[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 6. She makes you look crazy
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.
My NM would tell me (and others) that I had an “overactive imagination”: different words, same intent. Don’t you wonder how all of these women, all over the world, who have never met each other, come up with the same nonsense??
The problem with this is that it is invalidating. It makes you doubt not only yourself, but reality. If you saw something happen with your own eyes, heard it with your own ears, felt it in your own heart, and then are told you are imagining things, what does this do to your confidence in your ability to recognize what is going on around you? Aside from the fact that this tactic allows NMs to effectively lie by neutralizing your experiences and observations, it sets you up to lack essential confidence in yourself—it attacks your self esteem.
The self-doubt this creates is multi-faceted. For example, if you are being abused or bullied, if, when you tell your mother, she accuses you of having a vivid imagination, you have to re-define your perception of abuse or bullying or be thought a drama queen. This can lead to an acceptance of situations in which you have every right to be offended or outraged simply because your NM had caused you to re-define “abuse” or “bullying” to accommodate her lack of interest in taking care of you. If you feel ill or have a toothache or a pain somewhere and you are told it is just your imagination, you learn to ignore bodily clues that, in later years, could lead to severe illness or even death.
At the very least, it hurts to be invalidated and your concerns minimized by the one person above all others who should have your back.
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 was my MNM’s stock in trade. She would deny anything she did not want to own by saying “I don’t remember it that way” or simply denying it happened. There was no chance that she might have misremembered or simply forgotten—no, if she couldn’t call it to mind in exactly the way I did, then I was wrong and the subject was closed.
This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called "gaslighting," common to abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the 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.
Breathes there an abuser of any ilk who does not gaslight? Gaslighting seems to come to abusers naturally—without comparing notes with each other, without lessons, it just seems to be a natural part of their persona. It is, essentially, a subtle form of lying. An example from my life was gift-giving time: at Christmas or my birthday is was not uncommon for me to get an envelope with some strange amount of money in it, like $1.16 or $3.62. This was NM’s way of proving she treated me and my GCBro “equally,” because however much more she spent on his new fishing rod or bicycle or skateboard, she made up by tacking this odd sum onto my pile of plain cotton underwear, socks and ugly shoes. We were treated equally, you see? And any intimations to the contrary drew “Whatever are you talking about? I spent the same amount on both of you!” reactions (assuming she was in a good enough mood to talk and not in a mood to swat me and just call me “ungrateful” or threaten “You want ‘unfair’? I will show you what ‘unfair’ really is, if you keep this crap up!”).
You're oversensitive. You're imagining things. You're hysterical. You're completely unreasonable. You're over-reacting, like you always do. 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.
When I was in therapy one of the things I did was to write to each of my (long divorced) parents and tell them about sexual abuse I suffered as a child that I had never revealed to them. One episode involved my stepfather and when NM responded to my letter, she flatly denied it ever happened; later in the letter she twisted what I had written to look as if it was an accusation against my father which she also denied the possibility of occurrence because, in her words, “he was married to me at the time.”
Because these things, in her estimation, could never have happened, I was “imagining things” (just like her favouritism of GCBro, something independently observed by numerous family members but soundly denied by NM). Or I was “making a mountain out of a molehill.” Or I was over-reacting to something much more innocent. Or I was crazy and making shit up. The only time she was behind me was when something was going to cost her money: my PE teacher in the 7th grade made me sit outside in bad weather in response to my doctor’s note saying I should stay warm and benched. My pneumonia relapsed and my NM gave the school and that teacher the tongue-lashing of their lives. Her funds were imperilled and I was a believable accuser. But earlier in the year, when I was humiliated and embarrassed by the same teacher for not having a gym uniform (NM refused to buy me one on the grounds that some shorts and a shirt from my wardrobe would suit fine), there was no fierce protective Mom facing the teacher down—it cost her nothing in funds or face for me to be humiliated by the teacher for my lack of a uniform and I was over-reacting to something not worth paying attention to, in her mind. It was not until the money for continued medical care was at stake that I was supported.
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 thinks you may need psychotherapy. She loves you very much and would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn't know what to do. You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.
Mine, being an ignoring malignant NM, was not so much into expressions of love or feeling hurt by me. And if I was angry with her, it was something to hide because I was not allowed to be angry at her or anything she did. Being angry with her was a punishable offense. But she had her fantasies about my emotional pathologies, all right—and she spread them to anyone who would listen, telling them how awful I was and painting herself as a long-suffering victim of me and my awfulness. When I was 13 I had to have a D&C for an infection—I was a virgin—but she took my symptoms to mean I was having a miscarriage and spread it about—even to my father!—as an example of what she “had to put up with” with me. At around age 12 she so convinced herself I was “incorrigible” that she tried to have me committed to reform school. Because I did well in school and because I had never been in trouble with the law, the court refused. I was not present for the hearing, which is why, in later years, I was surprised to overhear her explain to a friend that I succeeded in staying of reform school by “charming the judge.”
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.
While I am confident that engulfing, enmeshing NMs play the role of doting mother to the hilt, ignoring mothers can’t carry that off. My ignoring NM, instead, played the role of put-upon, long-suffering mother whose child was so incorrigible and headstrong that she could not be controlled. I was a “bad seed,” a kid who got into the kinds of trouble that doesn’t get you sent to reform school, like wilful disobedience and sexual precocity. This caused a lot of tongue clucking amongst family and friends and a lot of sympathy to flow towards her. They couldn’t know it was a pack of lies, and their own observations of me were tainted by her tales—why would any mother say such awful things about her own child if they weren’t true? Indeed…everybody knows that kids lie but mothers automatically love their children and wouldn’t say bad things that were not true…
Next: Part 7. She's envious.