the ancient floral wallpaper in most of the bedrooms was dingy and yellow with age (this was the original wallpaper in our 1920s Dutch colonial revival house), and every room in the public areas were carpeted with the same boring beige wall-to-wall because the hardwood floors looked like shit.

She did, in fact, have a short lived career as an interior decorator, and to be fair, she was probably reasonably skilled, but you’d never know it looking at our house. Our Christmas tree was always boring too–every year the same white lights and red and silver ornaments went on the tree (no other colors allowed) because anything more colorful was deemed “tacky” even though there was a child in the house.

After my parents divorced, my mother went into public relations and bragged constantly about how successful she was in her field and how everyone wanted to be her client because of her flawless skills, sparkling charisma, and her ability to sell ice to an Eskimo. Although she never achieved fame and riches, she liked to live as if she had both, and looked down on people who had “regular jobs.” But one thing my mother never had much of was creativity, although she liked to brag that she did.

Martha Stewart was everything my mother wished she was: a woman who had parlayed her creative homemaking, decorating, and cooking skills into a huge empire; a woman who appeared on TV talk shows, wrote books, published a glossy magazine, and had countless articles written about her in national publications. My mother hated Martha Stewart. She never passed up an opportunity to rail on about Martha’s terrible taste in decor and table presentations, her weight (to my mother, Martha was “fat”), her “tentlike” clothes, her irritating personality, her flat “peasant-like” facial features, her obsession with fattening desserts rather than healthy salads and lean meats, and her overuse of tacky primary colors and insipid pastels (my mother was the Queen of Beige, an evil color if I ever saw one–is it even a color?). For a normal woman with my mother’s range of interests, someone like Martha Stewart could have been an inspiration, but to a narcissist like my mother, she presented a huge threat; she was someone who had the potential to make my mother’s domestic and entertaining skills look uninspired and pedestrian in comparison.

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When the story broke on the news that Martha Stewart got arrested for tax fraud, my mother actually rubbed her hands together with glee and her eyes glittered in a Mean Girls sort of way. She literally squealed in delight when Martha was shown being taken off in handcuffs to the minimum security womens’ prison where she would live for the next five months, to be followed by another five months of house arrest. “Common criminal,” my mother sniffed contemptuously. “She had it coming. What’s she going to do? Sew tacky curtains for the barred windows?”

I’ve never been a big fan of Martha Stewart either but I thought her attitude in prison was classy, refreshing, and even touching. She treated her cellmates–mostly women of far lower social class than she was–with respect and dignity, and from everything I heard, all the women there adored her and they all cried when she was released. One of the girls knit Martha a clunky homemade shawl, which Martha proudly wore in front of the cameras as she was escorted away. I thought Martha handled what could have been an incredibly embarrassing situation with class and good humor. I pointed how nice Martha’s attitude was.
“I think it’s so cool the way she treats all those girls like human beings, and makes them feel valued.”
Always the wet blanket, my mother hissed, “well, you don’t know what she’s like when the camera isn’t on her.”*

That’s what narcissists do. They’re wet blankets. Maybe Martha Stewart can do something creative with those too.

***

* Martha Stewart’s daughter reports that her mother was anything but ideal, and was probably a narcissist.  That may be true but I still thought her attitude toward her cellmates was admirable, even if it was only to make a good impression to the public.

“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.

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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.

maternal-narcissism

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.

ordinary_people_hug
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.

What a narcissistic parent sounds like.

I’m sure a lot of victims of narcissist parents will be able to relate to this graphic example of how a mother with obviously high spectrum NPD abuses, mocks, and scapegoats her daughter. Warning: these videos may be triggering.

In watching this, you can graphically see how a malignant narcissist operates, by exhausting the victim to the point that eventually the victim “loses it” (which the daughter here did not do) and then the narcissist can sit back and tell everyone how “crazy” or “irrational” the victim is. It’s an insidious kind of gaslighting.

Lucky Otters Haven

Here are two Youtube videos that graphically show exactly how a mother with a bad case of NPD (malignant narcissism) operates. These videos are entertaining in a scary and disturbing way, like watching a train wreck.

Pay close attention to what the mother says–she uses every trick in the narcissist’s book of tricks: blame, insults, changing the subject, interrupting, raging, mocking, “talking over”, gaslighting, projecting, invading boundaries, not taking responsibility, showing no empathy, and just about every other “tool” the narcissist uses to get their own way or avoid taking responsibility for their behavior and actions. Notice how childish the overall effect is–the mother sounds like a four year old having a temper tantrum.

The daughter who made the videos is trying hard to get her mother to listen, but her words seem to fall on deaf ears. She might as well be talking to a wall, for all the…

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How my ex became a malignant narcissist.

I thought I’d repost this article again, because it shows exactly how narcissism can be passed from one generation to the next, due to emotional abuse of a child that stunts or halts their healthy development of a sense of self.

Since this article was written back in February, my ex was diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and due to his “unemployability due to possible homicidal tendencies,” he got $31K in disability back pay AND an increase in disability payments. Commenting on this outrage is beyond the scope of this article and I’ve already ranted enough about it anyway. He has already gone through all the money, as I suspected he would. It still doesn’t sit well with me that his monthly income due to being a narcissistic, antisocial jackass who games the system and freeloads off others so he never has to work again exceeds mine.

Lucky Otters Haven

Martin-Luther-King-Good-vs-Evil

I’ve talked about several of my own family members and how narcissism has infected other family members with NPD and/or made them victims, but I haven’t focused too much on how my ex husband Michael, as malignant as they come, got that way.

So I am doing that now.

Michael, like most narcissists, wasn’t born that way. He was the only child of a machinist who was rarely home and when he was, stayed in the background, believing raising a child was “woman’s work.” The household was blue collar but back in the early ’60s, blue collar didn’t mean poor. A working class man could adequately support his family, buy a home, have two cars, and his wife didn’t have to work to help make ends meet.

From all accounts, Michael’s father loved him in his rough-around-the-edges macho way, but he spent hours every day in bars or at the…

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