[There are two basic types of narcissistic mothers, the ignoring type and the engulfing type. These may—and often do—overlap but most NMs have a basic style and will be primarily one or the other. Some of the following points may not apply to your NM simply because they describe an engulfing characteristic when your NM is an ignoring type—or vice versa. But our mothers are not the only narcissists we will encounter in our lives. In fact, being raised by a narcissistic parent actually sets us up to be prey for more of the self-centred emotional vampires as we go out into the world, from girlfriends who are anything but friends to lovers who love themselves best to husbands who are the mirror image of dear old mom. So, whether something looks like it applies to your NM or not, read and consider it carefully—it may give you the awareness necessary to avoid the predator lurking around the next bend. As ever, my comments are shown in violet. -V]
It's about secret things. The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self. It's about body language. It's about disapproving glances. It's about vocal tone. It's very intimate. And it's very powerful. It's part of who the child is. ~ Chris
2. She violates your boundaries.
This assumes you are allowed to have boundaries in the first place. I can’t speak for how engulfing NMs operated, but I know that exhibiting any kind of boundary to my ignoring NM was like waving a red flag in font of a bull!
You feel like an extension of her.
Even with an ignoring NM, this is true. I was the extra arms to carry stuff, legs to go get stuff, body to do stuff she didn’t want to do. Believe me, I truly believe that kids should have chores and contribute to the household they live in, but turning them into servants, especially giving them tasks they are too young to do or not giving them training or instruction on how to do something properly, that is a whole different thing. I remember my homework being interrupted to make her a cup of coffee or bring her a glass of beer, my trek from the kitchen to the bathroom interrupted to change the TV channel (no remotes back then), my entire after-school period eaten up by work totally unsuited to a child—who asks an eight-year-old to peel potatoes or to bake a cake several times a week?
Your mind is an extension of hers, too. If she can think it, she believes you will do it; if she likes it, you do too; “of course you like liver…stop being so difficult and eat it!” Autonomy is beyond your grasp because you do not exist except as she perceives you, no matter what you think!
Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you.
Pets, toys, clothes, books—you name it, she gave away without my agreement…usually without my foreknowledge, as well. I would come home and it would be gone. And the sheepdip would hit the fan if I objected or protested in any way, complete with blaming ME for the disappearance: “You didn’t take care of him,” “He made you sneeze,” “It will be easier to clean you room with less junk,” “You don’t play with them (or you don’t wear it) any more.”
Your food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate.
Sweets were a rare treat in our house. Until my parents divorced, we got Easter baskets every year. I don’t think I ever got to eat the ears of a chocolate rabbit until I was old enough to buy my own. Sounds petty, I know, but if you only get candy to eat once a year, can’t buy it for yourself, and your mother—who can buy it for herself everyday if she wants—steals yours, it is a big deal, especially if you are only eight years old! I could not have a treat of any kind without her “gimme a bite of that” or “gimme a chunk of that.” Do you think she shared her treats? Yah—not bloody likely!!
Your property may be repossessed and no reason given other than that it was never yours.
“I gave it to you, I can take it away!” And she did. Mostly, however, I had little to repossess. Until my senior year of high school, with the exception of some lovely things given to me by my father and stepmother, the majority of my wardrobe were cast-offs from NM’s closet. Aside from the fact that her taste was atrocious and she had a penchant for cheap, tacky stuff, these things were pretty much ten or more years out of fashion, something of critical importance to a teen aged girl. The summer before my senior year I stayed with my grandparents and worked picking crops, then spent the whole wad on school clothes before NM got there to pick me up.
She was livid, especially when my grandmother (her own mother) fibbed and said she’d already burned the tags and receipts so the clothes couldn’t be returned for a refund. I was not allowed to have money—“parents are entitled to the fruits of their child’s labours”—she used to tell me. So, whether the money was a birthday gift, a prize I won, or money I earned, she took it. Even the job I had my senior year of high school—she gave me an allowance for bus fare and school lunches out of my own earnings and kept the rest.
Nothing was mine. Everything I had was because she “allowed” me to have it, from my clothes (all those pretty new things I bought for my senior year? An extension of her closet, it her eyes) to my earnings to my time. I never had a sense of belonging, or of anything belonging to me…until I got pregnant at 17.
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.)
Oh, yes! All of those wasted Saturdays and exhausting nights while she tried to make me into the next Shirley Temple…I would have fame and she would have my fortune. I didn’t want singing lessons, I wanted to take ballet. I didn’t want to go to auditions, talent shows, singing contests—I wanted to play dolls with Janie across the road. I didn’t love being on stage like she said, I didn’t want to be in movies…I just wanted to be a regular little girl like the ones I went to school with.
And school—ok, by now you’ve probably figured out I am no dummy. I did well in school. I learned early on that, unlike home, in school if I did well, I would get praised. I loved it! I did better and better until it backfired on me: I did so well that I completed a semester’s worth of worksheets in only a few weeks. My mother was told. Conferences were held. Over my father’s objection, I was promoted mid-year from second to third grade. “Oh, she will love it!” NM assured the school officials that this is what I wanted as well. But it wasn’t. I wanted to stay in Miss Bryant’s second grade class where I could excel, not go to a new class where I didn’t know anybody or anything. Nobody listened to the seven-year-old; everybody listened to the lying mother.
You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there.
Yup, that too. Mostly a long, humiliating listing of every transgression ever committed plus the projection of motives that had never occurred to me, crowned with crowing noises about how she thwarted my evil plans. Yup—I could have been in Timbuktu, for all that she cared if I heard her exaggerations and outright lies. Nothing was sacred…not even the truth.
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!")
I don’t think this applies so much to ignoring NMs as it does to the engulfing. She never seemed to know when I needed anything, paid as little attention to me as she possibly could, and got angry if I needed anything like dental work, glasses, or allergy meds (she would actually yell at me to “stop that damned snorting and sneezing!” when her Persian cat would set my hayfever off!).
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.
It was made very clear to me, early on, that I was not allowed to have any privacy…ever. I was not allowed to “hang on the phone” so there were no conversations to eavesdrop on, but she regularly went through my purse, wallet, coat pockets, schools books and notebooks, dresser drawers and closet. If she found something, she had no compunction about presenting it to me for she had no shame about breaching a privacy I was not permitted to have. When I was about 12 my father (whom she had divorced a couple of years previously) gave me a dollar to use for an emergency if I needed to call him…I was serious when I said I was not allowed to have money. I kept it hidden in the toe of my shoe. One morning when I was in the shower, she found it. She beat me black and blue over that dollar, then took it away from me and kept it. No privacy whatsoever…
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.
I am not sure how much this applies to the ignoring NM, although I learned early on not to let her know what I loved…that was a guaranteed way to put the object of my love into jeopardy, whether it was a pet or a book, a toy or a dress, or even a photo or letter. Later on, I learned to appear non-committal about things, including friendships and boyfriends, to keep her from knowing how I truly felt. Only if she did not know what I valued emotionally could I hope to keep it safe. I volunteered nothing of import, although I chattered a lot in her presence to keep her from thinking too deeply on any one thing.
She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.
Oh, you could pretty much guarantee that if I said I felt like chicken for dinner, chicken would not appear on the menu for at least a week. I was pretty good at not expressing wishes in her presence simply because I knew that was a death knell. It was as if she went out of her way to keep me from having anything I wanted.
For much of my adolescence, I wanted to go live with my father. During a rare moment of bravery I said to her “You don’t want me…you’ve told me you don’t want me…so why won’t you let me go live with my Dad?” Her reply was that he wanted me and she would be damned before she gave the man anything he wanted! I thought it very peculiar since she was the one who wanted a divorce and he had given her no grounds. I later figured out not only was she being spiteful, but that I was worth money to her in the form of child support.
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.”
Now this is a peek into my life.
When I was 14 and spending part of the summer at my father’s, NM went on a road trip with her live-in boyfriend (a no-no in the early 1960s!) who just so happened to be the man my parents bought their first house from. (Nobody ever confirmed it, but I suspect this man was the reason my mother divorced my father.) As the first day of school loomed closer and closer and we heard nothing from her, we began to wonder what to do.
Labor Day weekend we got a telegram from her—she was still in Texas with her lover. They had gone to watch his son graduate from Air Force Basic Training (this is the same mother who, a few years hence, would skip my high school graduation) and weren’t coming back for a while…I should enrol in school from my father’s.
My stepmother was in a frenzy! Here she was with a well-developed 14 year old who had hairy legs and underarms, bushy eyebrows, clothes suited to a flat-chested 10 year old, and no appropriate underclothes for a young woman. In one weekend I had to learn to shave my legs and underarms, tweeze my eyebrows and wear more makeup than lip gloss. I had to learn to curl my hair and style it, use deodorant, perfume, and other feminine products, and generally grow up from an overgrown child into a young lady in the span of two days! You see, my NM had absolutely forbidden me to do such things!
Oddly, when I went back to live with her at the end of the school year, she said nothing about the more adult hair, clothes, underclothes, shoes, and make up except to complain when I told her I needed hairspray or something like that. In fact, she pretty much ignored me unless I did something she took issue with…unless I wanted something she could use to hurt me. I tried very hard to keep from letting her see what could hurt me.
One place she was inflexible, however, is that she simply could not abide anything that made me attractive to men. I had several two-piece bathing suits (that covered me pretty well—much better than suits today) and we lived near the beach. One day I came home from school and after my chores were done, went to put on a suit and head for the beach. I had to walk her dog after school, so I would usually combine that with a dip in the surf or working on my tan.
I went into my dresser and my bathing suits were gone and in their place an old one-piece of hers. Against everything I had been conditioned to do, I went into her room, into her dresser and retrieved one of my suits. I was furious—I put her suit back in her drawer and took mine back to my room.
When I got back from the beach, dog leash in one hand, chemistry book in the other—I had been doing homework—she was waiting for me. Uncharacteristically, I ignored her and went to my room to change. She followed me in with a yardstick in her hand and began yelling at me, calling me a “little tramp,” and then she hit me on the bare thighs with that yardstick! For the first time, I fought back. I went ballistic, snatched the yardstick out of her hands, broke it in half and threw it at her, then pushed her out of my room screaming that I was too big to spank like a little kid and from now on, when she hit me, she’d better do it where it wouldn’t show in my gym uniform.
But she never “spanked” me again. That was the beginning of the stinging slaps and marathon hair pulling…
Next up: Part 3—Favouritism