[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
Part 21. She seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings
This is her lack of empathy in a nutshell. Without awareness and concern for the feelings of other people (and animals as well), it is impossible to have empathy for them. And without empathy for others, people behave as if they were the only people in the world who have feelings.
She'll occasionally slip and say something jaw-droppingly callous because of this lack of empathy. It isn't that she doesn't care at all about other people's feelings, though she doesn't. It would simply never occur to her to think about their feelings.
This is very true…it is as if the filter that most of us have that keeps thoughts from popping out of our mouths is not present. Where you and I might think something rude or inappropriate, we keep it to ourselves either because we don’t want to look like insensitive clods or we don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings: NMs think they are right about everything and don’t expect others to view them as insensitive but as right. And the feelings of others is simply not part of an NMs thought processes—only her feelings matter.
Malignant NMs take it a step further. They intentionally say callous, cruel things for the purpose of stirring up some drama, whether it is to get a rise out of somebody or because they expect the other person to react. My MNM was a racist and didn’t care if anybody heard her, including members of the group she was disparaging. My best friend in junior high and high school was a Jewish girl and everything was fine with my NM until she found out the girl was Jewish, then the shit hit the fan. I never told my friend, but I am sure she wondered why I quit inviting her over to my house: my NM had not forbidden me to see my friend, but she had forbidden me from having a “dirty kike” in her house. But even if she hadn’t forbidden her presence, I would not have invited her anyway—it was very unlikely that NM would keep her antipathy to herself with a real live Jewish person…a vulnerable teen aged girl at that…in the house.
Her insensitivity and lack of awareness of the feelings of others, the complete lack of empathy, is best embodied in her attitude when I had a miscarriage and, due to a serious infection, nearly died. She was in California, I was in Boston, and my husband was overwhelmed with the duties of taking care of two toddlers and trying to work. Expecting a normal mother response (“Oh no! My daughter is sick in the hospital and my grandbabies need me—I’m going to Boston!”) he got a shock when she chewed him out and told him to stop calling her. Then she called me and, completely disregarding how I might feel being just out of isolation, after days of unconsciousness and the loss of my baby, she proceeded to tell me that the miscarriage was a good thing because I didn’t need “more brats clinging to my skirts,” that if I didn’t have contraception to keep my legs closed, and to stop malingering and playing the doctors to get their sympathy so I could stay in the hospital and get home to my husband and kids so he would stop calling her!
Fourteen year old girls can be hormonal, hypersensitive, contrary creatures. When my daughter was fourteen, she spent some time talking with her grandmother on the phone one afternoon and when she hung up, she was in tears. When I asked why, she told me that Grammi had spent most of their conversation complaining about her own children, finishing up with “I wish I have never had children—I should have had cats instead!” My daughter turned to me, eyes streaming tears, saying “If she never had children, I wouldn’t be here! Does she wish I was dead?” It obviously had never crossed NM’s mind that my daughter would be hurt by her words…and if she had seen my daughter’s reaction, she most likely would have accused her of “deliberately misunderstanding” and “turning on the water works for sympathy.”
An absence of empathy is the defining trait of a narcissist and underlies most of the other traits [herein] described.
If you are not sure if your mother is a narcissist or not, this is the trait to watch for. But don’t be fooled by fake expressions of empathy—narcissists, especially older ones who have had a lot of practice, often know the words and facial expressions and social conventions and can make a convincing act. It is away from the situation that you find the real person. It is what they say when they think they are not at risk of being found out that tells the truth.
In the old days, when people regularly had servants, they didn’t care what they said in front of “the staff” because they weren’t really people to them. Narcissists are much the same way inside the family and even with a few friends who share or tolerate their disorder. So, where your mother might coo and ooh and ahh over a relative’s new baby, out of earshot she will say rude things—like my NM when her aunt had a baby late in life. I was excited about having a new baby in the family…NM was congratulatory on the phone and sent the expected card and gift—it was her mother’s sister and it would not do to slight Nana’s sister—but once she put the phone down, she was nasty. Auntie was “disgusting” to have a baby at her age; she and Uncle should be “over that by now” and on and on and on. She had no joy for her aunt and uncle, no pleasure at her new cousin’s arrival…her feelings were centre stage.
Unlike psychopaths, 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.
Actually, psychopaths do know right from wrong, they just don’t care. This scholarly article explains a study done in 2009 to determine if they did or not. For those not up to reading the whole article, here is the abstract: “Adult psychopaths have deficits in emotional processing and inhibitory control, engage in morally inappropriate behavior, and generally fail to distinguish moral from conventional violations. These observations, together with a dominant tradition in the discipline which sees emotional processes as causally necessary for moral judgment, have led to the conclusion that psychopaths lack an understanding of moral rights and wrongs. We test an alternative explanation: psychopaths have normal understanding of right and wrong, but abnormal regulation of morally appropriate behavior. We presented psychopaths with moral dilemmas, contrasting their judgments with age- and sex-matched (i) healthy subjects and (ii) non-psychopathic, delinquents. Subjects in each group judged cases of personal harms (i.e. requiring physical contact) as less permissible than impersonal harms, even though both types of harms led to utilitarian gains. Importantly, however, psychopaths’ pattern of judgments on different dilemmas was the same as those of the other subjects. These results force a rejection of the strong hypothesis that emotional processes are causally necessary for judgments of moral dilemmas, suggesting instead that psychopaths understand the distinction between right and wrong, but do not care about such knowledge, or the consequences that ensue from their morally inappropriate behavior.” Psychotics may not know the difference, but psychopaths and narcissists both know what the society around them considers acceptable.
Narcissists, like psychopaths, seek to advantage themselves and simply do not care about right and wrong except as they define and rationalize it. A narcissist will blame the victim, saying “Look what you made me do,” or “Don’t make me hit you,” when, in fact, the N has many choices other than hitting, and the victim is not compelling the N to choose hitting. The narcissist rationalizes and minimizes her transgressions and fully expects the victim to do the same. And while the narcissist may well know that whatever it is she is doing may not be “right” in the eyes of the neighbours or the authorities, the narcissist’s denial of reality coupled with her ability to rationalize and justify has the narcissist convinced that the others are wrong, and probably too stupid to even realize it. Punishments of children that normal people might consider to be over the top are viewed as necessary, desirable, clever, guaranteed to be effective (even in the face of repeated failure) to the narcissist. The outrageous is normalized in the eyes of the narcissist, although it may well be hidden simply because she is aware that other people might take exception to her methods.
One of the problems this creates is that the children brutalized in this manner also normalize this kind of behaviour and punishment. It can give rise to children of NMs who, while not liking severe punishments meted out to children, wholly believe in their appropriateness, necessity and effectiveness and go on to use them with their own children, lacking other parenting tools. And the normalized inappropriate treatment is not limited to physical abuse, which seems to be more the hallmark of the Malignant NM. Psychological and emotional abuse are no less devastating—and no less likely to be adopted by the children when they become parents if they have no alternative behavioural models…this is called “having fleas.”
I once knew a man whose stepmother gave birth to her first—and only—child in her 40s. She did not want a child, she was dismayed and distressed at the whole prospect of pregnancy and childbirth—and the inherent messiness of children just added to her unhappiness. He daughter was a very headstrong child, adding further to her issues. When her two-year-old misbehaved the mother would slap the child repeatedly on any body part available and yell at her “You stop this or I won’t love you any more!” She would also threaten that her father, who absolutely adored her, wouldn’t love her anymore, or that she (the mother) would “run away from home.” Since the mother did not appear to be an N in other respects, I suspect this was a legacy from her own mother, a woman with nine children who was born and raised in the 19th century.
Whether the mother commits this kind of psychological abuse on her child out of narcissism or fleas is immaterial: the result is pretty much the same. A child threatened with the loss of love of her parents as a result of her behaviour can become terribly insecure and fearful; a child whose mother threatens to run away develops abandonment issues. And, because the mother clearly implies these dreadful things will happen as a result of the child’s behaviour, the child may also come to have an over-developed sense of responsibility, to feel anything bad that happens in her family is her fault, even if she cannot clearly see or articulate why. No mother, flea-ridden or narcissist, can inflict this kind of abuse on a child if she is aware of the child’s feelings, if she has empathy for the fear and pain this can inflict on the child. The mother with fleas may do it because she simply has no other tools for managing her child and even empathize with the child’s pain but know no other way to discipline. Hopefully, their own empathetic pain drives these mothers to seek out alternative means of disciplining their child.
But the narcissistic mother, even if she also has fleas, differs in that to her, the child has no feelings or, if she acknowledges the child’s feelings, they do not matter. What matters is the NM getting what she wants from the child, regardless of cost to the child, because what the NM wants is all that really matters.
Next: Part 22. She blames.