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, August 17, 2012

She “parentifies”: Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers Pt 17

 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


Part 17. She “parentifies.”

I had a really difficult time with this. Until I read the descriptions below, I could not conceive of my NM “parentifying” me simply because she seemed so capable and independent and strong, and my sense of the word conjured up images of a weak, dependent mother making her child take care of her. Boy! Was I wrong!

She shed her responsibilities to you as soon as she was able, leaving you to take care of yourself as best you could.

In a time when most mothers stayed home with their kids, mine had a job. She hired live-in Mexican “housekeepers,” illegals who spoke no English, to take care of me and my brother. I picked up enough Spanish to act as an interpreter between NM and Rosie, or Maria or Consuelo (we had a string of them) when she would call to give instructions.

When my brother started school full time, the housekeepers abruptly disappeared. Now, age 7 or 8, I was responsible for watching my brother after school, doing chores, making him do his chores. When we got up for school, it was my job to make sure we were both fed and dressed and out the door and at school on time. I had to collect him from his classroom at lunch time, walk him home, make lunch for both of us, then walk him back to class. After school I had to wash up all of the breakfast and lunch dishes, peel potatoes for dinner and do a host of other chores, all the while minding a younger brother who was bigger than I was and who refused to do anything he didn’t feel like doing. And, of course, since it was my job to make him do his chores and stay home after school, if it wasn’t done, I was the one who got punished.

I was even expected to bake a cake after school three times a week. It was to be baked, cooled, and frosted before NM got home from work. They were cake mix cakes, so that made it a little easier, but I was not allowed to use the electric mixer so the batter had to be stirred up by hand. I never figured out why an electric mixer was “too dangerous” for me to use, but a gas oven that had to be lit with a match was perfectly safe!

She denied you medical care, adequate clothing, necessary transportation or basic comforts that she would never have considered giving up for herself.

Every one of those things. I got glasses because my science teacher could see I was struggling to read the board and he sent me to the school nurse and she threatened my mother with turning her over to the county for child neglect if she didn’t get me glasses (boy, I caught a week of hell for that!!) when NM told her I was “faking” and it was an “attention getting device.” I got my first visit to the dentist at age 14 the same way—a painful cavity sent me to the nurse for help, she called NM with the same result: I was malingering and seeking sympathy. Since the nurse could actually see the cavities in my molars, she was adamant and I again caught hell. But NM got her teeth cleaned every six months, religiously, by the same dentist whom she “could not afford” to send me to until I was 14 and had four massive cavities.

She never gave you a birthday party or let you have sleepovers. Not once in my entire life. Your friends were never welcome in her house. By high school there was one friend…but then she found out the girl was Jewish and the shit hit the fan. She didn't like to drive you anywhere, so you turned down invitations because you had no way to get there. Yep…she wouldn’t even pick me up from a bus stop a mile away at 8 pm in the dark in the middle of winter. I had to walk. She wouldn't buy your school pictures even if she could easily have afforded it. The only reason I even got my senior pictures is that I had a job my senior year and bought them myself. If you look in family albums, you will see not one school picture of me—but she had no problem finding money for beer, cigarettes, cocktail dresses, and nights “barhopping.” You had a niggardly clothing allowance or she bought you the cheapest clothing she could without embarrassing herself. Yup—or she raided her own closet and gave me things 10 years out of date and totally unsuited. As soon as you got a job, every request for school supplies, clothing or toiletries was met with “Now that you're making money, why don't you pay for that yourself?” Yup—the money that paid for my hairspray, deodorant, feminine hygiene supplies, school supplies, even having my hair done for a school dance, all came from my wages—not even from the child support my father paid like clockwork. You studied up on colleges on your own and choose a cheap one without visiting it. College didn’t happen for me until I was 38. You signed yourself up for the SATs, earned the money to pay for them and talked someone into driving you to the test site. But I took the SATs and CEEBs in high school anyway, and if it hadn’t been for a boyfriend with his own car, that wouldn’t have happened. You worked three jobs to pay for that cheap college and when you finally got mononucleosis she chirped at you that she was “so happy you could take care of yourself.” I got married to a military man and she offered to take me to the commissary monthly only if I agreed to go to the base exchange and buy her cigarettes at the military discount!!

She also gave you tasks that were rightfully hers and should not have been placed on a child. You may have been a primary caregiver for young siblings or an incapacitated parent. You may have had responsibility for excessive household tasks. Above all, you were always her emotional caregiver which is one reason any defection from that role caused such enormous eruptions of rage.

I especially had trouble with this one because she never showed the least amount of emotional frailty or vulnerability. It was not until the last sentence above that it clicked for me: I was her emotional caregiver because from as early as I can remember, I had to control myself, my brother and our environment to keep NM from blowing up into a towering rage. I can recall an incident as far back as age four…Looking at the concept of being her emotional caregiver from the angle of trying to prevent her seething, raging tantrums make it clear. That was how I spent most of my early life—hypervigilant to things that would piss her off and send her into a rage, doing my best to run interference, even to the point of doing my brother’s chores rather than suffer her fury. Inevitably, when she got angry, somehow it became my fault and I got punished for it. It was in my own best interests to manage as much as I could to keep her from blowing up.

You were never allowed to be needy or have bad feelings or problems. Those experiences were only for her, and you were responsible for making it right for her.

This is very true, but I am not sure if I was responsible for making it right because, quite frankly, I don’t think she wanted it made right. She revelled in having something to complain about, especially if it was something in which she could play the innocent, righteously indignant victim. But I was never allowed to display any emotion beyond what she expected at any given time: I should be overjoyed with the meanest gift, I should be penitent when punished, I should be eager to obey her every command. Sadness, sorrow, fear, difficulty in school—those things were for me to handle without her knowledge. I was not to burden her further.

From the time you were very young she would randomly lash out at you any time she was stressed or angry with your father or felt that life was unfair to her, because it made her feel better to hurt you.

I suppose this is why I never trusted or liked her. As a young child, I literally feared for my life when she was angry, no matter who she was angry at, because I knew for a certainty that her anger would eventually come back to me. When I was 14 she spent an hour or more telling me how everything wrong in her life was my fault because if I hadn’t been born, her life would have been different. And while that was true—it most certainly would have been different if she hadn’t married and had a child before she was 18—there’s no guarantee that “different” would have also been “better.”

She made a point of telling me lies about my father, especially when he was gone after the divorce, and it was years before I realized that she had made it a point to get rid of everything I ever got attached to: my toys, my pets, even my father. I was not allowed to love anything—and somehow, depriving me of the things I loved made her feel good. Humiliating me made her feel good. Withholding approval and affection made her feel good. The only thing I did well enough for her was be her scapegoat: I was there and I didn’t fight back for many, many years.

You were often punished out of the blue, for manufactured offenses.

When I was a child I remember getting punished for something my brother did and later, NM found out he did it and actually punished him for it. And while I don’t remember what the infraction was, I clearly remember waiting and waiting for her to appear and apologize. I had already planned that I would set a good example for her by being magnanimous and accepting her apology, something I though she needed to be able to do. I waited and waited and when nothing happened and went to her and actually asked if she was going to apologize to me (where I got the chutzpah for that I will never know!).

She laughed at me. She laughed out loud. “Apologize for what?” she demanded, and when I told her, she laughed again. “Consider that punishment for something you did that I didn’t catch you at,” she told me. “Now get out of here before I punish you for being so insolent!”

As you got older she directly placed responsibility for her welfare and her emotions on you, weeping on your shoulder and unloading on you any time something went awry for her.

I know a number of DoNMs who did not have malignant NMs like mine, and they have reported this kind of thing, even to the point of confiding inappropriately intimate information about their romantic lives. Whenever your mother treats you like her best girlfriend, pouring out all her woes and troubles, be they romantic, marital, financial or whatever, that it inappropriate. It is not the role of the daughter to emotionally shore up her mother but the other way around.

Mine, a malignant NM, would never allow herself to be seen as weak and needy so she expressed this kind of thing in rages, screaming and cursing “How dare he do this to me?” or “That low-down sneaking dirty bastard…” and the like. One of my indelible memories of my NM was her mouth, smeared with a bright bloody-red lipstick painted outside the margins of her lips, filled with her crooked, yellow, nicotine-stained teeth. Always her mouth going, skewering people, raging, spitting out venom and curses and filth. If I close my eyes, I can still see it…

Next: Part 18. She's exploitative.


  1. Ditto....ditto....ditto.
    There it is. She "confided" in me when I was about 7 or 8? somewhere in there that my father was impotent.
    I grew up in the '50's. There were NO "Dueling Bathtub/ED" type ads and I had no brothers and no clue what she was talking about at all. Impotence is a tough word for a kid to look up in a dictionary. Is it i-n? i-m? I finally found it. Still didn't get it. Started looking through a Merck Reference Manual. I still remember sitting on the stairs, the dictionary balanced on one boney knee, the Merck Manual on the stair next to me. I slammed both books shit and buried my face in my hands.
    God, I didn't want to know about this stuff.

    1. I also grew up in the '50s. The morals of the time were much more restrictive then than they are today. She divorced my father for the second and final time when I was ten.

      As I said, I was responsible for getting my brother up for school and seeing he was dressed and fed and ready to go--what I didn't say was that my final responsibility before I went out the door was to wake her up for work. We had only one alarm clock in the house and it was in my room.

      I remember going in to awaken her and finding a strange man in the bed with her. This happened numerous times. It was not the kind of thing an 11-yr-old girl in 1958 should have been seeing--and especially seeing a parade of guys sleeping on "Daddy's side" of the bed when she is still desperately missing her father.

      NM should have been responsible to wake her own damned self up in the morning for work and protected me from the knowledge that she was the round-heeled tramp that the neighbours whispered about...but of course, the only thing that mattered was what she wanted.

  2. I remember when my mom spanked me for some infraction or other and found out it was really one of my sisters that deserved that spanking. I also expected an apology. That "Well, that spanking was for something I did not catch you for." THAT hurt. The sad thing was, it was my father that I was terrified of. I was terrified of both, but he had the explosive temper.

    1. I'm sorry you had to deal with TWO difficult parents. I do not know if I would have survived if I hadn't had my imminently sane father, whose love I did not doubt. I know that often in an N-run household, kids have to choose the lesser of the evils and that is so unfair. But, as we have heard a million times or more, life isn't fair.

      We cannot change the past but we do have control over our futures. I hope you are seeing a competent, compassionate therapist to help you deal with the aftermath of such an upbringing. You certainly have my understanding and sympathy for having to endure a childhood you did not deserve. I hope your adult life is a triumph over it.



  3. I remember the same kinds of behaviors towards my mother especially when my mother parentifed... I was in charge of my sister and was making dirt things were done but then some how my younger sister was telling me what to do. I was like what just happened. I never expected that to happen. My younger sister bossing me around and my mother giving her the responsibility that she'd need to do. It's messed up. There was a point in my life I told my mom to stop using your kids as a way to meet your needs. Helping is fine but there is a fine balance between doing your job for you and helping


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