[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
3. She favoritizes. Narcissistic mothers commonly choose one (sometimes more) child to be the golden child and one (sometimes more) to be the scapegoat.
And if you are unlucky enough to be an only child, you get play both roles, depending on her mood—that has got to be extremely confusing for a kid, ya know?
The narcissist identifies with the golden child and provides privileges to him or her as long as the golden child does just as she wants. The golden child has to be cared for assiduously by everyone in the family.
This is something I think a lot of people—especially those who were scapegoats—fail to recognize: the GC may get a lot of privilege and attention, but it is at a heavy price. This child is at grave risk for becoming narcissistic him/herself, having been raised with a totally unrealistic sense of entitlement and no sense of family cohesion and loyalty. Their view of the world and their place in it is no less twisted than the scapegoat’s, just twisted in a different way.
The GC is spoiled but there is that unspoken threat underlying it all: do as I say or it can all go away.
Another thing that often goes unrecognized: the GC need not be one of the narcissist’s own children…or even a child! Hindsight being what it is, I can look back and see that my NM divided the world up into Goldens and Scapegoats…and you could be “demoted” from Golden to Scapegoat but never promoted once the Scapegoat mantle settled on your shoulders. My NM had two brothers, her older brother Gary and her younger brother, Pete. NM despised Gary (although she was not above cozying up to him when she needed something from him) but she worshipped the ground Pete walked on. She was the same way with her four grandchildren: the boys were all ignored but my daughter, Annie, was the Golden GrandChild. When NM died she specifically disinherited me and her grandsons, leaving her entire estate to be divided between the two Golden Children: my brother and my daughter. Favouritism and the selection of Goldens and Scapegoats need not be limited to the narcissist’s own children.
The scapegoat has no needs and instead gets to do the caring.
Scapegoats actually do have needs, but are ignored to as large a degree as possible. Whenever I needed something like fillings or glasses or new shoes, I generally got a heap of abuse along with it—or even accused of faking the need or having caused it through neglect or wilful destructiveness. And when the need was fulfilled—I got the visit to the dentist or the new glasses or the shoes replaced, it was always with a stack of guilt, as if I was taking resources away from someone or something more deserving, more entitled, than I.
I suspect every NM treats her scapegoat child differently but that there is a common thread that links us all. In my case, I was pretty much tasked with taking care of my younger brother, something that started when I was much too young for that kind of responsibility. I was to keep him from running out in the street, make him do his chores, keep him out of trouble (but not tattle about his misbehaviour). I had to make his breakfast and lunch—including coming home from school at noon and opening a can of soup or ravioli or such, heating it on the stove, then get him back to school before our lunch break was over. I was two years older, but I was a skinny, gangly kid and he was a husky, hefty boy who was taller than I was.
In my teens, my responsibility for him expanded to include ironing his school clothes and “making sure” his room was clean. In practical terms, it meant doing his chores for him because I would get punished if they weren’t done and he well knew it. Scapegoats become not only convenient receptacle for blame in the N-driven family, they are often treated like household servants, as if they need to earn a place in the household, earn their food, shelter, and maintenance, rather than those things being the entitlements they are to the Golden Children.
Certainly children should have chores and contribute to the household, but in narcissist-headed family, that can be twisted in such a way that one child does a disproportionate amount of the labour or is assigned chores more suited to older, larger, or stronger children or, as in my case, find it necessary to do the chores of another child in order to avoid being punished for not “making” the other child do his/her work.
The golden child can do nothing wrong. The scapegoat is always at fault.
Certainly Golden Children do wrong…but it is rationalized or overlooked or ignored by the N-parent to the degree that a child reporting the bad behaviour of a G-sibling get punished for tattling, the Golden’s Child’s behaviour ignored as part of the punishment!
A perfect example of the scapegoat being at fault was my NM’s proclivity for punishing me when my GCBro misbehaved: I got punished because I didn’t stop him from getting into mischief or make him do his chores or whatever it was that a parent or sitter should have been doing. He was two years younger than me, but a hefty, husky boy who outweighed me by several pounds.
Even when we were younger, NM expected me to control and be responsible for his behaviour. My grandmother once told me a story of how she had come to visit us when my brother was just toddling. He recognized her car as she came up the street and went tearing across the lawn, obviously intent upon running into the street to greet her. Behind him, according to my grandmother, I was running, arms outstretched to grab any part of him I could, tears running down my face. She stopped the car only to hear me screaming that he should stop because “Mommy will spank me” if he ran out into the street. Where was his mother while he was outside playing in an unfenced yard…and why was a not-quite four-year-old put in charge of a sturdy, rambunctious toddler?
Scapegoat children are often made to blame for other things that go wrong in a family or household: I was once told that everything that was wrong in my NM’s life was my fault because I had been born. She had plans…grand plans, mind you…that did not include being “saddled” with a baby at 17 (she was married). How strange, by contrast, when I learned I was pregnant at 17 (and unmarried) I was ecstatic to have a baby on the way...that baby was my plan!
This creates divisions between the children, one of whom has a large investment in the mother being wise and wonderful, and the other(s) who hate her.
This is another uncanny peek into my childhood. I can remember feeling hatred for my mother…inextricably mixed with fear…from as young as eight years of age. By this time I had been exposed to enough other households to realize that other little girls weren’t spanked every day, that spanking was a rare and serious punishment reserved for serious breaches of the rules, that other mothers spanked with their hands, not a thin leather strap that left whip-like lash marks on the skin and, most importantly, other mothers punished the siblings of my friends when they did wrong, not my friends. I was not a stupid nor unobservant child and by the time I hit second grade, I knew without a doubt there was something wrong with my mother.
My brother, on the other hand, was a suck up. And a self-righteous supercilious little tattletale of a suck up, as well. For an intelligent person, sometimes I am a little thick and it took me quite some time to realize that the rules were different for the two of us: whenever I did something he had done with impunity—thinking that because he got away with it, I could too, I would find myself hauled up short and punished. If I said “But Petey did it and it was OK,” I would get “Well, maybe so, but you’re not Petey,” as a response between lashes with the strap. Sometimes he would simply lie—make up a story out of thin air—and tell NM in order to get me punished. I remember getting a thrashing for dancing naked in my room when I was nine—except I never let him see me naked, I always closed my bedroom door when I changed clothes—and I wasn’t dancing, naked or otherwise. On another occasion, he wrote his name on the wall in the hallway in pencil and told NM that I did it and when she asked why I would do that, I said “I didn’t do it!” and he said “She did it to get me in trouble!” I’ll bet you can guess who got in trouble, can’t you? I remember being totally surprised when a classmate at school expressed love for her younger brother who was a mean little brat cut from the same cloth as my own brother. “Because he’s my brother,” she responded when I asked why. “Don’t you love your little brother?” I didn’t…but I didn’t tell her that.
That division will be fostered by the narcissist with lies and with blatantly unfair and favoritizing behavior. The golden child will defend the mother and indirectly perpetuate the abuse by finding reasons to blame the scapegoat for the mother's actions.
This is also very true. NM constantly compared us against each other and, invariably, I came up short. The ways parents can compare their kids to each other are legion, but when the parent is a narcissist, the comparisons go only one way: against the Scapegoat child. So, if the SG excels at music or art and brings home good marks, they will be denigrated in favour of the GC’s marks in math—something “important.” If the SG excels in math but the GC is an outstanding athlete, math will be devalued in favour of sports. The Golden Child’s accomplishments will always be more important, more favoured, more worthy of remark or reward than those of the Scapegoat child whose accomplishments are more likely to be ignored or ridiculed than acknowledged or praised.
Because the Golden Child reaps rewards from his position and because, at least in the beginning, we are talking about a child, the GC sticks up for and defends the narcissistic parent—he has no objective sense of right and wrong or good and bad, after all, as all he knows is what has been learned at the NM’s knee. And just as the parent rationalizes and justifies her behaviour, so will the Golden Child. There is something in it for him/her, after all, even if it is only to be spared the tempers of the NM…but often the reward is tangible and, being a child, the abstractions of justice don’t come into play. Often these Goldens grow into adults whose development of conscience and ethics stay stuck in childhood where their collusion with the Nparent not only let them off the hook for their behaviour but brought them rewards as well. They are well compensated for adopting the narcissistic mother’s viewpoint, for defending the NM, for adding the weight of their support with rationalizations, justifications and even outright lies.
When my NM wrote her will, my daughter, the Golden Grandchild, couldn’t wait to tell me that my mother planned to split her considerable estate between my Golden Child Brother and her, cutting me and the three grandsons out completely.
“Does that seem fair to you?” I asked.
Her voice was flippant. “Well, it’s not like you and Gramma had any kind of a relationship.”
That her brothers and cousin were cut out didn’t even occur to her and the fact that NM and I had a poor relationship was, in her eyes, justification. To make that rationalization work, however, she had to buy into my NM’s gaslighting and rewriting of history—and she did. She did to such a degree that, ten years after NM’s death she suddenly stopped communicating with me because of my blog (see 46 Memories) , claiming everything in it to be a lie and encouraging other family members to sever contact with me. Interesting, you see, because most of what she called “lies” occurred years—even decades—before she was born, so she could have no first-hand knowledge of the veracity of my memories. My NM was dead, so the only person available to her to corroborate the stories would be my GC Bro—and what’s in it for him to tell the truth except to reveal him for the flying monkey and errand boy in collusion with our MNM for so many years?
Even more interestingly, my daughter refused to accept corroboration from family members and friends who supported my memory of events (some of them having actually been there). For example, although I was pregnant with my daughter when I married my first husband, he was not her father—I was four months pregnant with her when we met. Her biological father was my high school sweetheart who, upon learning of my pregnancy, disavowed paternity—an all-too-common event in those days before DNA testing. My NM tried to have my high school sweetheart arrested for statutory rape because I was only 17—but so was he so it didn’t work. When I married, NM apparently “forgot” all about my high school sweetheart and declared my husband the baby’s father.
The man I married was sterile, which he knew at the time he married me. Indeed, over the course of our marriage and his two subsequent marriages, he never fathered a child. I told my daughter the truth about her parentage; my first husband told my daughter the truth; my father and stepmother corroborated that I did not meet him until I was four months pregnant with her. But her biological father, when contacted, maintained that he was not her father (he was married and a father by this time and had never told his wife) and my NM continued to insist that my first husband was my daughter’s biological father—and my daughter chose to believe her grandmother rather than me (even though I was present at conception and NM was not). “Why would Gramma lie about such a thing?” she asked me. I have to wonder why she didn’t ask “Why would Mama lie about such a thing?”
The power of a narcissist to divide a family is the stuff of which horror stories are made. Before I was five years old, the seeds of dissention had been sown between my brother and me and NM nurtured them like they were precious. Binding the GC to her and making me the scapegoat was not enough, however—she had to take her poison to the next generation and sow her noxious crop there, as well.
My sons were not present at the reading of NM’s will and so my daughter took it upon herself to lie to them. Instead of telling the truth, which was that she put in her will that she was deliberately disinheriting me and my two sons “for reasons they already know,” (they didn’t—she never even met one of my boys [by her own choice—she refused my invitations] and the other one was very hurt when he learned that she had not provided for him in her will as she had once said she would) my daughter told her brothers that half of the estate was left to all three of them but she was to administer it. This, of course lasted right up to the moment she wanted the lion’s share of the money to buy something for herself. My oldest son, who is disabled, asked her for some of “his” money to buy a car and she turned him down saying it was all gone—she had spent it on her new McMansion.
The schism in my family created by my NM more than 50 years ago continues to this day: my GCBro and I have not seen or spoken to each other for more than 20 years; my daughter and one of my sons do not speak to me, nor does my daughter’s young adult son. Her ex-husband, upon being freed via divorce from her, told me how she forbade him and her son to contact me once she discovered my blog (the 46 Memories) and how she called me a liar. NM laid down the reigns of power with her death, but my daughter picked them right up. Who knows what the next generation will be like?
The bad news is that the evil wrought by a narcissistic parent can infect multiple generations of a family—the worse news is that narcissists are not just narcissists at home. That narcissism is carried with them everywhere they go, into everything they do, into their workplace, their politics, their morals, their sense of social responsibility. And they fall short…very, very short…of the marks we expect of the average citizen. My NM once told me, with unmistakeable pride in her voice, that she had never voted. She had never even registered to vote, not once in her entire life. Not because she lacked political opinions—she had plenty of them and was not shy about sharing them. No, she had never registered to vote because she was under the impression that the voter’s rolls were the source of jury duty candidates and by never registering to vote, she believed she would never be called up for jury duty! She didn’t vote, and she had no compunctions about dabbling on the edges of the law, either—I can recall her crowing to her friends about “kiting checks” so she would have cash available to go bar hopping on the weekend, the pride in her cleverness evident. When one friend asked “Isn’t that illegal?” NM’s response was “Only if you are caught, Bea, only if you get caught.”
If you have ever had the misfortune of having a narcissist for a boss, you’ve gotten a taste of what it I like to be the child of a narcissist. But whether you were the Scapegoat employee or the Golden One, at least you got to go home and you had the option of quitting the job…children are stuck in the craziness, often unable to escape even when they become adults and have homes and families of their own.
The golden child may also directly take on the narcissistic mother's tasks by physically abusing the scapegoat so the narcissistic mother doesn't have to do that herself.
This can be seen quite blatantly in families in which some children are allowed—even encouraged—to bully others. More subtly, however, there are families in which the Golden Child is encouraged to prey upon the Scapegoats: taking possessions, ordering the sibling around, expecting one sibling to always step aside in favour of the Golden Child.
My NM’s particular means of putting my GC Bro in control—even though I, as the eldest, was nominally “in charge” of him—was to ignore his transgressions and punish me for “whining” or “tattling.” As long as his incursions into my possessions or my safety didn’t result in an injury that required a doctor’s visit (thereby costing her money), I was a whiner or a tattler if I complained of his physical abuses which ran the gamut from simple pushing to actual punches. To say I was afraid of him would not be an exaggeration.
I do not know how she missed the fact that he was bigger than I was. And to this day, I do not know how she expected me to make him do those things he did not want to do, like dry the dishes or take out the trash. I had no authority, when I complained about his lack of compliance I was punished for tattling and then told to “make him do it,” despite him being both taller and heavier than I was. She simply could not be bothered to take care of him herself and expected me, at the tender age of seven, to know what to do to elicit compliance from someone who didn’t respect me and who could…and did…beat me up.
Narcissistic mothers are, as far as I can tell, exceedingly lazy and selfish when it comes to actually caring for their children. Even the Golden Child doesn’t get the benefit of a fully focussed and loving parent, but gets indulgence and a false sense of entitlement in lieu. As a mother who is too focussed on herself to bother with the well-being of her children, the narcissist finds ways, through choosing favourites and scapegoats and playing them off against each other, to absolve herself of the responsibilities of parenting. Nobody benefits from this style of parenting…not even the favoured Golden Child.
Next: Part 4: Undermining