[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
She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism.
Narcissists must always be right…their sense of self depends on it. Many narcissists I have known tend toward “black and white” thinking, so if they are to acknowledge they are wrong on anything, then they must be wrong on everything. So, any kind of criticism must be vigorously defended because their entire being feels at risk. They don’t conceptualize that being wrong on “something” doesn’t mean they are wrong on “everything.”
I suspect this comes from a deep inner knowledge that the person they project to others is not their authentic self, and so their lives are a house of cards and that the smallest jostle can tumble it down, revealing the real person they try so hard to keep hidden. If they weren’t so destructive to others, one could almost feel sorry for them. But, despite their inner damage, narcissists have a choice and that they choose to hurt others to salve their own wounds makes them rather like psychic cannibals and beyond the pale of compassion.
I ordinarily advocate giving people the benefit of the doubt and to act with compassion and empathy towards others. In dealing with narcissists, however, I withdraw that advice. Narcissists are the people who see your compassion as weakness and your empathy as condescension. It provokes them to defensiveness (which is sometimes embodied in offensive or aggressive tactics); in your compassion they feel you pity them, in your empathy they feel you mocking them because, lacking compassion and empathy themselves, pity and mockery are all they have and so they assume the same of you. Pitiful people are, in their world, to be exploited and weak people to be mocked: their interpretation of your compassion and empathy is that you see them as pitiful, weak individuals to be mocked and exploited, just as they would see you, and so they become defensive.
Criticism is viewed much the same way: in order to be legitimately criticized you must be wrong; narcissists cannot be wrong, therefore they cannot be legitimately criticized—which therefore means if you criticized the narcissist, you are wrong. Only weak people are wrong, so if you are wrong, you are weak and therefore vulnerable to attack. And nothing shores up a narcissist’s sense of self like beating someone else at something, even if it is a 6 year old playing Monopoly for the first time or a well-meaning person who made what he thought was a helpful observation and was verbally excoriated for his trouble.
The bottom line is, narcissists cannot be wrong and if you try to show one s/he is, you open yourself to a battle they cannot allow you to win…their very lives depend on it.
If you criticize her or defy her she will explode with fury, threaten, storm, rage, destroy and may become violent, beating, confining, putting her child outdoors in bad weather or otherwise engaging in classic physical abuse.
There are self-appointed “experts” on the web who maintain that true Ns never engage in physical abuse of their children; they claim that if a parent engages in physical abuse, s/he is not a narcissist but suffers from some other problem, like Anti-social Personality Disorder.
Don’t you believe a word of it. Narcissism seldom occurs in a vacuum and it is most likely that your NM’s disorder is what the shrinks call “co-morbid” with another disorder including the Anti-social Personality Disorder noted above. In other words, while your NM may be largely narcissistic, she can also be a little bit BPD (borderline), a little bit HPD (histrionic), and/or a little AsPD (Antisocial). There is nothing in the psychiatrist’s Big Book of Personality Disorders that says a person cannot have more than one personality disorder at a time so, if your narcissistic mother beat you or put you outdoors in the snow or otherwise physically abused you, she probably has some AsPD along with her NPD. But she is still a narcissist.
I never criticized my NM because I was afraid of her. She was physically as well as emotionally abusive. I am not sure how non-malignant NMs respond to criticism from their kids, but I can tell you that my NM brooked none from anyone except, maybe, her own parents. If my father objected to something, she blew up into a towering rage and she would try to get her own way through bombast—intimidating and trying to back him down. And then, no matter how her rage and the ensuing fight turned out, I suspect she just went and did what she wanted, no matter what. She did seem to be a bit subdued in the presence of her own parents, but only when they were physically present. The snide remarks to me never stopped, they were just delivered quietly and menacingly when Nana wasn’t nearby.
Defiance, however, she saw at every turn. Any time something was not done exactly to her liking (even if she had never bothered to set out parameters or demonstrate how to do something to her liking), she blamed it on defiance—there was no quarter given for inexperience, ignorance, youthfulness, or the natural immaturity of a child—no, if it wasn’t done properly, whether it was a chore or simply how I spoke, it was because I was defiant.
Truth is, I wasn’t defiant, I was terrified. Whenever I opened my mouth around her, I stood a good chance of the wrong thing coming out, or at least something she could twist and use against me. So, if I spoke, I got skewered with my own words; if I was silent, I was defiant. There was no way to win—which, to me, meant to be safe.
I have previously mentioned how, when she took The Strap to me, I would often grit my teeth and try to endure the beating without making a sound. This was because I didn’t know if she wanted me to scream or be silent, and it was very hard to stop screaming, once I started…and to keep sobbing or hiccoughing or sniffing once she commanded silence was to ask for more. But if she was in a mood that she wanted to hear me scream, my silence was “defiance.” But if I screamed when she hit me and didn’t stop all semblance of sound when she commanded, that was defiance as well.
Defiance was a punishable offense. And it didn’t have to be (and usually wasn’t) real defiance either, just anything she could identify as such. And while other NMs might rage and bellow and scream,—or go into a sulk—mine got physical. Why should she break something she owned in a rage? (Although she could blame me, I suppose—I often heard “Don’t make me hurt you,” from her, so certainly a broken tchotchke could be blamed on me with “Look what you made me do!”) I suspect throwing dishes against a wall would not be as satisfying as beating her child into a quivering pulp, so she skipped the starters and went straight for the main course—me.
I have often wondered why she didn’t see defiance in my younger brother when, in fact, he really was defiant! The kid was always in some kind of trouble or another—but I generally got punished for “letting” him do whatever it was he did. He was not a stupid child and this was not lost on him…since the consequences for his misbehaviour was invariably meted out on someone other than himself, he had no incentive to behave himself. He knew enough not to openly defy NM to her face because she might not ignore that…but he was certainly smart enough to exploit her weaknesses as well as mine.
Narcissists loathe being thought of as being wrong. For some reason, many of them think a tantrum, a meltdown worthy of a sleep-deprived 2 year old, is an appropriate way to deal with someone who has had the audacity of implying they are not perfect in every way. Back them down with bullshit, teach them with terror not to make the mistake of thinking a narcissist is anything but utterly perfect. Never let a crack in the defences show—how very narcissistic of them!
Next: Part 14. She terrorized.