Everyone has narcissistic tendencies to some extent, but there are healthy and unhealthy forms of self-love. Those with the unhealthy kind can manifest their egotism in a variety of ways, with varying levels of intensity.
Some, like Donald Trump, display their narcissism blatantly, by constantly bragging, pretending they have abilities far greater than those they really have, always needing to be the centre of attention, and openly showing their contempt for other people’s feelings.
While such people are certainly annoying, at least they’re easy to spot, and therefore to avoid. Other narcissists, however, are more cunning than that. This second kind of narcissist, the covert narcissist, is who I will be focusing on, because he or she is so much more dangerous.
This kind of narcissist knows he or she cannot get away with the childish antics of the Donald. This narcissist needs to establish a social setting that will be conducive to the attainment of his or her narcissistic supply, while ensuring safety from being found out. This usually involves two categories of people: allies and, of necessity, victims.
The narcissist may find a victim in the form of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a family member. The victim will typically be a sensitive, trusting sort, an empathetic person who’s easily manipulated into the relationship. A son or daughter, during the tender years of childhood, is an especially easy target.
When allies are used by the narcissist, they are showered with charm and flattery, and given loads of love, in order to convince them that the narcissist is actually a good, kind-hearted, generous person. So when the victim is oppressed by the narcissist, no one will believe that so ‘loving’ a person as the perpetrator could ever do wrong. The victim must be crazy; he’s also a terrible slanderer, apparently; it couldn’t possibly be that he is the one being slandered.
The narcissist who exploits through one-on-one relationships makes the victim into an alternating friend and enemy. He starts with charm and flattery, love-bombing the victim into being deceived that he’s a wonderful find. As the relationship progresses, however, his true colours gradually come out, and the victim discovers that something is seriously wrong. The friend has become an enemy, and when things come to a head, there’s an explosive confrontation. Then the narcissist uses guile and manipulation to trick the victim into thinking it was all or mostly her fault, while he pays lip-service to whatever ‘miniscule’ part of the problem was his fault. A peaceful honeymoon ensues, things go back to normal, and before long, the cycle of abuse begins all over again.
If this nightmare of a relationship doesn’t repeat itself in a seemingly endless cycle, the victim is simply devalued and discarded one time, and left emotionally devastated. Now, this kind of one-on-one relationship with a narcissistic boyfriend or girlfriend (or husband or wife) is hard enough; but a break-up or divorce can provide (though not, of course, guarantee) an escape. Similarly, the group situation with a narcissist and his or her allies (in, for example, the work environment) can be avoided by quitting the job or leaving those false friends. It becomes infinitely harder, though, when the narcissist and his or her flying monkeys all make up your family.
The narcissistic parent is a true terror. Though the narcissistic father is a formidable bully, I suspect the narcissistic mother is, in many ways, often much worse, if for no other reason than that she can cunningly exploit the stereotype of the angelic, saintly mother who criticizes her victim only out of ‘concern’. Remember that while we normally think of narcissists as self-absorbed egotists, many can come across convincingly as selfless and altruistic, all for the purpose of gaining narcissistic supply from being thought of as such saintly types.
Narcissists often get their supply from being the master of puppets. They project their inadequacies, through projective identification, manipulating their victims into introjecting that phoney identification. This manipulative kind of projection is necessary because of how important it is to the narcissist to maintain the image of his or her False Self, that phoney self-image that portrays him or her as a fountain of virtues, wisdom, and talents to him- or herself, as well as to everyone else. So the abuser has a phoney self-image as well as the victim.
Maintaining all this phoniness is done, of course, through lying–the narcissist lying to himself, to his victim(s), and to his enablers. Imagine the cruelty of doing this in the family, when a covert narcissistic mother is pulling the strings, knowing she can take advantage of both the ‘angelic, saintly mother’ stereotype and her kids’ sense of filial duty to her. Triangulation between the narcissistic mother, the enabler sibling(s), and the victim is especially damaging. Narcissists will believe their own lies, too, even when the lies are obvious. Their egos won’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance when confronted with their lying.
The narcissistic parent will choose one son or daughter, or several, to be the ‘black sheep,’ the scapegoat(s) on whom as much blame and grief will be imposed as the parent can get away with. The other son(s) and/or daughter(s) will be the ‘golden children’, the narcissist’s allies (the enablers or ‘flying monkeys’) who are encouraged to help the parent, in every way viable, to vilify, ridicule, and abuse the victim(s), justifying the cruelty by saying that the ‘black sheep’ deserve(s) it.
How can a victim escape such a nightmarish situation, especially if he or she is still a child? The child’s trauma will be ongoing, during crucial developmental years in his or her life, with no way out in sight. That the very people, who are supposed to love him or her, are constantly causing emotional–or maybe even physical or sexual–harm means the victim will grow up with an impaired sense of trust in people in general. If you can’t trust your own family, how can you trust the world? The victim will develop complex PTSD.
I know that I have suffered ongoing emotional abuse from my family, my mother having been the architect of that abuse. My story can be found here. I’ll never know for sure if she was actually a narcissist (she was never diagnosed), so I’m only speculating now. I will provide evidence here to make a case of covert narcissism in her, though I’m no expert and have no authority to say for sure if she had it.
Yes, my mother really died of cancer last May. If you read my article on Emotional Abuse, you’ll note that I speculated that she could have been lying about dying of cancer to get my attention, and manipulate me into flying back to Canada to see her. I was wrong about that, though my suspicions were understandable at the time, given her other lies over the years; so I didn’t update that in the previous article. Still, my mistaken speculation doesn’t disprove the rest of what I said in that article.
Now I will share a number of memories of mine to continue making the case (keeping in mind all of what I said in the previous article) that she could have been a narcissist, with the rest of my family–my brothers and sister in particular–as her allies, her ‘golden children’, and with me as the ‘black sheep’.
As I explained in Emotional Abuse, my mother tricked me into believing I had classic autism as a child back in the late 1970s (if you haven’t read that post, please don’t read this until you have, because I will make references to it that will make little sense unless you have), describing my ‘condition’ in extreme ways and using the most melodramatic language. I’d been going to grade school with normal classmates, yet she associated me with mentally retarded people. She also tended to grin like a Cheshire cat whenever she spoke of my ‘autism’. She seemed to enjoy talking about it, something most parents would never be happy about; she also spoke of it as if it were narcissism that I really had…projective identification, remember?
I’m sure she didn’t want me to think I was retarded, but instead that I ‘miraculously’ came out of a more extreme form of autism. Her plan was to make me believe I was, and still am, ‘behind’ everyone else. The fact that I actually don’t have an atom of autism in me (two psychiatrists who, in the mid-1990s, had examined me each over several months, told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me; and I did the Autism Quotient test back in the early 2010s, and I got a score  far below even the slightest of autistic traits [at least 32 being “clinically significant”, with any score below 26 effectively ruling out Asperger’s Syndrome], thus reconfirming the psychiatrists’ conclusions), even of the highest functioning type, shows what brutal gaslighting she’d been subjecting me to…and gaslighting is a typical form of abuse narcs use on their victims.
My mother sometimes showed explosive rage, at times when it didn’t seem at all necessary; this is a trait of narcissists, when they feel their worth is being somehow doubted. One time when I was about eight or nine years old, I was talking with my mother in the kitchen, and while I forget the context of the conversation, the relevant part came when she said dumb, meaning ‘stupid’ (Was she calling me dumb? I don’t remember). I corrected her by saying that “dumb means you can’t talk.” I meant no harm, but I must have sounded cheeky, for she slapped me hard and growled, “Don’t be [SMACK!] lippy with me!”
I can understand her being annoyed with my cheekiness, but surely slapping me hard on the face, and shouting in a fury over such a small thing, was a bit much. I suspect she was feeling narcissistic rage and injury at the time. This wasn’t an isolated incident; there were many examples of this narcissistic rage and injury that she manifested, of which I’ll give a few more examples.
Other moments of such narcissistic injury seem to have occurred on her birthday, on two occasions. One time, when I was a kid, she got upset with my father for not being or doing as he should have, and she stormed away in tears, shouting, “…and on my birthday!“, just like a child who’d had her dolls taken away.
Another time, when I was about twenty, was when my father and my brother, F. (and I was falsely accused of having), forgot her sacred birthday. Just as a parenthetical note, before I go into the details of this story: whenever my birthday is forgotten or regarded slightly, I don’t get one one-hundredth as upset as my mother did; yet the family consensus is that I have an over-estimated opinion of myself (the definition of autism, apparently), rather than her. I’ll go into a theoretical explanation of why I’m branded this way instead of her later on.
A day or so prior to her birthday, I found myself unable to think of a suitable gift to buy her. I discussed the problem with my sister, J., one or two nights before Mom’s birthday. I remember taking a bus downtown the day before her birthday with the express purpose of looking for a gift for her, unfortunately with no success. My mother had spoken of needing a wheelbarrow, but there was no way I could have afforded one, and lugging one onto a bus to take home would have been awkward, to say the least.
On her birthday, a Sunday afternoon, J. gave Mom a gift; J.’s plans later that day were to get together with a friend of hers. Agitated that I hadn’t gotten Mom anything, I talked to her about it; she kindly said I didn’t have to get it for her that day–she also mentioned a gardening book she wanted.
Now I knew what to buy her; but in the meantime I’d buy her a birthday card, so I did. When I gave it to Mom, she received it in the TV room with a smile. Then I went over to J., who was in the bathroom. I said jokingly, “I gave Mom a down payment.”
Then J. got all snotty and bitchy on me, all of a sudden. She was obviously irked that I hadn’t provided a parcel for Mom “on time”. I pointed out how arrogant she was being (not a nice thing to say, but it was the truth), and she started yelling at me, accusing me of forgetting Mom’s birthday (Had Mom told her I’d forgotten, when I hadn’t?). When I asked why it was sooooooo necessary to be punctilious about birthdays, she shouted, “It’s your mother’s birthday!!!”
Then I snapped. “And a birthday is this great god we have to worship!” I shouted. Though it hadn’t been my intention to trivialize my mother’s feelings (I was just criticizing the need to follow social conventions so blindly), unfortunately, it came out that way.
Now my mother started screaming at me. “Go away!” she shouted. “Fuck off! You arrogant, egotistical…” etc. etc. (It’s interesting how she’d switched so quickly from kind and gentle to so vicious, all because of one remark I’d made.)
Shaking, I tried to apologize for what I’d said, to placate her, but to no avail. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I said sincerely, over and over.
“Yes, you did!” she shouted. “Go away!”
The very same day, I went to a shopping mall and bought her that gardening book. When I gave it to her, a got a muted apology from her for yelling at me.
A little later on, I ran into J. in front of a nearby variety store. “Hi,” she said to me, as if a fight hadn’t occurred at all that day. (Amazing how people’s moods can swing so quickly.)
When I tried to clarify my position on the whole gift-giving custom, saying, “I thought it was the thought that counts,” I got a contemptuous scowl from J.
Then she explained the root of the problem: our father had forgotten Mom’s birthday. Similarly, neither F. nor his wife were anywhere to be found to give Mom anything. (And I, as usual, was the last to be informed of any of this problem, because I’m the least important family member.)
Then J. acknowledged that I had taken the brunt of Mom’s wrath (scapegoating is a typical tactic used by narcs and their enablers); J. never apologized for that, of course, but instead rubbed it in further, first by accusing me again of forgetting Mom’s birthday, then by shouting, “Think of other people! Don’t think about yourself!” and saying that I shouldn’t think of getting Mom’s gift fast, so the rest of the day could be a “Me-day!” (Of course, the idea was lost on J. that maybe I was trying to get Mom her gift on time, precisely what J. had said I should have done, because I’d been thinking of Mom rather than myself.) By the way, J. was about to have a “Me-day” of her own with a friend, now that her ‘debt’ to Mom had been paid, fortunately for J., “on time”, so she was guiltless.
Then J., always Mom’s faithful flying monkey, manipulated me into saying that I thought buying a gift for Mom was a “chore” (she actually introduced the idea into the conversation, projecting that bad attitude onto me); then she guilt-tripped me by saying, “If you think giving Mom a gift is a chore, then that’s your problem,” then she walked off in a self-righteous huff.
So, there you have it: both J. and Mom were mad at me because Dad forgot Mom’s precious birthday, as F. had seemed to do. I never forgot it, as you’ll recall, and in fact made a decent effort to find something for her, but was unlucky. Even though J. surely remembered my asking her what to get Mom a day or two before Sunday, she accused me twice of forgetting what I obviously hadn’t. (She and Mom were displacing their anger at Dad onto me.)
My mother was flying into a fit about trivializing her sacred birthday, something I’d hardly get mad about if it had been my birthday, yet I am the “egotistical” one.
Several months after this absurd birthday incident, I talked with J. in the kitchen about it again. She gave me another one of her condescending lectures about how awful it is to treat a birthday as if it were a mere chore, a job to be done (Something I’d never thought: I just didn’t give birthdays the holy status she and my mother were giving them, especially my Mom’s birthday.)
Then J. droned on about how we as a family weren’t very “lovey-dovey”, and “that’s OK” (WTF?). Therefore, we compensate for this lack of affection through gift-giving, a rather superficial showing of love, in my opinion. The idea that maybe, just maybe, we as a family could make an effort to show more love to each other as a regular habit, instead of putting all our eggs in one birthday basket, was never even to be considered, of course.
During this same conversation, I told J. about my long-existing doubts about whether I was truly loved by the family, and she responded by saying, “We love you, Mawr,” half-sneering and avoiding my eyes, suggesting no sincerity at all, and certainly giving no demonstrable proof of this professed love. I also asked for help and reassurances against the insecurities I was having at the time (insecurities largely caused by the emotional abuse and bullying I’d been subjected to by the family); she said, in her typically derisive tone, “That’s a pretty big order, Mawr.”
Gee, who has a problem with chores now?
Another occasion of Mom’s explosive anger came when I was about eighteen. I was at home with her, in the TV room, where she’d been sitting on the sofa. I was standing at the doorway, and she told me she would need me to do some dishwashing work at the family restaurant. She’d got me to substitute unavailable or sick dishwashers on many occasions, and I was irritated by this. I showed my annoyance by interrupting her before she could finish explaining the situation.
Now, I admit that by interrupting her, I was being impolite, and I’ve had a bad habit of doing that with people; but her explosion of rage immediately following my interruption was surely excessive. At the time, I’d imagined her overreaction was a result of the accumulated stress of her owning and managing a restaurant with my father for almost ten years…but at the time of her blow-up, she’d been sitting comfortably in the TV room, watching the boob tube, as she very often did. So I doubt stress was her problem.
Narcissistic injury seems a better explanation.
First she said, “Shut up!” Had she stopped there, she would have found me quiet and listening to her. Instead, she exploded: “Jeez, you’re rude!“, then began ranting at me like a psychotic. I tried to keep my cool, not yelling back for the sake of avoiding escalation, but it was no use: she was determined to be as verbally abusive as she liked.
Apparently, my calm was infuriatingly arrogant, whereas her self-indulgent rage was nothing to criticize. My response, “Has the volcano finished erupting?”, was a tad incisive, but understandable. She insisted that I was making her even angrier, when she hardly needed any encouragement from me. Was my cool just reminding her of what a jackass she was behaving like? I never called her that, but she hardly needed to be called that by anyone, so obviously was she making herself lose face in front of me. The only thing more obvious than that was how much she was hurting me…not that she cared.
Somewhere in the middle of her high-decibel rant, she shouted, “Do you think you’re the only person in this whole god-damned house?” (The lady doth project too much, methinks.)
Finally, she decided my calm was too outrageous to bear, and she shouted, “Get out of here! Who needs ya?” As I walked up the stairs to my bedroom, I then heard, “You arrogant little bastard!”
I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I replied, “Hateful person.”
She roared at me once again, “Get out of here! Who needs you?”
And all of this, just because I’d interrupted her.
Later, after she’d finally calmed down, I returned, saying, “I’ll apologize to you if you apologize to me.” She, of course, would never apologize, calling me a “prick” after I told her how hurtful “arrogant little bastard” sounded. Then, she expressed her offence at my saying she was “hateful”. She insisted, frowning, “Of course I love you. You’re my son.”As if that even means anything: love is as love does. We need to show love, not just talk about it.
After that pathetic attempt at reconciliation, I returned to my room and bawled my eyes out. How could a mother’s “love” be so shamelessly phoney? I was loved only because technically I was a member of the family; yet merely for interrupting her, and trying to keep my cool during her tirade, I ‘deserved’ that avalanche of verbal abuse?
Some time after, I complained about that incident to J., who as Mom’s enabler, her flying monkey, defended Mom to the hilt as usual, without even properly hearing my side of the story. J. talked a load of nonsense about teenagers thinking they know everything, which had nothing to do with what I was talking about; I just didn’t see why I needed to be screamed at for merely interrupting Mom. Impoliteness deserves viciousness, it seems.
And speaking of impoliteness, she was hardly innocent of that.
Not too long after this incident, she interrupted me in a conversation, which I, without anger, immediately pointed out to her; then she justified it by claiming she’d merely been “anticipating” what I would say. Hadn’t I been “anticipating” rather than being an “arrogant little bastard”? Why was my “anticipating” rude, but hers wasn’t?
Other occasions of her rudeness included several times when, in the restaurant, she had found me standing in her way, and she, presumably busy and stressed, had no alternative, it seemed, but to shout “Get out of my way!” and even shove me to the side once or twice.
On another occasion, when she was in the restaurant kitchen working, and I asked her about something, and she, too stressed out to be nice, couldn’t help shouting, “In your ass!” to me. On yet another occasion, in the kitchen, my questions and trying to get her attention necessitated her throwing a steel ladle in my direction and shouting, “I’m not listening to you!” with the most vicious look in her eyes. I’m a most infuriating conversationalist, apparently.
She also liked grabbing me by the ear and pulling me along wherever she wanted me to go. She didn’t do this merely out of anger or frustration with me: sometimes she did it for the sheer fun of humiliating me. One time, right in front of other people, non-family members, she told them, “This is how you get him to come with you,” then grabbed me by the ear again. I yelled, “No, no, NO!” and struggled to make her let go.
I was about 28-and-a-half at the time.
This, recall, was the mother who ‘gave me the most love’ of anyone in the family, a position my oldest brother, R., another flying monkey of hers, reiterated in a shaming comment to me just after she died (see my article, Emotional Abuse, for the whole story).
Her explosions of temper weren’t directed only at me. As the owner of the family restaurant in the 1980s, she was often nasty towards salespeople, or even just any visitor who, perhaps, she mistook for a salesperson. It took the slightest provocation to make her blow up at any visitor trying to do business with her. Yelling at them like a madwoman was apparently the only way to deal with them walking into the restaurant kitchen to talk to her.
One time, a man who was apparently a friend of one of the staff asked if he could sit in the guest room while eating his meal; she coldly told him he had to sit in the main dining area and walked out of the room. I’d rather not repeat what he said about her after she’d left.
Another time, a man came into the guest room with some innocuous questions, and she, apparently thinking he was another hated salesman, blew up at him, shouting, “I don’t even know who you are!” among other hostile remarks. I had to leave the room because I just couldn’t bear to hear any more of her nastiness, or imagine how she was making him feel. Seriously, what was wrong with her?
It seemed that anyone outside of her inner circle was unwelcome in the extreme, including my cousins and, sometimes, me. She never had a kind word to say about my cousins, particularly the oldest and youngest of the three men. The middle cousin, whom I’ll call S. (previously mentioned in Emotional Abuse), had been spoken of fairly well by her until evidence surfaced of his emotional instability, an instability already seen, according to her smear campaigns, in his two brothers. As soon as S. was seen to be “ill” (her word, one she’d used to describe me when I was a kid with an apparently extreme form of “autism”), she turned on him. My nurse mother cured bodily illness; she cursed mental illness…right after projecting it onto those she despised.
She justified her antipathy to S. by complaining of all the awful things he’d been saying to me in his e-mail rants, accusing me of gossiping about him behind his back with our former teacher friends, completely baseless accusations coming from S.’s paranoid fantasies. In contrast, Mom couldn’t care less about the far crueller things my brothers and sister (Mom’s enablers, remember) would say to me, in their bullying of me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Mom rationalized their bullying, because they were in her inner circle; she condemned S.’s nastiness, because he wasn’t in that circle.
Instead of trying to feel compassion for S. for having a mental illness, possibly paranoid schizophrenia brought on by excessive substance abuse (LSD, marijuana, hashish, and loads of alcohol, among other drugs), my mother used his scurrilous ravings against me as a convenient excuse not only to dislike him, but to teach the family to dislike him, too. If he really is a “schizy,” to use her pejorative slang, teaching the family to alienate him is the last thing he needs.
So, she spoke pejoratively about their emotional problems just as she had about mine; I believe this bad-mouthing represents a projection of her own probable narcissistic tendencies onto us, since she spoke of my “autism,” or later “Asperger Syndrome,” as well as that which she fabricated of my youngest cousin in descriptions with the language of narcissism (i.e., having an annoyingly self-absorbed personality, etc.).
People with mental illnesses were, in her mind, always thought to be people who trouble others rather than are troubled people themselves, worthy of sympathy.
The family tends toward the belief that “ill” people are ‘born’ with a mental disorder of some kind: my mother encouraged that attitude, I believe, as a way to evade responsibility for how the family caused so much psychological harm to me, to my cousins, and even to each other. R. did poorly at school and dropped out because he was just “stupid” by nature, according to my crusty father, rather than because he was going through a tough time during his early adolescence, a problem made worse by my father’s verbal abuse and insensitivity to to R.’s emotional problems. My father was no narc, but he was mentally unhealthy in as huge a way as my mother.
My cousins aren’t “normal” because of innate personality flaws, or so my mother would have had us believe; not because of poor parenting, or some other cause of childhood trauma.
I tend in the opposite direction of my mother’s theory of ‘innate’ mental illness. In a similar vein, I find it troubling how many psychiatrists tend to focus too much on somatic factors (i.e. chemical imbalances) in the brain to explain various factors of mental abnormality. This approach seems to be used to justify the use of psychiatric drugs to ‘manage’ mental disorders instead of doing the long and hard work of curing the patient. The use of these drugs seems to be an exploiting of people’s pain for profit.
In contrast, I believe mental disturbances are more the result of traumatizing events in one’s life. The use of psychoanalysis (free association, dream analysis, etc.) can gradually bring to the surface all those childhood traumas that have been buried in the unconscious for years. Also, the transference and countertransference in the patient/therapist relationship can help the patient rebuild positive object relations to replace the negative ones from childhood.
R., F., and J. experienced moderate levels of emotional abuse from our parents (I’m convinced that Mom was manipulating them, in different ways and for different purposes, as much as she was me, resulting in my siblings’ having their own mild forms of narcissism, carbon copies of our mom’s), resulting in their own fierceness towards me; my parents also experienced traumatic moments in their childhoods to give them the often irascible personalities they had. This is not to excuse them of their cruel ways in the least, just as my own excessive scolding of some of my child students is not to be excused by my Complex PTSD (as I believe I have); we must own our bad deeds and take full responsibility for them. We must do all we can to heal ourselves to the best of our ability, to minimize the hurting of others.
My mother was born in London, England, in 1938. She moved to Canada with her mother in the 1940s after her father died; she must have experienced, on some level at least, the horrors of World War II. This, combined with the loss of her dear father and the huge change of moving to another country and leaving her old world behind, all at such a tender age, must have been too much for her bear (remember how devastated I was when I moved from Toronto to Hamilton, and had to say goodbye to my best friend, Neil). It would have been a miracle if she hadn’t been traumatized.
As hard as it must have been for her, though, none of it justifies what she did to me or my cousins. What happened to her was beyond her control; her lying to me about autism was a choice she made.
My father was born in Canada in 1928, so he as a child suffered through the Great Depression, teaching him to be tight with money; as a German-Canadian, he would also have had social difficulties as a teenager during World War II. Still, his verbal abusiveness and parsimony were choices he made, not anything forced on him. He justified his meanness as “conservative” thinking. I just call it mean.
One memory my mother was actually fond of telling on at least a few occasions was when she’d been with R. in a shopping mall in, I assume, the mid-late 1960s. He was being a bratty kid, shouting and being demanding. She’d had enough at one point, so she pulled his pants down right there in public, and spanked him. She later bragged, “He never did it again” (i.e., behaved badly in public with her).
Now, if a mother snaps and does something like that, then regrets her excessive punishment, seeing it as a momentary lapse of judgement, that would be forgivable; but my mother boasted about her moment of power, decades later, at a time when people had been coming around to consider spanking, especially such a public kind, to be a form of child abuse.
So here we see some examples of childhood trauma in some of my family members. Now, having suffered childhood traumas gave my parents and siblings the right to grieve their pain; it gave them no special right to inflict that pain on me.
Since my mother’s lying had gone on over a period of decades, along with her manipulating and triangulating tactics with my siblings, I find it reasonable to assume that these were things she’d been doing from childhood, the product of her early life having been turned upside down. I’ll bet that she, as a lonely child and teenager, lied constantly to gain attention; and her mother scolded her about it and shamed her. This resulted in a fragile ego that constantly needed supply, a typical problem with narcissists.
She was smart enough to realize, by the time she’d grown up, that she couldn’t get away with overtly demanding attention and adulation all the time, so she learned what many narcissists learn: how to hide her egocentricity and fake being altruistic. In exchange for doing things for others, she’d expect them to give her narcissistic supply; and if they failed to do so, there’d be hell to pay.
Her choice of vocation, nursing, is interesting in this regard–someone who helps the sick. Her preoccupation with medical matters as a possible source of narcissistic supply (i.e., showing off her nursing knowledge at every opportunity), was extended to a preoccupation with psychiatric matters, which she knew nothing about. Her medical knowledge deserves acknowledgement and respect, but she never deserved that for issues of mental illness. Still, she’d prate away like an expert on autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and even schizophrenia, things she didn’t know the first thing about. (Narcs claiming their victims have mental illnesses seems to be a very common thing, by the way.) A nurse is supposed to be among the most compassionate people around, yet where was her pity for my cousins or me?
I must jump ahead to her last years. When I finally put all the pieces together and realized that all her talk about autism and Asperger Syndrome was lies, I was so overcome with rage at her betrayal that, typical of someone with complex PTSD, I grew obsessed with my abuser, wanting revenge.
I consider punishment a better word for what I did in 2015, in response to her abuse, than revenge, since denying her what she didn’t deserve–me as a source of narcissistic supply–was the perfect punishment. This was also, as I see it, a gentle punishment. I was only avoiding contact with her, as is appropriate with Cluster B individuals. In that final year, I wasn’t hurling verbal abuse at her in e-mails, or anything like that. When I’d complained about her emotionally abusing me, and warned that I’d stop visiting if she didn’t stop, that had been in e-mails sent almost ten years earlier, which contained none of the four-letter words she and the family had always used on me. Finally, she couldn’t have missed me all that much: after all, when she’d told me not to come to see J. and her dying husband, my absence then hadn’t made her heart grow fonder–why would she suddenly hunger for me by her side now?
No, her pain from lacking me in Canada from 2009-2016 was more likely from narcissistic injury. She never took responsibility for anything she’d done: for lying to me about my mental state; for sitting idly by while R., F., and J. bullied me throughout my youth; for not caring enough to lift a finger to help S. when she, a nurse, learned he is mentally ill.
If she was upset about my non-communication with her during the last five or six years of her life, why didn’t she simply do what any normal person would do? Why not e-mail me, asking me if there had been anything she or the family had done to upset me, making me not want to talk to her? Instead, whenever she tried to confront me on the issue, she put it all on me: I wasn’t communicating with the family; she was “hurt and annoyed” that I had “given up on the family.” Given all those years of emotional abuse, why wouldn’t I have? Yet she always put the blame on me, instead of herself, when my previous e-mails (from 2005-2008) clearly expressed all my grievances with the family, and warned her that the family visits would stop if she didn’t stop manipulating me.
The fact is that my narc mom felt perfectly entitled to treating me as she had; and like a queen, she still expected tribute from her subjects. She got that tribute from R., F., and J., so they, her flying monkeys, were treated well. When I failed to pay that tribute, to give her the attention and adulation she needed for her narcissistic supply, I was in the wrong, and not her.
When she was dying of cancer on a hospital bed, R. by her side with his cellphone there, waiting for me to call her, the lies she’d told me the previous late summer (in 2015; see Emotional Abuse) should have been fresh on her mind. Yet she feigned ignorance of all of them, as well as all the others, the same playing dumb that she’d been doing months before. Furthermore, she was high on morphine and full of the stress of imminent death, not to mention feeling the pain of her conflict with me. Surely that stress, and the drugs, would have caused a slip of the tongue, if not a confession of guilt with teary eyes! Surely she could have at least confessed to the 2015 summer lies about S. and my aunt, saying she was desperate to get me to talk to her, and so she lost her head.
Instead, she calmly pretended she had no idea what I’d been talking about in my accusation of her lying, focusing on how I’d hurt her so badly. This is the narcissist playing victim while denying her own guilt. I’d been so shocked by her lie about my aunt saying I’d sent her “over-the-top” e-mails that I couldn’t sleep for most of the night after I’d received Mom’s phoney message; but I had hurt her…I hadn’t merely forced her to take responsibility for hurting me. She was remorseless to the end.
She died of cancer at the age of 77, going on 78, in May of 2016. Though I wasn’t with her when she died (nor did I want to be), I did find myself with conflicting feelings, torn between a sense of filial duty to her and my need to protect myself from her manipulations. Remember that I had reason to believe she was faking her death; though I was wrong, my suspicions were understandable given the lies and manipulating I’d endured from her already. So I had to weigh my need for self-protection and urge for justice (through punishing her) against a need for a filial, compassionate response to her suffering (assuming that her cancer really had metastasized). The stress at the time was driving me mad, for unlike my mother, I have a conscience that perturbs me, even when my harsh actions are sufficiently justified. Such is the power of society’s injunction that one honour one’s father and mother.
Of all those things she said to me during that last phone call, all negative generalizations about me because of my understandable wish to end all contact with a probable narc, the most galling was her claim to have given me more love than to R., F., or J., a preposterous falsehood given all her preferential treatment of her three flying monkeys. R. went into all-out hyperbole for her sake by claiming that she’d loved me “more than anyone else on the planet,” in the context of shaming me for not having returned her love at her death. This is an example of a covert narcissist convincing her flying monkeys that she was practically a saint in life, when her victim secretly knows better. It’s also an example of reaction formation, a pretending to have the noble opposite of one’s real, unacceptable attitude (i.e., Mom’s actually having loved me least, if at all).
Indeed, how does a mother who loves you the most, or even equally to your siblings, do the following eight things: lie that you’re autistic, describing it with extreme language to deprive you, a child, of needed self-confidence; allow your elder siblings to bully, belittle, humiliate, and curse at you without a word of reprimand to them, with only a few rare exceptions; frequently indulge in explosive anger, usually for slight provocations; extend your feelings of childhood social alienation to the remaining years of your life by modifying the autism lie into a more plausible lie about Asperger’s Syndrome; demand your involvement in the family regardless of how you feel, on the one hand, then on the other hand discard you as persona non grata when your involvement becomes inconvenient (i.e., Mom’s telling “tactless” me not to visit J. and her dying husband); make it apparent that she’s engaging in smear campaigns against you, behind your back (i.e., when bad-mouthing my youngest cousin, claiming that he, too, must have Asperger’s Syndrome, this implying that she was doing the same thing to me); do nothing to help a mentally ill cousin, whom you’ve begged her to help, when helping him would be the only assured way of preventing him from harming you; and exploiting your concern for him through lies, along with projecting her obvious spite against you onto someone else (i.e., my aunt’s supposed dismay over my “over-the-top” e-mails, and claiming that my aunt considers me a “burden”, when actually it was my mother who had these feelings)?
Was this a loving mother, or a covert narcissist who feigned altruism to get her supply from her flying monkeys (R., F., and J., her darling golden children), then bad-mouthed, cursed at, and smeared everyone she didn’t like (the black sheep: me, my cousins, salespeople, etc.), for more narcissistic supply? Was her claiming I have an autism spectrum disorder, incorrectly described in the language of narcissism, really her using projective identification on me to rid herself of her bad, True Self, thus making it easier to make her loving, False Self more convincing to the world and to herself?
Was her heartache at my rejection of her really just narcissistic injury, her listing of my vices on R.’s cellphone just her way of getting back at me? And if her death was in any way connected with that heartache (as I imagine R., F., and J. think it is, doubtless with her influence), was it really because she’d forever lost that projected part of herself…what she really loved?
I’ll never know for sure, but I have good reason to think so.
As I said in my previous post on this subject, my mother didn’t always mistreat me. She could be generous if she wanted to be, and she was quite often. I acknowledge that, but only in the context of how narcissists can alternate between being nice and nasty (idealizing, devaluing, and discarding phases). You see, Dear Reader, even her kindest moments cannot compensate for the wrongs she did to me as described above, so I can only conjecture that her good moments ultimately had self-serving motives.
Had I been in a normal family, with healthy and loving, if imperfect parents, my snubbing of my mother during her last moments on this earth would have been inexcusable. But mine was a dysfunctional family, so dysfunctional that they will never admit it to themselves. No contact is a standard defensive move that victims of narcissists and psychopaths will use; when I used it, it just happened to occur during my victimizer’s final hours. And my last talk with her on R.’s cellphone gave her one last chance to redeem herself. She chose not to do that.
Unlike my mother, I take full responsibility for what I did during her final years. I deliberately refused to be loving to her, and the whole family was hurt by that. But in my defence, I was provoked…my whole life…by people who spoke of love all the time, but largely didn’t practice it, except among those in their inner circle.
When I received a package from the family lawyer confirming her death and showing me a copy of her will, my heart sank. I went into a depression for at least a week, my shame weighing down on me like a huge rock on my back. She’d left me a portion of her money equal to what she gave R., F., and J., but I didn’t want it. I sent a release of my portion, preferring instead to have our mother’s money equally divided in thirds between R., F., and J. I didn’t want anything from a mother who refused to give me the basic emotional building blocks to live in a functional way.
I’ve gotten over the worst of my grieving so far. Though it was hard for me to do what I did, I feel no contact was the right thing to do. If you, Dear Reader, have been emotionally abused, especially by family, who should have loved you and inspired your trust, you should feel no compunction whatsoever about not giving them a love they didn’t deserve. You owe them nothing. You need to love yourself and take care of yourself, what they never did for your emotional needs.
Learn about self-compassion. Meditate. Write about your experiences, as I have done here; it’s cathartic. Find support groups, whether on social media or in your physical area. Get a therapist if you can find one. Do whatever you have to do to heal, taking as long as you need. Take care of yourself because you are worthy of a happy, healthy life. You did not deserve what happened to you, at all. You deserved much, much better.
Love yourself, and be at peace.