Tuesday, June 12, 2007

When Your Narcissist Mother isn't THAT bad...

Someone posted a question/comment today under the "Your Narcissistic Mother" post of 6.4.07. Since my response ended up being rather lengthy, I've decided to post it as a regular blog post where it can be found more easily by the person who posted the comment as well as the rest of the readers of the blog.
Jordie said:
My problem is the voice inside which says, she's not THAT bad, after reading some of the terrible stories of other N mothers that are out there. How do I wrestle that one to the ground?

I have actually cut her off, after 43 years of blaming myself and excusing her arbitrary, volatile, poisonous lies.

This is harder than I thought.
My mother is also far from a "worst case" example if I was to measure her by what most people think of her. She is not the "worst case" even when just measured by me. She is a "garden variety" malignant narcissist. Nevertheless, she captures the very essence of the malignant narcissist which is why I am able to describe the "beast" of narcissism in a way that many can relate to. I have distilled down the "spirit" of narcissism and described the underlying principles narcissism operates from. I focus here on principles of narcissism so that regardless of the level of abuse a person has experienced with their narcissist, they will be able to recognize from my descriptions what they've been dealing with.

One of the reasons I stated in this particular post that there are spiritual issues you are up against when dealing with a narcissist is because many of the effects of their behaviors are subtle and intangible to an outsider, yet very real when they are happening to you. This is also why I refer you, in this post, to this web page:

Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers

"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."
The very premise of this person's description of the N mother is how subtle the abuse is. Then the author goes on to state this:

"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."
Does any of this description sound like overt abuse? Much of what this person goes on to describe are the very subtle ways a narcissistic mother undermines you and punches you with an iron fist inside a velvet glove. Her role as "mother" is her cover. Her protestations of undying love and devotion to her children are her ruse.

I suggest you look at your mother in terms of what her consistent behaviors over the years have indicated. An occasional misdeed doesn't a narcissist make. It is the consistency of their malicious intent as betrayed by their words and deeds over the years. The aforementioned web page states this:

"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."
"Other people" includes yourself.

Narcissists make their "living" by covering up their malignancy. "Plausible deniability" is essential so they can weasel out of all accountability for their deeds. This makes it hard to find "proof" to issue a final "verdict" on them. This is what keeps you trapped in the relationship. The most important measurement of the malignancy of a narcissist is in the effect on you. You can accurately measure the toxicity of the narcissist by the effects on your own soul. Whether they snuffed out their cigarettes on your bare skin or stuffed you in a closet for three years, these are not the only manifestations of a malignant narcissist, nor are they the only justification for going "no contact". Perhaps the only evidence you have of their Nism is how they consistently and sneakily undermined your person-hood and stole who you are from you. The evidence of who they really are is in the effects on you. You need to give yourself permission to issue your "verdict" against your N mother based on the evidence left on your heart, mind and soul.

Malignant narcissism isn't measured by reaching a certain level of hard abuse. It is measured by certain principles. For example, the first and primary characteristic of narcissism is their insatiable need to "have it all". All of what? Attention and regard. All the attention and kindly regard in any circumstance is theirs by right, in their thinking. Since attention is essential for all humans to survive (both physically and psychologically), their demand to "have it all" is malicious. They would deprive you of any of this precious commodity because they MUST have it all. This principle explains everything a narcissist does. It is the underlying motivation, the very core, for whatever expression their narcissism takes.

Because of their need to "have it all", which means "you can't have ANY", they are predatory. They are constantly stalking their "prey". This is how they make their living. The fact that they rarely get "caught" in their mistreatment of you is because they are expert at predation. Like any predator in nature, they seek moments of opportunity. They don't pounce when by doing so there will be witnesses of their predation (witnesses whom the N thinks may hold them accountable and may try to stop them). This is why they seek out what they perceive as "weak" targets. Perceived weakness can include someone who is simply kind to the narcissist (!). A child is perceived as weak. An adult trained by a narcissist parent from childhood who has yet to stand up to the N parent's predations is considered a weak target. Vulnerability is sniffed out by a narcissist with nearly unfailing accuracy.

Their need to "have it all" and their predatory natures are two basic and primary principles of narcissism. How these manifest are different in every situation. The narcissist adapts to their environment which is why the behaviors can widely vary. The underlying principles remain the same.

To sum up:

Measure the narcissist by 1) the effects manifested in you 2) and by the principles of narcissism. The sneaky narcissist is no less guilty than the overt abuser. In my estimation, they are more evil for their sneakiness and their ability to more effectively hide their malicious predations. The more they are able to hide their malicious intent behind a facade of "goodness", the more dangerous they are. It is much easier to hold to account a person who beats you up physically. You at least have marks and bruises to bear witness of the crime. But someone who beats you up mentally and emotionally leaves no outward mark. This is why I say the sneaky narcissist is more dangerous. In my book, they are also more evil. Which is more dangerous? The snake in the open, or the snake in the grass?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply.

Your website has been invaluable in helping me deal with my mother and sisters. It is a huge struggle, but it is sanity preserving to know that other women have so much helplful information to give.

Go you.


Anonymous said...

I once read a comment by a neonatologist, who said of his profession "What we do to these children is indistinguishable from torture." He has a point. Think about what a juvenile cancer patient goes through -the needles, the poisons, the surgeries. And yet, when they recover, these kids are delighted to return to the hospital where torture was visited on them. They run to hug the nurses and doctors who inserted needles and pumped burning fluids into their veins.

The difference between medical care and torture is intent. The doctors and nurses have only the intent to cure, and as humanely as possible. They explain what will happen. They validate the child's fear. They do their best to ease that pain and fear. They are concerned and compassionate.

On the other hand, a narcissistic mother may never have laid a hand on you, though she probably managed to arrange for at least some pain. All her brutality was in her intent. She intended to humiliate, confuse and shame. She wanted you to hurt. She enjoyed it. She even wanted you to know that she enjoyed it. She was sadistic.

Andrew Vachss has said (http://www.vachss.com, look for "You carry the cure...") that the worst kind of abuse is emotional abuse. He believes that the emotional component of physical and verbal abuse is what makes it bad. He has a long history as an advocate of abused children, and if anyone understands abuse, it is he. Even so he has a hard time verbalizing what he means by emotional abuse. Like most writers, he defaults to using examples of verbal abuse and pointing out their emotional component.

The children of narcissists endure the very worst kind of abuse because narcissists are pure emotional abusers. Their children do not know how to express what they experience, because it is so difficult to describe the agony of abusive intent. Our Nparents hurt our feelings and then reveled in our pain in such a way that it was clear that they did it on purpose and for fun. Although they certainly lashed out in anger, that wasn't what made them abusive, although as AnnaV points out, when they are called on their abusiveness, they point to things like angry outbursts, because, after all, they're just human, and you do that too, sometimes right? In reality what made them abusive was not their outbursts. It was the times they engaged in carefully planned, deliberate, premeditated cruelty and the pleasure they took from inflicting it. They know what they're doing. That's the biggest secret of all, and the one they defend with their last breath, as AnnaV's mother was doing. They claim they had no intention of hurting you, but in reality, the entire goal was to hurt you. Your pain was the payoff. They knew it. You knew it. That's what made it hurt so much. But you couldn't prove it, and your ineffectual rage and humiliation made the narcissist just giggle with joy and pride that she was so clever!

When I was 15, my father developed cancer and was given 2 years to live. That summer I became so depressed that I didn't get out of bed, couldn't eat, and did nothing. Naturally my mother didn't notice, because she was worrying about herself (she said). One night, in the grip of rolling waves of depression, I told her that I was sick and needed to go the doctor. The doctor examined me briefly, looked at me sitting slumped on his examining table and said "What's going on in your life?" I said "My father has cancer and he's going to die." He said "I see." He then turned to my Nmom and said "I think you should get her someone to talk to." She said,incredulously "You mean...like a psychologist? Oh no! Not her!"

Now, she was a nurse, and I had never before heard her directly defy a doctor's orders. In addition, she was seeing a psychologist herself, so it wasn't fear of therapists in general. She was ok with therapy, just not for me.

It took me a long time to figure out the damning truth behind this scene and why something so superficially trivial burned itself into my memory. She didn't want me to see a therapist, because she was afraid the therapist would find out what she was doing to me . Then that horrible, delicious little secret would be out: that sometimes she liked to get me alone and torment me for fun. Some of her abuse was unthinking, but most of it wasn't at all involuntary or reflexive. It was staged, planned and deeply enjoyed, and could not be explained in any other way than deliberate sadism. It was also completely hidden. She was extremely careful about her timing and her rationales. She orchestrated it for maximum pleasure without risking exposure. All of this was completely conscious, and extremely evil. And she knew all of it.

So Jordie: Look through your memory. Somewhere, sometime when your Nmom wasn't in complete control of the situation, she slipped up and gave you tangible proof of her sadism. Maybe when you realize that, it will help you understand that you have absolutely no choice but No Contact, because otherwise she will never stop tormenting you. She doesn't want to. It's been too much fun.

Anonymous said...

Anna: Thank you so much for this blog. I just found it today. I cannot express how much it means to finally find this phenomenon articulated so well.
I have an n mother and I'm pretty sure my sister is also N. I cut contact with both of them years ago. I was close to suicide in my early 20's, and i beleive that cutting contact saved my life -- literally.
My father recently died so i am unfortunately forced to have contact again with my sister. The pain from even the smallest contact with her is unbearable. Fortunately, I have found an excellent therapist.
i relate with everything you say -- all your experiences. I feel releived to know that I'm not the only one, that I'm not nuts, and that I'm right for cutting contact.
Other family members have punished me harshly for my decision.
Reading your blog gives me strength to know I'm right and to beleive that i'm doing a good job taking care of myself.
My mother and my sister, if they were healthy, would not want me to have contact with such toxicity.
Thank you again!

Anna Valerious said...

Glad you found my blog. I hope you can again end contact with your sister since she is such a source of pain for you.

I am expecting that when one or both of my parents die that my sister will use the event as an excuse to demand my presence in her life again. I've thought it through and am prepared for the pressure and guilt trip. The answer will be a firm no.

Best wishes for a peaceful life minus your mom and sister!

Anonymous said...

I'm certain my mother is a narcissist but I'm wondering now if my partner, who I've just left, is also. He doesn't intentionally abuse. Mostly his abuse was in the form of neglect while he sucked the life out of me. His anger wasn't overt but kind of passive-aggressive. He's manipulative and can get people to do everything for him and he lies all the time. He's even made up the story that it was his choice to break up. He moved in with another woman really fast after I left and reckons he broke up with her too.

I'm just not sure as he kind of fits but really isn't cruel rather he just doesn't care at all. In many ways it explains things and makes some sense to me that he might be a narcissist but maybe I'm just seeing things that aren't there.

Is this cruel abuse a necessary component of narcissism or is it possible that some people are non-violent narcissists?

Anna Valerious said...

Is this cruel abuse a necessary component of narcissism or is it possible that some people are non-violent narcissists?The point of this post is that, no, not all narcissists are physically and overtly abusive. Yes, there are non-violent narcissists. In fact, it is likely that the majority of malignant narcissists are not violent.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anna. I've only just discovered your blog and the meaning of the word narcissist even though I'd heard the word before it was as if it had no relevance. Maybe in order to accept the lies I had to disallow certain information.

It's difficult to process it all and I feel overwhelmed.

I don't want to write the man I loved off as a narcissist.

It's easier in the case of my mother because she was very cruel and abusive.

Yet even though it's more clear-cut in the case of my mother, for both I have this great dread that it's a very, very bad thing to accept it as truth.

Occam's razor comes to mind that the simplest explanation is likely the correct one. Believing that he is a narcissist puts everything in place and removes all the inconsistencies and the contradictions. It makes things clear.

Then again maybe I'm just looking for an easy way out and for the burden of responsibility to be lifted from my shoulders.

The burden of responsibility remains however because if I accept it as true that I was my narcissist mother's slave then my narcissist partner's slave, I have to face that my entire life has been a lie and not even one of my own making.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire as they say.

Juan Echo Mota said...

Jordie said:
My problem is the voice inside which says, she's not THAT bad, after reading some of the terrible stories of other N mothers that are out there.

Anna said:
My mother is also far from a "worst case" example if I was to measure her by what most people think of her. She is not the "worst case" even when just measured by me. She is a "garden variety" malignant narcissist.

I want to present the possibility that all Nmothers are THAT bad and that they are all a "worst case" example because they are CUSTOM abusers. They go precisely for YOUR weak spots and so crap on you in exactly the worst way for your dignity and self-esteem.

Then, after you've been reduced (verbally or physically) to tears or coerced into admitting submission to their N-version of reality, only then do they break down with the non-apology and sweetly said words of non-love (i.e. "I'm sorry I had to do that to you." and "I'm hard on you because I care about you so much.") that keep ya comin' back for more.

They're ALL a customized version of hell for their children and, hence, they're ALL the worst. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Anna Valerious said...

You certainly do make a convincing case!

Jules said...

Juan Echo Mota said:
"I want to present the possibility that all Nmothers are THAT bad and that they are all a "worst case" example because they are CUSTOM abusers."

Thank you for this. That makes a lot of sense! I too was struggling with what I now see as making excuses for my N-parents and N-brother (I've got a full house! lucky me), but mostly my N-mom, as she is the only person in the family whom I thought I loved.

I thought, "even though she does and says a lot of BS, she can't possibly be 100% malignant" because there are times when I felt loved and I was clinging to those memories.

But the reality is that her mere presence in my life makes my skin crawl and that's all that matters. If she did indeed love me, she wouldn't just tell me, she would SHOW it. She only occasionaly hurt me physically, but there was a lot of medical-related neglect (telling me that I'm faking, that I'm just doing it to get attention or to get out of going to school). One time when I was a teenager, I was sick with the flu and she gave me some medicine (not sure what it was). Turns out it was an overdose and I abruptly woke up in the couch with the distinct feeling that I had not been breathing. I gasped for air for a bit, and was so alarmed that I managed to get to her room and tell her about it, but she just kept watching TV and told me to sleep it off.

It's a testament to the insidious nature of an N-mother's abuse that I still would consider the POSSIBILITY that she loves me, after that incident. I hate this.

Lisa said...

i don't know if you're still out there, but that facing the fact that your entire life has been a lie feels soul breaking. You can make it through, though. I hope you did and you are well.

David said...

Hi I am the child of a clearly narcissistic father (constant liar and gambler and self inflated but not violent in any physical way, just highly self obsessed) and a mother who interestingly seems to tick all the boxes of narcissism that my dad doesn't! I originally classified her as codependent but she displays too many of the other characteristics of narcissism herself I think. Anyway they are both 85 now and it is just as painful as ever to be around either of them.
My issues is that I carry an enormous amount of guilt. I live in another country but regularly visit home in the U.S. to see them and spend time with them.
I carry this guilt I THINK because my parents were not OVERT narcissists. It took me until about five years ago to really get how much they fit the bill. So this is helpful.
However, my parents may also have not been acting out of CONSCIOUS intent and maliciousness.
So while I get the idea that narcissists do not have to be overt in their abuse and it can be very subtle, is it also possible that they can be unconscious to a large extent about what they are doing? I have indeed whether I am just missing the malicious intent. I think my father is a true sadistic manipulator and derives pleasure consciously from the game play and sucking of attention from everyone. Interestingly, he is non violent physically and prides himself on never losing it emotionally and never shouting or arguing. He will just walk away when anyone gets mad at him and then say to siblings "what's wrong with your brother/sister?"
But my mother is far more subtle and I think her behaviour reflects unconscious issues and the self awareness and conscious malisious intent is not as apparent in her abuse. She only goes off the rails and shouts and screams if you challenge her in the slightest. So it is all egg shells with her but I cannot see her conscious manipulation. I think it is unconscious. Is that possible or am I just missing it?
(I feel so lucky to have TWO Nparents and two who were subtle!! If they were overt I am sure I would not feel so much guilt! Is this a com,on problem? )

Anna Valerious said...

Hi David,

You don't ever explain why you feel guilty. Is it because you think you don't spend enough time with them? You don't like them? That part of your comment is unclear so I'm not sure why pinning down the exact amount of awareness on their part is necessary. Is the amount of guilt tied to how much they are aware of their evil effects on others?

First of all, no narcissist is ever fully aware of the damage they inflict. Yes, many are conscious to to varying levels of what they are trying to do to others. I don't think they are able to really know how much damage they do because they suppress their empathy and are focused on themselves. So if awareness of the extent of damage they do to relationships is required before holding them accountable for their behavior is necessary before we can feel right about leaving them to themselves and going our way then we should all just throw up our hands and just take their shit as they dish it out.

Regardless of what they know about the harm they are doing, it is up to us to know what harm they are doing, both to ourselves and to those we are responsible for like our children and partners. That is the measure you use. Determining just how much they are aware of their evil before deciding how you have to deal with them is actually nonsensical.

I'm sorry your parents are both subtle narcissists. Obviously, I don't cut any slack just because a narcissist is playing a subtle game. Do what is necessary to minimize the damage they can inflict and carry on.

All the best,