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.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

She's the centre of attention: Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers Pt 9

 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 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.


  1. I never thought about my NM wanting to be the center of attention, but wow, the first two (quoted?) paragraphs are really enlightening! She was the queen of the chore stuff mentioned. She would actually have me stand next to her while she went through mail and paperwork just to drop it into the garbage. She would hand me a piece of paper, and I would drop it into the garbage can right there between us. Baffling til you realize Ns just want a little slave at their beck and call. The subservience is the real desire, not any result of a finished chore.

    1. I think you are absolutely correct! And if you happen to be a source of passive income, like child support, so much the better!

      One of the things I noticed with my NM is that my GCBro was never sent to make coffee or fetch things for her, even if he was already up and around. No, her commands were to "Sit down," or "stop fidgeting." When I got up to use the bathroom, however, it was open season for "get me a blanket off my bed" or "there's a chocolate bar somewhere in the kitchen, get it for me" or other such nonsense. I even had to mix her wine coolers for her!

      When I first went to live with my father when I was 14, my GCBro branded me a traitor to my NM--within weeks, however, he was at the door, suitcase in hand. Why? Because all of the chores and fetch-and-carry had suddenly fallen on him! Absent the Scape Goat child, the GC was demoted!

      So, yes, I think the ownership of a servant, someone whose permanently subordinate position made her superior, was the real desire.

      Thank you so much for visiting the blog and for writing.

  2. The way in which you've teased out the "M" in the "N" is perfect, IMO-unfortunately, I'm reading "Backwards" here but you have nailed every *last* detail of what they do and how they do it with your personal examples.
    Yes, the ordering around like a servant and yes, you absolutely have to DROP what ever you're doing RIGHT NOW and they will shriek if they "don't HEAR you" respond IMMEDIATELY (yes, you DID respond immediately) and then really go off on you when you raise your voice-"Coming, Mom!" or "Yes Mom?" Oh my-how DARE YOU SPEAK TO HER IN THAT TONE OF VOICE! Here comes the rage. IMO, it was a set-up from the first demand for your instant compliance, and excuse to rage. I now recognize that, but I certainly didn't for years.
    Center of attention-Where to begin? Even negative attention is better than none. They have to have CONSTANT DRAMA around them, damn the "occasion" or the appropriateness of their behavior/dress/demeanor. Because they are IMO consummate actresses, emulating who ever when ever they choose, you best believe they are the MOST "Beautiful"/"Intelligent"/"Accomplished"/"Well Dressed" (well, that last one was pretty much true) etc.
    When I was just a Little One, maybe 3/4? Psychobitch would suddenly start this (faux, I recognize now) sobbing out of no where and dramatically melt in a puddle crying "uncontrollably" (careful, don't mess the make-up, hand dramatically raised to the brow, head thrown back in abject despair) "Oh, TW, TELL ME I'm a GOOD MOMMY!!!"
    Since a child believes they are the cause of the NP's feelings, I'd immediately go to her and try to comfort her (the same "Mommy" who would regularly and roughly push me away if I wanted to hug her) and of course, tell her she was the BEST mommy in the whole world, even though she scared the hell out of me most of the time.
    Mon Dieu, we are SO "open" as children to their manipulations, their dramatics it becomes part and parcel to have ingrained, unquestioned/unexamined responses to their behaviors before we even reach school age.

    1. Mine would never openly display "weakness" by asking for reassurances from a child. No, those were teased out with mind games "I have chocolate bars here for whoever loves Mommy!"

      I had forgotten about the instant response requirement! God forbid I didn't hear her--she would never believe that! No, I was being "defiant" by "ignoring" her. More of a set up for the rage, I suppose.

  3. Yes, I recognize now it was all a set-up for a Rage Fest. And of course, the classic double bind because when you raised your voice in response to ensure they could "HEAR YOU" immediately, you're now being (as you described) "Defiant" or "Disrespectful." It seems this "Selective Hearing" tactic served them well through out their lives as does the "Selective Memory."
    When we say we don't remember, we truly don't: Trauma does block out significant aspects of events and is a truly protective mechanism. Their "Selective Memory" also serves a purpose in that it ensures they will never acknowledge their nastiness. I firmly believe they KNOW what they DID, but that's just my opinion. It is incomprehensible to me Psychob, who was capable of planning and executing a very targeted 18 yr. War post NC did NOT know exactly what tactics would be most terrorizing for me personally as well as reap as much havoc as possible in my personal and professional life.

    1. I suspect my NM changed reality (as they are wont to do) and then believed her lie. I think lying to yourself is even worse than lying to others because when you lie to yourself you effectively inhibit any kind of rational discourse with others which, of course, prevents any kind of reconciliation. Once you have lied to yourself, your belief in what happened changes and you will forever be at odds with those to remember events at the actually happened.

      They train us--they know what tactics work to hurt us because they noted and exploited those vulnerabilities starting with our earliest years. When we go NC and we get stronger and we change, they don't see it so they keep picking away at the vulnerabilities we had when we were younger and in their control. This is one way to defeat them: change yourself. Become stronger and resolve the issues that once made you vulnerable. The downside to this, however, is that it pisses them off that they can't get to you and if she's malignant, she'll go after you another through your kids or your family legacies or both. You are only invulnerable to them when you don't care.

  4. Hi,

    I'm a 41 yrs old mother of two, and I wonder if my mother has narcissistic disorder. I lived with her until I was 28 years old, when I had the good fortune to move to Europe from Southeast Asia where we lived.

    Growing up, I feared my mother's temper and harsh words. She was an extrovert; she loves parties and dressing up, while I was a typical geeky introvert. I grew up listening to her stories about how popular she was with boys, how many marriage proposals she got, and how slim and sexy she used to be. In my early teens she pointed out to me that I have heavy thighs and calves and told me I need plastic surgery. Later she told me that men dislike woman with my body shape because they are rubbish in bed. It was only around 10 years ago, after I moved to Europe, that I realised that I'm not ugly. Only 2 years ago I had enough confidence to start wearing skirts.

    Most people in our country have domestic help, it is part of the culture. My mother refused to hire one. Instead she made my sister and I clean the house on weekdays and weekends. We also have to make things for her (tea, snack) and it has to be perfect. If she ever caught me making a cup of tea for myself, she will insist on having the first sip of my tea - then tell me to make a cup for her.

    I'm the eldest daughter so I have been supporting her financially since I got my first paycheck. Since I live abroad, I send her money every 3-4 months. There were times when I forgot and the money was a bit late. She accused me of doing this intentionally to show her that I am more powerful than her.

    All this was ok, until I become a mother myself. When I had my first child, I visited her for a month. She did not help with the baby care during that time. When I left the baby with her one afternoon, I returned to find the nappy soiled and full; my mother chose to wait for me to return to change the nappy, instead of changing her one and only grandchild.

    When my second child was born, I put up newborn pics of him and me on Facebook. She did not congratulate me, she said I look awful (on Facebook). When my sister and her visited me, she did not touch the baby until the 2nd week when my husband told her to. On her 3rd day of visit I took her to see a sold out theatre performance; she pointed out that I could have bought a better, more expensive ticket. On her 4th day she complained that she was bored. So in the 2 weeks she was here, we had to figure out ways to entertain her.

    Because she always complains of boredom, several months ago I offered to pay for a holiday in other country in Asia for a week in autumn, for her and a friend (so that she is not lonely). We ended up with her wanting 2 weeks holiday to Spain in summer. This costs 5x my original offer and I cannot afford it. Now she blames me for reneging on my word.

    She now lives with my sister and her husband. She is unhappy every time my sister spends time with her in laws. Once my sister spent a weekend at her in-laws and my mother cried. She's also unhappy that my sister goes out with her friends and not with her. She asked my sister to buy her a brand new tablet, apparently so that she can message and videocall me. That has not happened.

    The worst thing is that she still manages to make my sister and I feel guilty about her situation. Sometime she will use religion card to remind us what good daughters should be like.

    Just writing this down is cathartic and helps me to see the narcissistic traits, but I still find it difficult to not feel guilty that she is so bored and unhappy.



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