It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Toothache

She had a toothache.

There was no way around it, the tooth just below her right eye was throbbing, sending thick waves of pain through the bridge of her nose. Just thinking about eating lunch made her stomach curl. She had to do something.

The thought of telling her mother crossed her mind, but was instantly dismissed. Not even getting this pain to stop was worth that…she could hear it now… “What? You haven’t been brushing your teeth, have you? I know you, this is just another attention-getting device, isn’t it? Where the hell do you think I’m going to get the money to pay for a dentist? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know, and I’m not made out of it, either! Goddamned spoiled brat, just ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ all the time!”

She bent to the water fountain to take a drink, but the cold water striking the tooth brought tears to her eyes. She had to do something, and soon, or she’d be crying without the impetus of the icy water on a bare nerve…and then there would be hell to pay for sure. She pondered going to the school nurse…a last resort, surely, because if Miss Connie slipped up and called her mother again, she’d be in for another horrifying week like the one she endured when the school called and told her mother to get her some glasses or else she would be turned in to the authorities for child neglect. The nearest appointment with the optometrist was a week out, and that had been one of worst weeks of her entire life. The screaming, the tantrums, the carrying on, the threats…in a week’s time she had gone from wishing she didn’t need glasses---what 12 year old girl wants them, after all?---to praying that she not only needed them, but that her prescription was stronger than her mother’s, so there would be no room for lingering accusations of malingering and attention-seeking. Her prayer had been answered, but only after enduring a terrifying ride to the clinic in which she was told she was about to be “found out,” that the doctors…unlike that gullible, bleeding-heart school nurse…could tell when you were faking, and when the eye test was over and she was revealed for the fraud she was, she was going to pay like she had never paid before. Maybe telling Miss Connie wasn’t the best idea, after all.

Her best friend came upon her leaning disconsolately against her locker, her right hand plastered tightly against her cheek. It took an exchange of fewer than ten words, and the next thing she knew, she was being propelled forcefully down the ancient, musty smelling hallway into the antiseptic-scented lair of Miss Connie, RN. She had known Miss Connie since she was five years old and she had administered the required booster shots for her to enter school…and had treated her feverish little body when it turned out she was allergic to at least one component of the shot. Miss Connie had comforted her when she fell from the jungle gym and split her chin open, necessitating stitches…and Miss Connie had defended her from her mother’s wrath “She’s not stupid or wilful,” she had responded to her mother’s furious accusation. “She’s six and these things just sometimes happen. It’s part of being a kid.”

“Toothache,” her best friend said, pointing out the obviously reluctant patient. “Thank you,” Miss Connie said to her friend, her tone of voice dismissing her. “Sit down, dear,” she said solicitously. “Open up and let me take a look.”

“You can’t tell my mother,” she muttered. “I got in lots of trouble over the glasses, Miss Connie. You can’t tell my mother about this. Just give me something to make the pain go away and I’ll be fine.”

“Mmmm,” Miss Connie said, peering inside her mouth, tongue depressor and little light in hand. “Mmmmm.” She put the instruments in her lap and sat back. “When was the last time you went to the dentist?” she asked.

“Uh…I dunno…I don’t think I’ve ever been…”

“How old are you now, dear?”

“Um…fourteen. And a half.”

“Fourteen and you’ve never been to a dentist?”

She shook her head “no.” And she didn’t want to go, either, to judge from her mother’s experiences. Teeth cleaning had to be the closest experience to torture allowable in this country! Not that cleaning them ever did any good…her mother’s teeth were still yellowed and stained with nicotine, even after a harrowing afternoon with the hygienist. All that pain and no visible improvement? No thanks!

Miss Connie was looking thoughtful. “You need fillings, dear. At least four of them.” She could feel her eyes widen with horror. Fillings! That meant injections in her mouth! She shook her head “no.” She would rather die that have a needle in her mouth! She shook her head again.

“You can’t tell my mother, Miss Connie. She’ll kill me for just coming here and if she has to pay for a dentist…she can’t afford to pay for a dentist.” She was speaking in a rush, her words tumbling over each other almost incoherently. “Please, please, don’t say anything to my mother…can’t you just give me something to make it better for a while?” she finished abruptly, unaware that her hands were so tightly clasped that her fingers were bloodless.

Miss Connie turned on her little swivel stool and opened one of the narrow glass-fronted cabinets that lined the wall of her consulting room. A strong spicy odour escaped as the door swung away, perfuming the room with its heady scent. Removing a small, dark brown glass bottle, a tiny vial, and a pair of long curved tweezers, she closed the cabinet door, leaving the fragrance lingering in the air. “This will only help for a little while,” Miss Connie warned her, extracting a tiny cotton pellet from the vial with the tweezers and dipping it into the dark bottle, the source of the pungent scent. “Open up,” she said and packed the little cotton bit, purple with the overpowering oil, into the cavity of the tooth.

“Yow!” she flinched. “Augh!” But the shock of initial contact quickly wore away, and a pleasant warmth began to soothe away the pain. Oil of Cloves the label on the little bottle read. “Better,” she said, tapping her cheek gently. “You won’t tell my mother, will you?”

Miss Connie shook her head. “But the pain will be back. Let me call the County. They have programs where you can get that taken care of for free. It won’t cost your mother anything…let me at least look into it for you…”

* * *

Miss Connie was right. The relief was only temporary. Mother would be home soon and she had the house tidied up, but she couldn’t concentrate on her homework for the throbbing under her eye. She heard the car door slam, uncharacteristically loud, she thought, but then the pain seemed to magnify everything. She swept her hair back from her face, put her sore cheek in her hand, and tried again to concentrate on the textbook in her lap. The front door slammed open and she was instantly afraid. Something was wrong. Really wrong.

“Where are you, you lying little bitch?”

Her stomach knotted and she felt suddenly cold all over. “I’m in the kitchen,” she called out. “What’s wrong?” She rose from the cot lest she be dragged to a standing position by her hair. She knew what she needed to do, and composed her face accordingly.

“What’s wrong?” came the mocking sing-song from the other side of the curtain just before it was swept open. “What’s wrong?” her mother roared. “How about you tell me how the County got the idea that I’m too poor to pay for my daughter to visit the dentist? Then we’ll know what’s wrong!”

Her hand had unconsciously crept up to cover the throbbing spot in her upper jaw, probably not the best action to take at that precise moment, as her mother grabbed her wrist in an iron squeeze and dragged it away. “Open up!” she commanded. “Open up, I said, and let me see this gaping hole that sent you whining to that busybody school nurse.” Reluctantly, she opened her mouth, her tongue involuntarily touching the throbbing spot. “Move your goddamned tongue so I can see!” her mother commanded and, after a moment, flung her wrist and numbed hand away.

“I do not know what to do with you,” her mother complained through gritted teeth, her eyes rolling skyward. “You have absolutely no sense at all. Why didn’t you just tell me you had a toothache so I could send you to the dentist? Why involve that big mouth nurse who had to go call the County? Now, thanks to you, Miss Troublemaker, a social worker is going to be here next week to check things out. If you dare put one foot wrong, you will rue the day you were born, do you understand me?” That last, spoken in a barely audible hiss, was more frightening than then the roaring bombast that has accompanied her mother’s entrance. Standing stock still, feeling like the mouse caught in a snake’s mesmerizing gaze, she nodded slowly. Yes, she understood. She understood very, very well.


  1. Oh my God... it sounds exactly like my mother. I still remember having my toes bleeding because my only pair of shoes was way too tight... but i was terrified to tell my mother because I knew what would happen.
    I'm so sorry other kids had to go through the same type of torture that I went through. Sometimes I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming with nightmares. I hope some day I will heal from this. It's just too painful.

    1. I have found that therapy, with a therapist who has experience with adults who were abused by their parents as children, can have an amazing impact. I was in therapy for about five years. It did not "cure" me, nor was I fully healed, but I was much better after the therapy and I learned the tools to deal with it myself.

      This blog--and the stories you read--were part of that healing--the 46 Memories were, originally, cathartic exercises that I wrote strictly for myself. Years later it occurred to me that those stories might help others, give them insights either into themselves or into other people they knew, people who had grown up with brutal, abusive parents. Those of us who had parents--especially mothers--like this, suffered not only the pain and indignity of their assaults, but from isolation. We didn't know anybody else whose mothers seemed to hate them and that made us feel even worse. Many children of these women grew up thinking there was something wrong with them because everywhere around them, mothers loved their children so if your mother didn't love you, you must somehow be unworthy.

      These Memories became a tool to reach out to others, to tell them "You are not alone, you are not at fault, you can be OK." I hope that you are helped, even if only in a small way, even if only to know that you are not alone and it wasn't your fault, no matter what she said.

      Please feel free to subscribe to the blog so you can be automatically notified when something new is posted.

      {{{Hugs}}} to you.

  2. Violet

    Do you know what my inlaws cherished dreams are that, i need to die on account of a heart attack the way my brother died, so that me the only source of moral and financial support to my wife once dead my wife will go back and fall at their feet. Once done they will have someone to serve them in their old age. That does not end with my wife, my children are bound to serve them as well, and the next generaton and the next. Narcissists think they live forever.

    1. In a way they do. They get into our heads and control the way we think and we pass this down to further generations.

      Their legacy can live a long and terrible life...

  3. Thank you for posting these. I had a N father and mother. I went lost hearing and cried for a week, when I was 12, probably from an ear infection. They wouldn't take me to the doctor. I remember being afraid of what they would think too every time I got sick.

    1. I am sorry to hear this. Has your hearing in that ear returned?

      Narcissistic parents put themselves first and if you are the scapegoat child, everything you need is unreasonable to them. I was medically neglected as a child, as were many DoNMs of my acquaintance.

      The good news is, as adults we are free to make choices that help us rather than harm us, like our Nparents did. I hope you are making those good choices--like seeking appropriate medical care--now that you are an adult.

      Please feel free to subscribe to this blog so that you can receive regular updates and thank you so much for your comment.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this memory. How horrible that you had to endure such a terrible nightmare. I had almost identical treatment from my mother, when it came to my medical and dental needs. I was never supposed to cost my mother one penny, you see. Like the first comment, I also wore my shoes until they were so small that my toes bled.

    1. " I was never supposed to cost my mother one penny, you see."

      Oh, that sums it up nicely! Exactly how my NM saw it--if I got sick or needed fillings or glasses, it was somehow my fault, if I had done something differently (and, of course, I knew what that was as didn't do it intentionally in order to cost her money), I wouldn't be needing whatever it was she was going to have to pry open her purse for.

      Never had that problem with shoes--she bought such cheap crap they wore through or literally came apart before my feet could grow that much! And then she blamed me, saying I was "hard on shoes." Yah, right...

    2. Do these NM's share a play book? NM's trick was to buy shoes 2 sizes too big. This way she could have more shoes more often and avoid spending money on the kid while appearing to be thrifty.

  5. Goodness, this is my father's MO. I take the route that won't rouse his wrath, and he punishes me for it.

    1. Ah, yes--the old "damned if you do, damned if you don't" conundrum.

      The good news is, it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to get dumped on, so you can give up the stress of trying to 'do the right thing' or avoiding his wrath because you are stressing yourself out for no possible gain. Relax, do what YOU think is the best thing to do and be prepared for the bombast. No matter what you do, you're gonna get an earful, so at least this way you get the satisfaction of doing what YOU think is the best thing.

      Oh, and whenever it becomes possible, get as far away from him as you can (even in you can't do it physically, you can do it mentally) and don't let him know any more of your business than you absolutely have to. What he doesn't know he can't punish you for...

      Take the route that satisfies you (assuming it doesn't hurt others or break the law), that way you have at least gotten something out of it--to thine own self be true!



  6. Reading this brings back memories of so much combined guilt and confusion. It's not so much the toothache (though I have so many stories of my own regarding learning to just live with pain rather than endure the cascade of wrath and disgust and accusation) as the "great switcheroo" of stories and facts.

    I would be told one thing, genuinely under the impression that a thing could not be dealt with, or required a certain action; and then when a normal adult would hear about this and take it (always in concern) to my father, he would deny everything, regale the person with tales of my lies and foolishness and obvious unreliability. He would even confront me in front of the other adult, challenging me to back up my tale (purely hearsay from him, such as an inability to afford something) with fact. Should I relay that this had come from him it was always an eye-roll, a heavy sigh and the admonition "I never said any such thing!"

    Once more the liar and dramatist was me; once more he was the beleaguered father-figure enduring an idiot child.

    My mother's case was different; she was much more like the mother you describe (yes, I am the child of not one but two narcissists, essentially perfect beings who came together for sex but divorced, each "because of the other"), thriving on shouts, slaps and controversy, guilt-ridden sessions to cover her own wrongs, endless lies and grandiose fantasies, and all the going hungry while she lamented our poorness.

    My father fed me like livestock, plenty of great food; but it's because I was livestock, slave labour for his farm. His preference was clandestine verbal abuse, witnessed only by my step-mother, who was his other favoured target.

    1. You certainly got it right with the "Great Switcheroo" concept. That rings 100% true with my experiences over many decades, both as a child and as an adult.

    2. Your "Great Switcheroo" concept is familiar to my childhood and adulthood, it never stops.

  7. Like the last poster, "clandestine verbal abuse" was my father's choice for me. Everything had to look wonderful in public...and still no one would ever believe he would do such things. Something that reminds me of "The Toothache," though on a much less severe scale, was when I started getting my period and would have terrible cramps. One day my parents were helping with a church activity when I was in so much pain I couldn't stand it. I kept telling my parents, whispering, asking if we could go home so I could lie down. "Can't you just lie down in the car?" my mom would say. I did, but then came back...finally passed out cold from pain, knocking my head on a wall in front of lots of people...and then everyone wondered what was wrong! "Oh, better get you home now!"

  8. I had a similar experience as a young teenager in the mid 1980's. While waiting for the school bus one cold wintery day I slipped on the ice and fell banging my chin and nose hard on the curb. I don't remember anything after the fall but somehow I got on the bus and arrived at my Jr. High school. I remember being in the nurses office. I called mother to come get me but mother accused me of trying to get out of going to school and refused to believe I had a serious injury. I had no option but to go to class. I remember walking in class late. As I opened the door all eyes turned to me including my teachers. After seeing my badly battered face she insisted on walking me back to the nurses office. Once again I had the displeasure of calling mother. I could hear how furious mother was by my second phone call. She again accused me of making up a fake injury just to get out of class but the nurse insisted I was to be seen by a Dr.

    While waiting for mother to come get me I longed for her reaction to be one of motherly love. A mother who would give me a big hug and tenderly care for my wounded face as most mothers would but I knew better. Mother was upset I had called. I bothered her on her day off. Sure enough when she saw me motherly love was no where to be found. She began to berate me for not telling her how badly I was hurt. "If you weren't playing around you wouldn't have gotten hurt", "You didn't tell me your were hurt that bad!", "Why didn't the nurse clean you up better. Who does she think she is anyway!" etc.
    Mother was a nurse and decided I did not need to go to a dr. She took me home and told me to clean myself up. I was in so much pain but I dare not tell her. It would only anger her more. She would just call me a baby anyway so I took a few Tylenol and did my best to act as normal as I could. Despite my badly battered face, mother made me go back to school the next day.
    A months later I went to the dentist for the first time in my life. I was 15 at the time. x rays were taken. The dr. came into the room carrying the xray with him. He asked me if I had hurt my face before. I told him about my fall. He then showed me the xray showing I had broken my nose during that fall. He called mother in the room and showed it to her as well. Mother explained to the dentist that I had taken a bad fall but failed to tell her about. She had a great way of twisting the truth to make herself look great and me look like an immature, irresponsible child. She was so good at it the dentist scolded me for not telling my mother how badly I was hurt because this could have been a very serious injury. I was lucky that I was not hurt more. Mother sat there with that devious grin of her face.

  9. Dear Violet, I have a pain in my abdomen as I read this, it is so familiar. My mother, a nurse, would not ' indulge' sickness or injury, believing that it would spoil us kids. Except some of us, we were seven in total, were sent to school if she could feel a pulse. I remember teachers asking why I was in school, spreading germs etc. Once while cycling home, I was knocked down by a car. Passers-by insisted on calling an ambulance, but I was ok, I just needed to get home. The ambulance took me to hospital but wouldn't treat me as I needed an adult there. No one came, so I got the bus home. A neighbour met me the following day, cycling my dad's bike, and asked me what was I doing, cycling to school. She had seen the accident, you broke the windscreen of a car, she said, you flew up in the air and landed smack on the ground. What is your mother thinking, letting you go to school after that. I'm fine, I insisted, praying she would not say this to mum or there would be more trouble. It's made me into the kind of person who keeps on working, even when I should be sick. Thank you for sharing your memories

  10. My God!
    What kind of monster treats a child this way?
    I've seen some bad parents but, but... I can't even.


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