[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 9. She has to be the center of attention all the time.
She has to be the center of attention all the time. This need is a defining trait of narcissists and particularly of narcissistic mothers for whom their children exist to be sources of attention and adoration. Narcissistic mothers love to be waited on and often pepper their children with little requests. "While you're up…" or its equivalent is one of their favorite phrases. You couldn't just be assigned a chore at the beginning of the week or of the day, instead, you had to do it on demand, preferably at a time that was inconvenient for you, or you had to "help" her do it, fetching and carrying for her while she made up to herself for the menial work she had to do as your mother by glorying in your attentions.
Maybe malignant narcissists are different—my NM never thought she had to wait until I was up to send me off fetching and carrying. Whatever I was doing was eminently interruptible because, of course, nothing I was doing could possibly be more important than that cup of coffee or glass of beer she wanted. The only exceptions were if I was in the bathroom (she would wait until I got out, then send me to do her bidding, if I was sleeping, or if I was doing homework). And I had a lot of homework, if you get my drift.
My senior year of high school I had a job working in a hospital kitchen. I got off work at 8 pm and the bus dropped me at the end of my street around 8:30, about a mile from my house. In the winter a cold wind blew in off the ocean, a wind that was at my back (and up my skirts) my entire walk home, a walk that was mostly uphill and always in the dark. When I would get home, freezing and tired after a day at school, a four hour shift on my feet, and then a mile uphill walk in the penetrating cold wind, the first thing I would hear when I walked through the door each evening would be. “Do the dishes and be quick about it!” Fortunately, I ate dinner at work…there was never anything left for me. As long as I was in the kitchen rattling things around, she felt free to interrupt me with demands for coffee or to make her some popcorn or some other task. It wasn’t until I hit the shower that she would leave me be, and not until my light was out and I was curled up in my cot in the kitchen (yes, I slept on a cot in the kitchen under a window where the kitchen table and chairs were supposed to be) that I would know I was free of her incessant, petty demands.
A narcissistic mother may create odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as memorials for someone close to her who died long ago, or major celebrations of small personal milestones. She may love to entertain so she can be the life of her own party. She will try to steal the spotlight or will try to spoil any occasion where someone else is the center of attention, particularly the child she has cast as the scapegoat. She often invites herself along where she isn't welcome. If she visits you or you visit her, you are required to spend all your time with her. Entertaining herself is unthinkable. She has always pouted, manipulated or raged if you tried to do anything without her, didn't want to entertain her, refused to wait on her, stymied her plans for a drama or otherwise deprived her of attention.
Again, the malignant narcissist may be a bit different. My NM never found it necessary to have an excuse to draw attention to herself. She dressed in cheap, flashy clothes, was loud, and even emulated popular actresses of the day in her dress and make up. She went through a Marilyn Monroe phase, where she bleached her hair pale blonde (she had naturally auburn hair), bought herself a black taffeta halter dress like Marilyn’s iconic white one, and even painted on a fake beauty mark. At another time, she went through a Lucille Ball stage with bright red hair and lips and Lucy-style clothing.
But she wasn’t above using someone else’s event or occasion to call attention to herself. Since she had skipped my high school graduation and tried to prevent me from getting married, nobody expected her to show up at my wedding. But she did—arriving so late that she actually interrupted the ceremony and wearing a skin-tight white linen sheath dress! Wearing white? To someone else’s wedding?
When my first child was born by Caesarean section, instead of admiring her new grandchild and fussing over her daughter’s surgery, she spent her time trying to seduce my father into reminiscences of her C-section with me and how much worse she was, in more pain, unable to move or laugh.
But perhaps the single most memorable example…and I don’t know how she did it but it is too perfectly timed to be a mere coincidence…was when she had a heart attack at her mother’s funeral. My grandmother was buried and we and most of the family was back at grandmother’s house, socializing and remembering Nana when my NM flopped into a recliner and began melodramatically grimacing and pressing one hand to her chest. Within a few minutes she had gathered a crowd, everyone offering advice, her waving them off. “It’s just stress,” she would say, gasping for breath. “I’ll be fine.”
I used to work in an ER—she was sweating and had turned an odd colour, like a manila folder. “Mother,” I said, “You need to go to the hospital.” She refused. So I approached GC Bro and told him that she had all the symptoms of a heart attack and she wouldn’t go to the hospital. He spoke to her and she tried to wave him off, whereupon he picked her up in his arms, like the knight rescuing the menaced maiden, and carried her to my aunt’s Cadillac, which had a backseat big enough for her to lie down on.
It took several hours of tests at the ER, hours in which she continued to insist she was “fine,” hours in which I, my GCBro, my aunt, my daughter and the ER staff had to constantly plead and bargain with her to keep her there until the tests came back from the lab. She was in her element! Anybody else would have quietly taken someone aside and said “I need to get to the hospital—I think I am having a heart attack…” and gone to great lengths to avoid disrupting the event that was going on around her. But not my NM—she had to play it for what it was worth, passive aggressively sucking up the attention and sympathy of all the people who had come to celebrate my grandmother’s life and mourn her death.
And yes, it really was a heart attack and six weeks later she underwent a quintuple bypass. We had all gone home by then, though, so there was no opportunity for a big drama over that.
She loved being the centre of attention and believed everyone else did too—if you professed not to or you didn’t take advantage of a situation, she thought you were lying or being manipulative. When I was about 14 or so, my stepmother was heavily pregnant with her second child. She and my father and my 2 year old sister were in the car and were hit head-on by a drunk driver. Seatbelts were not common equipment in cars back then, but my father had installed lap belts in that old car and if you were in his car, you had to be buckled up.
My stepmother went to the hospital to be examined, but she was fine and they released her. When I went back to my mother’s after a weekend with my dad, I told my mother what happened and she looked at me kinda funny when I told her that Patsy was fine and back at home already. “What on earth is the matter with her?” NM asked. “If that was me, I’d be playing that up to the hilt!”
Older narcissistic mothers often use the natural limitations of aging to manipulate dramas, often by neglecting their health or by doing things they know will make them ill. This gives them the opportunity to cash in on the investment they made when they trained you to wait on them as a child. Then they call you (or better still, get the neighbor or the nursing home administrator to call you) demanding your immediate attendance. You are to rush to her side, pat her hand, weep over her pain and listen sympathetically to her unending complaints about how hard and awful it is. ("Never get old!") It's almost never the case that you can actually do anything useful, and the causes of her disability may have been completely avoidable, but you've been put in an extremely difficult position. If you don't provide the audience and attention she's manipulating to get, you look extremely bad to everyone else and may even have legal culpability. (Narcissistic behaviors commonly accompany Alzheimer's disease, so this behavior may also occur in perfectly normal mothers as they age.)
My NM, in her later years (she was only 69 when she died because she would not follow her doctor’s orders after her bypass), substituted my daughter for me. I did not get birthday cards or letters or any kind of contact from her. It was not like she went NC with me but more like she substituted Annie for me and I just didn’t exist anymore.
So Annie was the one who got the eight-page letters complaining bitterly about her health and aging and lack of money (after she inherited a six figure sum from her mother), the traffic, her neighbours, the weather—Annie would drop by my house after one of these arrived and ask me “Have you heard from Grammi lately?” When I said I hadn’t, she would whip out the latest letter and wave it in front of me. When I would ask “What does she have to say?” Annie’s answer was always the same: “Oh, you know her—pages and pages of complaining about everything under the sun…”
It didn’t occur to me at the time, being so accustomed to being ignored by NM until she wanted something from me, but in retrospect I have to wonder if Annie wasn’t attempting to convey some kind of subtle message about her relationship with my mother. She got the letters and she did the interacting with her and in the long run, she got half of NM’s estate which she rationalized by saying “Well, you and Grammi never had much of a relationship anyway…” Like that was my doing and so I and my two sons deserved to be disinherited in her favour?
But NM's last act, her final “fuck you” from the grave, has kept her the centre of attention years after she’s dead and gone, my sons without an inheritance, my daughter acting like the privileged princess doling out small cash tokens to them, once the lie she told them about their grandmother’s will came to light (she told them Grammi left the money to all three of them and she was supposed to administer it—then she spent it all!). My NM, however, never intended for either of them—or me—to see a penny of the money she inherited from her mother, money my grandmother fully intended to be split evenly between her grandchildren.
When they get old, narcissists get even meaner.
Next: 10. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain.