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.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hypervigilance: 10 Commandments of Dysfunctional Families Pt 7(2)

From The 10 Commandments of Dysfunctional Families
by Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

7. Thou shalt be hyper-vigilant (there are actually two #7s in the original document!)

Sample Situation: A child is constantly reminded how dangerous the world is. People can't be trusted either. Therefore, stay aloof, don't get too close to anybody.

Lesson Learned: The only way to be safe in this world is to be careful and insulate yourself from others. Be careful. Always be on guard. They might hurt you. If you need help, don't ask for their help. Do it yourself.

Motto: Always be on your guard. The wise person is always over prepared and distrustful of everyone and everything.


Children are constantly reminded of how dangerous the world is and how untrustworthy people are not so much by dire warnings as by living a life in which the child constantly feels threatened and unsafe. Add being regularly and almost predictably betrayed by those who should love her most—one or both of her parents—she learns for herself that the world is a perilous place and that there are few, if any, who are safe to trust.

If you Google “hypervigilance” you get a lot of overlap with “paranoia,” an unfortunate circumstance since they are worlds apart, even though we sometimes inaccurately use the word “paranoia” to describe what is, in truth, hypervigilance. So what is the difference? Paranoia is “...a form of mental illness; the cause is thought to be internal, eg a minor variation in the balance of brain chemistry” whereas hypervigilance “is a response to an external event (violence, accident, disaster, violation, intrusion, bullying, etc) and therefore an injury.” Some people refer to it as a “psychiatric injury” like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and, indeed, Complex PTSD can be caused by the kind of dysfunctional parenting we received. PTSD, however is something that needs to be diagnosed by a competent mental health professional so if you think you may have it, your best bet is to see a therapist for a diagnosis and treatment plan. But whether your hypervigilance is caused by PTSD or not, it is good to know what it is and what it does to you.

“Those who grow up in an environment that is not safe (whether physically or emotionally) develop a heightened sense of threat. They learn to scan the environment for potential danger, and react defensively. As an adult, this can continue as a chronic sense of fear and a predisposition to overreact and take things personally, especially in intimate relationships. We carry the war with us.” This is the kind of hypervigilance that children, especially the Scapegoat children, of dysfunctional families, learn and eventually internalize—and it gives us a lot of difficulty as we grow up and move into our adult lives.

One of the things hypervigilance leads us to do is to extrapolate: we take the facts available to us and project forward what might happen. I know I was doing this as young as 8 years of age because I can clearly remember an incident. NM left me and GCBro in the car while she went to consult with a lawyer—she and my father were separating…again. She said she would be gone for an hour but when the hour came and went, I began getting nervous. Although I was no longer consciously aware that she had abandoned me to the State for adoption when I was only two years old (but she kept my infant brother), on some level I retained those memories—and fears. The later it got, the more fearful I became until I was convinced she was never coming back. This made me hysterical which, eventually, led to me curling up in a ball in the corner of the car, sobbing uncontrollably. Of course, there was hell to pay when NM got back to the car—two hours late—but I had taken what I knew (she was gone longer than an hour), combined it with what I feared (being abandoned again), and extrapolated them into an abandonment scenario that completely undid me.

I didn’t “outgrow” this but I did learn to not buy into my “catastrophizing.*” Nearly fifteen years after NM died, I still fall into hypervigilance and extrapolation, particularly in times of stress, but I no longer allow it to control or paralyze me. My husband, who is diabetic, had a major seizure last year due to low blood sugar. When he collapsed, he fell into a position that blocked his airway and being unconscious, he was unable to move and allow himself to breathe…and I was unable to move him. I am ordinarily calm in medical emergencies, but I was widowed in 2000 and well I know that after 4 minutes without oxygen, the brain begins to die. I stuck my fingers into his throat and pressed down on his tongue to open his airway, frantically willing him not to die. He had had one of these crashes 18 months earlier and I knew from experience he would eventually regain consciousness (assuming I could keep his airway open) and be ok, but part of me was still extrapolating to having to make that awful call to his mother to tell her that her son had died. I control it, but it lives in my psyche like a cobra, just waiting for its moment to strike…

Another thing we deal with when we are hypervigilant is anxiety. Oh, not the hand-wringing, brow furrowing, looking over our shoulder stuff, but quiet, pervasive, persistent anxiety, like we are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. We become sceptical to the point of cynicism at much too young an age. We cease to trust implicitly and begin to look for the “catch” in even the simplest, most obvious things. When I was a little girl I remember sitting on the floor with my brother, watching TV, when my NM asked me if I would like some peanuts. As a kid who seldom got enough to eat, I eagerly accepted her offer and she handed me a small metal can with the word “Peanuts” emblazoned on the side. As I reached for the can, my brother tried to intercept it, but uncharacteristically, she waved him off. That should have warned me but, truthfully, I was soaking up the “special attention” I never got from her—she was offering me a treat and she wasn’t allowing my rude little brother to take it away before I even got it. I struggled a bit with the tight-fitting lid of the little tin, but finally it loosened up. Suddenly, the lid flew out of my hand and out of the can leapt what looked like a snake—a long tightly coiled spring covered with a reptile-printed fabric. I shrieked, dropped the can and jumped backwards, bursting into tears. NM also had tears in her eyes…from laughing so hard. GCBro was rolling on the floor clutching his sides. I stood there, immobilized with hurt and humiliation, until I was able to pull myself together enough to run to my room. Later, when NM got out the real peanuts, I wasn’t allowed to have any because I “had a stick up my ass” and I “couldn’t take a joke.” You can bet that from that day forward I looked for the catch in anything unexpectedly nice anyone ever tried to do for me.

“The hypervigilant person often has a diminished sense of self-worth, sometimes dramatically so [and] is often convinced of their worthlessness and will often deny their value to others.” People who value themselves do not spend their lives looking over their shoulders, waiting for someone to attack them; we who have lived lives of being the butt of other people’s jokes, the object of their derision, of being invisible or punching bags or both—we know that we are not valued by those closest to us, by those who should see us as priceless treasures. And if our own families find us valueless, who are we—especially as little kids—to naysay them? We assimilate and internalize the messages our dysfunctional parents fed us every day of our childhoods and by the time we are adults, we not only believe those messages, we feed them to ourselves.

Another thing we may do is engage in disbelief and denial. “...the hypervigilant person is aware of how implausible their experience sounds and often doesn't want to believe it themselves…the hypervigilant person cannot bring themselves to believe that the [abuser] cannot and will not see the effect their behaviour is having; they cling naively to the mistaken belief that the [abuser] will recognise their wrongdoing and apologise…” How many of us cling to hope that if we can just find the magic key, we can unlock the door to the heart of the dysfunctional family member(s) who torment (s) us?

This kind of denial can be deeply rooted and almost impossible to eradicate. This is not the simple choice of weighing two versions of the “truth” and choosing the one you wish to believe, this is something buried deep in your subconscious and often out of the reach of conscious thought. Many of us go NC (No Contact) with our abusive, dysfunctional parents and many who do so eventually come to the realization that these people, who are our parents in name only, never loved us because they are incapable of the selflessness that real love requires. And yet, the denial and disbelief that our own mothers, the women who carried us inside their bodies and gave us life, could not love us seems to bury itself in our being, coming to the fore on occasions like the births of our own children or grandchildren, when we realize how much and how effortlessly we love our own. The love was simply there—we made no effort, we did not summon it—it was just there, with our own children. What was wrong with us that our mothers looked into our little faces and were not overwhelmed with love for us like we were for our own children? Despite decades of abuse and therapy and consciously coming to terms with the fact that, through no fault of our own, our mothers didn’t…and never will…love us, somewhere deep in our hearts there remains a feeble flicker of hope that one day she will wake up and realize she does love us after all, and begin to act like the mother we always wanted and needed.

Many of us stay hypervigilant to her behaviour, subconsciously (even consciously) picking apart her every action, looking for evidence that maybe, just maybe, she loves us. We try to find ways to rationalize those things she does or says that are, in truth, hurtful and insensitive. Some of us even redefine things like love to incorporate her unloving and compassionless conduct. The hope, no matter how tiny, that she loves us can be so strong that our hypervigilance picks up on the smallest implication that she might care. Coupled with denial and disbelief, we can be held in thrall to our NMs simply by that faint hope that sometimes we don’t even recognize exists.

I knew from my earliest childhood that something was wrong with my mother. I didn’t know how I knew, but meeting other little girls in school and hearing (and occasionally observing) their home lives made it crystal clear to me that my mother was different, and not in a good way. I, on the other hand, was not so different from the little girls I played with, having the same hopes and desires, beliefs and values as my peers. I was satisfied that I was a normal little girl and that my mother was strange. I knew before I started school that my mother was dangerous—by the time I started school I had long ago developed the hypervigilance that kept me as safe as possible, the knowledge that staying out of sight was safer than reminding her of my existence with my presence, the knowledge that swift obedience was more likely than dallying to keep me out of trouble. I was alert to her moods, her body language, her facial expressions, her tone of voice—all of which helped me to predict what was going on with her and the safest way for me to respond. What I didn’t know until I started school was that other little girls didn’t have to do the same with their mothers—their mothers were safe to be around all of the time. There was something wrong with my mother…really, truly wrong.

And I spent years in therapy coming to terms with this fact, eradicating beliefs and habits and dysfunctional behaviours, learning to be an emotionally healthy person, even learning how to “be my own mother.” And my life improved, my relationships improved, my sense of self improved and I was even able to be in my mother’s presence without fear (although that hypervigilance was awake and quiveringly alert the whole time!).

And then she died. It was an unexpected death and I had not seen or heard from her for several years—I had become invisible again, and my daughter had become the daughter NM had apparently wanted me to be…her Mini-Me. I had felt some vague unease—and a feeling of unfairness—when my daughter made it clear that NM was in regular touch with her, that she received a five-figure cash gift from my NM so she could put a down payment on a house, and that NM was planning to disinherit me in her favour. With her every phone call, with her every visit and reporting on NM and her activities, my hypervigilance grew…something was definitely wrong here and I felt I had to be on guard.

And then NM died and the expected sense of relief enveloped me—but something else as well. The death of a hope I had not even known I was still harbouring. For the death of that poor, feeble little hope I wept—for the death of my mother, I felt only a release from the bondage of apprehension and anxiety—the other shoe had finally, irrevocably, dropped.

We develop hypervigilance as a protective mechanism. We develop it to be like an “early warning” system, a subconscious process that instantaneously assesses threats and risks and projects their likely outcome based on our past experiences and our worst fears. And for some of us, it was a useful—even essential—tool in surviving our childhoods at the hands of dysfunctional parents, but it becomes a liability in our adult lives, where we are not daily living with and under the control of dysfunctional emotional predators. Hypervigilance, misplaced and allowed to rule our lives, makes us dysfunctional. As adults, it is time to put childish ways behind us, and hypervigilance is one of those things.

* Loretta LaRoche

Next: Ten Commandments of Dysfunctional Families:
8. Thou shalt not let anyone do anything else for you. Do it all yourself.


  1. Brilliant post Violet. You are right about hypervigilance being laid in early in us. And it damages our relationships with others later in life, as we become quick to feel slighted or dismissed, overly wounded when people "neglect" us. You really have been through a tragic ringer with your N(late)M and now ND. Your mother's business with that peanut can was as cruel as if she had whipped you. I know I keep a small bit of hope alive, although I also know now, after decades of being screwed over by passive aggression and open aggression, that things will never be different with my NM. She is twisted by her own parental damage, and she has chosen me as her designated scapegoat for a repetition compulsion.

    1. I know this may sound strange to you, but I envy you your ability to lay a reason to your NM's behaviour. I don't excuse her by any stretch because she had the same choices we had when we became mothers: be like Mum or NOT be like Mum. But you know where your NM got it, which does not excuse it, but it DOES explain it.

      My parents were divorced (for the final time) when I was 10. My father remarried and my stepmother was an intelligent, perceptive and articulate woman, and it was through her observations that I was able to make some sense out of some of my NM's behaviours--like she persisted in dressing me like a 7 year old when I was obviously in need of bras and a razor for my hairy legs (she thought NM was jealous--she was probably right). One day, when I was in my 40s, my father, stepmother and I were in the kitchen, chatting, and how my mother got to be the way she was come under discussion.

      My father had known her since she was 16 and had known her parents and brothers that long as well. He and my maternal grandparents had remained in contact after the divorce and because they lived on a farm a few miles outside the very small town my grandparents lived in, my stepmother and my grandparents had met many, many times. Neither my dad or stepmother could figure out what happened to make my mother the mean-spirited, spiteful, malicious, nasty, vicious, sadistic and cruel piece of work she turned out to be. Her parents were Norman Rockwell normal.

      For her time and place, she was not treated unfairly by her parents--social mores in the 1940s did not extend to giving your teenaged daughter the same degree of freedom you extended your sons--and yet NM complained that her parents were unfair, favouring the boys over her. When I told this to one of my uncles, he laughed out loud--apparently she was spoiled by both parents (she was the only girl) and especially by her father (whom she referred to as a "stiffnecked old fart from the Old Country).

      She sneaked out of the house as night to run with a fast crowd, smoking and drinking and staying out til all hours. At 16 she eloped with my father, whom she had known less than a month, because she thought he was going overseas (he was in the Navy) and she could have his Navy dependant allowance and move out of her father's home and, with her husband overseas, she could do as she pleased. Even at 16 she was devious and manipulative and had no compunctions about using innocent bystanders as pawns in her plots to get her way--

      She got worse--more practiced--with age. She had no conscience at all and, in fact, considered people who did to be stupid and just asking to be taken advantage of. This is SO unlike either of her parents! I lived with them for two years after she abandoned me at age 2, and thereafter, most summers until I was 17. Surely, if they were the kind of parents whose child-rearing techniques would produce a narcissist like my mother, I would have seen something of it during all those years? When I got pregnant at 17, I was at my grandparents when I found out. My grandfather had me call her to tell her the news and when she started haranguing me on the phone, he took it away from me and shouted into the receiver "This would never have happened if you had taken care of her properly!" My grandparents notions of proper child rearing were obviously nothing like NM's.

      So where did her Nism come from? I can see it being a legacy, like in your family, because NM started one--first her, with me as the SG child and my brother and daughter as GCs--now my daughter (and brother) are Ns, my brother's son an SG, and I'm not too sure about my daughter's son...he was forbidden by my daughter to have contact with me years ago.

      So, I envy you having an answer to this question because although it doesn't fix your NM, it DOES tell you where it came from and gives you an opportunity to stop it from going further down your family. My kids are grown and the damage is done, but I would still like to know where it came from...

  2. Oh, Violet. That peanut can "joke" was so cruel. The worst part was your mother's reaction, laughing at your fright, making fun of your tears, and her hateful refusal to give you any of the real peanuts because you "couldn't take a joke."

    But turning your daughter against you has to be the absolute worst thing that a narcissist can do. Even more terrible, I think, than my mother's worst abuses of trying to gas us all to death, then murdering my reputation by spreading vicious projecting lies about me (beginning when I was 12 and continuing to the present time, more than 45 years later), and getting involved with my first husband, and so on and so on. Every one of my mother's hateful abuses have wounded me to the marrow of my being.

    Nothing hurts like having one of your children turn against you. My N mother did not cause that, because I moved far away when my children were tiny and she never had the chance to interfere with them. However, thanks to my insane childhood, I went straight from the frying pan into the fire by marrying an N, in fact I married more than one N, before I got some good therapy. When I left the most abusive N, he retaliated by turning my eldest child against me. Of course he tried to turn all 3 of my children against me, but he only succeeded with the eldest one, probably because my elder son has some brain damage caused by a head injury when he was 13, and his thinking has been skewed ever since.

    This weekend, the situation with my 41-year-old son came to a terrible head, as I did what I believed I had to do to protect his pregnant 15-year-old daughter from more physical abuse. I know I did the right thing, but oh my God it was so hard, and now I fear that any chance I had for someday having my elder son back in my life is destroyed for good.

    The PAIN I have been in all this weekend, since Friday night when I found out that my son has grabbed my teen granddaughter around the throat and strangled her, twice... I feel like I am only barely alive, that's how bad the pain is.

    I learned this when I was talking on the phone with my 37-year-old daughter, who is the aunt of my teen granddaughter – my daughter had been visiting them that day. After my daughter told me about the physical abuse my son has been doing to his daughter, I called my granddaughter and she reluctantly confirmed that it was true. Then I told her that for her own protection, and the protection of the unborn fetus she loves, I had no choice but to call Child Protection services. My granddaughter, in heartbreaking, typical abused-child fashion, cried "But I love my dad! I have forgiven him and I don't want him to go to jail! I mostly have a good life, I don't come home from school every day and get beat up, it's been quite awhile since he did anything like that!"

    But my pressing concern was the fact that my teen granddaughter is 4 months pregnant and has been keeping it a secret from her dad, for fear of him flying into a rage, and my daughter had just told me after visiting them that day that my skinny granddaughter's belly was definitely showing, despite her baggy tops, and she, my daughter, was fearful that at any minute my son might look at his daughter and realize she was pregnant, and then go berserk.

    Before I called Child Protection, I called my son and tried to reason with him. I told him I knew about him strangling his daughter, and that if he ever laid a finger on her again for any reason, I would call Child Protection. He yelled into the phone that she was HIS daughter, and he would deal with her HIS way. So then I did what I knew I had to do to protect my grandchild and her unborn baby. I called Child Protection in the state where they live, and reported the situation.

    Now I feel like I am about to die. My pain and sorrow is that great. I feel utterly broken. Oh God, how can I make this pain stop?

    1. First of all, Charity, you did the right thing for your granddaughter, whether anyone ever acknowledges it or not. And as bad as you feel now, consider how you would feel if he succeeded in causing her to miscarry or if he goes just a fraction too far one day while choking her and doesn't let her go in time? You will have lost them both, as I have lost my daughter and grandson, but you will have to carry for your entire life the knowledge that you could have taken an action to save them and you didn't. Even if they both turn your back on you, you must cling to the knowledge that, without your intervention, it is entirely possible that neither one of them would be there to turn those backs. We are not supposed to expect thanks and gratitude for our good deeds--karma only works when we do them selflessly, and the more you have to lose in the doing of the deed, the more you ultimately gain (although maybe not in this life). What you did epitomizes the true meaning of love: selflessness. You did this knowing it could cost you your relationship with either or both of them because you put THEM ahead of you.

      The pain stops with introspection. That takes focus. Rather than let your mind and thoughts fragment and run around in hurting little circles, you gather them up and discipline them to hold still long enough for you to think. Remember when your children were small and you had to take them to the doctor for shots and other things that were probably going to hurt or scare them? Did you go all self-indulgent and keep them from necessary medical care because YOU could not bear the guilt and pain of being the one who caused them the pain? Or did you suck it up and behave like a responsible mother and subject them to painful or frightening procedures because you were the adult and you knew you could not deprive your child of necessary medical services to spare yourself some guilt and possibly even your child's resentment and displeasure?

      This is more of that. But they are big now and the stakes are higher. And your failure to act could have cost lives, just as your failure to act and get those immunizations could have cost their lives when they were little.

      You MAY lose your son over this--I cannot whitewash it because it is entirely possible. But what I have learned about my daughter is that the person she has become is a stranger to me...she is not the little girl who swooned over the pink ballerina cake on her 6th birthday...she is not the laughing child whose life was ruled by Barbie, or the kid who crawled up into my lap with a story book, or who begged me to teach her how to read. This woman is a stranger to me, a stranger who does not have my values or my ethics, who is selfish and spiteful and more like her grandmother than I really wish to acknowledge. This is a woman who started betraying me when she was still in her teens and who escalated to heights I could not even have imagined--and have difficulty believing even today, even with witnesses, evidence, and her own confessions and my experiences. I do not know who this person is and, as much as I love my daughter, this selfish, grasping, manipulative, cold-hearted, woman I do not recognize. She wears my daughter's face, but the resemblance stops there. (see pt 2 below)

    2. Pt 2

      Maybe, just maybe, the son you want a relationship with is not the man who wears your son's face, and the son you love no longer lives behind those eyes. It bears thinking about because part of our curse as a DoNM is to cling to relationships that damage us out of an unwillingness to let go, even after the other person has long since walked away. That the person is still in your life does not mean you have a relationship with him/her--my daughter inherited my NM's mantle of NQueen and fully expected me to remain in my role as chief victim--how annoying it must have been that I refused to play my part.

      And that is what you have to do: not play the part others set out for you. Do what you know is the right thing to do, even if it hurts you to do so. And recognize that the people who wear familiar faces may not, in fact, be the people you have believed them to be. It is not easy, but if you ever expect to walk out of an N's snake pit relatively intact, you have to start with facing up to the cold, hard truths they have set before you and you, being an empathetic, sensitive, loving person, have refused to fully accept. Who, after all, wants to believe her daughter lied to her (the mother's) best friends, telling them her mother beat her and threw her down the stairs, in order to get them to offer her a place to live so she wouldn't have to go to school or keep curfews, etc.? And who wants to believe that her own son has attempted to strangle his own daughter not once but twice, and may do something even worse when he finds out she is pregnant? Is that the son YOU raised? or someone else wearing his face?

      We have to set boundaries and then defend them. And to do so, we have to be willing to walk away rather than let people disrespect them. You have set a boundary: if your son abuses his daughter, you will report him to the authorities. You may have saved several lives with that one. Remember you are right, you must behave in an ethical and moral way EVEN IF IT HURTS YOU because the alternative is that you will be behaving no better than the selfish, self-indulgent ones you have had to deal with all of your life.

      And yes, it can hurt. A lot. But the alternative hurts much, much worse.

      Hugs and my kindest wishes to you,


    3. Thank you SO MUCH. I can't find the words adequate to show my deep appreciation for all the time and thought and compassion you put into your replies to me.

      HERE, using my secret online persona, I can express my doubts and fears and second-guessing of myself. But this morning, I found out that ~ YAY! ~ thanks to me forcing the issue by contacting Child Protections Services, yesterday my son willingly signed over custody of his pregnant 15-year-old daughter to the best possible loving caregiver in our family, and now my granddaughter is almost 3,000 miles away from her dad, in her new home and new life. The outcome is exactly what I was hoping and praying for.

      My daughter, who is my granddaughter's aunt, sent me an email this morning saying again that she knows I did what I thought was best, but it's so sad that her brother (my granddaughter's abuser) is mad at my daughter to telling me about the abuse, and also her younger brother and his fiancee are mad for the same reason. Here is a portion of the email reply I sent to my daughter, with the names removed:

      Dearest (Daughter),
      Doing the right thing is often the hardest thing.

      It's not your fault, it's not my fault, it's not (15-year-old granddaughter's) fault. The fault, the responsibility, is with (my elder son), for puttiing his hands around his daughter's throat. NONE of this would have been necessary if he hadn't been doing things like that. You might want to remind people of that, when they point fingers. I never in my life would have dreamed that I would need to call Child Protection on any one of my children. I have overlooked a lot. Overlooked (my elder son's) ongoing drug use, knowing he did it in front of his (young stepson), so of course he would do it in front of (my granddaughter). I overlooked the horrible pornographic poster he had hanging on his living room wall when I was visiting in his apartment. I overlooked the affair he had with his brother's (my younger son's) common law wife. But I could not overlook him putting his hands around his little girl's throat.

      HE is responsible for this. NOT you, NOT (granddaughter) and NOT me.

      The typical abuser's way to deflect guilt is to point the finger of blame at everyone else, and to point out all their faults, as if any of that has any bearing on their abuse of their own child.

      The typical reaction of the ENABLERS of the abuser is to try to protect the abuser, and to put blame on the person who is protecting the child.

      They are full of shit, the abusers and their enablers.

      This is on them. Not you, not me, not (granddaughter).

      I love you lots. I am deeply sorry that you have been hurt too. This is my PTSD trauma trigger... getting phone calls from FAMILY telling me how wrong and unreasonable I am, and how I am ruining everything, when in fact I am doing what my heart and my mind knows is right, even though it is almost killing me. I feel literally like I am on the brink of death from this kind of trauma. I cannot take it. I am not that strong anymore. I'm getting too old, I guess. I've been shattered too many times.

    4. Good letter--clear, strong, accurate and pointed.

      And you are right--HE is at fault for this, not his daughter, not you, but HIM. But if you possibly can, see that the people who have taken her in get her some counselling--he he tried twice to strangle her and she didn't want to get away, she is already enmeshed and enabling to a very unhealthy degree.

      And if she is planning to keep the baby, she should be enrolled in some parenting classes because if she grew up with a parent strangling her out of frustration, I can see a case of "shaken baby syndrome" lurking. She obviously had poor parenting role models (mama or stepmama didn't come to her rescue??) and at her age she is not worldly enough to know what else is out there for her to choose from. I was 17 when I had my first child, but I had five years of my stepmother, watching her care for and nurture her own babies and toddlers, to draw on. I had a good role model to follow--does she?

      I know it still hurts, but you are entitled to be PROUD of may very well have saved 3 lives with that phone call: your granddaughter, her baby, and your son who would have ended up in prison--men like him don't do well in prison...

      You saved them all. I'm proud of you!!

  3. Violet, this part of your post particularly touched me: “Many of us stay hypervigilant to her behaviour, subconsciously (even consciously) picking apart her every action, looking for evidence that maybe, just maybe, she loves us. We try to find ways to rationalize those things she does or says that are, in truth, hurtful and insensitive. Some of us even redefine things like love to incorporate her unloving and compassionless conduct. The hope, no matter how tiny, that she loves us can be so strong that our hypervigilance picks up on the smallest implication that she might care.”

    Yes! Take, for example, the 62 page hate letter my mother mailed to me last year. I never saw the letter, because my husband got the mail that day and, knowing the history, and having my permission to do as he saw fit with anything that comes from her, he waited until I was asleep and read part of the 1st page, at which point he became so enraged at what he calls “the hate and jealousy” that he walked at 2 in the morning to the dump and tore the 62 pages to bits there, to ensure I would not see it in our trash. Then he said nothing to me about the letter.

    But I found out when I got an email from my aunt. Unknown to my husband, my mother had sent a copy of the letter to her sister, and she also gave copies, or read portions of it over the phone, to my siblings.

    My disabled brother told me he asked our mother why she wrote that letter. He said our mother explained, “I wrote everything Charity has ever done wrong in her life, and at the end of the letter I told her that Christ will forgive her of all these things if she will repent.”

    Although I don't know what this letter said, I know from other letters I've gotten from her in years past, that it probably contained a lot of rewritten history, twisted half-truths taken out of context, misunderstandings in which she never gives me the benefit of the doubt, outright vicious reputation-killing LIES that she has to KNOW are lies, or else be insanely delusional to believe, and the making of mountains out of the ancient anthills of my childish misdeeds. Yes, I'm imperfect and fallible and I have made some mistakes in my 59 years, all of which I thoroughly regret and have long ago repented and tried to make amends for. But no amount of repentance on my part was ever enough for my mother ~ while she excuses away things like her attempts to gas our whole family to death by saying, "I was going through a bad time."

    In my mother's previous record-long hate letter, a 50-pager sent when I was 30, which was also unprovoked and out-of-the-blue, at a time when I thought we were getting along, there was only ONE non-hateful sentence in all those pages. That singular sentence said: “I know your father loves you.” But it was followed by: “However, he does not like you.”

    Violet, there is a childish part of me that wants to believe my mother's 62 page letter that she sent to me and to my entire family of origin, really was her way of showing she loved me because, in her belief system, if I haven't genuinely repented and come to Jesus I will go to eternal hell. She did it out of love and concern for me, right?

    But if that were true, why send it to the whole family, instead of only to me? And why fill it with lies, as I've been told by my aunt that she did? Isn't it possible that my religious fanatic mother REALLY BELIEVED that this letter was for my ultimate good... even though I've told her repeatedly that I am a Christian believer, I have repented, and I've tried to make amends for my human imperfections, failings, and sins? Does she fear that I'm lying about that (I'm not), and does she really believe that she has to batter me endlessly with every real and imagined wrong I've ever done, and embarrass and devastate me by ruining my reputation with my whole family, because she thinks that is what I need to keep me out of eternal hell? I'm serious. Is it possible that this is my insane mother's version of LOVE?

    1. Charity, that is not a question I can answer. But I can tell you a true story..."My unsaved daughter died last year. I know she was unsaved because we tried to convert her when she was dying. My husband removed her oxygen mask hoping she would make a public confession of Christ, but she died cursing us. I often [think] about the flames as the lap up against her face for eternity and how painful that must be. I hope when we get to heaven, we won't hear the screams from hell. Do you think about the same with your children? " (

      Does this sound like a mother who loves her child? Does this sound like someone who love UNCONDITIONALLY? Or someone who is more concerned with getting what she wants? While wanting something for your child is not inherently wrong, it is VERY wrong when what YOU want for your adult child is diametrically opposed to what that adult child wants and you punish that child for it. When the child becomes an adult and the custodian of her own destiny, persisting as this mother---and YOUR mother---is doing is nothing more than pure selfishness, putting her own wants above the adult child's rights of self determination.

      Does this mother love her child? Not in my estimation. Love requires selflessness--is this person showing selflessness (look at her second-to-last sentence)?

      I suspect your mother of the same self-serving attitude. By clothing herself in the garment of righteousness she hopes to fool others into thinking all of her hateful words and deeds are for YOUR eternal well being, not a hateful self-indulgence. Note that she has completely ignored your protestations of having met the criteria she seems to find necessary for entry into heaven. I strongly suspect that each time you show her you have satisfied her demands, she is moving the goalposts, expecting more and more from you in the way of assurances, proofs, protestations that your soul is safe from hell. Do you REALLY think this is about saving you from hell and, even if it was, do you REALLY think she could not find kinder, gentler ways than those you presently endure?

      So, the real answer to your question must come from you--but when you ponder this, remember this word: "selflessness." Real love is selfless. What I see your NM doing is engaging in self-indulgence and coming up with a way to cloak it in piety. Your NM epitomizes Matthew 7: 1-5--7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

  4. Insightful post Violet! That can of snakes thing is so sadistic. My nm frequently used humour to torture me emotionally, though she hasn't ever developed the ability to laugh at herself. Eventually I did learn to laugh at myself and I have found that to be an excellent quality that helps me even now. Another positive quality I have as a result of crazy mommie is that I read people very well. I'm sure mom is frustrated that I got anything positive from her horrible abuse and neglect. Ironically, she loves my personality and how amazing I can be a giving her NS...It feels like justice that she is left with her cold senior-abusing sociopath of a son!

    1. I, too, can laugh at myself--I'm known for my self-deprecating humour-but the difference is that *I* am the one poking fun at myself. I am often invited to dinners and such just because people love my "stories."

      But I don't ever make jokes at the expense of others. I don't find pain or humiliation amusing. I can't even watch some movies and TV shows because I don't find them funny, I find them painful. I watched only a short bit of "Who wants to be a millionaire" and changed the channel because that Fiona woman was so rude to the contestants. Gordon Ramsay got to his first meltdown at the expense of another member and I never went back, and Simon Cowell only got one zinger off when I reached for the remote and now will not watch anything he is on or any program with the same format.

      People who enjoy the pain and humiliation of others, whether they are inflicting it or just bystanders are, in my estimation, sadists. It's not entertainment, it is sadism, intentional infliction of pain on others for nothing more than amusement.

      I can see your feeling of justice--she gets what she has given for so many years. My NM spent her last months sick and alone...she died alone...her body was not found for days afterwards, and then only because her landlord called the police to do a "welfare check" because was late with her rent, which was not normal for her. She had no friends, nobody in the family was alert that something was amiss because nobdy kept in regular touch with her. She died alone, in Las Vegas, in the middle of August and the coroner apparently could not even fix a date of death (I suppose due to the condition of the body). And somehow that it fitting, that at the age of 69 nobody, not even her Goldens, cared enough about her to stay in regular contact, just as she cared nothing for any of us unless she wanted something...

      It was the greatest thing she ever did for me, letting that other shoe drop at such an unexpectedly young age...

  5. Thank you so much, Violet. What you say rings true.

    It's the little girl inside me who still wants to believe my mother who has claimed all her life to abuse me "for my own good" because she "LOVES" me.

    When I was 12 my mother told me she had been trying night after night to gas us all to death while we slept in our beds, by putting out the pilot light and turning the thermostat up as high as it would go. The only reason we were still alive, she said, was because she hadn't been able to figure out how to override the safety shut-off valve on the gas line.

    And THEN she said, "I brought you five kids into the world, so I have the right to take you out of it. I WOULD BE DOING YOU KIDS A FAVOR BY KILLING YOU, BECAUSE LIFE IS SO HARD."

    Everything our insane mother did was always for our own good. Even her attempted murder of us.

    1. And there you have your answer--it's difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that your mother doesn't love you and has no sense of you as a separate thinking, feeling, hurting human being. If she did, she would not see you as an extension of herself to be extinguished along with her, she would see you as a separate, autonomous being for whom she has been given the privilege to rear, not the right to snuff out.

      Selflessness--the true criteria for real love. If it isn't there, it can't be love.

  6. For me, I understood that everyone loved me unless they had contact with my family. Then they would distance themselves from all, or would never mention my family to me.
    It was a contract.
    A contract of decency.
    My boyfriends' families always loved me, even if he had older sisters, eventually I would turn them around too.
    I had a great time at school. But to my parents and my extended family I was never good enough, never loved, talked about as if I wasn't there. To my mother I was a burden; it was obvious she loved and preferred my more beautiful sisters. She never came to my parent teacher meetings even though she was a teacher at a sister school, it annoyed her that I was more promising than her. It irked her that my brain could lead me to freedom.
    All my teachers knew. Lots of people she taught knew. She likes to live in denial about this, I believe it accelerates her ageing. This coverup. You can lie to some people some of the time but not all people all the time.
    She is healthy in her body but her face has accelerated in age, I really think its from all the lying.
    And I believe, they know EXACTLY what they are doing.
    They are not psychopaths.
    She knows, because she puts on an act for guests at our house.
    Look how I treat my daughter, like a normal mother.... Yay!
    That only works if you visit once, after that its all about Her, get it or get out!
    I have no feelings for her now.
    I moved away.
    I tell people I am an orphan, my parents are dead.
    My sisters, I used to feel sorry for but if they want to spend their lives fighting for someones's love who clearly has no emotions- that is there choice. I am tired of her, so tired I don't even want to hear complaints about her from my sisters. Which is all I get!
    And they bicker about her love.
    She loves no- one.
    I can't watch them harm themselves, each other and each other's children to get this promised love they have been waiting for. It's too much of an ask, so I have gone No Contact.
    Yes, my sisters hate and blame me, but they also placate her as a victim when she's scapegoated me. They put their children in competition now as if life is supposed to be like that.
    I would never wish that on my children, and I am childless.
    Already through my mother my nephews and nieces have learned they are not good enough.
    How sad.
    I cry for them because I can never see them again, the way I never cried for myself when I was their age.
    Those who survive can have a prosperous life, but it also has a terrible and heartless price.

  7. I love comments like yours that spark memories or answers to old questions...

    The women in my family are known for keeping a youthful look--except my NM!! Her mother died at 84 looking 65--I am 65 and am usually thought to be in my early 50s. My NM, however, looked near to 60 when she was in her mid 40s. I had always attributed it to her years of living in the desert, but my grandmother was an avid gardener and sports woman (she went hunting and fishing with my grandfather), but she managed to retain her youthful looks. Your comment gave me a lightbulb moment--AHA! surely all her years of spitefulness and lies are what showed in her face, aged her, made her look squinty and mean!

    What you have discovered is that your Golden Child sisters have made a choice--they had no choice in being named Goldens, just as you had no choice in NOT being named one, and the natural selfishness of children will lead them to embrace their good fortune at your expense--but they are no longer children and they have a choice now, and it is obvious that their choice has been not only to remain Goldens at your expense, but to emulate your NM with respect to you and their own children.

    NC is a very difficult choice and you are right--it exacts a terrible price. But I think the price for NOT going NC in the face of what your FOO is doing is higher still.

    Hugs to you and please feel free to join the blog...


  8. Thank you for posting this. Several parts describe thoughts and feelings that I have had many many times over the years.

  9. I'm new here and have a MNM , I just have to say , I haven't read a lot yet but I'm sorry but that can joke was just a joke! The same as whipping? Seriously? It sounds like we need to be careful not to wallow in the victim role!

    1. It's obvious you have some serious fleas...most specifically a lack of empathy.

      I was a child deprived of attention and love and all of the little gestures that bespeak love...while I watched my sibling get the attention and love and benefit from all those little gestures. I was also undernourished, physically, so I was always hungry. Can you not imagine the hope in my little heart when my mother offered me one of those loving gestures AND food? She actually put me ahead of my brother, for once, warning him off when he tried to get to the peanut can first.

      Aside from the fact that the leaping spring snake terrified me, there was a profound feeling of betrayal that came with the incident. At a tender age I learned I could not ever trust my mother, that she would make me the butt of a joke for her own amusement, and the fact that it hurt me, her own child, didn't even enter her mind.

      And, apparently, the hurt, disappointment, humiliation and feeling of betrayal that little girl felt didn't even enter yours, either.

      Emotional pain lasts longer than physical. Bruises and welts from a beating heal but the pain from learning that your mother will use you for her amusement with no care for your feelings, like a cat toys with a mouse, lasts for decades. When this occurs between a young child and a parent, it affects the child's ability to trust ANYONE. It can cause a child to associate "love" with pain and humiliation. Humour at the expense of another person's feelings is not funny, it is cruel, especially with a child who doesn't have the life experience or maturity to be able to laugh it off. Such behaviour on the part of a person who supposedly loves the child HURTS. It WOUNDS, and the wounds can be deep, long lasting, and affect that child's ability to trust ANYONE.

      Your lack of empathy for that hurt little girl makes me wonder if you are one of the 30% of people who grew up under a narcissistic parent who becomes a narcissist, too. You certainly demonstrate the empathy of one.

  10. Freddie, you are an idiot. No its not funny. Scaring your child is not funny. Giving them false hope is not funny.

    My narcissistic father placed a gun in my hands because I wanted to feel its weight. He then retrieved it and chased me up the stairs with it.
    Pointed it at me, pulled the trigger and thought it was funny to see me almost shit myself scared. Its all of the same context. These people scare and they scare a lot. No child should go through that rubbish.

  11. Wonderful post. Im sure my parents were emotionally distant with me. I dont recall to much of them in my memories. I mostly have memories of my wonderful brother and sister, and my childhood friends and school. They weren't BAD parents, my dad hit me a few times on the bum, and he had a way of whistling that sent shivers down my spine, my dad really intimidated me at times. My mother, well, im sure she is a narcissist, the way she is totally enveloped in her own world, i think she disowned me around my late teens, thats when the cracks started appearing, so hopefully not too much damage done, but I do suffer anxiety and hypervigilance, mostly from being in traffic strangely other places not so much...i would love to have a one on one chat with both my parents alone and really find out what kind of relationship they had with me as a kid, it would also be nice to get a third party perspective as im sure they are biased, I do have personality flaws which im sure have something to do with my up-bringing, gradually im learning to let go, but basically I don't talk to my parents too much because it causes me too much stress...the one question i want to ask my dad is "why did you hit me?" and "why didnt you give me more confidence and reassurance?" and i would ask my mum "do you care about other people or just yourself?" it would be fascinating to hear the responses...

  12. I have had no contact with my NM since I was a teen, and I've counselled many others through this transition in the decades that followed. After many years of therapy, and feeling as though I've dealt with all my childhood issues, it is now that I've become a mother that I am starting to look back again with fresh eyes. My whole life is a lesson in hyper-vigilance, and I've been proud of being the observant one, the prepared one, but I've also paid the price of being distant and walled-off from the majority of people. My whole life motto has been to do opposite of my NM, yet here I've become a Mother and my motto doesn't work anymore! I'm confused when I find myself behaving like NM, she was very abusive and we were apprehended when we were in our teens, should have been much earlier but I digress... I find it confusing when I discipline my children because I believe very strongly in setting boundaries for children. I had no boundaries as a child, so I was one of those sick kids that grounded myself, punished myself and joined military organizations as I was craving structure and security. Yet, I would never lay a hand on my kids! I couldn't imagine! I live in fear of slipping into my NM hatred of her children, my NM hated us, she never disguised that fact. I fear that one day, I will look at my kids (who are now 2 and 5) and say those words "what ever happened to my nice kids?". I believe to the core of my being that being a Mother is a privilege and I strive to earn the title every day I'm with my kids. They never asked to be born, a sentiment my brother and I wailed often 'we didn't ask to be here?!'. Everything sent my NM into a rage as she was a victim of us kids, it was drilled into us how lucky we were, how everyone else had it much worse, and how she brought us into this world, she can take us out again. We grew up in a poor neighbourhood where much of her valuation of us was confirmed, our neighbours were all alcoholics and junkies, there would be no intervention by teachers or social workers, for myself or the kids I grew up with. I'm one of the only ones who 'survived' so I've felt lucky and didn't want to ask for much more out of life. Yet here my kids are showing me I need more work. I'm uncomfortable out in public, they thrive on social interactions and I need to figure that out. I suffer from misery and depression, they constantly ask me 'are you happy mama?'. I get it. Their behaviour is my report card and they are reflecting back to me with their behaviour that I am not well. I just wanted to say how comforting it is to read your articles and the comments that follow. It is inspirational that I can still work through this into my 50's and be a better person, for myself and my kids. It's never too late.

  13. To Anonymous with the 5 year old and 2 year old: I also have hypervigilance and am a mother of four. I was very shy, but having the children brought us many new friends from their pre-school. Slowly, I came out of my shell and especially enjoyed their sports' teams and dance performances. The children have brought us great joy. You sound very nice and you are correct that being a mother is a privilege. I am very glad that you would not think of "laying a hand" on your children, as it rarely does a drop of good. It just breeds resentment. Recent study of the brain has revealed that little boys usually have a larger Amygdala than little girls do. Basically, the Amygdala is the part of our brain that encourages Risk. (One example can be the So-Called Terrible Twos
    when all two year olds, especially boys, must touch Everything.) Parents unknowingly fall into the trap of constantly saying "No, don't Touch That !" and the conflict begins.
    Although most little girl's Amygdalas are smaller and one is usually able to reason with one's daughter sooner, still the two year old will look up at you questioningly. They are receiving direct signals to Explore, Touch, Push that Button ! The beauty of this, I find to be in the realization that it's Not my parenting skills in question. Their Amygdala is in charge and will continue to be until their Frontal Lobes take over at the age of 25 to 27 ! So our job as parents is to love them unconditionally and loan them our Frontal Lobes from time to time until theirs kick-in and they can begin to make Executive Decisions on their own. Teach them about "filters and boundaries" and
    being respectful of others' ideas and feelings. Of Note: Usually when people are Talking, they are just making Conversation. Most people do not "filter" their thoughts before speaking. So with kindness and empathy we can give them the benefit of the doubt. That's what love and friendship are all about.

  14. Just reading "Narcissist's Child: Hypervigilence" brought tears to my eyes. Even as I write this..
    I'm 22 and have been going to therapy for about 3 years. Everything you said here fits my childhood to a T. After my dad committed suicide, my brother, was the loved child, the enabler to my mom, continuously making fun of me and blaming me for all of the problems. My mom's mental abuse was never recognized by me until I sought therapy thinking I was going to fix the problems with myself, as my self worth was down the tubes.
    Since about 3 years ago, I've had minimal contact with my mom, and the contact I have had sent me into a state of sadness. Those who have never experienced hypervigilence may never know the detriment that it can have on one's experiences.
    Never being able to trust what other's say, believing the negative things about you, and not the positives, and always holding onto that hope that the people that matter most will recognize your worth.
    Now, after not having contact, there's that fear of losing my 2nd parent without saying goodbye. As she gets older, I think I'll foreve hope that one day she'll come around. I constantly check for glimpses of this (and she's very convincing). I really hope that I can get past this and move on. Not continually waiting for the next shoe to drop.

  15. I don't know if you're still reading posts but I'm glad I came across this. The moment I started to read this I cried uncontrollably because now I know I am not crazy. All these years I thought I was crazy and it was my fault why my mother and I never had a healthy mother and daughter relationship. My life IS hypervigilance. I trust no one and I see everyone outside of my doorstep as a threat. I literally can't think of a time I've ever met a true blue warm hearted individual who didn't have an agenda for "self". I've been used in the past by people who I thought was my friend and now I'm re-scanning these relationships and now they look narcissistic to me. However my hypervigilance does save me from getting into intimate relationships with narcissistic men. Certain personality traits (that my mother possesses) set off triggers.

    The following traits:

    Loud,boisterous, aggressive, angry, invasive and intrusive. ALL of these traits set off emotional triggers in me and I tense up with a steel wall. I come across indifferent to narcissistic men and this is why I have never been in an intimate relationship with one. I don't know how to overcome my hypervigilance. It's something that I feel so strongly and I feel EVERYTHING.

  16. Regarding hyper-vigilance - I held my body so tight I would flinch if anyone so much as walked too closely past me on the street, or if a person made any sudden move around of my boyfriends' picked upon this - "Do you think I am going to HIT YOU?" he asked me once, has taken several years for this automatic response to the 'expected blow' to calm down. I still have a very high 'startle' response - the telephone ringing can set off a physical reaction - ditto someone knocking on my front door - triggers the 'fight or flight'........


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