[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
14. She terrorized.
In later years she used abandonment to terrorize me or she would deprive me of possessions, pets, people I cared about. The threat of loss constantly hung over my head.
For all abusers, fear is a powerful means of control of the victim, and your narcissistic mother used it ruthlessly to train you. Narcissists teach you to beware their wrath even when they aren't present.
I wasn’t allowed to get dirty. I wasn’t allowed to do most things that normal children take as their due. By the time I was 10, she had me so well trained that I feared the consequences of displeasing her even when she was 1000 miles away…I once refused to “help” my grandmother make mud pies in the garden because my NM would not like it if I got dirty. My grandmother’s assurances that she would never know did not assuage my fears.
When I was in the fourth grade I was failing math. I had been skipped from second to third grade at midterm and nobody bothered to teach me how to multiply and I couldn’t seem to pick it up on my own. By fourth grade I was doing very poorly and my teacher sent homework home with me for practice.
In my school district children below seventh grade did not ordinarily get homework so bringing this home would enlighten my mother to my math difficulties. I was afraid for her to know because it would not result in help for the problem, it would result in punishment. I hid the homework, but I was not a stupid child, I knew the day of reckoning would come. And so, at the age of nine, every night when I said my prayers, I prayed to die before morning light. I was so terrified of my mother’s wrath that I would have rather died than face it.
The only alternative 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.
Perhaps because she was a malignant NM, mine was not easily placated. She was suspicious almost to the point of paranoia, so if anything out of the ordinary occurred, she was like a bloodhound, sniffing out the reason for change. It was therefore important to keep the status quo. Any peremptory appeasement moves put her on alert.
Even innocent changes put her on alert, hunting down a reason for the change, and she would not rest until she came up with something. When I was in seventh grade I learned to set a proper table in my Home Ec class. Eager try it out on my own, I hunted all the necessary things to set a proper table and proudly displayed my handiwork to my mother when she came home from work. Instead of being proud, she was suspicious. And when I later asked her for a ride to my Girl Scout meeting, she believed she found what I was “up to.” According to her, I was “buttering her up” to get a ride to the meeting—the fact that she drove me to most meetings notwithstanding.
But making sure everything was as she wanted it, every day, without fail, making sure obedience was swift, sure, and unquestioning, making sure I was out of sight as much as possible—that was how I stayed safe. And if that is placating, then that’s what I had to do.
Even adult children of narcissists still feel that carefully inculcated fear.
I find this is very true…and furthermore, many DoNMs transfer that fear to all authority figures in their lives—teachers, bosses, police, boyfriends/husbands. We end up feeling guilty for not doing things for others, doing more than anyone else, even while neglecting ourselves. Indeed, some of us learn to be proud for how little we spend on ourselves, either time or money, and how much we do for others. We don’t see this self-abnegation as unhealthy or a warped sense of value, we are proud of how self-sacrificing we are, how well we have learned the lesson. Needless to say, this sets us up for exploitation and disappointment by others, especially if we harbour a secret expectation of reciprocation. “I will stay two hours late and get these files organized and tomorrow he will be sooooo appreciative that he can finally find things…” If we don’t “go the extra mile” we are constantly bombarded with fears that we will be found wanting and dismissed which, to us, is more a personal rejection than a business decision. We live in fear of consequences from every person in our lives whom we have identified as an authority figure.
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.
Most mothers, I think, have “The Look.” I don’t think it is unique to narcissistic or other PD mothers at all. What is different, I think, is what “The Look” means to the children. If my NM gave me The Look, I had better not incur it more than once. The first time was a warning to stop whatever it was I was doing; the second time was a promise of mayhem.
I ignored The Look at my own peril, even as an adult. Most of my childhood focussed on turning 18 and being able to get away from her. I assumed it meant safety for me, to get away from her and to no longer be beneath her thumb but, sadly, I was to find out that age and distance will not stop the predations of a determined narcissist. If they decide to get even, they will, no matter how long it takes.
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 havoc and simultaneously to teach 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.
Yes. The misery of that huge patch of eczema on my calf—would a normal mother have sprung for the more costly hydrocortisone cream to control it instead of the cheap, greasy, smelly OTC salve NM bought for me? Would a normal mother have taken me to the doctor for the crops of boils that I seemed to get several times a year—or would she hold her child down by sitting on her and picking and squeezing the boils, all the while admonishing the child to stop screaming lest a she be “given a good reason to scream”?
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." (Someone asked her if she was pregnant. She isn't).
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 said the ones she wanted to get you were ugly. She liked them because they were just like what she wore 30 years ago).
Yes—ugly saddle oxfords that were popular when she was in school with cheap white socks—but I didn’t even get the shoes I wanted until my grandmother bought them for me. And then NM took them because at that time we wore the same size.
The dentist was told not to give you Novocaine when he drilled your tooth because "he has to learn to take better care of his teeth." (She has to pay for a filling and she's furious at having to spend money on you.)
Yes—I got the novocaine, but I had four cavities at age 14 because I had never, ever been to a dentist before, even though I got blamed for "not taking care of my teeth."
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.
Oh, definitely yes. If I reported that he hit me, I got “spanked” for tattling, so he could beat on me with impunity. If we were in the car and he was poking me or pulling my hair or otherwise tormenting me, I had to take it silently because if she felt it necessary to intervene, the punishment invariably fell upon me. The excuses for my brother’s behaviour were legion: boys will be boys, I was being oversensitive, he’s just a little kid…etc., etc. If she spotted an unexplained bruise on me, I learned to say I had fallen down on the playground at school—if I told her the truth…that my brother did it…either she would accuse me of trying to get him into trouble or suspect I had done something to provoke him, both of which were punishable offenses for me.
Narcissists also abuse by exposing you to violence. If one of your siblings got beaten, she made sure you saw. She effortlessly put the fear of Mom into you, without raising a hand.
Well, little brother seldom got punished but she usually made sure he saw me get it. But my fear of her extended far beyond the whippings and having my pets and toys given away and her throwing my father out. She had an ability to turn off her rage in literally a heart beat and turn it back on again just as quickly, and this scared the bejeebers out of me. She could be red in the face, screaming until the veins in her temples stood out, spittle flying as she shrieked her rage and be perfectly calm and pleasant only seconds later when the telephone rang. And when she put the phone down, she could pick up her rage where she left it. It terrified me—I never knew if she was going to fly into one of those rages and not come out of it until after she had killed me.
I literally lived my childhood in fear for my life.
This kind of thing can leave a lasting impact. I remember being suicidal at age 8 or 9. Oh, not so that I would have actually taken my life, but I began wishing to die then. It was the only way out that I could see. Between the ages of 17 and 22, I made two attempts. At age 36 I came within a hair’s breadth of putting a bullet in my brain, saved by chance by a newspaper article I happened to see as I raised the gun to my head, an article about a new therapy specifically directed to the adult victims of childhood abuse.
Once you come to the place that you view suicide as a viable means of escaping an agonizing life you have been unable to change or control, you find you no longer fear death like other people do. You view it as a friend, that ace up your sleeve, that last ditch effort to have just a little bit of control in a life that was seized and taken from you before you could talk and never, ever given back.
And while I no longer engage in suicidal ideation and I no longer wish to die as a means of escaping my life—I much prefer living it—I find that my view of death has undergone a permanent change. I no longer fear it, no longer view it with trepidation, no longer wish to escape it at all costs and so many others do. It is the natural end of the cycle of my days and while I do not look forward to its arrival, neither do I tremble at its approach.
Next: Part 15. She's infantile and petty.