[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
7. She's envious.
Any time you get something nice she’s angry and envious and her envy will be apparent when she admires whatever it is. She’ll try to get it from you, spoil it for you, or get the same or better for herself.
When I was a child and my parents were divorced, my father lived out of state for a couple of years. One year at Christmas, NM handed me a package that was wrapped in the same paper as the rest of the presents under the tree, an uncharacteristically large box. When I opened it, I found a beautiful bathrobe and slippers…a blue gingham quilted robe with a ruffled neck and button placket and matching slippers. I should have tipped to something being “off” when I saw the ruffles and blue satin ribbons as she maintained I did not look good in ruffles and lace and ribbons and refused to buy them for me. I remember the look of sly satisfaction on her face when I thanked her and hugged her but, being a child, I thought she was feeling good that I liked her present.
My mother had abysmal taste. Cheap, flashy, tacky—her taste ran in that direction. She was always bad-mouthing my stepmother who, actually, had pretty refined, upscale tastes. And I was always pleased with gifts selected by my stepmother because they took my tastes into account, unlike my mother’s gifts which were selected according to hers. A year or more after receiving the robe and slippers I had occasion to find out that my stepmother had selected it and she and my father had sent it to me for Christmas that year. NM had intercepted the package, removed the cards and re-wrapped it and given it to me as if she had chosen it. I had always thought NM to be envious of my stepmother—she called her a lot of unflattering names and acted as if she were the “other woman” when, in fact, NM initiated the divorce and they didn’t meet until after my parents were separated. NM even cancelled the divorce and asked my father to move back in with us in order to get him away from Patsy. She didn’t really want him, but it galled her that a woman like Patsy, who came from an upper middle-class family and had a private school and college education, would be attracted to my father (they were ultimately married more than 50 years). NM was jealous on so many fronts and this hijacking of their Christmas gift and getting the love and gratitude I would have harboured for them, was just one manifestation.
On another occasion, my grandmother sent me a deep red plush pullover top for Christmas. Before I had a chance to wear it, NM “borrowed” it (after I was asleep) and went out bar-hopping. On the way home she wrecked the car and in the process, bled all over my new top and tore the sleeve. No apology was ever offered, nor restitution. She wore it, she ruined it, I didn’t even get to wear it once. What was hers was hers—and what was mine was hers, also.
She’s always working on ways to get what other people have.
My NM was the epitome of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” If the neighbour got a new car, she had to have one. The man she and Dad bought their first house from, Frank, was married to a much-younger woman, Marti, who had trashy tastes like my NM, but expensive trashy tastes. A newly popular—and pricey—shoe, the Springolator, had caught Marti’s eye and she bought a wardrobe of them. Immediately my NM was on the hunt for a pair for herself. When Frank and his wife split up, Marti left a lot of personal items behind, including those shoes which mysteriously ended up my NM’s closet.
At a time when most mothers stayed home and families lived on the husband’s income, NM had a job. The proceeds of her job plus my father’s went to fund our upwardly mobile lifestyle, something unheard of in the 1950s. Because she managed the household accounts and all of his pay went into the joint bank account, in order to have any money in his pockets, my father took a second job working evenings part time as a mechanic at a nearby garage. For reasons unfathomable, he didn’t put his pay in a separate bank account, he hid the cash high on a closet shelf—he was saving money for a new hunting rifle (we mostly ate venison instead of beef, meaning NM didn’t have to spend so much at the market on meat).
Well, the inevitable happened: somebody she knew got new furniture and, of course, NM had to get new furniture as well. The next thing you know, Dad’s stash of cash is missing from the closet shelf and we were having a hideous new deep turquoise bouclé sectional sofa, a bright pink bouclé side chair and a couple of trendy blonde low tables delivered. Dad must have had quite a stash because NM had enough money left over to hire a neighbour to paint the living room walls the same deep turquoise and deep pink as the furniture. With an open beam knotty pine ceiling and a cheap brown cotton looped carpet and cheap fibreglass draperies with a rust-and-lime green print on them, the effect was overwhelmingly awful. But she was happy—she had trumped the neighbours not only by getting new furniture but by having the interior of the house painted professionally as well!
NM considered spending a lot of money on a quality piece of furniture (or anything, for that matter) was stupid, especially if you could get a gtreater volume of cheap stuff for the same money—had she been able to find knock-off Springolators at a better price, she would have bought them instead of the real Springolators and then complained about them when they wore out or broke. She considered buying antiques the height of folly: “Pay that for a piece of second hand old junk? Do I look stupid?” and she couldn’t understand why people would pay for virgin wool instead of reclaimed wool. She was cheap, cheap, cheap but considered herself superior to her neighbours because she could get more for a dollar than they could…envious of the neighbours but superior to them all in one go.
This had a profound effect on me. For years I shopped for everything at low price stores like K-Mart—Sears or Montgomery Ward or JC Penney were “up market” venues for me—and I wouldn’t even set foot in a Macy’s. I bought cheap furniture, cheap clothes, cheap cosmetics, all the while knowing that better quality goods were actually a better buy, but unable to bring myself to actually spend up. It took years for me to come to the point where I could not only quietly believed NM was wrong but to create and implement my own spending philosophy. The advantages of changing took a while to materialize, but whereas NM had to replace things regularly because they broke or wore out or just gave way to entropy and their poor construction, I have antiques more than 100 years old that are fully functioning household items, a 20 year old dining set of solid wood, a 35 year old kitchen set of solid maple that just improves with age, a cherry wood bedroom set that will last for several generations…yes, they were expensive to buy but no more so than constantly replacing the cheap stuff like I used to have to do. But I am not envious of my neighbours, so I don’t have to replace my stuff with every new trend that comes along…
The envy of narcissistic mothers often includes competing sexually with their daughters or daughters-in-law. They’ll attempt to forbid their daughters to wear makeup, to groom themselves in an age-appropriate way or to date.
Now this came as a complete surprise to me. It was not until I was an adult and my stepmother pointed out that she thought NM was jealous of me that her rationalizations for this behaviour began to focus in my mind.
I was not allowed to shave my legs and underarms nor was I allowed to tweeze my bushy eyebrows when all the girls in my class were doing the same. She did not buy me a bra until my breasts were as big as hers. As I began to develop, instead of buying me clothes that fit properly and reflected my maturing, NM took my little girl dresses and let them out at the seams and let the hems down—she even sewed a band of forbidden lace at the bottom of some of them to make them long enough. I was the laughing stock of the seventh grade with my babyish dresses and childish undershirts instead of a bra. And shoes!! Ugly,ugly saddle oxfords with arch supports and cotton socks, no matter what I wanted.
It wasn’t until the 10th grade that I was allowed to begin my transition to young lady, and this was done under the auspices of my stepmother, for I was living with my father that year. When I returned to live with my NM again, she had married Frank and my improved wardrobe and grooming practices merely gave her a wider variety of clothing and personal products to choose from.
They will criticize the appearance of their daughters and daughters-in-law.
My GCBro’s wife wouldn’t win any beauty contests. She is also not the sharpest knife in the drawer and nobody in the family is in any kind of hurry to give her any awards for her domestic or mothering skills either. I heard a lot about her before I met her and it was all so bad I suspected a demonizing job at work, so I determined to take her strictly on her own terms, having been the victim of a familial smear campaign myself.
Unfortunately, I found that the criticisms against here were more understated than overstated, but what got me far more than her slovenly personal habits was her slavish, sycophantic devotion to my N GCBro. It was as if she did not have an independent thought in her head, everything was “Pete says,” or “Pete thinks,” or “Pete believes…” She was so devoted to my brother (and my brother to himself) that their only child was seriously neglected, at least with regard to appropriate behaviours: he hit on my daughter (his cousin!) at my grandmother’s funeral and, according to the family grapevine, has since been in prison at least twice.
NM, however, showed no care or concern for the emotional and moral neglect shown her grandson. Nope—her focus? Melinda’s looks. “She’s ugly,” NM said. “Pete could have done much better than that.”
NM was different—but no better—with me. Once I returned from the year at my father’s and was ordinarily groomed and dressed like my peers, the criticism started. “Stand up straight, you look like you’re three months pregnant,” Or “What did you do to your hair?” Or I would find clothes missing from my room, like my bathing suits (two piece suits that cover a great deal more than suits today). She did not want me to look good, if I did she would tell me I looked like a “two bit whore”—actually, she didn’t want me to look competitive. I cannot once recall her telling me I looked “good” or “pretty.” No, I got silence or criticism—nothing in between.
This kind of thing is bad for a kid’s self esteem. That your mother views you as a rival cannot do good things to your psyche. Either you become inappropriately sexualized or you withdraw and try to hold adolescence at bay. To know that your own mother views you not as her beloved, growing child but as a bitter competitor for the attention of men is painful and confusing. And if your mother hits on your boyfriends, it is even more unnerving.
There is supposed to be a line drawn between teens and their parents, a boundary. And it is the parent’s responsibility to draw and maintain that boundary. Certainly teens and parents can share things—my teens and I shared a love of heavy metal and classic rock music, for example—but parents need to create and enforce boundaries with their kids if the kids are ever to be able to create and enforce boundaries of their own. How many kids, girls in particular, would find their friendships and romantic relationships easier to navigate if they simply knew how (and felt entitled) to set and maintain a boundary that demands nothing less than respect? When we blur the line between parent and child, when your mother sees you as a rival in her adult world, the daughter’s ability to set and maintain a healthy, appropriate boundary is impinged. And like Ns everywhere, my NM’s boundaries were one-way only: she could raid my closet, snoop through my possessions, take what she wanted from me and speak disparagingly and disrespectfully to me, but let me even look like I was going to reciprocate and the shit hit the fan. A narcissist will see her growing daughter as competition and will do her level best to squash that competition by any means at hand.
This envy extends to relationships. Narcissistic mothers infamously attempt to damage their children’s marriages and interfere in the upbringing of their grandchildren.
This is a hard one for me to talk about. In 1964, if you had an unmarried, pregnant daughter, the normal parent wanted to marry her off as quickly as possible.
Not my NM. First she wanted me to have an abortion (illegal at the time) then she insisted that I give the baby up for adoption. She adamantly opposed my marrying (although she gave no reasons) and I was able to get married only after my father (who did not have custody) took us all to court and got a judge’s permission for me to wed.
This truly pissed her off—she had been thwarted by two people she held in utter contempt: my father and me. I can’t prove it, of course, but I suspect that was the when she decided on vengeance for the unpardonable sin of standing up to her.
When I was the 22 year old mother of two preschoolers, I was on welfare and lived in a bad part of town. What do other parents do in such a situation, if they have the means to help? They help, right? Not my NM. She and Frank owned four businesses—do you think she would offer me a job? They owned four houses and 21 apartments—do you think she would offer me a safer place to raise her only grandchildren? I couldn’t work because I couldn’t find childcare that I could afford—don’t other grandmothers watch their grandchildren under similar circumstances? But no—she had told me when I got married “You made your bed, you lie in it. Don’t come to me when you need help because there won’t be any.” And there wasn’t.
Instead, she discovered that her favourite brother and his wife were unable to have children and had failed the home study in their home state so they couldn’t adopt. And she hatched a plan that would take two years and the courts in three states and some serious lying—including a restraining order against her own mother to keep her from telling me what was going on—to come to fruition. She stole my children, hid them from me, and told a court in another state that I had abandoned them and she wanted a permanent guardianship.
Since I was never notified of the court hearing (or was the father), I didn’t appear in court and her motion was granted. My parental rights were terminated and she took them and her permanent guardianship off to her brother’s home state where she told the court she was an old woman (she was 44) and she couldn’t take care of the kids and if her brother couldn’t adopt them, she was going to have to dump them on the state’s already overburdened foster care system. And so my children were adopted without my knowledge or consent.
The entire family was NC with me. She had portrayed me as a drug-addicted prostitute who endangered the well-being of my children and after years of her painting me black to them (and then I played into her hands by getting pregnant), she was believed and I was shut out. My son had a brain injury due to spinal meningitis in infancy and was on medication, which she conveniently neglected to tell my uncle and aunt, and by the time he was 12 they couldn’t handle him any more. A melodramatic phone call to me late at night started the ball rolling to my regaining my kids after eight years of deafening silence.
I wish I could say it was a happy ending, but it wasn’t. The children had been told I abandoned them and my daughter decided to believe it even after I told her the truth of what happened. “Why would Grammi tell such a lie about her own daughter?” she asked. Indeed—why does a narcissist lie about anything?
My daughter cut off communication with me when I first published the 46 Memories, claiming them all to be lies. An interesting accusation considering that she hadn’t been born when most of the chronicled events occurred and my NM was long dead, so she couldn’t go to her for verification. But her self-serving partnership with my NM that saw both me and all of NM's other grandchildren disinherited in her favour. Then my daughter's lies to her brothers about her grandmother’s will began to pry my eyes open with respect to her behaviour and, after a couple of years of reluctantly remembering and honestly facing some of my daughter’s behaviours over the years since my aunt and uncle gave her back to me (more than 30 years now), I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that she is more a clone of her grandmother than an acorn off this old oak.
So beware the Narcissistic Mother: when she wants something, if she wants it bad enough, nothing— not family ties, ethics, morals...not even the law...will stand in her way. Yours may not go to the same extremes mine did, but she can and will undermine your authority, defy your rules regarding your children’s eating, sleeping, TV or movie watching, video game and computer use. They always “know what is best” and will make sure your children prefer her over you. Everything is a competition with her, even raising your children. And she has no intention of letting you win.
Next: Part 8. She's a liar in too many ways to count.