[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 10. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain.
This exceptionally sick and bizarre behavior is so common among narcissistic mothers that their children often call them “emotional vampires.” Some of this emotional feeding comes in the form of pure sadism. She does and says things just to be wounding or she engages in tormenting teasing or she needles you about things you're sensitive about, all the while a smile plays over her lips.
This is rather a difficult one for me—it was not until I read this that I associated some of my NM’s behaviours with her feeding on my pain. Only a very few examples come to mind, but I am not sure that her way of “feeding” on my pain is even remotely similar to how other NMs do/did it.
My parents separated several times during my childhood but, oddly, I cannot actually recall my father being gone. It is like those months of his absence are completely shuttered from my memory, as if they never existed. Their final separation, however, the one that led to their second and final divorce when I was 10, is more clear. I can only recall random events, however, and I cannot recall them in their proper order of occurrence. At some point after my father moved out of the house, he left the state. His version of events (explained to me after he returned) and my NM’s differed strikingly. It is important to remember that this occurred in the late 1950s, years before “no-fault divorce” came into being, and in a divorce, the party at fault was pretty much stripped of assets in favour of the complaining party.
And so it was with my father. NM filed for divorce on the grounds of “mental cruelty” and the divorce was duly granted: she got the house, the new car, all of the furniture, custody of both children and child support (because she had always worked, she could not get alimony). My father got a 10 year old car, his clothes, mechanic’s tools, and his hunting and fishing gear—and a monthly bill for support and car/house payments that nearly exceeded his income. He lived rent-free with a friend and worked “under the table” for him just so he had some cash.
My parents had been separated when I was 8 but that is completely closed to my memory. According to my stepmother, however, this is when she and my father met and started dating. When NM found out he had a girlfriend, she turned on the charm and begged him to come back home. He broke up with Patsy, telling her “I got to go back for the kids’ sake,” and returned home. I remember absolutely nothing of this, not even his absence.
When they separated the second time, my father looked up Patsy to see if she was still single. They started dating again. They got serious—marriage serious. But he was unable to marry again—virtually all of his earnings went into NM’s pocket. So he took off to Nevada, married Patsy and fled to Oregon (our home state).
What happened next depends on who you ask: to this day I do not know what is the truth. NM says that the whole time he was in Oregon, he sent her no money at all; Patsy says he sent child support but didn’t pay the other bills, like the mortgage and her car payments. Personally, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is how my NM acted over his removal to Oregon: she was pissed-really, REALLY pissed. I don’t know if she expected to crook her finger and have him back at her command when she got tired of the game of musical bedrooms she was playing or if she was angry at him having found someone else. Whatever it was, she became the archetypal “woman scorned.”
With a child’s typical self-serving sense, I very much preferred my father to my mother. He did not hit me, terrorize me, or even yell at me. If he felt it necessary to chastise me, it was usually in the form of explanation of what I did wrong, why it was wrong, followed by extracting a promise from me not to do it again. I am not saying he never spanked me, but if he did, the experience is buried in one of those inaccessible black holes in my memory. I just know I was never afraid of my father and I loved him very much.
Once my father had gone to Oregon, NM never passed up an opportunity to demonize him. Birthdays, Christmas, special occasions came and went and nary a word from him. And she could not disguise her delight in rubbing it in. “So, another birthday and not a word from your PRECIOUS father, eh miss?” she would ask, her voice dripping venom, her face an undisguised mask of glee. Eventually the lack of contact and NM’s incessant campaign against him began to chip away at my brother’s resolve but the more Petey turned against him, the more staunchly I stood in our father’s corner. This, of course, enraged NM and she would not pass up an opportunity to rub in both his absence and his silence—and she wouldn’t stop until she had me on the verge of tears, in which case I would then get browbeaten for “blubbering.”
The summer I was 12 I was at my grandparent’s house (her parents) and I remember telling my grandmother how much I missed my father…and she suggested I call him! We were in Oregon, after all, and the call wouldn’t be that expensive… I remember puddling up in tears because I didn’t know where he was, until she suggested I talk to my other grandmother—certainly HIS mother would know where he was. Within the week my father and Patsy drove down from Portland to my grandmother’s house to see me and, joy of joys, with a new baby sister for me! I was over the moon!
But the telling thing about their visit and subsequent move back to Southern California was when I asked my father why he had not written to me while he had been gone. He and Patsy exchanged a telling look and the truth came out—not one birthday, not one Christmas, not one holiday had been over looked by them! They had send letters and cards with money in them so I could buy a present for myself—and NM had intercepted every one, kept the money they sent, and destroyed the cards and letters. I was so relieved to know he had not abandoned me that I wasn’t even angry with NM…just relieved that my trust and faith in him had not been misplaced.
Looking back on this now, I can see the grimace-like smile on her face every time she lied to me about my father’s apparent lack of contact. She was playing both ends against the middle, hoping that my not receiving his cards and letters would make me feel abandoned by him and subsequently hate him—and that my lack of response to his letters and cards would hurt him, perhaps make him think that my brother and I didn’t love him.
Interestingly, when she took my children and kept them away from me, she did EXACTLY the same thing! I wrote, sent cards (some with money in them), remembered them for every occasion and non-occasion in between, and sent them care of my grandmother’s house, knowing she would get them to my NM for the kids. Her enmity towards me was so great that she withheld those cards and letters (I later received a large kraft envelope from my grandmother containing them) from the children, telling them I had abandoned them and my lack of correspondence was the proof. Interestingly, it did not work on me but it DID work on my daughter, who refused to amend her belief that I had abandoned her even after I gave her that big envelope of cards and letters my grandmother fished out of the trash and saved.
I think she got a lot of joy out of my pain, even when she wasn’t there to see it.
She may have taken you to scary movies or told you horrifying stories, then mocked you for being a baby when you cried, She will slip a wounding comment into conversation and smile delightedly into your hurt face. You can hear the laughter in her voice as she pressures you or says distressing things to you. Later she'll gloat over how much she upset you, gaily telling other people that you're so much fun to tease, and recruiting others to share in her amusement. . She enjoys her cruelties and makes no effort to disguise that. She wants you to know that your pain entertains her. She may bring up subjects that are painful for you and probe you about them, all the while watching you carefully. This is emotional vampirism in its purest form. She's feeding emotionally off your pain.
A peculiar form of this emotional vampirism combines attention-seeking behavior with a demand that the audience suffer. Since narcissistic mothers often play the martyr this may take the form of wrenching, self-pitying dramas which she carefully produces, and in which she is the star performer. She sobs and wails that no one loves her and everyone is so selfish, and she doesn't want to live, she wants to die! She wants to die! She will not seem to care how much the manipulation of their emotions and the self-pity repels other people. One weird behavior that is very common to narcissists: her dramas may also center around the tragedies of other people, often relating how much she suffered by association and trying to distress her listeners, as she cries over the horrible murder of someone she wouldn't recognize if they had passed her on the street.
My NM used very different tactics to accomplish the same ends. She was an angry, spiteful person so the melodramatics of “nobody loves or appreciates me” didn’t work for her. Instead, she was the put-upon one, the brave noble soul soldiering on under impossible conditions. Life was an uphill battle with her obtuse, difficult daughter and all the work and sacrifice she had to put in for the unappreciative brat. She was my victim, to hear her tell it, a paradigm that not-so-coincidentally justified her brutal physical attacks on me in the name of “discipline.”
She did not even have the wherewithal to muster up false empathy for someone else, so other people’s tragedies were shunted aside in favour of her own bitch-of-the-moment. When I had a miscarriage at five months and nearly died of a subsequent infection, her one telephone call to me was not to empathize with my loss or to comfort me—no, it seems my husband had been calling her, hoping she would fly across country to help him with the kids while I was in the hospital (I spent 3 weeks there) and as I recuperated. And was she calling me to tell me she was on her way and I should relax and get well? No. The call was to tell me the miscarriage was a good thing as I didn’t need any more brats clinging to my skirts and for me to stop malingering and get home to my husband and kids so he would stop calling and bugging her.
I could almost see the indignant yet somehow malevolent smile playing over her lips as I struggled on my end of the phone not to burst into tears...
Next: Part 11. She's selfish and willful.