[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 8. She's a liar in too many ways to count.
She's a liar in too many ways to count. 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 and to undermine your credibility.
That last sentence describes my NM perfectly. When Ns do this, often their victims are unaware they are doing it, or at least unaware of the long term consequences of allowing it to go unchallenged. It is a mistake to believe that others can see through her exaggerations, hyperbole and outright fabrications—even people you think know her well can still be blind to such things, perhaps because if they believed her capable of such a thing, they would have to acknowledge not only their own jeopardy (if she lies so egregiously about her own child, what must she say about me?), but their foolishness in making and keeping such a friendship. Some people simply cannot accept that they can be wrong or are unwilling to bear the humiliation of admitting to it.
In my case, my NM began poisoning my well when I was a very small child. She gave me to Child Services when I was 2 (keeping my newborn brother), telling them to find me an adoptive home. She started painting me unmanageable at a very young age. As I got older, the tales got worse. Most of them contained a grain of truth upon which she built an elaborate fabrication, assigning me motive and even thought processes, as if she could read my mind. If I was late coming home from school, it wasn’t because I stopped a moment to chat with a classmate, it was because I was doing something bad, like meeting a boy somewhere and doing rude things, and thinking I was smarter than she was in expecting her to believe I was chatting with Melody outside her house. The truth was, I was late getting home and told her I was talking to Melody—the rest was pure fabrication (and, according to my father, projection).
By the time I was in my teens I was the family scandal (replacing her in that role), the black sheep, the hopeless one. And, of course, teens being who they are, I had the name so I played the game, ending up pregnant and unmarried at 17. By then, my extended family would—and did—believe anything she said about me, no matter how outrageous or untrue. I was ruined in my family’s eyes and my own mother did the ruination.
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.
This is an insidious form of undermining. My NM, if ever caught by an outsider (including my father or the extended family) lying about me, shrugged it off with such expressions as “Well, it’s just like her to do it…” or “You can’t blame me for thinking she did it this time as well…” or “I wouldn’t put it past her…” or “It was the kind of thing she would do—remember when she…” She would deftly turn attention away from her own transgression and falsehood and get people focussed on me and mine, real or imagined.
She also engaged in “pre-emptive lying,” often to save her own skin. If she hit me too hard and left marks that other people might question her about, she would be quick to make sure others knew something terrible I had done to justify her. Strangely—or maybe not so strange, considering what she is like in adulthood—my own daughter figured out this tactic as well. When she was 15 or 16 I sent her to her room over cutting school and she jumped out of a second story window into a thorn bush below, getting bruised and cut and scraped in the process. She then went to a friend’s house and used her bruises and marks to beg to be allowed to stay with them. I don’t know exactly what she told the girl’s mother, but I do know that it boiled down to “my mother beat me up for no good reason and now I am afraid of her.” It only took a few weeks for the other mother to figure out what was going on (now her daughter was cutting school as well), but Annie very effectively pre-empted me when it came to discussing her transgressions with her friend’s mother…the woman wouldn’t believe a word I had to say until Annie had co-opted her own daughter.
This kind of behaviour on the part of a parent can leave a child feeling hopeless and powerless. Nothing she does will be recognized, only what her lying mother says she does. Kids do not have the kind of perspective balanced adults have and because their brains are still immature (and soaked in an unstable hormonal soup), they tend not to think their responses through. Instead, they react and rebel and often the result of that is “If I’m going to have the name, I might as well play the game.” If I am going to be shunned or punished or suspected of all these terrible things—if I am going to pay the price for them whether I do them or not—I might as well get the enjoyment of doing them right along with the penalty.” Some kids, like my nephew (GCBro’s felon son) never outgrow the attitude and spend their entire lives in one kind of trouble after another.
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.
I could go on and on and on with the many ways NM lied to me, both by outright fabrications and deliberately misleading me, and by more subtle means, like omitting salient information that would change one’s view of her in a tale she told.
For example, NM once told me that her father (a German/Russian immigrant) was “too old fashioned and unreasonably strict.” Well, knowing my grandfather and knowing he was a bit on the old fashioned side (he forbade me to wear two-piece swim suits at the local pool, for example and deplored my use of make up), for many years I believed her teenaged rebellion against him was justifiable. She also told me that she was the unfavoured child, that her parents preferred her brothers and gave them all kinds of privileges and freedoms she did not have. Given that she treated me and my brother that way, it was totally believable.
But it wasn’t true. Over a period of years I picked up tidbits from various family members that indicated my NM was spoiled, especially by her father, and that she was indulged and cosseted. When I was in my late 30s I had occasion to discuss my NM’s youth with her older brother, my uncle Gary, who was angry enough with her for using him in her campaign to steal my kids that he finally broke the “no airing dirty linen” part of his upbringing and told me story after story of NM’s childhood and youth and early adulthood.
Considering the very conservative mores of the time—1940s—my NM’s behaviour was nothing short of scandalous! Yes, her father was strict with her but not because he was a control-freak ignorant immigrant—he did it in response to her antics, things that caused her to be a subject of ugly gossip and rumour—like sneaking out at night at the age of 16 and being seen drinking and smoking and riding around on motorcycles with young men too old to be dating her. She eloped with my father and before my grandfather could get it annulled, she was pregnant with me (an event for which she would never forgive me) and all of her wild ways had to be curtailed.
But, according to my uncle, not for long. Within a short time of my birth she was up to her old tricks again and she created such a scandal this time that we had to leave town. Women crossed the street in town to avoid having to walk past her, if a man looked at her his wife bashed him with her pocketbook. She became the “town tramp,” and to save both her own and her family’s face, she had to get out of town.
But none of this information was offered by NM. No, to hear her tell it, Grandpa was unreasonably strict with her and allowed my uncles to run loose and it just wasn’t fair! And when confronted with these lies of omission, what was her reaction? “Where did you hear this nonsense? From your Uncle Gary? We have never gotten along, he has always been jealous of me, and it doesn’t surprise me that he would make up such lies about me…”
She was no less blatant about telling lies about me, and to call her on them, especially when I was a child, was to invite dire retribution. First, she would deny the lie flatly, throwing in a little gaslighting for good measure: “It didn’t happen that way and you know it!” especially if we were in the presence of others. And once she had me alone and there were no witnesses, my head was handed to me on a platter: “Don’t you ever correct me again, miss, do you understand? Ever! If you do, I will beat you within an inch of your life, do you hear?”
This kind of thing fosters co-dependency. Knowing the truth in your own head but unable to act upon it or express it—indeed to risk punishment for anything other than full support of the dissembler—we learn to enable at our NM’s knees.
On the rare occasions she is forced to acknowledge some bad behavior, she will couch the admission deniably. She "guesses" that "maybe" she "might have" done something wrong. The wrongdoing is always heavily spun and trimmed to make it sound better. The words "I guess," "maybe," and "might have" are in and of themselves lies because she knows exactly what she did - no guessing, no might haves, no maybes.
This is called “dissembling” and it is something many DoNMs seem to pick up as fleas. Ns can’t be wrong because it impinges their sense of self-worth. Many DoNMs can’t be wrong as well, but for a different reason: to be wrong invites punishment. Even as grown up women, inside us the fearful child still quivers, and even though we consciously know nobody is going to tongue-lash or beat us up for our error, that trembling inner child does not. It is a difficult habit to break, if you’ve picked it up, but in the spirit of honesty, if you find yourself doing it, you need to learn to stop, for your own peace of mind.
Ns do this as a fence-sitting exercise, as a way to have their cake and eat it too. Through this type of dissembling, they attempt to placate the accuser while retaining, for themselves, their “innocence.” The worst part of the lying that Ns do is not their lying to us, it is their lying to themselves. When they believe their own lies, any chance of rational interaction is dead.
This, by the way, is the main reason it is so difficult to interact rationally with an N: you live in reality, they live in a fantasy created out of lies, and the two worlds are mutually incompatible.
9. She has to be the center of attention all the time.