Friday, March 02, 2007

The Narcissist as Altruist

One of the reasons it can be so hard to convince other people that the narcissist is dangerous and evil is because of the altruistic image many of them often present to the world. My entire lifetime I have been an observer of my mother's relationships (including with myself) and have seen how in every single one of them she made sure she was perceived as the benefactress. In her mind, her position of "giver" is one of superiority. To the narcissist it is a sign of inferiority to ask for help; a sign of superiority to dispense help. This is a hard and fast principle with narcissists so you better commit that one to memory.

Her giving came in several forms: she would give of her time, her knowledge, and sometimes her resources. The narcissist knows the most dependable source of supply is to make another person dependent on them, so they encourage dependence. They know that being dependent is habit-forming so they are anxious to encourage you to this end. It makes for a steady source of narcissistic supply for them. They do nothing without a calculation of what they will be getting for what they give. This is not altruism. There is not an altruistic bone in their bodies. Do not be fooled. Your dependence is their guarantee of supply. It is all about them.

The dependence may be either financial or emotional. My mother specialized in the latter because she didn't have endless resources. She is a very greedy person and more likely to take your material things than to give you hers, unless we are talking about her discards. She will make great fanfare of generously giving you something material when she is really just throwing it away. Why put something in the trash or give it to Salvation Army when she can gain an opportunity to support her image of self-less generosity by giving her junk to you? You, of course, are not allowed to say, "What a piece of junk." No, you must look appropriately grateful for her generosity and tell her how perfect the "gift" is. Your humble reception of her "generosity" is what turns her "gift" into narcissistic supply for her. Then you'll have to surreptitiously throw it in the trash and hope she doesn't ask you about it later. A small little anecdote to illustrate. My mother gave a female cousin of mine a bag of soap slivers. My cousin was accustomed to watching the budget so as to stretch the home finances. So my mother decides that my cousin is "poor". Poor enough that she should be thrilled to accept a gift of soap slivers! By soap slivers, I'm talking about that little piece of soap you can no longer hang onto in the shower so you throw it away. I had seen this netted bag with soap slivers in my mother's bathroom cupboard some years earlier, so I knew of this soap sliver collection. I had no idea why she was collecting them, but wasn't curious enough to ask. I think it is very likely she didn't know what she was going to do with them when she started either. But, lo and behold, the day finally came when she could discard this insane collection. She could use it in a transaction that would turn old, crusty soap slivers into the stuff of life...narcissistic supply. Narcissist alchemy. Turning lead (soap slivers) into pure gold (of narcissistic supply).

My mother has honed her nurturing of dependence so that even while she is rushing to your aid and encouraging you to depend on her, she tells you how she will teach you to depend on yourself and not her. Which makes her sound like a true beneficent. It encourages you to trust her completely. The course of time reveals the lie, though. Even while she is acting like she someday expects you to depend on yourself she is drawing the bands of control through dependence ever tighter around you. You will not escape except by a supreme act of the will and a determined cutting off of all contact. She is obligating you to her with every act of beneficence. You are expected to show your loyalty and your supreme adulation and gratitude with every interaction. Any deviation from an attitude of admiration will bring down the judgment of heaven on your head. She will remind you of the great sacrifices of her time and knowledge given to you in your time of extremity; how could you think she is anything but self-less and wonderful? You feel ashamed to think even one thought that deviates from the image she projects. To put it succinctly, there are strings attached to every single thing she does for you.

Unfortunately, she does not follow the Biblical injunction to not let the right hand know what the left hand was doing in her acts of "charity". No, she made sure that others in her life knew of the great sacrifices of time, energy, and knowledge she has exerted on your behalf. She does this casually. No need to make a great show of it. No, if she drops the information casually it doesn't appear to be bragging, it just appears to be evidence of how naturally she gives of herself to others. There is a strategy to all of this. She is constantly aware that at some point her dependent may attempt to defect from her iron-fisted control. She is taking out insurance against this possible outcome. She is insuring her image to others. The uprising of indignation when you try to assert some control of your own life will astonish you. Suddenly, everyone around you is frowning on your behavior and reinforcing the narcissist's claims that you are a selfish ingrate. Unless you are very sure of your own mind, it will be hard to defect in the face of such overwhelming opposition. You can not leave the narcissist's lair without suffering a very large hit to your reputation in the eyes of others. Those "others" are mutual friends or family so it is painful. You're going to have to face the fact that you will have to look "bad" in order to reclaim your dignity and your autonomy. Look at this as a time when you will find out who your real friends are.

As a beneficiary of the magnanimity of the narcissist you become the silent audience to their grandiosity. You are privy to their one-man show. You come to realize it is all about them and not about you at all except what you give them. You must be forthcoming with generous servings of admiration, respect, even fear. It really isn't all that important to the narcissist to be loved. They are satisfied with admiration or fear of the image they project. Those two responses appeal to their grandiose view of themselves. The narcissist reveals how it is not altruism that motivates them because they very quickly lose interest in being helpful when they are not receiving applause for their actions.

Be assured of this fact; every favor you receive from the narcissist incurs debt. You can never repay this debt. Never. He is the only one allowed to tend to the bookkeeping ledger...and that ledger is always going to be used to prove you are forever in debt to him. Forever. Any favor you do for the narcissist was simply what you owed him. In other words, you are not able to grant a favor to a narcissist. This would prove that he needed something, which is anathema to his god-like status. You can't do favors, you can only pay in some small way toward your "debt". There is no fairness in this system, so don't look for any. If you can be satisfied with a lifetime of being a lesser form of life who has incurred an eternity of debt, then stay dependent on a narcissist. Otherwise, cut your losses and get the hell out of Dodge.


Anonymous said...

When my Nmom passed - my brother and I found STACKS & STACKS of plastic sheets to cover things. Your soap silver story made me remember!

It made me think of how she had a "good" living room where the furniture was encased in plastic. Even the tops of my bedroom dresser & nightstand & desk were covered with clear plastic.

I was not a healthy child (or adult) and once I threw up on the hall rug before I could make it to the bathroom. I will never forget her screaming MY RUUUGGGG!!!!

And of course I had PCOS which caused severe bleeding and she would tell me I was a 'freak' 'smelled bad' was 'disgusting' and 'not a real woman' and it would have been 'better if' I 'was born male.'

Holly Roark said...

The soap slivers. Jesus fucking Christ. I just can't even find words to comment on that one, other than to say, I TOTALLY GET IT. They are fucking freaks, these NPDs. Totally fucking whack job psychotics.

Anna Valerious said...

Hey, thanks Magdalen. I can tell from your response that you completely get it.

Anonymous said...

Hello and thanks for providing this site. I pasted a couple of sentences below from the last blog because I think that this is why I have not been successful in setting bounderies against my narcissistic mother sooner. As soon as I do, up come the oppositions from other family members and some mutual friends. You are right! It IS astonishing! So much so, that it was the main reason that I continued to question my own sanity even into adulthood. Many of them are "good" people. Even though I knew deep down that my mother was "evil", I doubted my own gut because of the uprising of those in her "army" who are "good". They are completely snowed by her!! I have wrestled with this for the past month and now am prepared. I have already sent letters to a select few from her "army" telling them the I am going to confront her and that there is a good possibility contact will be severed! In the letter, I gave a few examples of the abuse, stated that I accept the responsibility of my own happiness and healing from it and that I am aware that they will once again join her "crusade" against me. I said, "So be it! My husband and kids need me to be happy and stable rather than rattled and emotionally wounded all of the time." I thank you for this website! It really helps and gives hope to those of us who suffered and continue to suffer this type of abuse!

(here is the paste from those sentences in the blog that I refer to above)
The uprising of indignation when you try to assert some control of your own life will astonish you. Suddenly, everyone around you is frowning on your behavior and reinforcing the narcissist's claims that you are a selfish ingrate. Unless you are very sure of your own mind, it will be hard to defect in the face of such overwhelming opposition.

Cat Lady said...

This is so spooky, your mom is a clone of my mom. One Christmas she gave me a box of opened condoms, used lipstick and used nail polish. My sister, her Golden Child, got expensive gifts. I'm a single mom and each visit from her brought bags full of junk I wouldn't even give to the Salvation Army. If I refused her gifts she would bring the same junk to me a year later.

I haven't talked to her since June last year and have decided to never let her into my life again. I'm still clearing out my closets of her junk. I never threw the stuff away because she would always keep tabs on what I was doing with it. God forbid I threw it away. I guess she is also a serious pack-rat?

Someone mentioned in a comment here that their mother had wished she was a boy. My mom always let me know from the age of 11 that I should have been a boy. A psychologist told me later it was because I threatened her female beauty. I'm a good looking woman that was told by my own mother that I was ugly and not feminine. I didn't realize until the age of 35 that there was nothing wrong with my looks. It's insane how she managed to brainwash me into believing I was something I wasn't?

Thanks again Anna, your blog is doing so much more for me than the 5 years I wasted in therapy.

Caroline said...

Both my mom and my sister were/ are very narcissistic. When my mother passed, my sister was in charge of handling the cleaning out of the house and possessions. She "magnanimously" selected many items from the home to place out on the kitchen table for our cousins and other family members to select something to remember my mom. Except....every single item was damaged or broken in some way. meanwhile, without consulting or speaking to me, she had a friend come over and carried armload after armload of beautiful possessions out to the friend's car to be stored until she could have them shipped to her in Indiana. She took the best jewelry items for herself, including a beautiful squash blossom necklace that we had both admired for years. We became estranged after that, as a result of her behavior. Years later, when she wanted to reach out to me. she sent me the necklace. I knew before I looked at it closely that it was damaged somehow. Sure enough, the stones were ruined from having polished with silver cleaner so the necklace has very little value now. this is such a great story - thanks for sharing it because it reinforces that i am not crazy and not alone.

Angele said...

Father drove two hours to bring a huge green garbage bag from my step mother. When I opened the bag the smell was overpowering because the contents consisted of worn down smelly shoes, which should have been thrown out long ago. He then had me try on the shoes even though he knew I take a size seven and the shoes were all size nine. Father acted hurt by my lack of gratitude and when I mentioned the size difference he kept talking about how exclusive and good Italian leather the shoes were as if for that reason I should make them fit. I am no longer in contact because they were both sadistic narcissists.

Melissa Cutler said...

The bags of junk, yes! Or, what I always called it, "bags of crap" that my mother would present me with as a gift each time I visited her home or she visited mine. So many damaged goods with the clearance price sticker on them, newspaper or magazine advice column clippings to help me "improve" myself and my shortcomings. And she had a thing for clearance aisle cocktail napkins. Hundreds of those little cellophane packs of them over the years. When I finally worked up the nerve to ask her to stop, that I really didn't need anything more, she was dramatically and gravely offended. She ghosted me for several months over that. And let me tell you about the set of 1980s-era encyclopedias that she insisted on gifting me--and which I refused to take--for years. No amount of gently declining or explaining that we have better resources now on the internet would work. Those encyclopedias were a major bone of contention between us. Eventually, she stopped hammering me over them in favor of attempting to guilt my kids into taking them. She continues to let us know in no uncertain terms how stupid and ungrateful we are to reject such a generous offering.

JL said...

This is it. The last piece of the puzzle as to "why" that witch does what she does. So comprehensively and succinctly put... thank you Anna. Thank you. Love and light to you, always.