June 22, 2012

Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers by Chris ©2007

A few years ago, this article by Chris was circulated throughout the blogosphere. It was copied onto message boards and emailed to recovery friends. Many people identified with the characteristics Chris described. So many related to the suffering of the child. I don't know how to contact Chris and did not know her personally. I would like to thank her, if she is reading this blog, for allowing this article to be copied and re-copied freely as long as she was given credit with her publishing link. So please note, dear friends, that I am NOT the author of this article and if you choose to make a copy, please attribute original authorship and publishing link to Chris: Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers ~CZ

Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers

"The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self. It's about secret things. 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." ~by Chris: The Harpy's Child

1. Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help you.

She rarely says right out that she thinks you’re inadequate. Instead, any time that you tell her you’ve done something good, she counters with something your sibling did that was better or she simply ignores you or she hears you out without saying anything, then in a short time does something cruel to you so you understand not to get above yourself. She will carefully separate cause (your joy in your accomplishment) from effect (refusing to let you borrow the car to go to the awards ceremony) by enough time that someone who didn’t live through her abuse would never believe the connection.

Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She’ll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you’ve also done or how highly she thinks of them. The contrast is left up to you. She has let you know that you’re no good without saying a word. She’ll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is, again, completely deniably. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or they way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. As a result, you’re always afraid, always in the wrong, and can never exactly put your finger on why.

Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her. She’s also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She’s very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don’t wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done. The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that no one who might intervene will hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public. She’ll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!). Unfortunately therapists, given the deniable actions of the narcissist and eager to defend a fellow parent, will often jump to the narcissist’s defense as well, reinforcing your sense of isolation and helplessness (“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that!”)

2. She violates your boundaries. You feel like an extension of her. Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you. Your property may be repossessed and no reason given other than that it was never yours. Your time is committed without consulting you, and opinions purported to be yours are expressed for you. (She LOVES going to the fair! He would never want anything like that. She wouldn’t like kumquats.) You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there. She keeps tabs on your bodily functions and humiliates you by divulging the information she gleans, especially when it can be used to demonstrate her devotion and highlight her martyrdom to your needs (“Mike had that problem with frequent urination too, only his was much worse. I was so worried about him!”) You have never known what it is like to have privacy in the bathroom or in your bedroom, and she goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, and snoops into your email/letters/diary/conversations. She will want to dig into your feelings, particularly painful ones and is always looking for negative information on you which can be used against you. She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.

Any attempt at autonomy on your part is strongly resisted. Normal rites of passage (learning to shave, wearing makeup, dating) are grudgingly allowed only if you insist, and you’re punished for your insistence (“Since you’re old enough to date, I think you’re old enough to pay for your own clothes!”) If you demand age-appropriate clothing, grooming, control over your own life, or rights, you are "difficult" and she ridicules your “independence.” 

In a bizarrely childish behavior, your mother may even select choice tidbits off your plate to eat or to give to a more favored child:
"Food was frequently taken from me. The most vibrant memory was having the watermelon heart eaten off my plate. “Oh, I thought you were going to throw it away,” was the common comeback to my protests." ~Judy
The most abusive element in this story is the subtle torment visited on the child who dared to protest the confiscation of the best part of her piece of fruit.  The parent repeatedly engaged in the same violating behavior, each time needling the child with the same, laughably transparent, excuse that she thought the child was going to throw away food that the child was still eating! The parent was thus able to compound the child’s frustration at the loss of an anticipated treat with the message that the parent enjoyed not only the child’s food, but her unhappiness.  Unsurprisingly, Judy describes a lifelong battle with eating issues that is common to the children of the harpy. When eating is fraught with deprivation and cruelty, it’s hard to imagine having a healthy relationship with food.

3. She favoritizes. Narcissistic mothers commonly choose one (sometimes more) child to be the golden child and one (sometimes more) to be the scapegoat. The narcissist identifies with the golden child and provides privileges to him or her as long as the golden child does just as she wants. The golden child has to be cared for assiduously by everyone in the family. The scapegoat has no needs and instead gets to do the caring. The golden child can do nothing wrong. The scapegoat is always at fault. This creates divisions between the children, one of whom has a large investment in the mother being wise and wonderful, and the other(s) who hate her. That division will be fostered by the narcissist with lies and with blatantly unfair and favoritizing behavior. The golden child will defend the mother and indirectly perpetuate the abuse by finding reasons to blame the scapegoat for the mother’s actions. The golden child may also directly take on the narcissistic mother’s tasks by physically abusing the scapegoat so the narcissistic mother doesn’t have to do that herself.

4. She undermines. Your accomplishments are acknowledged only to the extent that she can take credit for them. Any success or accomplishment for which she cannot take credit is ignored or diminished. Any time you are to be center stage and there is no opportunity for her to be the center of attention, she will try to prevent the occasion altogether, or she doesn’t come, or she leaves early, or she acts like it’s no big deal, or she steals the spotlight or she slips in little wounding comments about how much better someone else did or how what you did wasn’t as much as you could have done or as you think it is.  She undermines you by picking fights with you or being especially unpleasant just before you have to make a major effort. She acts put out if she has to do anything to support your opportunities or will outright refuse to do even small things in support of you. She will be nasty to you about things that are peripherally connected with your successes so that you find your joy in what you’ve done is tarnished, without her ever saying anything directly about it. No matter what your success, she has to take you down a peg about it.

5. She demeans, criticizes and denigrates. She lets you know in all sorts of little ways that she thinks less of you than she does of your siblings or of other people in general. If you complain about mistreatment by someone else, she will take that person’s side even if she doesn’t know them at all. She doesn’t care about those people or the justice of your complaints. She just wants to let you know that you’re never right.

She will deliver generalized barbs that are almost impossible to rebut (always in a loving, caring tone): “You were always difficult” “You can be very difficult to love” “You never seemed to be able to finish anything” “You were very hard to live with” “You’re always causing trouble” “No one could put up with the things you do.” She will deliver slams in a sidelong way - for example she’ll complain about how “no one” loves her, does anything for her, or cares about her, or she’ll complain that “everyone” is so selfish, when you’re the only person in the room. As always, this combines criticism with deniability.

She will slip little comments into conversation that she really enjoyed something she did with someone else - something she did with you too, but didn’t like as much. She’ll let you know that her relationship with some other person you both know is wonderful in a way your relationship with her isn’t - the carefully unspoken message being that you don’t matter much to her.

She minimizes, discounts or ignores your opinions and experiences. Your insights are met with condescension, denials and accusations (“I think you read too much!”) and she will brush off your information even on subjects on which you are an acknowledged expert. Whatever you say is met with smirks and amused sounding or exaggerated exclamations (“Uh hunh!” “You don’t say!” “Really!”). She’ll then make it clear that she didn’t listen to a word you said.

6. She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” (this is a phrase commonly used by abusers of all sorts to invalidate your experience of their abuse) that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened, nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the abuser.

Narcissists gaslight routinely. The narcissist will either insinuate or will tell you outright that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things or be so uncooperative. You’re oversensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re hysterical. You’re completely unreasonable. You’re over-reacting, like you always do. She’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down and aren’t so irrational. She may even characterize you as being neurotic or psychotic.

Once she’s constructed these fantasies of your emotional pathologies, she’ll tell others about them, as always, presenting her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She didn’t do anything. She has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. You’ve hurt her terribly. She thinks you may need psychotherapy. She loves you very much and would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.

She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious antipathy towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners. She plays the role of the doting mother so perfectly that no one will believe you.

7. She’s envious.  Any time you get something nice she’s angry and envious and her envy will be apparent when she admires whatever it is. She’ll try to get it from you, spoil it for you, or get the same or better for herself. She’s always working on ways to get what other people have. The envy of narcissistic mothers often includes competing sexually with their daughters or daughters-in-law. They’ll attempt to forbid their daughters to wear makeup, to groom themselves in an age-appropriate way or to date. They will criticize the appearance of their daughters and daughters-in-law. This envy extends to relationships. Narcissistic mothers infamously attempt to damage their children’s marriages and interfere in the upbringing of their grandchildren.

8. She’s a liar in too many ways to count. Any time she talks about something that has emotional significance for her, it’s a fair bet that she’s lying. Lying is one way that she creates conflict in the relationships and lives of those around her - she’ll lie to them about what other people have said, what they’ve done, or how they feel. She’ll lie about her relationship with them, about your behavior or about your situation in order to inflate herself and to undermine your credibility.

The narcissist is very careful about how she lies. To outsiders she’ll lie thoughtfully and deliberately, always in a way that can be covered up if she’s confronted with her lie. She spins what you said rather than makes something up wholesale. She puts dishonest interpretations on things you actually did. If she’s recently done something particularly egregious she may engage in preventative lying: she lies in advance to discount what you might say before you even say it. Then when you talk about what she did you’ll be cut off with “I already know all about it…your mother told me... (self-justifications and lies).” Because she is so careful about her deniability, it may be very hard to catch her in her lies and the more gullible of her friends may never realize how dishonest she is.

To you, she’ll lie blatantly. She will claim to be unable to remember bad things she has done, even if she did one of them recently and even if it was something very memorable. Of course, if you try to jog her memory by recounting the circumstances “You have a very vivid imagination” or “That was so long ago. Why do you have to dredge up your old grudges?” Your conversations with her are full of casual brush-offs and diversionary lies and she doesn’t respect you enough to bother making it sound good. For example she’ll start with a self-serving lie: “If I don’t take you as a dependent on my taxes I’ll lose three thousand dollars!” You refute her lie with an obvious truth: “No, three thousand dollars is the amount of the dependent exemption. You’ll only lose about eight hundred dollars.” Her response: “Isn’t that what I said?” You are now in a game with only one rule: You can’t win.

On the rare occasions she is forced to acknowledge some bad behavior, she will couch the admission deniably. She “guesses” that “maybe” she “might have” done something wrong. The wrongdoing is always heavily spun and trimmed to make it sound better. The words “I guess,”  “maybe,” and  “might have” are in and of themselves lies because she knows exactly what she did - no guessing, no might haves, no maybes.

An Nmother will say whatever feeds her purpose of the moment, without regard for the truth, so when her purpose shifts, the Nmother must contradict her past statements. This contradiction may occur within the context of a single conversation, or even a single sentence, as the following story illustrates. In this story, Caroline describes the aftermath of an agonizing emotional drama in which her mother wept over herself and pitied herself because she had just found out that her unemployed son had found a job, but in another state from that in which the mother lived. It was filled with thinly veiled suicide threats and deniably phrased accusations that Caroline was “so selfish” and that she did not love or care about her mother. Before, during and after this appalling drama, Diane repeatedly justified her behavior by saying that she “just needed to feel sorry for herself.”

After being forced to participate in two hours of this drama, Caroline was reduced to helpless sobbing. She told her mother that she was so distressed, that she wanted to have no contact for a while.
"Two weeks after I got home, Diane violated my request by sending me a letter. One pair of sentences stood out: “I have no idea why you’re so upset with me, and besides, I just needed to feel sorry for myself. Besides, I didn’t think it was that bad.” ~Caroline 
The first sentence contains two inherently contradictory statements: That Diane had “no idea” why Caroline was upset, followed by yet another repetition of her justification for the abusive drama!

On closer examination, Diane’s intentions in writing this note become clear.  Caroline’s request for no contact was almost certainly a terrible shock to Diane: Although this drama was longer than its predecessors, and had escalated to include suicide threats, in form it was pretty much the same as those she had previously indulged in without consequence, in which she had clung to Caroline, sobbed on Caroline’s shoulder, bemoaned the hardships of her life, and accused Caroline of being uncaring, unloving and selfish.

But this time there were consequences, and Diane clearly felt impelled to do something to diffuse her shame and to attempt to fix the problem that she created. So she fell back on a classic defense: gaslighting. Diane had “no idea” why Caroline was “so upset”, even though both she and Caroline were present when she upset Caroline just two weeks earlier! She thereby implied that nothing had happened, or at least, nothing about which Caroline could legitimately have been upset. She thereby insinuated that Caroline’s distress was a consequence of Caroline’s own irrationality and oversensitivity.

In the second half of the sentence, the subtlety of the lying that permeates Diane’s interactions with Caroline is apparent. Diane justifies her abusive drama by claiming that she had a need that required her to cry, pity herself, and accuse Caroline of a multitude of character flaws. That is dishonest in two ways. No reasonable person would define a self-pitying sobfest as a “need,” and in any case, the drama was not a consequence of Diane’s “need” to pity herself, but of her desire to make Caroline suffer. Diane never mentions or alludes to that desire in any way, even though the manipulative accusations Diane hurled at Caroline make it clear that Caroline’s suffering was Diane’s dominant motivation for the drama.

The kind of fluid, highly expedient, version of reality that results in self-contradiction is typical of disordered people. When stressed or threatened with consequences, they almost always start with denial, responding to accusations with declarations of bewilderment, saying that they have “no idea,” what the problem is, or that they “can’t imagine” why their behavior has been deemed intolerable. Any further defensive lie, including distractions, rationalizations, justifications and blaming will then automatically contradict the prior assertion of bewilderment. You can’t explain why your behavior wasn’t your fault, was someone else’s fault, or was actually acceptable, without implicitly admitting that you know what you did!

9. She has to be the center of attention all the time. This need is a defining trait of narcissists and particularly of narcissistic mothers for whom their children exist to be sources of attention and adoration.  Narcissistic mothers love to be waited on and often pepper their children with little requests. “While you’re up…” or its equivalent is one of their favorite phrases. You couldn’t just be assigned a chore at the beginning of the week or of the day, instead, you had to do it on demand, preferably at a time that was inconvenient for you, or you had to “help” her do it, fetching and carrying for her while she made up to herself for the menial work she had to do as your mother by glorying in your attentions.

A narcissistic mother may create odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as memorials for someone close to her who died long ago, or major celebrations of small personal milestones. She may love to entertain so she can be the life of her own party. She will try to steal the spotlight or will try to spoil any occasion where someone else is the center of attention, particularly the child she has cast as the scapegoat.  She often invites herself along where she isn’t welcome. If she visits you or you visit her, you are required to spend all your time with her. Entertaining herself is unthinkable. She has always pouted, manipulated or raged if you tried to do anything without her, didn’t want to entertain her, refused to wait on her, stymied her plans for a drama or otherwise deprived her of attention.

Older narcissistic mothers often use the natural limitations of aging to manipulate dramas, often by neglecting their health or by doing things they know will make them ill. This gives them the opportunity to cash in on the investment they made when they trained you to wait on them as a child. Then they call you (or better still, get the neighbor or the nursing home administrator to call you) demanding your immediate attendance. You are to rush to her side, pat her hand, weep over her pain and listen sympathetically to her unending complaints about how hard and awful it is. (“Never get old!”) It’s almost never the case that you can actually do anything useful, and the causes of her disability may have been completely avoidable, but you’ve been put in an extremely difficult position. If you don’t provide the audience and attention she’s manipulating to get, you look extremely bad to everyone else and may even have legal culpability. (Narcissistic behaviors commonly accompany Alzheimer’s disease, so this behavior may also occur in perfectly normal mothers as they age.)

10. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain. This exceptionally sick and bizarre behavior is so common among narcissistic mothers that their children often call them “emotional vampires.” Some of this emotional feeding comes in the form of pure sadism. She does and says things just to be wounding or she engages in tormenting teasing or she needles you about things you’re sensitive about, all the while a smile plays over her lips. She may have taken you to scary movies or told you horrifying stories, then mocked you for being a baby when you cried. She will slip a wounding comment into conversation and smile delightedly into your hurt face. You can hear the laughter in her voice as she pressures you or says distressing things to you. Later she’ll gloat over how much she upset you, gaily telling other people that you’re so much fun to tease, and recruiting others to share in her amusement. . She enjoys her cruelties and makes no effort to disguise that. She wants you to know that your pain entertains her.  She may also bring up subjects that are painful for you and probe you about them, all the while watching you carefully. This is emotional vampirism in its purest form. She’s feeding emotionally off your pain.

A peculiar form of this emotional vampirism combines attention-seeking behavior with a demand that the audience suffer. Since narcissistic mothers often play the martyr this may take the form of wrenching, self-pitying dramas which she carefully produces, and in which she is the star performer. She sobs and wails that no one loves her and everyone is so selfish, and she doesn’t want to live, she wants to die! She wants to die! She will not seem to care how much the manipulation of their emotions and the self-pity repels other people. One weird behavior that is very common to narcissists: her dramas may also center around the tragedies of other people, often relating how much she suffered by association as she cries over the horrible murder of someone she wouldn’t recognize if they had passed her on the street.

11. She’s selfish and willful. She always makes sure she has the best of everything. She insists on having her own way all the time and she will ruthlessly, manipulatively pursue it, even if what she wants isn’t worth all the effort she’s putting into it and even if that effort goes far beyond normal behavior. She will make a huge effort to get something you denied her, even if it was entirely your right to do so and even if her demand was selfish and unreasonable. If you tell her she cannot bring her friends to your party she will show up with them anyway, and she will have told them that they were invited so that you either have to give in, or be the bad guy to these poor dupes on your doorstep. If you tell her she can’t come over to your house tonight she’ll call your spouse and try get him or her to agree that she can, and to not say anything to you about it because it’s a “surprise.”  She has to show you that you can’t tell her “no.” 

 One near-universal characteristic of narcissists: because they are so selfish and self-centered, they are very bad gift givers. They’ll give you hand-me-downs or market things for themselves as gifts for you (“I thought I’d give you my old bicycle and buy myself a new one!” “I know how much you love Italian food, so I’m going to take you to my favorite restaurant for your birthday!”) New gifts are often obviously cheap and are usually things that don’t suit you or that you can’t use or are a quid pro quo: if you buy her the gift she wants, she will buy you an item of your choice. She’ll make it clear that it pains her to give you anything. She may buy you a gift and get the identical item for herself, or take you shopping for a gift and get herself something nice at the same time to make herself feel better.

12. She’s self-absorbed. Her feelings, needs and wants are very important; yours are insignificant to the point that her least whim takes precedence over your most basic needs. Her problems deserve your immediate and full attention; yours are brushed aside. Her wishes always take precedence; if she does something for you, she reminds you constantly of her munificence in doing so and will often try to extract some sort of payment. She will complain constantly, even though your situation may be much worse than hers. If you point that out, she will effortlessly, thoughtlessly brush it aside as of no importance (It’s easy for you…/It’s different for you…).

13. She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism. If you criticize her or defy her she will explode with fury, threaten, storm, rage, destroy and may become violent, beating, confining, putting her child outdoors in bad weather or otherwise engaging in classic physical abuse. It’s easy to provoke her wrath because she takes everything personally and any attitude short of constant emotional and physical availability is perceived as a slight. If you’re short with her because you’re exhausted and depressed, she has to have it out with you over your “hostility.” If a toddler shouts “I hate you” at her she gets angry and punitive. If you refuse her nosy request to let her read the letter you got she shouts about how unappreciative you are and how hard she has it. She has no sense of perspective or separation and she can’t let anything go.

14. She terrorized. All abusers use fear to control their victims, and your narcissistic mother used it ruthlessly to train you. Narcissists teach you to beware their wrath even when they aren’t present. The only alternative is constant placation. If you give her everything she wants all the time, you might be spared. If you don’t, the punishments will come. Even adult children of narcissists still feel that carefully inculcated fear. Your narcissistic mother can turn it on with a silence or a look that tells the child in you she’s thinking about how she’s going to get even.

Not all narcissists abuse physically, but most do, often in subtle, deniable ways.  It allows them to vent their rage at your failure to be the solution to their internal havoc and simultaneously to teach you to fear them. You may not have been beaten, but you were almost certainly left to endure physical pain when a normal mother would have made an effort to relieve your misery. This deniable form of battery allows her to store up her rage and dole out the punishment at a later time when she’s worked out an airtight rationale for her abuse, so she never risks exposure. You were left hungry because “you eat too much.”  (Someone asked her if she was pregnant. She isn’t). You always went to school with stomach flu because “you don’t have a fever. You’re just trying to get out of school.” (She resents having to take care of you. You have a lot of nerve getting sick and adding to her burdens.) She refuses to look at your bloody heels and instead the shoes that wore those blisters on your heels are put back on your feet and you’re sent to the store in them because “You wanted those shoes. Now you can wear them.”  (You said the ones she wanted to get you were ugly. She liked them because they were just like what she wore 30 years ago). The dentist was told not to give you Novocaine when he drilled your tooth because “he has to learn to take better care of his teeth.” (She has to pay for a filling and she’s furious at having to spend money on you.) Unlike psychopaths, narcissists do understand right, wrong, and consequences, so they are not ordinarily criminal. She beat you, but not to the point where you went to the hospital. She left you standing out in the cold until you were miserable, but not until you had hypothermia. She put you in the basement in the dark with no clothes on, but she only left you there for two hours. 

Narcissistic mothers also abuse by loosing others on you or by failing to protect you when a normal mother would have. Sometimes the narcissist’s golden child will be encouraged to abuse the scapegoat. Narcissists also abuse by exposing you to violence. If one of your siblings got beaten, she made sure you saw. She effortlessly put the fear of Mom into you, without even touching you.

15. She’s infantile and petty. Narcissistic mothers are often simply childish. If you refuse to let her manipulate you into doing something, she will cry that you don’t love her because if you loved her you would do as she wanted. If you hurt her feelings she will aggressively whine to you that you’ll be sorry when she’s dead that you didn’t treat her better. Anytime she feels hard-done-by, she pouts, whines and gives the silent treatment. When you were a child, she would justify things she did to you by pointing out something that you did that she felt was comparable, as though the childish behavior of a child was justification for the childish behavior of an adult. “Getting even” is a large part of her dealings with you. Anytime you fail to give her the deference, attention or service she feels she deserves, or you thwart her wishes, she has to show you.

16. She “parentifies.” She shed her responsibilities to you as soon as she was able, leaving you to take care of yourself as best you could. She denied you medical care, adequate clothing, necessary transportation or basic comforts that she would never have considered giving up herself. She never gave you a birthday party or let you have sleepovers. Your friends were never welcome in her house. She didn’t like to drive you anywhere, so you turned down invitations because you had no way to get there. She wouldn’t buy your school pictures even if she could easily have afforded it. You had a niggardly clothing allowance or she bought you the cheapest clothing she could without embarrassing herself. As soon as you got a job, every request for school supplies, clothing or toiletries was met with “Now that you’re making money, why don’t you pay for that yourself?”

She also gave you tasks that were rightfully hers and should not have been placed on a child. You may have been a primary caregiver for young siblings or an incapacitated parent. You may have had responsibility for excessive household tasks. Above all, you were always her emotional caregiver which is one reason any defection from that role caused such enormous eruptions of rage. You were never allowed to be needy or have bad feelings or problems. Those experiences were only for her, and you were responsible for making it right for her. From the time you were very young she would randomly lash out at you any time she was stressed or angry with your father or felt that life was unfair to her, because it made her feel better to hurt you. You were often punished out of the blue, for manufactured offenses. As you got older she directly placed responsibility for her welfare and her emotions on you, weeping on your shoulder and unloading on you any time something went awry for her.

17.  She’s exploitative. She will manipulate to get work, money, or objects she envies out of other people for nothing. This includes her children, of course. If she set up a bank account for you, she was trustee on the account with the right to withdraw money. As you put money into it, she took it out. She may have stolen your identity. She took you as a dependent on her income taxes so you couldn’t file independently without exposing her to criminal penalties. If she made an agreement with you, it was violated the minute it no longer served her needs. If you brought it up demanding she adhere to the agreement, she brushed you off and later punished you so you would know not to defy her again.

Sometimes the narcissist will exploit a child to absorb punishment that would have been hers from an abusive partner. The husband comes home in a drunken rage, and the mother immediately complains about the child’s bad behavior so the rage is vented on to the child. Sometimes the narcissistic mother simply uses the child to keep a sick marriage intact because the alternative is being divorced or having to go to work. The child is sexually molested but the mother never notices, or worse, calls the child a liar when she tells the mother about the molestation.

18. She projects. This sounds a little like psycho-babble, but it is something that narcissists all do. Projection means that she will put her own bad behavior, character and traits on you so she can deny them in herself and punish you. This can be very difficult to see if you have traits that she can project on to. An eating-disordered woman who obsesses over her daughter’s weight is projecting. The daughter may not realize it because she has probably internalized an absurdly thin vision of women’s weight and so accepts her mother’s projection. When the narcissist tells the daughter that she eats too much, needs to exercise more, or has to wear extra-large size clothes, the daughter believes it, even if it isn’t true. However, she will sometimes project even though it makes no sense at all. This happens when she feels shamed and needs to put it on her scapegoat child and the projection therefore comes across as being an attack out of the blue.  For example: She makes an outrageous request, and you casually refuse to let her have her way. She’s enraged by your refusal and snarls at you that you’ll talk about it when you’ve calmed down and are no longer hysterical.

You aren’t hysterical at all; she is, but your refusal has made her feel the shame that should have stopped her from making shameless demands in the first place. That’s intolerable. She can transfer that shame to you and rationalize away your response: you only refused her because you’re so unreasonable. Having done that she can reassert her shamelessness and indulge her childish willfulness by turning an unequivocal refusal into a subject for further discussion. You’ll talk about it again “later” - probably when she’s worn you down with histrionics, pouting and the silent treatment so you’re more inclined to do what she wants.

19. She is never wrong about anything. No matter what she’s done, she won’t ever genuinely apologize for anything. Instead, any time she feels she is being made to apologize she will sulk and pout, issue an insulting apology or negate the apology she has just made with justifications, qualifications or self pity: “I’m sorry you felt that I humiliated you” “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad” “If I did that it was wrong” “I’m sorry, but I there’s nothing I can do about it” “I’m sorry I made you feel clumsy, stupid and disgusting” “I’m sorry but it was just a joke. You’re so over-sensitive” “I’m sorry that my own child feels she has to upset me and make me feel bad.” The last insulting apology is also an example of projection.

In the following excerpt from a letter written by a narcissistic mother to her daughter, and signed by the mother and her passive, enabling husband, apologies are used to demean and invalidate the daughter, and to minimize the mother's despicable behavior: 
"We are sorry if you feel we have failed you and fallen short. We are sorry if we could not live up to whatever expectations you have placed on us. We are sorry if you suffered from our dynamics." ~contributed by "upsi"
This quote contains no actual apologies, despite the multiple iterations of the words "we are sorry." The Nmother is not sorry at all, and she makes that clear to her daughter by following each "we are sorry" with the conditional "if."  Instead of apologizing for the abusive behavior originally under discussion, the mother thus questions the legitimacy of the daughter's complaints. The vague language she uses to describe the failings for which she must purportedly apologize also underlines the mother's refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing. Perhaps the mother caused her daughter to have "suffered from our dynamics," an admission which is so imprecise that it means nothing.

The mother multiplies the insult implied by a conditional apology when she says that she is sorry if her daughter feels that her parents have failed her. In this statement, the writer drops any pretense of apology and moves on to assault. It is always condescending to say that you are sorry about the way someone feels, because it means that you find them pitiful and emotionally inadequate. No regret for the speaker's behavior enters into such a statement. Indeed, the mother's fury at being put in a position requiring apology leaks through when she says that she is sorry if she failed to live up to "whatever expectations you have placed on us." The snide, self-pitying and dismissive tone of this quote makes it clear that the problem is the irrational and self-centered demands of the child, not any behavior of the mother. In reality, the mother (falsely) told her daughter's acquaintances that the daughter's husband was a batterer. Another time, the mother wrote to the daughter's in-laws expressing her concern that the daughter and the husband were severely impaired by (imaginary) drug use. But in this letter, the mother reduces this contemptible conduct to a contemptuous “whatever .”

These condescending insults masquerading as apologies are very familiar to the children of narcissistic mothers, who seethed impotently at hearing "I'm sorry if you felt..." in response to any reproach. 

20. Sometimes she seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings, and other times she is brilliantly sensitive to other people’s emotions. Every child of a narcissist recognizes this contradiction because narcissistic mothers do possess the ability to exercise empathy, and in abundance. Sometimes this ability also leads them to identify emotionally with people who are suffering and to express caring for them. When caring about another’s suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes. When a narcissistic mother wants validation, when she feels like eliciting some emotional pain, when something she wants hurts someone else, the empathy is turned off as though it never existed.

From the perspective of ability, narcissists are extremely empathetic; indeed they have a gift of telling what other people are feeling and thinking. Their skill at discerning and guiding the emotions of other people is the basis of many characteristically narcissistic interactions. Narcissists are very socially adept, which is why no one ever believes their children when they complain of their mothers. They know just how to make everyone think that they’re delightful. Narcissistic mothers are exceptional manipulators, and manipulators must be extremely aware, on a moment-by-moment basis, of the emotions of their targets.  If you don’t know what people are feeling, you can’t push their buttons. Their exceptional sensitivity to the feelings of others is also the wellspring of their pleasure in inflicting emotional pain through dramas and no-win scenarios. Narcissistic mothers enjoy eliciting emotional pain, and they do it very well because they know just what their target children are feeling. That exquisite sensitivity is the reason they don’t need to batter. They can inflict agony without lifting a finger, so why risk exposure and waste effort with beatings when they can elicit the same emotions with words alone?

What narcissistic mothers lack is concern for the consequences of their actions, a behavior that seems rooted in profound selfishness, rather than in the absence of empathy. Mothers with NPD are certainly capable of feeling for others: they’re always feeling for the people with whom their scapegoat has conflicts. They feel for their fellow narcissists. They feel for people who have validated and praised them. They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re abusing him. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs. Because they scour their environment for validation of their own abusiveness, they defend their fellow abusers, so they don’t have any empathy for the victims of those abusers, as the following story shows:
"A four-year-old had come to school with a hand print on her face, which had been inflicted as the result of a slap by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. As a mandated reporter my mother had called the authorities, but she told me that she could understand why the boyfriend had hit the child: she was so annoying. Then she said in a dramatic tone dripping with sympathy “You should have seen the parents. They were so ashamed!” In outrage I said “What difference does that make to the child?” Her mouth dropped open and I realized she not only didn't care at all about that poor little girl…it would never have occurred to her to care." ~Sarah
This story shows the misplaced empathy of the abuser for other abusers. There was no empathy in Sarah’s mother for the actual victim as there had never been any for Sarah. Instead empathy was reserved for the woman who let her boyfriend batter her child. Sarah’s mother identified with the abuser, a mother like herself, afflicted with a child who didn’t meet her needs. Her empathy actually attributed virtues to her fellow abuser and faults to the victim that weren’t merited in reality. Someone who hits a small child hard enough to leave a handprint, then sends that child to school, isn’t ashamed, and the personality of a four-year-old is not the fault of the child!

21. She manufactures “no-win” situations. In the classic “no-win” scenario, the narcissist’s child is manipulated into a corner and then presented with a demand that the child do something degrading, humiliating or painful in order to please the narcissist. Any response other than compliance triggers retaliation. As always, the payoff for your mother is the elicitation of painful emotions. Whether you subject yourself to her degradation or you fight back and end up subjected to shaming, threats and blaming by the narcissist, you will experience a sense of helplessness and fear, and those emotions are very satisfying to the narcissist. That feed is also augmented by the pain she elicits by undermining, insulting and demeaning you and, as the scene winds down, by blaming you for the entire event. These scenes are great fun for your narcissistic mother, for whom they are exciting and entertaining as well as satisfying, and who gets to feel as though she has been very clever. She commonly has an attitude of pleasure and excitement throughout, which she will make no effort to hide. The children of narcissistic mothers often describe the “little smile” their mother had as she played out the no-win scenario. She wants you to know how much fun she’s having and how much she loves your pain. There is no betrayal more wounding than knowing your own mother is reveling in the pain she deliberately caused, nor any emotion more delicious to your narcissistic mother than your sense of shock and misery that she is hurting you deliberately and for fun.

In the following story, an adult daughter is manipulated into a no-win situation. She is given a choice between accepting and expressing gratitude for a gift clearly meant as an insult, or provoking certain retaliation from her narcissistic mother: 
"A few days before Christmas, my mother walked into the room where I was sitting carrying a pair of old, worn tennis shoes - the kind with the rubber soles and canvas uppers. She said “I know you asked for a pair of running shoes for Christmas. I thought I could give you these and get myself a new pair instead.” My mother was a clothes horse, and generally had ten pairs of running shoes in her closet at that time. What’s more, her feet are bigger and narrower than mine, so there’s no way her shoes would have fit me. I said “I don’t want your cast-offs!” and she looked very satisfied and pleased and said “Fine” and walked away. That year I got no gift for Christmas, even though I had bought her something from her wish list, and even though my brother and sister got gifts from her.   
I did get a letter after I got home that started “I’m sorry you felt that I offered you “cast-offs” and went on to describe how good her intentions were, how she thought I would be happy to let her do something nice for herself, and how hard she had it as the mother of an “unappreciative” child like me. This wasn’t the first time either. The preceding year she had also tried to give me an old, rusty bicycle for Christmas with the stipulation that she would then get herself a new one." ~Sarah  
Sarah’s mother never planned on giving Sarah a Christmas gift. She was angry that Sarah had made herself unavailable for use by going to graduate school in another state. So she engineered a scene in which she could simultaneously insult Sarah and twist Sarah’s predictable angry response into an opportunity to depict herself as a martyr to the selfishness she later projected on to Sarah in her blaming letter. In this aggressive letter, the insulting apology "I'm sorry you felt..." loses even the thin veneer of sincerity that upsi's mother maintained. 

22. She’s shameless. She doesn’t ask. She demands. She makes outrageous requests and she’ll take anything she wants if she thinks she can get away with it. She won’t take no for an answer, pressuring and arm-twisting and manipulating to get you to give in. She doesn’t seem to feel any regret for or embarrassment about her behavior, no matter how appalling.

Some writers have asserted that narcissists appear shameless because they repress their shame, or alternatively, that they appear shameless because they lack empathy, and are therefore unaware of the pain they cause with their shameless behavior. As discussed earlier, narcissists  do not lack empathy; it is obvious from their skillful manipulation of other people, and their delight in sadistic behavior, that they are well aware of the emotions of others. It is possible that narcissists repress the shame they feel at their deliberately hurtful behavior, but such an explanation assumes that the narcissist felt shame, even though there’s no evidence that she did.

A much simpler explanation is that the narcissist does not show any shame because she does not feel any. Narcissistic mothers are simply too self-centered to feel any concern or responsibility for the pain they cause to others. In the following story, Lena’s mother, Olivia, isn’t repressing shame at her bad behavior; she can’t repress an emotion she doesn’t feel. Just as it never occurred to Sarah’s mother to care about the well-being of a child sent to school with a handprint on her face, it never occurred to Lena’s mother to care about the well-being of the child she was abusing herself, or to feel shame for the injuries she inflicted:
"My sophomore year in college, I learned to make these delicate little birds out of multicolored ribbons and I decided that I would make my mother a mobile of ribbon birds for Christmas. Each bird took about 45 minutes to make, and I was making a dozen of them, so I really couldn’t hide my bird-making from my mother.  I just said that I needed the birds for a project.  
One day when I had about eight birds made, my mother suddenly said in an excited, happy voice: “I have an idea! How about if I take those birds and use them to decorate presents for my friends?!” I said calmly “No, I’m making them for a project.” In response she flew into a rage, accusing me of being unappreciative and selfish and of only caring about myself. After abusing me for ten minutes or so, she stomped off angrily to another part of the house, and I went back to my bird-making, imagining her reaction in a week when she opened her Christmas present. 
As Mom opened the box containing the ribbon bird mobile Christmas morning, I watched her face carefully, expecting to see her look embarrassed or abashed, but there wasn't a flicker of emotion that showed that she even remembered the scene she had put on just a week before. Every expression on her face and every word from her mouth made it obvious that, in her world, nothing had happened. It wasn't that she was playacting; the sight of the birds just didn't trigger any memories. 
It wasn’t until some years after I completely cut contact with her that I had the emotional distance to realize: I couldn’t ever remember seeing her wrap a gift for a friend, nor do I ever recall a wrapped gift for one of her friends under the Christmas tree, waiting to be given. She didn’t get gifts from friends and she didn’t give gifts. So what was she going to do with those eight ribbon birds?" ~Lena
The scene Olivia staged is a straightforward example of a no-win scenario; Olivia thought up the scenario, she launched her attack with an outrageous demand, when her demand was denied, she used the denial as a justification to berate and demean her daughter - and then she forgot about it. The simplest explanation for this apparent memory lapse is that the act of ambushing and emotionally abusing her child was too inconsequential to recall.

Olivia’s casual forgetfulness illustrates the critical division between a person who behaves badly because that person is greedy, or immature, or spoiled rotten, and one who behaves badly because she is disordered, as Olivia was. Olivia had an excellent memory, and she probably would have remembered her rant about the birds had Lena reminded her of it. Indeed, at other times Olivia had remembered previously forgotten instances of abuse and neglect when Lena reminded her of them. When she was prompted only by the sight of the ribbon birds, however, she didn’t recall her abuse of Lena because, to Olivia, that abuse was no more memorable than the apple she ate for lunch that day. She fed on Lena’s shame and unhappiness as casually as if Lena’s emotions were as insignificant as a piece of fruit, and remembered her behavior toward Lena no better than she would any other inconsequential daily action. Her behavior was not the result of an absence of empathy. Olivia knew exactly how Lena felt about her ranting and accusations; there would have been no point in enacting the drama otherwise. Olivia’s selfishness was simply so far outside the bounds of normality that it didn’t occur to her to even consider the harm she had inflicted on her daughter. There was therefore nothing to remember.

The children of emotionally abusive mothers are often terrified to tell stories of their mothers’ abuse, thinking their mothers will see themselves and retaliate. In reality, disordered mothers never recognize themselves in the stories their children tell about them, no matter how memorable the behavior was to anyone else. Without a direct reminder from the persons involved, a narcissistic mother can't remember her past assaults on her children any more than she can remember what she had for lunch a year ago. It would never occur to her that she was the screaming, selfish harpy in a story posted on the Internet.

23. She blames. She’ll blame you for everything that isn’t right in her life or for what other people do or for whatever has happened. Always, she’ll blame you for her abuse. You made her do it. If only you weren’t so difficult. You upset her so much that she can’t think straight. Things were hard for her and your backtalk pushed her over the brink. This blaming is often so subtle that all you know is that you thought you were wronged and now you feel guilty. Your brother beats you and her response is to bemoan how uncivilized children are. Your boyfriend dumped you, but she can understand - after all, she herself has seen how difficult you are to love. She’ll do something egregiously exploitative to you, and when confronted will screech at you that she can’t believe you were so selfish as to upset her over such a trivial thing. She’ll also blame you for your reaction to her selfish, cruel and exploitative behavior. She can’t believe you are so petty, so small, and so childish as to object to her giving your favorite dress to her friend. She thought you would be happy to let her do something nice for someone else. 

Narcissists are masters of multitasking as this example shows. Simultaneously your narcissistic mother is 1) Lying. She knows what she did was wrong and she knows your reaction is reasonable. 2) Manipulating. She’s making you look like the bad guy for objecting to her cruelties. 3) Being selfish. She doesn’t mind making you feel horrible as long as she gets her own way. 4) Blaming. She did something wrong, but it’s all your fault. 5) Projecting. Her petty, small and childish behavior has become yours. 6) Putting on a self-pitying drama. She’s a martyr who believed the best of you, and you’ve let her down. 7) Parentifying. You’re responsible for her feelings, she has no responsibility for yours.

24. She destroys your relationships. Narcissistic mothers are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted. 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. 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.

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.

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. 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. 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.

Having been raised by a narcissist, her children are predisposed to be envious, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity that presents. She may never praise you to your face, but 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.

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.

25. As a last resort she goes pathetic. When she’s confronted with unavoidable consequences for her own bad behavior, including your anger, she will melt into a soggy puddle of weepy helplessness. It’s all her fault. She can’t do anything right. She feels so bad. What she doesn’t do: own the responsibility for her bad conduct and make it right. Instead, as always, it’s all about her, and her helpless self-pitying weepiness dumps the responsibility for her consequences AND for her unhappiness about it on you. As so often with narcissists, it is also a manipulative behavior. If you fail to excuse her bad behavior and make her feel better, YOU are the bad person for being cold, heartless and unfeeling when your poor mother feels so awful.

 This article was written by Chris: The Harpy's Child 
© 2007 All rights reserved  


  1. Hi CZ
    I remember reading Chris's article last year and thinking it was so dead on it was brilliant. Certainly nails to the micron my own NM. Thanks for recirculating it here. I really do think such personality/character disorders are much more prevalent out there then people are willing to admit. This kind of mother does deep damage, most of it perpetually disavowed.

  2. ps. CZ,
    Kudos on your scrupulous crediting of your source of the article. You take great pains to always give credit to people whose ideas contribute to your insight. My own NM takes other people's ideas and passes them off as her own nuggets of wisdom. She'll cite certain well known popular sources just to cover her rear, then pilfer work and conversations of others, and say they are her own coinages (ie, "what I call," etc.) I told her once that any genuine author will always err on the side of giving credit to anyone who has inspired them, no matter how much they paraphrase. So good for you, you're the real thing.

    1. Hi Anon!

      However.............this article is long enough that people might think I wrote it. But as you can see, I don't need to steal anybody's words. ha! Overall, I might be the longest-writing blogger in the West.

      It's so important for people to credit their sources, so I try.

      Your mother sounds like a real piece of work---stealing people's ideas as if they're her own! I remember one particular narcissist with some fondness in my heart. He used to say that his purpose in life was to 'take the ideas of the creative and make them practical.' In other words, make money on someone else's work 'cuz those creative types are lousy entrepreneurs.

      One thing narcissists do extremely well, is justifying whatever they choose to do that serves their purposes at the time they do it. It's one reason why the disorder is so hard to 'cure'. If everytime you do something "questionable", your brain comes up with reasons why it was the right thing to do at the time, what's the hope of cure? I think all of us...all of us, can indentify with the little lies we tell ourselves.

      Narcissists can tell whoppers though---like your mother tells herself when she copies someone else's work. She probably changes a word or two to justify calling it her own. You can do that with recipes. Change the amount of sugar or butter and voila, it's original. I don't figure your mother is writing recipe books though.

      Why hasn't she gotten caught? It's fairly easy to find plagiarists if her writing is on a website. As a narcissist though---she likely doesn't believe she'll ever get caught! Above the law and all that, you know.


  3. This probably the most complete article on toxic narcissistic mothers I have read. I was always rebellious as a teenager (only against her, not society in general), so I received extreme treatment. I only wish I had read this all those years ago, I would have probably nailed it to the front door and placed it in every shop window in town.

    Now she's old, but still hasn't forgiven me for protecting my children against her. Still holds a grudge for forcing her to apologise to me, in front my child psychologist. Still condemns me as gullible for listening to crazy stories from ostracised members of my Dads family, although she's no idea what we spoke about. And BLA BLA BLA BLA BLA.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Forced apologies cause seething resentment. Did she 'even the score' somehow? That must have been an incredibly shaming for her...and somewhat satisfying for yourself.

      Once again, your story validates the fact that narcissists don't age gracefully. I'm so sorry she hasn't mellowed the way some narcissists do.

      It sounds like you've figured out how to deal with her AND protect your children. Bravo!


    2. Yes, actually, had a tantrum driving the car later that week and drove like a madwoman. She was forced to apologise again by my Grandparents.

      Ex wife was defensive of our son, very confrontational. I sat back. Now my partner and family use distractive tactics to keep her busy away from our daughter. Works most of the time.

      She's quite old so her tactics are extracting sympathy, but gets frustrated and the temper shows.

    3. I also applaud you for protecting your children. I have a sister whose children are now at risk of their grandmother/NM. She started to inject her poison very early on and now it is almost out of control. We (four sisters) were not aware of this disorder though we had suffered for many years from the traits of the NM. But now at last putting a name to it, recognizing it and hopefully squashing it to protect the dear children is our goal. We have suffered from a total lack of sisterly affection fueled by a NM. I have a lot of hope that we can climb out of the abyss and thrive and grow again. Thank you for your most brave and comforting post......

  4. Sigh....I have read this article many times over the past few years...and each time, it hits deeper and closer to home.

    I believe that comes from a realization how bad the behavior of a narcissist really is.

    The 'gift' of destruction that these NMs give keep on giving until a stronger therapy pulls us into the light.

    My NM is 92 and her viciousness has not abated with age..in fact, it has gotten worse. Perhaps she feels that she has nothing to lose by continuing and heightening her abuse at her age? Closer to death?

    Most recently, and this was after a period of no contact...I received a letter that was a year old...(she stated that "she should have sent this before, but thought it still viable".)

    " I cannot be proud because obviously I am not a part of your artistry."

    I had published a book and had not mentioned her in it. I had mentioned the devotion and support of an elderly aunt.

    I would say her jealousy kicked in but narcissists always carry the germ of jealousy.

    I think this statement is exactly and succinctly what a narcissist falls to: if they aren't a part of the success or creativity of another (this case their daughter) or can claim something of it, they will deny everything 'good' about it.

    "They can't be proud."

    Children of narcissists are just extensions of the Narcissist...and have nothing of independence or worth that doesn't reflect the narcissist in the eyes of the narcissist.

    They always have to be acknowledged even when they have contributed nothing to the endeavor.

    A narcissist always has to be the center of attention.

    For them....no one else exists.

    Lady Nyo

    1. 92 and still creating misery for her daughter.

      I read 'envy' into her attempt to destroy what you had accomplished. There's a sick competition between narcissistic mothers and their daughters which can stop us from fulfilling our passions and talents for fear of upsetting 'mother'. Or inciting her wrath!

      For you to come into your own and flourish in your creative arts despite her envy, is truly inspirational! And I have to say that mentioning your loving Aunt without giving 'more' space to your mother, was rather daring, ha!

      It's haunting knowing your mother has kept her 'martyrdom' letter for a year without changing her mind or processing her resentful feelings. The narcissistic mother's lack of insight is unfathomable!

      Thanks for writing. Your comments are always a "insightful" and very much appreciated.


  5. I've read this in the past on another blog, but it's still the gold standard and worth reprinting. It's so thorough and on point.

    1. It is! The original author must be pleased to know her article has touched so many people's lives!


  6. Post total NC my MNPsychobitch stalked me relentlessly by proxy (PIs) and once ambushed me at my home just a few years after I terminated the relationship despite living a considerable distance from her and multiple moves. I slammed the door on her and she proceeded to make a huge scene, going around my house and scratching a coin on all the windows, sobbing, screaming, crying like she was being murdered in my quiet, suburban neighborhood at 10:30 AM. I yelled to her through the window, "I'm calling the police" and she saw me start dialing. The "scene" stopped instantly as she ran for her car and left immediately. (The police arrived shortly thereafter but were unable to locate her.) She continued to pelt me with avalanches of snail-mail for 18 yrs. until her death to this world. (These were but a very few of her more "benign" tactics.) On the outside of ALL the snail mail letters she wrote all kinds of nasty stuff so my rural postal person could read "ALL about ME!" They immediately hit the trash unopened as soon as I got inside my home. A recurring (and the only constant/relatively neutral) statement was, "I haven't heard from you since Dec. 6, 1985. WHY?" I never would have remembered the date-I just knew where I was living when I initiated NC and the year. One day it occurred to me she was off by a YEAR. It had actually been 1984, NO DOUBT at all. So many of the above dynamics were at play here. Yet my initiation of NC was apparently such a defining, crushing event in HER life (insert sarcasm) she LOST A YEAR somehow.
    Oh how they give themselves away in every way. This is a great article and thank you for re-printing it.

    1. Hi TW,

      Did your mother ever get a diagnosis? She sounds like a real mess---a Cluster B dumpling with a little psychopathy thrown in for good measure. Seriously---stalking your home and scratching windows when you wouldn't let her come in?? Was she drinking?? Please tell me she wasn't sober.

      Growing up with her as your mother, must have been a living nightmare. No wonder you HAD to get away from her!


  7. I remember this picture, it was a black and white movie I watched on TV on a Sunday afternoon as a boy. All I remember is hating that woman, it was more scary than vampires to me.

    1. Are you talking about the 1981 movie, "Mommy Dearest?" The film was so over-the-top dramatic that it eventually became a cult film.

      I think it was ahead of its time. We were still talking about abusive fathers at that point and hadn't put mothers under the microscope. It has taken a quarter-of-a-century to get to this point.

      I remember thinking it was a bit far-fetched because I couldn't imagine a mother treating her children like that.

      Still, the abuse portrayed in "Mommy Dearest" is fairly mild compared to what we read about narcissistic mothers today.

      Since you grew up with a narcissistic mother, the film was probably quite triggering. No wonder it frightened you!


    2. My mother, in one of her phony expert self-help blogs, writes in defense of Joan Crawford, and implying that Cristina Crawford was just doing a hatchet job on her mother. This is the woman who plagiarized from her own daughter, took things she said in conversation and passed them off in a self-published book as her own ideas, who blogs about the importance of intergenerational legacy and "forgiveness" but has disowned her first born daughter. Just like Crawford did, my own mother began to project and shame dump on me as I entered adolescence; her jealousy at my growing intelligence was always evident, and responded to with contempt and dismissal. It's pathetic to see a grown woman pretending to be a self-help expert when she is such a fraud. In her mind, if you weren't beaten or left to starve, you have no right to have any gripes against your mother. There are only two kinds of mothers as far as she is concerned: monsters who beat you (abusive), and the rest, who should be "good enough." She is parroting the usual narcissist's mantra to "get over it" already. She's a classic example of what happens when mediocre intelligence reads up on popular self-help, and uses it to reframe her behavior. Ugh!

    3. Just doing a hatchet job on her mother, eh? Well, that's a narcissist for ya. Minimize, discount, and discredit the daughter's story and protect the mother-myth. Sounds like your mother shamed Cristina the same way she shame-dumped on you.

      I remember public reactions when Mommy Dearest first hit the talk shows. The criticism wasn't an insiniation---it was downright blatant and yes, shaming. All the finger-pointing and outrage reinforced daughter's fears of speaking up. If Cristina Crawford could be the object of public humiliation, imagine what would happen to the average person? Overtly blaming public reactions silenced a lot of people. However, (this is my belief) the door had been opened. It was only a matter of time before talking about narcissistic mothers would be allowed, maybe even encouraged.

      You wrote: "In her mind, if you weren't beaten or left to starve, you have no right to have any gripes against your mother."

      ha! I've used that argument, too! ha...but only to put things into context and encourage a child to take a broader view of his situation. Once again, context is imperative! I have never told my nephew that he had NO RIGHT to gripe about his mother---but I have told him stories about suffering children in Africa. (LOL)

      It's amazing the dumb thing you come up with when a child feels like his/her life is the WORST experience a child could ever have and you know but you don't want to tell him, that he's had a damn good life in the overall history of child rearing.

      I think what you're saying deserves a separate post because in essence, the Good Enough mother VALIDATES her child. This is what's missing with narcissistic mothers who "invalidate" the child's feelings, thoughts, yea very existence.

      I may post some of your comment on a blog entry. I hope you're comfortable with me doing that. If this imperils your anonymity, please let me know and I'll edit my post!


    4. Great, CZ. I'm tired of seeing my own NM, and others like her, appropriating and misusing the term "Good Enough Mother." They dishonor the pioneers of the concept, like Melanie Klein, John Bowlby, and DW Winnicott, whose work developed the idea in great depth and detail, with complex subtlety. Any child who had a "good enough mother" has no beef with that person, and is by definition well-adjusted. Narcissistic mothers don't get to claim they were "good enough": it is the judgment of the child whether or not they were.
      That seems to be something that all narcissistic mothers forget. You don't get to tell yourself you were a 'good enough mother' in the face of your child's protestations to the contrary.

    5. CZ--I'd like you to check ou my new blogspot, Raising Caliban.
      I'm hoping to use it as a place to collate what I've learned from all of you
      and apply it to crazy-making things NP have done to me. My nom de guerre is Caliban's Sister.

    6. I added your url to my bloglist, Anon!

      Now I'll come visit your site, thanks!


  8. No, she was STONE COLD SOBER. Yep, her dx. is "MNPsychobitch, The Walking Cluster B." I have enough letters behind my name to allow for an "informal" but quite accurate dx.
    I scare the average "Attorney" to death as well as their clients. OJT+lots of education does that to a person!

    1. I have read a few articles suggesting anyone with a Cluster B diagnosis, is also psychopathic (to some degree, depends on the rigidity of the PD).

      Psychopathy would account for the varying descriptions of personality disorders. While some might describe a mother with NPD as self-centered, others will describe her as callous, manipulative, sadistic, and parasitic. Perhaps the co-morbidity of the psychopathic character allows for this extreme?

      I'll be researching this further, to be sure. After writing to people for ten years now, there's a huge difference between those who grew up with an immature & selfish mother, and those who grew up with a malicious narcissist! To criticize people for separating themselves from her intractably perpetual abuse, is secondary victimization.

      Most people fail to understand that mothers are capable of hating their own children. We suspect it, but we don't want to know it.



    1. Great recommend, anonymous! As you can read in my post below, I'll be reading McBride's book this weekend.


  10. Read that book very recently, and felt it soft-shoed a lot of issues with narcissists. The maternal narcissist is the black widow of the bunch, and does evoke fear and dread in her children.

    I believe there are better books out there than McBride's, and would cite this blog....CZ's....as a leader in this field.

    I keep telling her to write a book. Or even collect the blog entries.

    CZ has a very deep understanding of these things, and I find her better than most therapists...

    Lady Nyo

    1. Dear Lady Nyo,

      Thank you!

      I have not given just 'due' to McBride's book so maybe its time to read it carefully. Perhaps she is reaching a broader audience than focusing on the Malignant Mother??

      That's the complication of narcissism. It ranges from normal to malignant with destructive-to-annoying behaviors in-between. To cover all the bases, therapists' descriptions of narcissistic mothers might be watered down. Some mothers get better with age. There may be a chance to create a better relationship with her and psychologists need to address this possibility.

      I also think psychologists, therapists, and counselors need to take a more objective stance, remaining non-judgmental to some degree.

      The beauty of not having credentials though, ha!, is that we can spout our opinions (hopefully, INFORMED opinions. We can make judgments and express our views and report our experience. We can write essays without fear of losing our license (though we may lose credibility, ha!).

      When you're writing to an audience like the readers on my blog, they'll catch you in five minutes flat if you don't know your stuff. They learned the hard way and those lessons stick hard and go deep.

      We can spot fakers in the first three essays, maybe sooner.

      I appreciate your validation very much...because I know you know your stuff, too!


      p.s. I may pull a book together at some point as another voice on narcissism. However, I absolutely detest the cottage-industries springing up on the net, claiming to be experts (even more knowledgeable than trained professionals!!) and asking high prices for their worthless (specious at best) products. It's narcissism pretending to be something its not: altruism. I don't want to be any part of that community!

    2. I hear you CZ. It's me, Anonymous again, whose mother self-publishes trite and banal self-help books as a way to trick herself into thinking she's an expert on something. These exercises do nothing but bolster a false self that is brittle and hollow to the core. So you are right to be leary of the cottage industry of self-publishing. There is no quality control out there. HOWEVER, everyone who has kept up with your blog knows that you are the real thing.

    3. I need to clarify my comment because I believe it is VERY important, even crucial, for people to write about their lives. Narratives about narcissistic relationships are likely even MORE healing and useful than a dissertations on the 301.81: Axis II, NPD, in the DSM-IV-TR.

      ha...I think that last sentence made my point!

      However, I'm not complaining about self-published memoirs or testimonials OR even a collection of personal stories, thoughts and experiences. What I'm talking about is self-appointed gurus who "undermine" trained professionals and promote their products as "equal to-or-superior to" trained professional therapists.

      They get away with this because psychotherapy frightens a lot of people (especially narcissists). AND because psychological literature on NPD is complicated. It sounds like a bunch of gobbledy-gook. AND also, psychology is mocked as a pseudo-science. That's just a few reasons why these folks get away with selling their products.

      I'd say one of the biggest reasons why they are so profitable is because these people are so confident. AND, they know how to manipulate people and they see nothing wrong with taking advantage of vulnerable people. There's no moral restraint, in other words BECAUSE they believe their own schtick.

      I have gone off a little bit...lol...but this has been building for awhile. Even since The Secret and teh Law of Attraction opened the door on unbridled self-delusion and greed.

      Anyway.............LOLOL.......thanks for commenting on the "unregulated" self-help publishing market.


    4. I understand. The problem is when the writers are hypocrites. My mother has disowned me for pointing out her predations on my professional and personal boundaries; I made not triangulating with my sisters a condition of a relationship with me, and asked her to communicate with me directly when we had issues. She promised she would never drag my sisters in again, and then, after I let her know I was aware of her uncredited use of my words and ideas, she broke her promise and dragged them in, even after I specifically told her not to. Her reason? "They are part of my support network." Forget the fact that I wanted to SPARE them the stress and presumably her the shame; but she is shameless. When I pointed out that not triangulating was the ONLY condition I'd put on having a relationship with her, she said "I wish I'd had the strength not to break my promise, but I can't promise that I won't do it in the future." How's that for CRAZY word salad? Hypocracy is the problem. I have no problem with self-publishing when the authors are being honest about their lives. Truth in advertising is a completely alien concept to my mother, who is an extraordinary piece of narcissistic work.

  11. Replies
    1. And you really know your stuff, too, TW! Thanks for the validation.


  12. My sister just sent this to me. This fits our Mother to the T!! I unfortunately am the scapegoat in the relationship. Do you have any suggestions for us as sisters moving forward with this info. We both have children and do not want to repeat this cycle that we think started with her Mother. Any suggestions appreciated. I feel a big weight off my shoulders now! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    1. Hi anonymous!

      I will work on a new entry and post it next week. You've asked a great question with a complicated answer.

      I won't pretend to be an expert. By learning about narcissism (from benign to malignant), maintaining relationships has been much easier. We can learn what triggers narcissistic mothers AND what triggers ourselves and work on relationship from there. It will never be what we might have hoped it could be---but sometimes toleration is 'good enough'.

      My family is not centered around a malignant narcissist. Changing myself (for the better, I must admit!) has made all the difference in our ability to get along and enjoy one another's company in Mom's older age. As I've changed, so has my mother. As you've probably witnessed by people's comments, this is NOT always the case.

      I appreciate your comment and will start putting together a list of things we can do. Keeping a bond between my daughter and her grandmothers has been a priority for me. I am a f-a-m-i-l-y oriented woman placing high value on connections and community.


  13. Wow...as I read this article I was mentally checking off and going "Yup, she did that. Yes, that too. OMG I didn't even realize, but yeah that was her"(the not wearing makeup thing, the giving me her old stuff that didn't fit me and getting upset when I wasn't thrilled about it) My mother died 2 years ago, and its only recently that I have discovered that she was a narcissist. I was raised that everything she did or said to me that was cruel and mean was justified because of something I did.

    My own situation was a little different though. I was not her biological child (which I did not know, but suspected when I was young). Her biological daughters were married and gone and her marriage was on the rocks (they divorced shortly afterwards). I'm guessing I was supposed to fill a void. When I did find out about my birth, she made sure that I knew that I hadn't been wanted by my birth mother (after years of making sure I realized that my "dad"-her first husband-didn't want me either). I ended up marrying the first man who paid attention to me because I knew I would be lucky to find anyone who would want someone as defective as me.

    Whenever I tried to talk to someone, I was always told I must be confused, because that wonderful, sweet woman would NEVER do or say the things I said. And it was the era of "If you aren't being hit, you aren't being abused".

    Thank you for posting and for your blog. It does help a little bit to realize I'm not alone and I haven't been crazy or overly sensitive all these years.

    1. Hello Anonymous!

      Thanks for stopping by and reading about narcissism. People are beginning to talk about their narcissistic mothers so you'll be able to find plenty of resources on the web. There's quite a number of blogs about narcissistic mothers, too.

      I'm sorry to hear that you didn't have a loving relationship with your mother. That's always so sad...and hard to hear.

      I read a book last week about an adopted daughter whose mother was beyond narcissistic--she sounded crazy. It's called "Why be happy when you could be normal?" by Jeannette Winterson.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  14. Wow..amazing...it is like you were there! I was the 'scapegoat' to my younger brother whom she raised as a 'little monster' and who hated me because in almost all respects the 'genetic lottery' was much kinder to me than him...he and his mother were very malicious to me. Later in life he would blame her for destroying his marriages and for his general failure as an adult. He died young from a combination of illegal drugs and alcohol... and like his mother blaming others for his failures. What 'saved' me was to financially and physically separate from the family at about 19-20. I went out on my own and succeeded because of personal sacrifice (in college I didn't have enough $$ to ask a girl out for a milkshake)and a constant fight for employment. I was the first in my family to graduate from college...she told me it was nothing to be proud of and that I should feel stupid for doing it. I could go on and on...but while we were defenseless children I feel the REAL crime was our father who allowed it to happen. I am still very damaged by her, fighting at times paralyzing depression, but at least I am aware of my roots and have gained respect in my profession. However I never married as I am afraid of closeness to women and fear their abusiveness and rejection.

  15. It is scary how every line of this seems to discribe my father, down to incredibly specific things like the "downplayed" physical abuse, his bad gift giving & receiving, the selective memory & careless disregard of my propperty...

    The creepy thing is, midway through this text I went downstairs to get a drink, and witnessed another "downplayed abuse" moment - He complained that my mom hadn't done his paperwork. She said she was at the youngest sister's soccer competition. He complained that my brother was supposed to go, to which mom said that his hayfever had been spiking for days & that the last thing he needed was to spend a few hours in a meadow.
    My father was not convinced/dismissive of that. He honestly didn't care... No one else in our family would refuse my brother a favor, he's very responsible, likeable & mature.

    Reading this has made me aware how much effort he put into driving me and my siblings apart. Thankfully, they're
    I've heard from my mother than he planned on making me the favorite... the very knowledge makes me feel filthy & violated, like I was peeped on in the bath - I LOVE my siblings, I don't want to be used to hurt them.
    That I rebelled led to much pain & mistreatment, I was abused worst of all, but in hindsight, I might have saved my bond with my brother & sisters by giving him the finger. It helps that for all her faults, our mom drew the line/ cracked down hard when he wanted to make us rat each other out.

    1. Hi Kendrix! I see that you've commented on several of my articles today. Thank you!

      Triangulating the children against one another, is a favorite tactic and it can take years to understand and change. It's a learned behavior and each person plays a specific role in the drama. It's also common for narcissistic parents to pit the children against each other, everyone vying for "Dad's" attention and approval. Once you understand these dynamics, you can start to change. And the truth is that when one person in the family changes, everyone else shifts, too.

      I would encourage you to keep learning about dysfunctional families and also learn about "healthy families". That's so important too. How do healthy siblings engage with one another? Then you have a guideline and goal to work towards. It can take years and lots of earnest dedication to healing but i promise it will be worth it.



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