[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 23. She destroys your relationships
Narcissistic mothers are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted.
Yup—I have heard it over and over again, families fragmented and divided into factions of pro- and anti-NM. In the case of a woman I will call Leah, she had virtually no communication with her sister or any of the FOO on her mother’s side with the exception of one uncle, a man who is estranged from his sister (the NM) because of the way NM treats her. For years she believed her NM had succeeded in alienating her father’s side of the family as well, but after her father’s death she was to learn that they cared for her very much. But it wasn’t until after her father passed that she was reunited with his family, having been separated from them for decades because of her NM’s control of the family through triangulation. Only when Leah’s father died and nobody was notified of his death and cremation—not even the poor man’s own brother—did her NM’s true dreadfulness become obvious and people rallied around Leah.
In my case, NM successfully alienated my entire family from me, via triangulation, including my father and his family. When her lies began oozing out, when the family began to see the truth, there were those who continued to cling to the lies and with whom I was never able to re-establish a relationship. I find it not coincidental that those who continued to suck up NM’s lies were the ones who ended up with legacies from NM’s estate while I, and others who had finally had the scales fall from their eyes, received nothing except an abusive message actually written into her will.
Relationships outside the FOO are also at risk with an NM in the picture. As a teen I was prohibited from dating some perfectly acceptable young men because their surnames were “foreign,” or their fathers did not have good enough jobs or they were the wrong colour or religion (this from a woman who never, ever set foot inside a church), or they lived in the wrong part of town. She also dictated my female friendships, forbidding me to hold parties, sleep-overs and other normal adolescent rites of passage. When NM found out my best girlfriend was Jewish, she was forbidden from entering our house again. I was kept in childish dresses with no bra and forbidden to shave my legs and underarms, which made me an object of derision among my peers. When I finally began dressing and grooming myself in an age-appropriate way, it was too late. As an adult, I was alienated from my FOO and she later succeeded in alienating my own children from me.
I know of women whose romantic relationships and even marriages have fallen apart because of the interference of an NM, people whose employment and employment relationships were damaged by an NM. There is no limit whatsoever to the lengths and depths an NM will go to have her way, even if it means isolating you from everyone you have ever cared for, destroying your friendships and romantic relationships, and even giving you grief at work.
Unless the father has control over the narcissist and holds the family together, adult siblings in families with narcissistic mothers characteristically have painful relationships. Typically all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all.
This mirrors my own experiences and the experiences of numerous other DoNMs I know. When your NM selects you as the family scapegoat and another child as the GC, the other siblings, if there are any, will align with the GC out of self-protection. When these children are grown, those who finally see who and what their mother is may no longer align with the GC, but it is unlikely they will align with the scapegoat simply out of self-defense: they don't want to be on the receiving end of the treatment they have seen the scapegoat receive for all those years. The GCs often grow up to be “flying monkeys,” minions of the NM who will do her bidding. In Leah’s case, her NM had Leah’s sister contact an ex-boyfriend of Leah’s (like 10 years ago ex) to tell him a bunch of lies about Leah, making her look like she was doing terrible things to hurt her mother and alienate NM’s brother from her. Out of the goodness of his heart he called Leah’s uncle (as requested by Leah’s Nsister), who was estranged from his sister (the NM) to try to foster a reconciliation. It was a stupid thing for NM and GC to do because the man got an earful of truth from the uncle about the kinds of nasty things NM was doing to Leah.
Even a strong father cannot necessarily control a narcissist. Mine was strong, but when he was divorced from NM and could only see his children on weekends, what kind of control could he exert? During one of their separations, NM found out he had found a girlfriend and this upset her even though she had initiated their breakup and forced him out of the house. When she asked him to return, he broke up with his girlfriend, telling her that he had to go back for his kids’ sake (I heard this from the girlfriend who later married him and was his wife for more than 50 years). When he lived with us, she was still able to prey on me when he was at work and keep me from telling him what went on in his absence with threats of increased violence and abuse. My GC brother became NM’s flying monkey, tattling to NM about anything he could think of…even making things up…to get me punished. It was no surprise, then, that he spied on me as a young adult and embellished his observations to the point of perjury when she applied to a court for guardianship of my children. Even our Father’s strong stance on honesty did not penetrate his GC devotion to our lying, conniving NM. She played us off against each other as children, and I was always the one coming up short. As adults, she set us against each other in her plots, employing him as her flying monkey, me as the target. My brother and I have not seen each other since our grandmother’s funeral in 1994 and have not spoken since NM’s death nearly 15 years ago. The rift is irreparable.
Leah’s father was not so strong…he remained married to her NM for Leah’s entire life and that had to wear a man down. Near the end of his life, weakened with cancer and completely at her mercy, he could do nothing to control his wife. After her father’s death, Leah’s mother became even worse and Leah’s flying monkey sister joined in. She and her sister have the same irreparable rift, also caused by a predatory NM.
In part, these women foster dissension between their children because they enjoy the control it gives them. If those children don't communicate except through the mother, she can decide what everyone hears. Narcissists also love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in their children's lives. Watching people's lives explode is better than soap operas, especially when you don't have any empathy for their misery.
I think it is more, deeper, than simply enjoying the control. The power and control they derive extends much farther than simply setting their children against each others like cocks in a pit. In my case, my little brother spied on me constantly. I could not even have a word alone with my father because he would always be there, listening and ready to report anything I said or did to NM. I could not, therefore, say anything to my father about the way she treated me in his absence, complain about her unfair treatment between me and and my brother, or tell him that she left us alone at night for hours, while he was at work, while she hit the bars. Pitting us against each other made it safe for her to engage in activities that her husband would definitely find objectionable with no fear of discovery because of a blabbing child.
But they do enjoy the drama they create, the trouble they stir up. I can still remember my NM’s glowing look of triumph when Mrs. McKenzie moved away, her crusade to get her out of the neighbourhood a success, her campaign to turn a woman to whom the neighbourhood had been compassionate and sympathetic, she being a war widow who worked nights to support two young daughters, into a pariah and undesirable brought to fruition.
The narcissist nurtures anger, contempt and envy - the most corrosive emotions - to drive her children apart. While her children are still living at home, any child who stands up to the narcissist guarantees punishment for the rest. In her zest for revenge, the narcissist purposefully turns the siblings’ anger on the dissenter by including everyone in her retaliation. (“I can see that nobody here loves me! Well I'll just take these Christmas presents back to the store. None of you would want anything I got you anyway!”) The other children, long trained by the narcissist to give in, are furious with the troublemaking child, instead of with the narcissist who actually deserves their anger.
Fortunately for me, NM stopped having children after my brother was born—there were only two of us. But she still used this tactic to make him angry with me, telling him we couldn’t go to the marina (where he liked to fish) because I wasn’t done with my chores when, in fact, she didn’t want to take him to the marina. By giving me extra chores or finding fault with my regular chores so they had to be done over, she neatly shifted the blame to me so it became my fault that he couldn’t go fishing. And, because he emulated NM rather than our more peaceable father, he assumed the right to punish me which could be manifested passively aggressively by doing (or failing to do) things that would get me into trouble, or actively by destroying something of mine or physically hurting me.
When my parents separated for the final time, my father got up early one morning, fixed us breakfast, and told us that he was moving out of the house. I was devastated. He asked us, if we had a choice, which parent would we want to live with and I unhesitatingly chose him. My brother not only chose NM, he was outraged that I did not do the same. From that moment onward—I was about ten—my life was a living hell, trapped in the enemy camp. Both NM and GCBro saw my choice as a betrayal of the deepest proportions while I saw it as a way out of a life of being beaten daily for things I didn’t do or could not control.
The narcissist also uses favoritism and gossip to poison her childrens’ relationships. The scapegoat sees the mother as a creature of caprice and cruelty. As is typical of the privileged, the other children don't see her unfairness and they excuse her abuses.
Well, that is certainly how it was with me…I definitely viewed my mother as capricious and cruel. The rules changed daily without notice: what I got into trouble for not doing on Monday would get into trouble for doing two days later. I learned not to let her know what I loved because that would be the first thing permanently taken from me when she wanted to punish me by hurting me. And nothing was sacrosanct: she gave away the parakeet I had raised from a fledgling, my dog, my cats, my dolls, my clothes, my books…nothing was sacred. My brother, on the other hand, excused and/or agreed with her every move. I deserved what she meted out, I had no one to blame but myself…even when my punishment was a result of his actions or inactions.
Indeed, they are often recruited by the narcissist to adopt her contemptuous and entitled attitude towards the scapegoat and with her tacit or explicit permission, will inflict further abuse.
In truth, I could not say if she actively recruited him or not, but he most certainly did display the same contempt and entitled attitude towards me that she did. He took the attitude that nothing was wrong—she never punished him or gave him a hard time, so it must be me, not her. What I later found quite funny was, at the age of 14 I had the opportunity to live with my father for a year and I jumped at it. GCBro stayed with NM. Within six weeks GCBro was at Dad’s front door, suitcase in hand, wanting to move in as well. Why? Seems that with me gone, he got to play both roles, GC and scapegoat. He also got all of my housemaid chores. He would never say a word against her…which muzzled me in my father’s house for fear anything I said he would report back to her…but he could not live with her without me there to do the dirty work and take her abuse.
The scapegoat predictably responds with fury and equal contempt. After her children move on with adult lives, the narcissist makes sure to keep each apprised of the doings of the others, passing on the most discreditable and juicy gossip (as always, disguised as “concern”) about the other children, again, in a way that engenders contempt rather than compassion.
This was a little different in my life. Oh, she certainly kept tabs on GCBro and on at least two occasions before she died, they shared a house. But until she decided to take my kids for her childless younger bother to adopt, both she and GCBro stayed away from me. I could have fallen off the face of the earth for all they knew…I ceased to exist until I represented some kind of use to them. The juicy gossip and “concern” NM fed to the family was about me and my children, prepping them with the notion that I was somehow unfit. She got GC Bro to come visit me out of the blue, and he added his voice to her campaign. She tried to get Child Welfare into the picture, but their report was in my favour, so she didn’t go that way. By the time she was ready to launch the active portion of her plot to take my kids, she had filled the family with horror stories about me designed to raise everybody’s hackles against me and see her as a tragic figure: a mother forced to save her innocent grandchildren from her own depraved daughter.
Having been raised by a narcissist, her children are predisposed to be envious, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity that presents. While she may never praise you to your face, she will likely crow about your victories to the very sibling who is not doing well. She'll tell you about the generosity she displayed towards that child, leaving you wondering why you got left out and irrationally angry at the favored child rather than at the narcissist who told you about it.
I know of families in which this occurs—the only time this happened with me was when she got bitten with the stage mother bug when she realized my singing voice might actually make her money. I was about six years old at the time, and according to her I was going to be the next Shirley Temple and be famous…and incidentally make her rich. !!!Epiphany time—I just this second realized that NM and my NexH had this in common—it was not enough for them to work and live comfortably as most of us do—both of them were always pursuing shortcuts to fortune rather than put their noses to the grindstone and perhaps eventually amassing a small fortune through honesty and hard work, as NM’s immigrant father had done. My therapist was right when she said I had married my mother!!! Anyway, while she would sing my praises to anyone who would listen—praises that always included how rich we all would be and how we would move to Hollywood and have a Cadillac—I never got more than criticism and slaps and belittled for my stage fright and unwillingness to practice.
My memories of this period are pretty self-focussed (I was only 6 when this began, self-centeredness rather normal at this time) so I can’t say with any certainty what was up with my scapegrace, GC brother. I do, however, remember being envious of him not being required to give up his Saturdays to singing lessons and practice or having to sit still for make up and hairstyling or stand for costume fittings which invariably involved being poked with pins. Whatever he was up to at the time, we still had our Mexican “housekeeper” because he wasn’t in school yet…I don’t think his life changed much at all. But mine became a nightmare because not one minute of it belonged to me any more.
NM would brag to her friends about how much she “sacrificed” for my “career.” I don’t know if anyone realized just how selfish she was being, pursuing her dream of fame and fortune through me, who would rather be playing dolls with the neighbour girls. I don’t know if my brother resented the attention I got for all of this, but I know my father was adamantly against it and she just ignored him. She always had her trump card: if he didn’t step back and allow her to do what she wanted, she would simply throw him out and divorce him—again.
The end result is a family in which almost all communication is triangular. The narcissist, the spider in the middle of the family web, sensitively monitors all the children for information she can use to retain her unchallenged control over the family. She then passes that on to the others, creating the resentments that prevent them from communicating directly and freely with each other. The result is that the only communication between the children is through the narcissist, exactly the way she wants it.
Not just the communication between the children, but between the various factions created by the narcissist. Leah’s NM would send letters to her brother, telling him terrible things about Leah, the objective being to poison his mind against her own daughter. My NM did the same thing with respect to me. In the beginning, this kind of thing is generally done to gain something for the NM—sympathy, for example, for what she has to put up with. It is done to silence and isolate a child who might not be taken in by the NM’s manipulations, it is done to discredit the child, to set the stage for her not being believed when she reports what is really going on in the family. I, for example, had an “over-active imagination” and while the phrase “drama queen” had yet to be invented, that was the gist of how NM painted me to the family. In a situation in which numerous motives might be at work, NM always selected the worst possible one for me, regardless of what was truly going on in my mind. Over a period of years a picture of me was formed in the minds of family members who rarely saw me and when they did, the reality of me was overshadowed by the picture in their minds.
When NMs do this, it sets the stage for later predations. If everybody “knows” how bad you are, they have no empathy for you even though you are a small child. They feel bad for your poor mother and admire her courage and bravery in continuing to deal with you and even love you despite your awfulness. Cousins ignore, disdain and/or bully you. It becomes a habit to hate you, a habit to blame you, a habit that becomes entrenched and unquestioned after so many years, and it spreads from one family member to the next like a disease.
Triangulation is a powerful weapon used by narcissists everywhere because she who controls the flow of information controls the family—when you control what people know you control what they believe...and when you control what they believe, you control them—and control is essential to the narcissist in order to keep up her façade. The absolutely worst thing you can do to a narcissist is tell the truth and so it is in the narcissist’s best interest to pre-emptively discredit any who might do so, even their own children.
Next: Part 24. As a last resort she goes pathetic.