On 25 October 2013 I published “The Scapegoat’s Daughter,” a guest post written by a young woman named Eve who very eloquently told us about the pain narcissistic grandparents cause for the child who must watch her mother’s pain. It helped us to realize that, even if our children seem unaffected by their exposure to narcissistic grandparents, they may well be suffering just as much—if not more—than we are.
There is another facet to this, however, because not all children of scapegoats are empathetic, compassionate individuals like Eve. Some of them may be innocently influenced by their narcissistic grandparents and some of them may even be narcissists themselves. And that creates a whole new dynamic.
There is a lot that is unknown about narcissism, such as when is the onset of narcissism as a personality disorder. This is because a certain degree of narcissism is natural…even necessary…in infants and young children—it is part of the survival mechanism. How much compassion for her sleepless mother does a 3 month old infant have? Absolutely none: the infant wants something and it cries, regardless of what else is going on. This behavior, however, is supposed to diminish with age and maturity. Toddlers are pretty much without empathy for other creatures, even other people. Susie wants the toy Mary has, Mary won’t give it up, Susie bites her or hits her over the head with another toy: perfectly normal behaviour for that age—Susie has found a way of getting what she wants and she employs it ruthlessly and to her best advantage. So, at what age does narcissism cease being a natural behaviour and enter the realm of a pathological disorder? Nobody knows for sure and there are professionals who believe that narcissism in teens is still natural behaviour that has yet to be outgrown, but there are others who believe that narcissism should be resolved by the onset of puberty. There is, as far as I have been able to determine, no consensus on this.
This is actually important for parents because if even the experts can’t tell us when narcissism enters the realm of disorder, how are we to know how to deal with children who show narcissistic traits? How are we to know if those traits are developmentally normal, fleas acquired from narcissistic family members and friends, or pathological in nature? The short answer is, we can’t. All we can do it try to teach our children to make choices that take into account the feelings and rights of others because you can neither generate nor appeal to compassion or empathy in a person who does not have them. And, sadly, some of us have children who lack those qualities.
In seeing narcissistic behaviours and attitudes in our children, we ACoNs may react in certain ways. Two of my children turned out to be narcissists: my reaction to one of them was to be puzzled by his behaviour and beliefs…my reaction to the other one was denial. My one child did things I simply could not understand…like making choices that made him look like a victim when he had other, better choices available to him (I know now that looking like a victim allowed him to elicit Nsupply from others with a minimum of effort on his part but back then I could not fathom why he would deliberately disadvantage himself…and, of course, he got no Nsupply from me because I knew the whole truth, not the edited version he told people he was trying to get sympathy—and handouts—from). My other child repeatedly made selfish choices, told egregious lies to get what she wanted, and seemed to have absolutely no regard for how she was hurting other people, both inside the family and out. I repeatedly excused her behaviour, writing it off to immaturity and/or to being the result of my mother having stolen her, filled her with a stack of lies, and giving her away to my childless aunt and uncle, people who had failed the home study as adoptive parents not once, but three times!
But as she got older, her behaviour became increasingly self-centred and, when called on it, she blamed other people…frequently me. It was not until I started learning about narcissism that the light began to go on in my head…a light I quickly extinguished with denial. But as time went on she became less and less subtle in her manipulations and exploitations of others and there came a day when her behaviour intersected with my growing awareness of narcissism and I was no longer capable of switching off that light in my head. I had to face the truth, and the truth was, my daughter was a narcissist who had no more conscience, compassion, or empathy than my own mother had.
That was hard to swallow. I came to the realization slowly…I simply was not prepared to accept that my own child had no more ethics or morals than my amoral narcissistic mother, but I finally reached a point that I could deny it no more. I came to the realization and admission reluctantly, looking everywhere for valid reasons to explain her apparent callousness and self-serving behaviour, but simply could not find anything that I could accept. My daughter was a narcissist and she had thrown to the wolves everybody who did not serve her in some way, me included.
I can see that she continues to manipulate her brothers with the money she inherited from my mother…and I can see that she insinuated herself into her grandmother’s good graces after years of estrangement: grandmother had inherited a packet from her own mother and was ripe for plucking. All my daughter had to do was to swallow Grannie’s kool aid…to side with Grannie in her animosity towards me. Suddenly, I no longer existed—my daughter usurped my place in the family order and I (and all of the other grandchildren) were disinherited in her favour. Grannie’s bundle of cash and goods was divided two ways: between my brother, the GC, and my daughter.
My daughter’s narcissistic behaviours were blatant and obvious to anyone who knew the signs and was prepared to believe them. I can plead ignorance for her teen years…nobody knew much about narcissism back then and I, like most people, wrote it off to teenage rebellion. But going to my best friend and her husband and begging them to let her live with them because I was abusing her was not “teenage rebellion.” It was a lie that drove a wedge between me and my friend (a friendship that never recovered) as my friend, unable to fathom a child telling lies like this about her own mother, believed her.
I learned that, at age 13 and 14, while living with my aunt and uncle, my daughter used to sneak out of the house at night by climbing out a second story window. She would go to parties and clubs where she got drunk, did drugs, and “hooked up” with much older guys, sneaking back into the house in the wee hours of the morning before my aunt and uncle got up. She was unable to pull this off at my house, so she sought adult guardians she figured she could bamboozle…my friend Pris and her husband Tim. When this came to light, my daughter changed her tactics and ran away…and got involved with a pimp and his live-in girlfriend. My daughter swears that the did nothing but babysit their five kids, but she came back from Los Angeles (brought back through the work of a private detective I hired) with a severe case of PID…she was 15.
The behaviours became more refined and subtle as she grew older, but no less manipulative and self-serving. By the time she was in her middle 40s she and her husband had accumulated a nice little estate: big house, nice cars, good furniture, pension plans—and then her husband suffered an industrial accident and became addicted to the pain meds. Instead of helping him, however, she divorced him and he ended up living in a tent in a park in the middle of a Colorado winter while she lived in their McMansion with multiple empty bedrooms and three cars in the garage.
It was through this that I finally discovered the information that turned off my denial for good. My son-in-law contacted me to tell me they were divorced…she didn't tell me because she had stopped speaking to me about five years earlier and, when I asked why, simply said “I have nothing to say to you.” I had no idea why and she stonewalled my every effort to find out. But now that he no longer had to obey her dictates to keep his place in life, my son-in-law came clean: she was mad at me for my blog.
Now you have to understand, this was before this particular blog was on line. Previously I had a private—password protected—blog that contained the first 46 entries of this blog. I had written it as a catharsis and gave out the password to only a few, carefully selected people. Obviously, my daughter got the password from someone, read the blog and took exception. She told her husband that is was nothing but lies…but almost all of those entries were about events that happened before she was born, and since NM was long dead, she had no way of actually knowing if my stories were true or not, but she decided they weren't. She then cut off all contact with me. But she went one step further, which ultimately explained why some of my family members inexplicably backed away from me: she told them about the blog and scared them into thinking I was telling lies about the whole family. Essentially, she cut me out of the family so thoroughly that when my beloved father died, my daughter and her family were listed as next-of-kin, but I was omitted from the obituary altogether!
Where did I go wrong? Well, hindsight being much more accurate than foresight, I think I know: I made the mistake of allowing my narcissistic mother to have contact with my children. So desperate was I for her love and attention, I used my children as lures…she might not come to see me, but she would come to see them! But it was years until I realized that had she ignored them, along with me, until we became useful to her: her beloved younger brother could not have children of his own and was rejected as an adoptive parent. My mother had tried to force me to abort my daughter when I was 17, unmarried, and pregnant and when that didn’t work, she refused me permission to get married…I had to get a court order to get a marriage license and be married before my baby was born. I don’t think she ever forgave me that: for my entire life my mother made a point of separating me from everyone and everything I loved, from dolls and toys to pets to family members…it was much too late when I realized that her sudden appearance in our lives was not because she had awakened and realized she had a daughter and grandchildren to love, it was because she finally had a use for us: I was the producer of the two children she was going to give to her brother to adopt…and how it hurt me or those children was never even considered.
So I went wrong by not realizing just how deeply predatory my mother was, and by wanting the tokens of maternal affection so much that I was willing to expose my children to a grandmother who had mercilessly beaten and demeaned me, their mother. I went wrong by allowing her to have an influence on my children…would my daughter have outgrown her innate narcissism if she had never had the narcissistic role models of my mother and the adopting aunt? Certainly my mother had no boundaries and in reviewing my daughter’s behaviours over the years, I am seeing that she has had very few…what she wants dictates her behaviour and she plays her game several steps ahead, like chess.
Would the lack of narcissistic role models have changed things? My youngest child had a malignant narcissist stepfather who raised him from toddlerhood. The man actually told my son that he didn’t have to listen to me…how is that for teaching disrespect? Would this boy have reached his majority with the ambition to go out and set the world on fire with his intellect (which is prodigious)…or would he have still decided, at 18, that he was going to live his life as a mooch and I was somehow responsible to take care of him for the rest of his days?
There is no way to know, but in my case, it is obvious that allowing my children intimate contact with narcissistic authority figures was a bad, bad move on my part. That I had no idea what narcissism was in those days doesn’t excuse me: I knew how brutal my mother could be but I chose to believe that she wouldn’t behave badly with her grandchildren and I was now too old for her to beat. That I had no idea what narcissism was does not excuse giving my sons a role model for whom exploitation of others and a pervasive sense of entitlement was the core of his personality…I knew he had “bad” ideas about other people but I set him up as a role model, a parental figure, for my children. Is it any wonder they have no respect or love for me? Who did they ever see, during their formative years, who loved and respected their mother? How much of it did they learn and how much of it was in their psyches when they were born?
There is really no way to know…and what I should have done, what is the prudent thing to do in situations like that, would be to keep them away from my FOO. Yes, there were many benign people, but those people were the very ones who asked me to “bury the hatchet” with my narcissistic mother…advice that I took and came to bitterly regret. Just because you are a scapegoat child of a narcissist does not mean you cannot bring forth narcissistic children, but you can limit the influence of your family narcissists, enablers, deniers, and apologists. If I had been looking at the situation with clear eyes and a whole heart, I would have kept those children as far away from my family as I could…and thereby limited their influence on children who didn’t need to have narcissism, enabling, and denial demonstrated to them by the extended family.
I didn’t know…but I should have known that these people were not good role models for my children. Somewhere deep inside I knew better…I just did not act on it. And now, whether or not they were born to be narcissists or it was something learned, is effectively moot.