[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 11. She's selfish and willful. She always makes sure she has the best of everything.
Well, in the case of my NM, it would be the best according to her rather tasteless tastes. For her, more was more, so two cheap dresses was better than a single more expensive one of better quality. Cheap new furniture was better to her than well-made, more costly furniture, and a stripped down model of a newer car was better than a fully loaded but older car. We lived a good ZIP code but in the cheap, low-rent parts of it. She bought my school clothes at Kmart and cheaper stores if she could find them.
While NM was too cheap to plunk down money on good, durable things, she would happily fritter away an equal amount of money on gobs of cheap and trendy junk. She wanted the look but she wanted it cheap. On occasion she would “splurge”—I remember an embroidered turquoise silk cheong-sam (Chinese dress with mandarin collar and scandalous slits up the sides) that must have cost her a pretty penny, and I remember a Piaget watch and a big fat diamond solitaire that left quite a bruise on my face when she backhanded me one day. And, of course, there was always money for beer, cigarettes, cheap jug wine, and nights out, even if there wasn’t money for decent food or clothes for the kids.
She insists on having her own way all the time and she will ruthlessly, manipulatively pursue it, even if what she wants isn't worth all the effort she's putting into it and even if that effort goes far beyond normal behavior.
I suspect this was what was behind the ugly, trendy new furniture we got—my father, when he married my stepmother, bought some second-hand custom made modern furniture which was still in his living room, reupholstered, decades later...the man knew the value of a dollar—undoubtedly NM had been unable to convince my father to get rid of the old stuff we had in favour of new. So, she purloined the cash he had been saving from his second job to buy a new hunting rifle and bought the furniture she wanted with that. It may seem like a battle of two frivolities here, but aside from the fact that the money was not hers to take and spend, there is the little fact that my father actually fed us with his hunting—we ate venison rather than spending cash on beef. But hunting deer with a .22 was not legal and he needed a larger calibre gun to continue. Her desire for new furniture to keep up and surpass the Joneses superseded his need for a new gun in order to keep putting good on the table.
Narcissists will go to great lengths to “win.” And they will sulk and plot and engage in spiteful, petty acts when they lose. They seem to operate on the “finite pie” theory—there is only a specifically limited amount of X (x being whatever they want) and if you get some, it is some that is not available to them, which they cannot stand. One of the more shocking epiphanies I ever had with regards to narcissists was actually related to this—I realized that my (now ex) husband had cast me in the role of competitor and was alternately pleased or angry with me based on whether or not he “won” the competition—but I had no idea we were competing! Once I recognized this, I became aware that this simply paralleled life with my NM. And no amount of refusing to play his game worked—his need to win was so extreme that he trounced a 6 year old at Monopoly in less than half an hour of play, sending the child from the table in tears and professing no comprehension of what he had done wrong; it was so deeply ingrained that in a divorce that my attorney said would cost no more than $4000 if he was “even marginally cooperative,” ended up costing $34,000 due to his shenanigans—and he KNEW he was going to have to pay my legal fees because it was granted by the court early in the process! Cutting their own noses off the spite their own faces seems to be narcissist’s stock in trade because they will go to the most absurd lengths to attempt to get their way.***
She will make a huge effort to get something you denied her, even if it was entirely your right to do so and even if her demand was selfish and unreasonable. If you tell her she cannot bring her friends to your party she will show up with them anyway, and she will have told them that they were invited so that you either have to give in, or be the bad guy to these poor dupes on your doorstep. If you tell her she can't come over to your house tonight she'll call your spouse and try get him or her to agree that she can, and to not say anything to you about it because it's a “surprise.” She has to show you that you can't tell her “no.”
My example of the furniture vs the hunting rifle, above, exemplifies this. NM was not one to be gainsaid by anyone, not her father, not her husband and, I suspect, not her employers. She had an awful lot of jobs over the years and numerous stints of unemployment—this was decades before the Silicon Valley-inspired “progressive job hopping” concept that eventually took over American employment practices. I suspect a number of her incessant feuds with neighbours and former friends came about as a result of someone not only failing to do her bidding, but who stood up to her and refused to be manipulated. I know that many of her fights with my father had to do with him refusing to go along with one or another of her hare-brained schemes, like getting me promoted a grade ahead of my peers to trying to make me into the next Shirley Temple. She always got her way, though, because nobody could tell her “no.”
One near-universal characteristic of narcissists: because they are so selfish and self-centered, they are very bad gift givers. They'll give you hand-me-downs or market things for themselves as gifts for you (“I thought I'd give you my old bicycle and buy myself a new one!” “I know how much you love Italian food, so I'm going to take you to my favorite restaurant for your birthday!”) New gifts are often obviously cheap and are usually things that don't suit you or that you can't use or are a quid pro quo: if you buy her the gift she wants, she will buy you an item of your choice. She'll make it clear that it pains her to give you anything. She may buy you a gift and get the identical item for herself, or take you shopping for a gift and get herself something nice at the same time to make herself feel better.
Oh, if this isn’t a page out of my life!! I cannot count how many times I was given a cheap jewellery trinket not at all to my taste—but very much to hers—as a birthday or Christmas gift. And, inevitably, she absconded with it with a comment like “well, if you aren’t going to wear it, I certainly will!”
And then there were the “cheaper than Kmart” school clothes—ten-years-out-of-date things from the back of her closet and my choice was to “wear them or go naked.”
I cannot ever remember her taking us out to eat, although I can recall going to drive-thrus when my father was still with us…and she ordered my food with no concern for what I might want. And when she was planning a night out with a boyfriend, leaving us alone, she would give me a dollar and send me up to the corner café with my little brother, telling me that is was exactly enough to order a glass of milk and a hamburger for each of us…not even a nickel left over for a tip. Controlling when she wasn’t even present!
I don’t recall her sending gifts to the family in Oregon, ever, although we got things every year from my grandparents. My father’s parents, dirt poor Oregon farmers, always sent things like hand-knit or crocheted sweaters and crazy quilts for my dolls, which I adored but NM always declared them “cheap bastards” for not sending some store-bought junk.
Gifts were for impressing people. After several years of sparse Christmases because we were “too old to believe in Santa Claus,” NM hooked up with a guy I’ll call Bud, who had two small kids and she was determined to show him what a wonderful mother she was. Christmas morning arrived and the living room was stuffed to overflowing with gifts for her boyfriend’s little kids and on a chair in the room was an unusually large pile of gifts with my name on them. Not expecting anything (we had opened our wrapped gifts the night before and I was too old for Santa), I was ooohing and aaahing over the dolls and toys when NM cleared her throat and directed me to the chair I had completely overlooked. Delighted, I opened the packages—nothing was spectacular enough to stand out in my mind all these years later—and then found the envelope with a couple of dollars and an odd bit of change, the cash difference between her expenditure on my brother and her outlay on me. I always felt a little deflated when opening the envelope, like her care for me could be counted in dollars and cents.
And then, later, she took me aside and, as expected, I gave her the money to “hold” for me (which we both knew meant I would never see it again), and she took me to task for being surprised at the gifts that were meant for me. “You didn’t have to act like you’ve never had a Christmas present before,” she scolded. “How do you think that made me look to Bud?”
Gift giving—it is all about them.
Next: Part 12. She's self-absorbed