"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." Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers
My mother is a virtuoso at what is described above. I'm going to attempt to describe the "look" without the benefit of pictures. I haven't written about this sooner because a picture is worth a thousand words. I've yet to find a picture with the murderous look my mother is known for by those close to her. I've even tried to use Google images to see if anyone has captured something resembling her look. I still haven't found it. So, I'm going to try to describe it both as it appeared and the emotions it evoked and hope your imagination can do the rest. The quote above proves to me that the controlling look is not something that only my mother used.
I'm sure that not only narcissistic mothers use the "look". It can be an effective tool for any narcissist who has had opportunity to privately terrorize another human being into submission. I am certain, though, that the most effective training to fear a "look" is done when one is very young. Before the age of reason.
"Once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word". The terrifying look is terrifying to you because you were trained to perceive it as such. The "look" was accompanied by swift and terrorizing punishment when you were tiny. Like Pavlov's dogs, it didn't take long to associate that look with certain pain, both emotional and physical. Soon, she only has to flash you "the look" and you drop into line. Likely, all this training was accomplished before you could even talk. This means you react to it on a completely emotional, not rational, basis because you were trained long before your rational brain was up and running.
Once you've been trained, the "look" is a subtle form of communication that the narcissist parent uses to keep you in line especially when others are around. Without having to raise their voice, lift a hand, even move an inch out of their chair, you can be instantly persuaded that you are in deep trouble unless you stop what you're doing or saying that very moment. You fear you may still be in trouble even if you do stop instantly...which leaves your little heart quivering in fear for hours.
This being said, all parents are able to communicate with their children with a look. Usually a raised eyebrow. The child's reaction to a parental "look" is a good indication whether or not in privacy that look is followed with terrorism. If a child suddenly looks like they are scared shitless...that look is not a benevolent warning enabling the child to decide to use self-control rather than have to endure discipline. Good parents do not rule their children with terror. They may communicate a warning with a look...a child has a choice at that moment. Proceed and be disciplined. Stop and all is well. Discipline is not terrorism. Narcissist parents do not discipline. They terrify their "subjects" into compliance. They make it so painful to go against them that you'll do just about anything to not displease them. Especially as a helpless child. What I'm describing is the "look" which is backed up with this type of emotional and physical terrorism.
Let's see if I can begin to describe the look my own mother has employed with great effect, not only with myself and my sister, but the scores of children left in her care by oblivious working mothers. If you're a working mother...think about it. Someone like my mother could be caring for your child. My mother was widely considered an excellent day care provider. All her references would have been glowing. Think long and hard. I saw my mother use the below described methods on other people's children many, many times over the years.
Back to the "look". Her entire face tightens. Then the eyes slightly narrow. The nostrils flare subtly. The teeth. The teeth were the major player in her scary face. She would set her front top teeth onto her front bottom teeth which you could perceive was happening even though her mouth is still closed. Then, she moves in on you swiftly. Suddenly, she is right over you, usually with a death grip on your arm. Maybe both arms. Her face is brought within inches of your own. Then the lips unfurl. She is hissing at you through her gritted teeth. She would actually grind them as she was hissing her anger at you. The face is totally demonic. She looks possessed with rage and you feel sure that it is all she can do to not kill you that very instant. As those teeth grind, her face starts to really contort. The bottom part of her jaw sets to the side as she grits and grinds her teeth. The tenseness in her face is entire. She looks like a barely controlled nuclear fission reactor. She never raises her voice. No, the more angry she is the more she whispers. But that whisper is right in front of your eyes. You're face is two inches from the demon woman as she hisses through her grinding teeth. This look is usually followed by an ass pounding. She may use her hand. She may get a shoe. She feels virtuous because she never uses a belt for beatings. Somehow, in her mind, the belt was excessive. Believe me, a rubber-soled sandal can hurt like hell.
Now, this is how she deals with children, not autonomous adults. Keep in mind that the demon-possessed bitch face is saved for the most innocent and the most helpless. This means children, but it can also mean the elderly. I saw her grind her teeth at my dad's father, my grandfather, a time or two. My grandfather had the misfortune of spending his last years under my parent's roof as Parkinson's took him slowly. My mother was in charge of taking care of him. She hated him. She mostly controlled herself when I was around, but I saw the teeth gnash in his presence. Luckily for him, glaucoma had stolen almost 100% of his sight, and his ears didn't work so well either. I am fairly sure most of the subtleties were lost on him, though I'm also sure he knew my mother felt imposed upon by him.
My daughter, when she was around six years of age, was around the summer my mother was taking care of her own mother. It was a six week period where my mother was giving her sister a break. Her mother had some dementia due to multiple strokes. My daughter was so shocked to see my mother spanking her own elderly mother that she's never forgotten it. I am sure my mother must have been giving her devil face to her mother. Hopefully, my poor grandmother was unable to comprehend it. Though I have my doubts about that. One of the reasons my mother was so angry was that my grandmother kept escaping from the house and trying to run down the gravel road. Perhaps she was trying to escape from my mother? Thankfully, that was the only time my mother ever took care of her own mother before her mother passed away. So, as you can see, to be helpless in my mother's care is not to be desired. My father is in for a real shock if he ever becomes dependent on my mother's "tender" ministrations.
I was trained to fear "the look". It worked on me well into adulthood. Yes, the horrid woman would use a subtle version of the "look" long after I was out on my own. I would do just about anything to get that look off her face. No more swooping in, grabbing the arm, hissing in the face. No, she'd stop short of that. Just the pre-swoop part of the look. Reluctant for a scene to follow that look, she would get near perfect compliance from me for decades of my life. She was still capable of dishing out punishment in the form of emotional beatings. She was able to take her grown daughter, seal her off in a room alone with her, and dish out the emotional abuse. I suppose my obvious fear of her "look" was a signal to her that I was still her prey. When I stopped reacting to the look....she started to fear me.
Hopefully, I've been able to describe how a narcissist parent may have trained you to respond to a "look" to control your behavior even long after you've grown. You've been trained to react by giving compliance. It is time to stop fearing the look. It is a version of a temper tantrum. The immature narcissist is threatening to throw a fit if you don't give her what she wants. You're no longer that helpless child. You can use your rational brain to overcome the strong emotions you've been trained to have. As you see your parent's attempt to control you with a look, decide at that moment that you are looking at a two year old threatening to throw a full-blown fit if you don't do things his way. Deal accordingly. If the person who has controlled you with a look has been physically abusive to you as an adult...then be careful. Your resistance must take the form of your absenting yourself from their presence. Hopefully, permanently. Sometimes, the "look that could kill" is exactly that.