[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 18. She's exploitative.
She's exploitative. She will manipulate to get work, money, or objects she envies out of other people for nothing.
I am not sure how she did this—my stepmother said NM used sex (although she also said NM didn’t like sex) but I used to be amazed at the things she got. When we first moved to California, we were dead broke. I was only 4, but I remember the battered old car, the cheap one-room “residential motel” we first lived in, and the low-income government housing after that. And yet, within two years, we were moving into a house of our own… For a long time I just assumed they bought it with a VA approved loan until one day I put all of the fragments together—she was sleeping with the guy they bought the house from! He was carrying the mortgage himself and my NM would go over to his house every month or so to make the payment. She came home with stories of his new, younger wife’s extravagances…her “Chinese” furniture, her custom-made and custom-upholstered furniture, custom-made draperies for the picture windows—even her fancy Springolator pumps. The woman was a spendthrift and was going to run Frank broke, according to NM.
It didn’t click for me until years later, but all the signs were there. And then my father moved out and NM started dating again and who did she set her cap for? Frank. And eventually she caught. And it was she who ran him broke, not Marti the “spendthrift” previous wife (whom I had met on a couple of occasions and liked very much). So successfully manipulative was she that, after Marti moved out, NM’s closet was suddenly full of Springolator pumps and dresses too small for her (size 9) that she did her damnedest to squeeze into. Marti was gone, but everything that was Marti’s, from her clothes and shoes to her furniture to her house, her dog and her husband, suddenly belonged to NM.
It took her a number of years to pull the whole scheme off: we got that first house when I was 6 and by the time I was 14 her plan had come to fruition. When Marti divorced Frank, to keep her from getting half of his assets, NM convinced Frank to sell all of his assets to her for $1 on the promise that when the divorce was settled, she would reverse the transaction. It worked but for one flaw: Frank had trusted the wrong person. NM held out and teased and basically led him a merry chase until he realized that the only way to get his stuff back was to marry her. It took me years to realize that she could engage in that kind of long-term planning…it took her less than three years to plot and pull off the theft of my children: it took her a good eight to get Frank to the altar.
Charlie’s NM was no better, but she didn’t have the patience for the long games my NM loved to play. She was more of an “instant gratification” kind of person and wanted things done now…right now…while she was standing there. When she bought a new house, she expected Charlie to drop everything, run to her house and build her a deck and a carport, all at his own expense, of course. When he was “too busy,” or “didn’t have time,” she would ignore him for months at a time, failing to invite him to family dinners, ignore his birthday, etc. Being a widower and having no other family, Charlie was devastated by this rejection so of course he complied.
This includes her children, of course. If she set up a bank account for you, she was trustee on the account with the right to withdraw money. As you put money into it, she took it out.
I never had any money—I literally was not allowed to have any! For every A I earned on my report card, my grandmother would give me 10 cents. It doesn’t sound like much now, but then you could get a bottle of coke and a chocolate bar—or a comic book—for 10 cents. I was a good student and so I would send her my report cards and she would send back money, which NM would take away and say she was keeping it for me. She kept it all right—I never saw a penny of it again. The same with money send to me in cards for my birthday or Christmas. A peculiar little game was the “fairness” game where, if she spent more money on GCBro for gifts, she would make up the difference to me in cash, usually some odd amount like $1.36 or $2.21…this was her way of proving she treated us equally. And then she would take the money to keep it for me and I never saw it again!
When I lived with my grandparents during the summers, I would pick strawberries and beans to earn money, like all of the other kids in that small town. I would save up to buy something “good” that I wanted, like a teddy bear (the only teddy bear I had during my childhood I bought with money I earned picking crops) or a doll or something. NM, of course, had other ideas and any money I had not spent by the time she came to pick me up and take me back to California for the school year, she confiscated. She said I had to help pay for the gas for her to drive all that way to pick me up and bring me home!
Wise to her ways, the summer before my senior year, my grandmother took me and all of my picking money on a spending spree at the outlet stores in Portland. I got a Janssen sweater, a Pendleton skirt, a White Stag coat—all premium brands at the time. I bought most of my wardrobe for school on that shopping trip and when NM came to pick me up and the money was all spent, she was livid. She demanded the receipts from my grandmother who, with an incredibly straight face, told her they had been burned in the fireplace with the “rest of the trash” just the night before. I thought my mother was going to explode because she never, ever threw tantrums in front of her parents—she had to control the fury that was boiling inside her and she looked like she was going to pop with rage!
When we got in the car to go back to California, as we got out of town NM asked me “How much money do you have left?” When I told her I had $10, she stuck out her hand. “Hand it over,” she said without offering an explanation or reason. I never saw it again.
She may have stolen your identity. She took you as a dependent on her income taxes so you couldn't file independently without exposing her to criminal penalties. If she made an agreement with you, it was violated the minute it no longer served her needs. If you brought it up demanding she adhere to the agreement, she brushed you off and later punished you so you would know not to defy her again.
I have heard of NMs who have stolen their child’s identity because their own credit was wrecked, so they started on their child’s. One of my brothers had a wife who stole my dad’s identity to buy a new refrigerator then failed t make payments on it. It wasn’t until the account was in serious arrears (and my father’s credit damaged) that someone actually called my dad about it. Apparently the caller said to my father “When do you plan to make a payment on the refrigerator?” and my father said “What refrigerator?” and the whole scheme came to light. Charla was quite the little N, putting out the image of the perfect family all the while stealing from families and employers alike, sending out Christmas newsletters in which she claimed to have cancer (but was miraculously healed by the next letter) and completely engulfing her daughter by a previous marriage. It was like a family joke that nobody loaned anything to Charla that they wanted back because once she had it, it was hers forever! Not one person in the family was surprised to learn her first husband committed suicide and we were all hugely relieved when she and my brother divorced.
My NM never made agreements with me—that would have meant treating me, even for a moment, like a whole human being for which she had some kind of respect. She made promises—usually involving mayhem (“You say a word and I promise you, you will be talking out of the other side of your mouth for a week!”)—and she made threats, but she never made bargains. And, with the exception of promises of mayhem, you couldn’t trust her word on anything. If she said she would take you to the library on Saturday and she changed her mind, you took your physical safety in your hands to bring it up to her. She was Queen, she was always right, and you just went along with whatever she dished out, if you knew what was good for you.
Sometimes the narcissist will exploit a child to absorb punishment that would have been hers from an abusive partner. The husband comes home in a drunken rage, and the mother immediately complains about the child's bad behavior so the rage is vented on to the child.
I am quite sure this occurs in some narcissistic households—and I have read about such things in news accounts of children being severely injured or killed: the mother has a violent abuser for a husband or boyfriend and to divert his rages from her, she says something about the child (not necessarily true) that will cause him to abuse the child rather than her. I don’t know how anyone can do this: I was married to an abusive man once and when one of our rows frightened the children and started them crying, he stormed towards their bedroom to “teach them a lesson.” He was the one who learned the lesson—never threaten my children, especially when I have a hot steam iron in my hand! (I still can’t believe I could throw it that far or that my aim was so good!).
Sometimes the narcissistic mother simply uses the child to keep a sick marriage intact because the alternative is being divorced or having to go to work.
My malignant narcissist ex-husband Jack had a mother like this. When his youngest sister, Bonnie, was about 12 or 13, Jack’s father told Jack’s mother that when Bonnie graduated from high school, he was going to move out and get a divorce and move away from their small Ohio town. Rhonda, Jack’s mother, promptly seduced Jack Sr. and got pregnant again, assuming this would keep her husband around for another 18 years.
Well, it didn’t work. As promised, when Bonnie graduated from high school, Jack Sr. packed up, moved out, got a divorce and left the state. Rhonda completely lost interest in the last child and while she made sure he was fed, housed, and clothed, she completely ignored the most basic medical care and socialization. He came to live with us when he was 16 because she could not longer manage him and he was failing school despite a genius level IQ. I had to see to braces and prep for jaw surgery, get his grades up (he eventually made the Dean’s List), teach him basic table manners and simple courtesies.
This boy had been born to patch a sick marriage and which he failed to fulfil the destiny his mother conceived him for, she virtually abandoned him. He once said to me, angry that he was being punished for a transgression, “My mother loves me! She lets me do anything I want.” He didn’t want to hear that what she was doing was neglecting him, although eventually, as an adult, he finally “got” it.
The child is sexually molested but the mother never notices, or worse, calls the child a liar when she tells the mother about the molestation.
This one happened to me. Frank was a lech and I spent a lot of energy staying out of his clutches. He was 20 years older than NM but it didn’t stop him from ogling a teenaged girl at every opportunity.
I had a great dilemma with Frank—NM never allowed me to lock doors, not even the bathroom door. If she wanted to sneak up on you and see what you were doing, she didn’t want a locked door to impede her. And yet, Frank couldn’t seem to hear the shower running when I was in it, walking into the bathroom to take a leak while I was showering behind a thin plastic curtain.
When I was 16 I foolishly put myself in a position where he was able to fondle me sexually and I couldn’t get away from him without alerting NM. That may sound odd, but both Frank and I knew that if NM knew what he was doing, he would not be the one blamed, I would. And with the black reputation she had already given me with my family, it was unlikely anybody would believe me innocent.
Years later, when I was in therapy, one of my actions was to write both of my parents and tell them about this incident. Their responses were so very different: my father was so enraged—it was like it had just happened the day before and he was furious. He said if he (Frank) wasn’t already dead, he’d hunt him down and kill him himself.
NM, on the other hand, refused to believe it. She sent me back a card with her reply written inside, a card that had on the front a cartoon drawing of a bedraggled and sad-looking little knight astride a downtrodden horse and the words “You’ll never hurt me again…” were printed on the front. In her reply she told me I was slandering the dead, but that if it did happen, she was certain that I “instigated” it. And then she seemed to get confused and twisted the whole thing around to make it look like I was accusing my own father—and her bizarre response to that was that it was impossible for my father to have molested me because he was married to her at the time. What? Being married to her was some kind of protective magic??
Now, how narcissistic is that??
Next: Part 19. She projects.