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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Undermining: Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers Pt 4

 The black text is a shortened version of an original work by Chris, The Harpy’s Child. Original at  Copyright 2007, all rights reserved

[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

4. She undermines.

Undermine: weaken, dent, chip away at, challenge, destabilize, demoralize, undercut, damage.

Your accomplishments are acknowledged only to the extent that she can take credit for them. Any success or accomplishment for which she cannot take credit is ignored or diminished.

When I was in the second grade, it was discovered that I was bright. I was completing my classroom assignments so quickly, the teacher was giving me workbook pages she hadn’t even addressed in class yet, and I was completing them quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, she told my NM which precipitated a bit of an educational crisis…the second grade was too “slow” for me, so somebody (I wonder who?) suggested I be promoted to third grade in the middle of the school term.

NM had bragging rights on this one. her kid was brilliant, advanced, skipped a grade…the fact that I was struggling with math concepts like multiplication that nobody bothered to teach me elicited no sympathy in her—I was smart, I should just do it (maybe why I just hate that phrase!). Like owner of a race-winning horse or prize-winning dog, she was proud that she was the parent of such a child. That pride, however, did not extend to me or to helping me…I was expected to stay smart and continue bringing home brag-worthy grades no matter my private academic difficulties. This actually shaped many of my class choices in high school, leading me away from math and science and anything I thought might be difficult because I feared her reaction to my possible grades. I stuck with things required by the State for graduation credits and made sure my electives were, in my estimation, easy. I even refused to be in the Honours classes my senior year because I knew that the classes were harder and I might not make the grades that would keep my NM from sneering, berating, and punishing me.

Even so, my senior year of high school brought a string of straight A report cards that earned nothing for me in acknowledgement from her: nothing less was expected and anything else was worthy of punishment…anything less was not brag-worthy.

At about the same time I was uprooted from my second grade class room and flung, unprepared into the third grade, it was discovered that I could sing. Really sing. Suddenly, although I retained my role as ScapeGoat child, my mother turned from largely ignoring to engulfing. I had always considered a lot of attention from my mother to be a dangerous thing—the longer I was around her, the more likely she would think of something for me to do or a reason to punish me…seriously, by the time I was seven, I knew that out of sight was out of mind, that my greatest chance of safety lay in being quiet, unobtrusive, and invisible to her.

But finding out I could sing changed all that and I was suddenly the Golden Goose—with my voice and her management, I would be famous! (And she would be rich.) I didn’t want to be famous, but my big voice got me a lot of (unwanted) attention, which she basked in. I don’t think she ever forgave me for screwing up her dream by refusing to cosy up to smelly, disgusting old men who were casting movies and for finding ways to get out of singing engagements with fake sore throats and an inability to stay on key (which, since my singing teacher said I had “perfect pitch” was obviously fakery on my part). But while she viewed me as “the next Shirley Temple,” NM fairly glowed as the person responsible for my talent and my cuteness—and my clever little costumes and custom-made audition outfits made and designed by her.

Aside from my brief stint as a potential generator or riches, NM was pretty much uninterested in me except in ways I could be of service to her. I had chores well beyond what is reasonable for a child of my age (would you expect an eight-year-old to bake a cake twice a week with no adult supervision, in a gas oven that required a match to light?) and I was expected to perform in such a way as to reflect well on her (perfect grades, become a famous singer/actress) all with no regard to the costs to me or what I might want or be interested in.

Most of us DoNMs didn’t have stage mothers but we have all lived the disheartening experience of not being good enough as ourselves, as children, but only worthy of note because of our accomplishments. What you did was what was important, and what you did was important only if it gave NM bragging rights (made her look superior because she had a kid that did something worthy of remark) or, perversely, your behaviour was so bad as to bring her sympathy for being your parent. Otherwise, you weren’t worthy of her interest. It is hurtful, demeaning, damaging, and if we internalize it (and most of us do) it haunts and harms us for the rest of our lives.

Any time you are to be center stage and there is no opportunity for her to be the center of attention, she will try to prevent the occasion altogether, or she doesn't come, or she leaves early, or she acts like it's no big deal, or she steals the spotlight or she slips in little wounding comments about how much better someone else did or how what you did wasn't as much as you could have done or as you think it is.

I was fortunate enough to spend my sophomore year of high school (10th grade) with my father and stepmother. Away from NM, no longer afraid that if I sang around the house she would hear me and try to take my life away from me and make me into a painted puppet to earn her a fortune, I began singing again. I joined the school choir and was quickly put in a place of prominence.

The following year I returned to NM’s to live and I joined the choir there as well…and quickly became the “go to” soloist for my vocal range. During those two years of high school, in every concert we put on, my NM did not attend a single one, even though I was a featured soloist in almost every concert. And when my choir made the All City competition, at the last minute she rescinded her permission for me to attend the event, leaving the choir without one of its soloists. As much as she could have had bragging rights (“I made sure she had professional singing lessons when she was little—just listen to that voice”), I suspect the fact that there was no prize money, no payday for her at the end of my performance made her angry and she refused to go partly as punishment to me for thwarting her, partly because, without money to collect, she had no motivation to go. Go to see me excel, go to give me moral support, go because she was proud of me? Not a chance—and I knew it. There was nothing in it for her, and nothing else mattered.

Likewise, my academic award presentations were ignored, and my having an after school job was not countenanced until she figured out a way to pocket half my paychecks.

This is typical of NMs and the typical DoNM comes away from the experience feeling that no effort put forth is ever sufficient. Even engulfing NMs who attend every function can impart the same message with competitive commentary: somebody got more awards, you didn’t get the highest award, or if you did, how your appearance or your acceptance speech or even your posture or how you walked in high heels are all fair game to bring you down a peg, to keep you from feeling too “full of yourself,” to keep you humiliated and humbled,

She undermines you by picking fights with you or being especially unpleasant just before you have to make a major effort. She acts put out if she has to do anything to support your opportunities or will outright refuse to do even small things in support of you.

If you have ever caught yourself holding back from trying something you really wanted to do because you feared failure, you probably had an undermining parent. Rationally speaking, we all know that nobody is going to everything right the first time. We didn’t learn to walk with our first step, we didn’t learn to ride a bicycle or roller skate the first time we tried…but somehow, over time, we internalized messages that we have to do everything we attempt perfectly on our first outing. No mistakes allowed.

Once we have internalized that message, nothing is easy, especially if you have an NM because now you carry her with you in your head, everywhere you go, everything you do. Once you have internalized her unreasoning perfectionism, the criticisms that say you are going to screw this up, you can’t handle the stress, you never follow through, or whatever her undermining tactics tend to be, she becomes right…because you stress yourself out listening to her and worrying about yourself, her prophecy becomes fulfilled. You choke up, you fail, and eventually you may ever stop trying.

If you think you need help with something, you may find she intentionally withholds it, from giving you consent to do something to prying a few of her precious hours away from the TV or whatever her particular addiction is, and donating those hours to helping you to succeed.

You see, she doesn’t want you to succeed. You are supposed to fail and all of her undermining and refusal of support and help are for that reason. If you succeed, you get the glory, the attention, the kudos—not her! Depending on how malignant she is, she may even intentionally set you up to fail, just so she can read the good inner feeling of being right.

And don’t think for one minute that this kind of behaviour is limited to our NMs. Those of us raised to be Scape Goats somehow give off some kind of signal detectable by narcissists of all kinds, like a sick or injured animal gives off a scent detectable to the local predators. If you were raised as a Scape Goat by a narcissistic parent and you haven’t attracted narcissistic “friends,” lovers, even husbands, you are one seriously lucky person!

In my case, I managed to attract Jack, a particularly malicious specimen. Because I had no idea, because he was sooo nice to be in the beginning (or so I thought), because his narcissistic abuse of me was insidious, I didn’t really catch on to what kind of person he was for many years…years in which I increasingly thought I was losing my mind.

Jack was big on winning. I have seen him trounce a 6-year-old at Monopoly with no shame and a lack of understanding why I thought it was a horrible thing to do. What’s so bad? He won—was he supposed to let the kid win? For years I didn’t tip to what Jack was doing to me, but in retrospect I can see it started long before we were married. Jack loved to set me up to fail and when I succeeded he would fall into furious rage.

On one occasion, I wanted a new car. We had only one car and sharing it was not convenient for him. He suggested a second hand car, but I wanted a new car with a warranty, one I wouldn’t have to worry about breakdowns. I was going to school and I had a baby who had to be ferried around to day care and doctors and such.

Jack decided to teach me a lesson and gave me a low budget, $2,500, saying if I could find a car for this price or less, he would buy it for me. This was in 1974, when a new Mustang went for around $3,500. It took me weeks, but finally one morning spotted a new Pinto for $2442 and dragged him out of bed to go look at it. And the end of the day I had my new Pinto and he had a complete meltdown. I was completely confused because I expected him to be overjoyed not only that I had found a car within budget, but a NEW car that would not cost him extra money in maintenance and upkeep and repairs. I could not fathom his rage at all.

Later, it came out. It was a test and I was supposed to fail. I was not supposed to find a new car so cheap, I was supposed to fail and come to him, tail between my legs, admitting I was wrong and he was right and then gratefully accept the second-hand car, the crumb, he wanted me to have. It was the first of many such tests and eventually, like a good little DoNM, I learned to fail, to be less so he could be more, to be dumb so he could be smart, to be wrong so he could be right. My NM’s daughter.

NM was the kind who withheld all kinds of assistance. When I was 17 and pregnant, she wanted me to have an abortion (illegal in the US at the time but she didn’t care); when I thwarted that, she decided to give me a “choice.” It was the famous manipulator’s choice—to make the appearance of reasonableness by giving what looked like a choice but which was, in fact, only a choice between two onerous possibilities. In my case, I could live at home during my pregnancy, provided I agreed to give the baby up for adoption or if I insisted on keeping the baby (an almost untenable choice in 1964) then I would have to go to a maternity home, essentially a locked institution, and be on my own.

Now, you would think that getting married would be one of the options for me but no—that would give me a way to keep my baby and she was not looking for that. No, she wanted the baby gone…and the offer of the maternity home? Well, in those days it was commonplace for the babies to be seized and the young mothers coerced into signing them away…I knew that and if I did, you can bet she did too.

Eventually, however, I got married. She was livid. She told me that I had made my bed and I had to lay in it and not to come to her for help when times got rough. So I didn’t and, even when she could see how much I later struggled as the single mother of two pre-schoolers, she offered no assistance. Why should she? Well, aside from the fact that she was my mother, she and her husband owned four businesses, four houses, and 21 apartments. You think maybe an offer of a job, grandma babysitting and an apartment at an affordable rent might have been the offer of a loving parent, right? All I got from mine was “You made your bed…” and a continued gloating at my failures.

She will be nasty to you about things that are peripherally connected with your successes so that you find your joy in what you've done is tarnished, without her ever saying anything directly about it. No matter what your success, she has to take you down a peg about it.

Fast forward 15 years. I have married Jack, who was a minor executive with a Silicon Valley tech firm. I drive an English sports car, have a corporate job myself, own a large home, wear nice clothes. Jack has a trade show in Las Vegas and invites me to come along…and my NM lives outside of Vegas, so I agree to go…and she agrees to meet me for dinner.

I show up for dinner in a form fitting silk dress, killer high heels, real gold earrings, professionally coiffed hair. Men in the hotel lobby turn their heads as I walk through to the restaurant, a few make appreciative comments. I look like a million bucks and for once in my life, my NM has got to look at me with pride. I look gorgeous and prosperous and successful.

She gets into the elevator with me…she hasn’t seen me in ten years…and the first thing she says to me is “You’ve gotten fat.”

We had a strained dinner, I went downstairs and declined her offer of a lift back to my hotel. I took a cab and cried every second of my way back, only to have Jack look at me disdainfully when I got back to the hotel room and say “your mascara is running and you look like hell.” It’s what narcissists do.

Next: Part 5. Demeaning, criticism and denigration.


  1. Violet,
    The dinner incident where you looked your best is stated simple and best as Sexual jealously on the NMs part. They are the typical step mothers of their snowwhite daughters. Never did my wife get to go to the beauty parlor for a facial or a pedicure, it was after marriage that i send her routinely for one. Now that she looks gorgeous her mother just cannot tolerate her. But for cultural restraints NMs are such that they wont hesistate getting banged by their son in laws.

  2. Oh, I hope you are not telling this last bit out of personal experience!!

    But you are right with regard to sexual jealousy, something I dealt with from the time I entered puberty, although I was not aware of it. When I was in the 8th grade I had a boyfriend my mother flirted with shamelessly and even asked me if he had a brother! She did her best to not allow me to "grow up" by keeping me in childish clothes, withholding the typical rites of passage of teen girls (mostly grooming issues) and once I had made my transition of girl to young woman, either denigrating me ("stand up straight and suck your stomach in--you look 3 months pregnant") or just ignoring me.

    Imagine being jealous of your own child--

  3. The undermining part: NM always made sure that she talks to everyone about how smart she raised me, how successful I was at the university. And everyone kept clapping hands for her success in raising such a smart child.
    I have finished the last two years in one single year (you can imagine the effort) just to be able to finally escape her. When she has realized, that
    1) I will have a college degree that she never had
    2) I will move away from her just as I finish university
    she did everything she could to undermine my studies.
    She kept telling me that she didn't expect it from me to finish university so early, that other people usually take their time. That she didn't understand why I keep on pushing forward, when she doesn't want me to.
    And before every exam, every written project with a deadline, somehow she managed to break me. Before every exam day, she managed to do or say something just so that I spent my whole day and night collapsed into a crying lump of sheer depression, completely unable to even raise my head, not to mention study anything.
    And I still managed to pass those exams. And whenever I passed one, she was furious.

    Anonymous, Sweet Violet: I have gone through this also.

    The sexual jealousy and forbidding rites of passage were also there for me too, when I was a teen.
    It was forbidden for me to have a nice haircut, I only was allowed to wear clothes that were already out of fashion when my grandmother was young, I wasn't allowed to wear make-up, it was forbidden to shave my legs or armpits (and I was constantly ridiculed by my classmates because of all these).
    When I resisted, she was furious. She threw all my clothes out of the closet. She grabbed my hair and tied it back into an ugly bun. She called me a whore. She told me I was ridiculous. She told me to "hide your boobs. you look disgusting. everyone will want to rape you if you don't do so". She also kept telling me that I want to take my father away from her. That we wanted her gone.

    Hugs to you all!

    1. Welcome to the blog, Scatha and thank you for writing.

      I can relate to your situation very well--my singing "career," my academic excellence--all products of HER efforts on my behalf, to hear her tell it. And woe betide any successes achieved outside her framework, successes she could not claim as her own!

      The hair thing--yup, she wouldn't spend money on a professional haircut for me (although hers was done every 6 weeks), and I, too, suffered the ridicule of classmates for the hairy legs/underarms and woefully out-of-of date clothes.

      But that wasn't the worst part--the worst part was that she KNEW how this was affecting me, how it ostracized me and isolated me from my peers and SHE DIDN'T CARE! My stepmother, who really would have preferred that my father had not been married before and had two kids, cared more about my grooming and dressing to fit in with the other kids than my own mother.

      So I recognize the hurt, acknowledge the resentment, and validate your feelings--been there, done that, and you have a LOT of company!

      Please feel free to join the blog, Scatha--that way you will get automatically notified when the blog is updated. And thank you again for writing.

  4. My mother was an abusive narcissist. She whipped me with a belt. She was jealous of me. She would not buy me nice clothes. My father was a wimpy enabler. It was very painful.

    1. I am sorry if this sounds unsupportive, but it takes a great deal more than what you describe above to suspect your mother of narcissism.

      In earlier times in our society, taking a belt to a recalcitrant child was the norm; your definition of "nice clothes" may have been outside her budget or simply a matter of a difference in tastes. A father who does not step in and give you what you want in opposition to his wife is not necessarily an enabler. And her being jealous of you could be more perception than fact.

      If you want to know if your mother really was a narcissist, go to this website, scroll to the end, and compare your mother's behaviours and attitudes to the criteria listed.

      That will help you determine if, in fact, your mother is a narcissist or you have made an error in your perceptions. Good parents do not always give us what we want...but they DO give us what we need, a fact that escapes most narcissistic parents.

  5. it surely is an unending cycle, as once you start to realise why people tell you "but you have to first love yourself", you start telling yourself your own story, about how you have been abused and held down for most of your life. then, from there, its like the disease starts sinking into your bones... you are no longer an innocent child who is struggling and losing, though doesnt know why, you are now "your story", and you are most likely going to act quite similarly to what they did to you, whether or not you can recognize it.

    1. I know quite a few people who have or had narcissistic mothers and very few of them act similarly to what their mothers did to them.

      Awareness is a powerful tool for change. People who are aware of themselves, their own feelings and their own behaviours are, I think, less likely to repeat the mistakes of their parents simply because their awareness allows them to empathize with others and to refrain from behaviours similar to their NMs' because they know that it is hurtful.

      If you find that you are repeating behaviours that your mother did to you, I strongly urge you to stop rationalizing it and get to a therapist who specializes in treated people who were abused in childhood. You might be amazed at the difference it can make in your life.



  6. Sadly I am glad to know that I am not alone. I wondered what was wrong with me, and what was wrong with my mother. Now I know. And I know that I am not the only one. My mother was too awful for me to mention all the things she did to me (including beating me, bashing my head against the floor and screaming for family members to bring her a pair of scissors so she could cut off all of my "precious hair"). She demeaned me, made comments about my weight, insisted I eat bad food so I would become and stay fat, would buy me clothes that were at least three sizes too large and insist those were the right size because I was so fat, she would call me ugly, become jealous when people noticed how attractive I was, did not encourage proper hygiene or grooming, accused me of having sex with people, worried about me stealing her husband, accused me of conspiring with her first husband to help him get to her when he was sexually abusing me, and the list goes on. She was so horribly jealous of me that even now I cannot believe anyone who calls me beautiful. Such remarks fill me with fear. Growing up I knew something bad was going to happen after people complimented me in public (strangers stopping my mother in public to tell her how beautiful I am, random people doing the same to other family members about me at a funeral, or people complimenting my hair). These things would lead to a beating, an emotionally abusive explosion, or attempts to cut my hair. Life with my mother was so unbearable I tried everything I could think of to escape. I'm almost thirty now and my healing process has only just begun.

  7. Speaking of haircuts and shaves, a hair trim in my area for women costs approx a dollar and a waxing costs precisely 2 dollars. What the hell that these NM cannot afford one for their daughters is clearly a case of sexual jealousy. My daughter who is 5 gets hers for free anytime she visits the beauty parlor with her mother.

    As a son i faced the same things: Pathetic worn out clothing, a long buck tooth, unkempt long hair, there was a time when a railways staff mistook me for a cleaner. Still NM does nothing to mitigate that. GC got the best of everything, he used to brag that he was handsome as a hollywood star and refuse to be seen with me in public.

    The fact she tried to abort me unsuccessfully, left me with a facial assymetry and a huge facial scar which i was self conscious about. Today my intellectual and emotional wealth has made me forget the same. The bitch used to lie to me saying it was on account of Vitamin B tablets taken during her pregnancy. After 30plus years she confessed the truth. I turned out to be her nemesis. According to her i dont need to look presentable and that no girl need to look at me.

    NMs criminalise the budding sexuality of their offsprings. Touching the privates is a sin, talking ot a girl is a sin, discussing sex is a sin...... but they have no qualms spreading their legs for every stranger.

  8. For years I could never understand why I always felt that my mother could not possibly love me but part of me just did not want to believe it. I was the scape goat and my brother the golden child. He could and can never do anything wrong. I could and can never do anything right. All her marriages ended in divorce and one was supposedly entirely my fault. I was threatened with boarding school if I did not do something. After my mother's divorce she had to work so she could support us. I never had a childhood as I had to clean the house, cook our meals and look after My brother. I never did it right and was yelled at every single day. She also used to tell me over and over that I would not amount to anything. Every friend I had was no good and I was not allowed to see them. She hated my father with a passion and stopped all contact with him. I was not to see him ever again. She told me many horrible things about him that later in my life I learned were simply not true. I do have some contact with him but I have a difficult time getting close to him because of all the things she said about him. My mother also finished a relationship for me. mother took me and my brother to live overseas. I had finally met a wonderful man with a wonderful family. I found out years later from his mother that my mother had contacted them to inform them that I had found another man and that she had no intention of ever letting me return to my home country. His mother wanted to know from me. They always had a feeling that this was not true but they felt powerless to do anything as all efforts to get me back to my home country were blocked by my mother. My fiancé started to feel that it was pointless to continue the relationship and eventually gave up. I also felt it was hopeless trying as my mother took every cent I earned of me. I was so afraid of her that I did not dare to rebel. She threatened to throw me out and as I knew no one else in the country and I had absolutely no money what was I to do. Where was I to go. I was so afraid she would do this. I had a huge mental breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. They had words with my mother but she always denied it. Here I finally realised that my mother could not possibly love me. Something I still believe today. She has done things that no loving mother would do. Years later I read about narcissism and followed up with an article on narcissistic mothers and it was just like my mother. I finally realised what had happened to me all those years. Many times I have wanted to break all contact with her and my brother but although I have managed to keep my distance from them, I still go occasionally to see them. Still today the same thing happens. She tells me that I am fat, I have a big bum, my posture is not good, the clothes I wear aren't any good, I don't know anything and on and on. My house isn't big enough, my husband isn't good enough. The list could just keep going. She still undermines me. She still is able to make me cry for days on end because all I wanted was some love and affection. Again I want to break all contact but I just wished how I could succeed in doing it.


I don't publish rudeness, so please keep your comments respectful, not only to me, but to those who comment as well. We are not all at the same point in our recovery.

Not clear on what constitutes "rudeness"? You can read this blog post for clarification: