Surviving the Narcissistic Parent: ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists)

narcissistic-mothers-sm

April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. At The Invisible Scar, we are focusing on emotional child abuse, such as the various types, how to help emotionally abused children,  resources for healing, adult survivors of emotional child abuse, and the special case of narcissism.

Adult children of narcissistic parents (ACoNs) know a special type of emotional abuse in being raised by narcissists. (Biological mothers, stepmothers, biological fathers, and stepfathers can be N parents.) 

Before we discuss the special case of narcissism, please note that not every emotionally abusive parent has the narcissistic personality disorder. In some circumstances, an emotionally abusive parent who is not a narcissist can change and improve his or her parenting.  The same is not true for the narcissistic parent, however. Every narcissistic parent is an emotional abuser.

A narcissist is a person who has the narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder is one of a group of conditions called dramatic personality disorders. People with these disorders have intense, unstable emotions, and a distorted self-image. Narcissistic personality disorder is further characterized by an abnormal love of self, an exaggerated sense of superiority and importance, and a preoccupation with success and power.” (Cleveland Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder)

Though people often refer to someone vain as a “narcissist,” NPD is far more destructive, sneaky, and layered than mere vanity. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists specific traits of NPD.

  • An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements.
  • A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise.
  • A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status.
  • Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power.
  • Exploiting other people for personal gain.
  • A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment.
  • A preoccupation with power or success.
  • Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her.

(The DSM is a manual used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illnesses. It’s published by the American Psychiatric Association and categorizes mental health disorders of adults and children.)

Other traits psychologists have mentioned (in addition to the official list above) are…

  • Exaggerating  one’s achievements or talents
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
  • Expecting others to go along with every single plan and idea she has
  • Requiring constant attention and positive reinforcement from others
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Being easily hurt and rejected if someone doesn’t agree with his or her every thought and command
  • Reacting to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation
  • Lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others

What NPD Parents Are Really Like

The best essay of the characteristics of a narcissistic parent (in this essay, a mother) is below. It was written by Mary Lynch of The Harpy’s Child website.

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 food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate. 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, 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.”

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.

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 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 and trying to distress her listeners, 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.

14. She terrorized. For all abusers, fear is a powerful means of control of the victim, 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.)

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 raising a hand.

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. These babyish complaints and responses may sound laughable, but the narcissist is dead serious about them. When you were a child, if you ask her to stop some bad behavior, she would justify it by pointing out something that you did that she feels is comparable, as though the childish behavior of a child is 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’s aggressive and 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. Her demands of her children are posed in a very aggressive way, as are her criticisms. She won’t take no for an answer, pushing and arm-twisting and manipulating to get you to give in.

17. 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 for 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?” You studied up on colleges on your own and choose a cheap one without visiting it. You signed yourself up for the SATs, earned the money to pay for them and talked someone into driving you to the test site. You worked three jobs to pay for that cheap college and when you finally got mononucleosis she chirped at you that she was “so happy you could take care of 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. She seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings. She’ll occasionally slip and say something jaw-droppingly callous because of this lack of empathy. It isn’t that she doesn’t care at all about other people’s feelings, though she doesn’t. It would simply never occur to her to think about their feelings. An absence of empathy is the defining trait of a narcissist and underlies most of the other traits I have described. 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.

22. 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.

23. 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. While she may never praise you to your face, 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.

24. 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.” (Characteristics of a Narcissistic Mother, author unknown)

How Does a Narcissistic Parent Affect the Child?

Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents grow up disempowered and disconnected from their authentic selves. They fear retribution, punishment and condemnation, and are their own harshest critics. Until they resolve the issues resulting from their upbringing, they struggle with a deep sense of inferiority and fear of rejection. ACONs are often either overachievers or underachievers.

Adult children of narcissists are well-practiced in the art of pretending they have no needs, believe that they must present as demand-less in order to gain others’ acceptance, and that if they show their true wants and needs to others, they will be rejected.” (ACON Page, Light’s House)

The childhood of a person raised by a narcissistic parent is all kinds of horrible. The narcissist parent does not recognize the child as a separate human—but either an extension of self, an Echo, a mirror, an object, or a servant. 

The childhood of a narcissistic parent is a brutal one. And, unfortunately, due to the amount of psychological manipulation and abuse that the child is conditioned to accept, the abuse of the narcissistic parent often extends far into adulthood.

What Happens When the ACoN Awakens

If you’ve read the description below and do not have an NPD parent, you may find the description far-fetched, unbelievable, and just ridiculous. However, if you have an NPD parent, you know that the description is spot on. The author brilliantly captured how a narcissistic parent acts.

Unfortunately, because the NPD parent is so good at disguising her true self, the only one who knows the true personality of the parent is the awakened ACoN. The ACoN will almost always find herself alone in her discovery that her parent is a full-blown narcissist (or that both are). Everyone else who knows the parent will find it exceedingly difficult to believe that the charming, gentle, thoughtful person that they know could be so different when they are not around.

“There is a theme that runs through responses that I receive from children of a narcissistic parent(s). The child is subjected to unbearable levels of ongoing abuse–scalding criticisms, withering humiliations in front of other family members and alone, routine secret physical beatings and other horrendous acts of brutality including psychological and literal abandonment. When the child lets family members know what is happening to him, this person is not believed. When the victim of a narcissist tells the truth about his dreadful pathological parent, he is not treated with kindness or understanding. The family is shocked; the victim is treated with disdain and often told he/she is the sick one or that this is all lies to get attention. The narcissistic mother or father gets a complete pass. A masterful coverup takes place and remains ongoing. The child victims become family pariahs. Often the suggestion is whispered that they belong in a psychiatric institution or are in need of intensive psychotherapy.” (Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D, author of Freeing Yourself From the Narcissist in Your Life)

A Brief Word About Siblings

If the ACoN has siblings, the ACoN should not expect the sibling(s) to awaken just because the ACoN has.

The narcissistic parent has already waged a lifelong campaign to make sure the siblings will not be close. For example, a common thread in narcissistic parents is to triangulate their children… The narcissistic parent will choose a Scapegoat (to bear the brunt of all her/his criticism and abuse) and a Golden Child (to bear all his/her praise, even if for the smallest achievements). The parent will also play the children off each other (known as triangulation), encouraging the Golden Child’s abuse of the Scapegoat and the Scapegoat to grow envious of the Golden Child. (Note: Both the Golden Child and the Scapegoat suffer, though the Scapegoat is far more likely to grow up and break the cycle than the Golden Child.)

And because the narcissistic parent has dominated the lines of communication in a family (all communications go through her), the siblings may not know the truth about one another, may not even talk to each other, etc. The narcissistic parent has spent her lifetime gossiping about her children to one another, distorting their perceptions of one another, and making sure that the siblings will not communicate honestly with one another; she has done this to guarantee that they will not rise united against her.

An awakened ACoN should hold fast to the truth and be aware that her siblings–if they are still communicating via the narcissist and in constant communication with her—will deny the existence of abuse. The ACoN siblings still remain in hope of winning the narcissistic parent’s love, cannot bear the truth, and, if the sibling is a Golden Child, unwilling to break off the source of exaggerated praise and neediness that passes off as a “relationship.”

truth-veronica-maria-jarski

Despite the lack of empathy or understanding from relatives, the ACoN should stay awake and begin the path of healing.

A Brief Word About the Enabler

An abused child will often make the mistake of thinking the enabling parent is kinder and more loving than the NPD parent. The child thinks that because she has to think that for the sake of her own survival. (A child’s psyche would hardly be able to bear the idea of two NPD parents.) The truth, however, is that the enabler often causes his own brand of damage.

If you read blogs from ACoNs, they often refer to the other parent (the non-NPD one) as the “flying monkey.”

The narcissist is the one dominating the family dynamics and destroying everything in her path that does not directly feed her sense of ego; the enabler is the one who will yell at the kids, cajole them, manipulate them, bribe them, threaten them, etc. to step in line and do what the narcissistic parent demands. The consensus is that the parent enables the abuse of the children in order to escape the abuse himself.

In some circumstances, the awakened ACoN will realize that the enabling parent, which they have always preferred to the outright NPD one, may also be an NPD parent. Many ACoNs have written about having a closer “relationship” with the enabling parent, only to find out, through growing self-awareness and therapy, that the enabling parent was also causing severe damage to her—though the enabler’s method was more covert.

Can an ACoN Ever Heal?

Yes.

Many children of narcissistic parents do survive although they have suffered horribly. They are courageous individuals who never give up even when they feel like they can’t go one more step. They learn the lessons of survival well. Many of them become hypervigalent and suffer from anxiety and depression. Many benefit from highly skilled empathic psychotherapy and other healing modalities: gentle yoga, a form of meditation that works for you, journaling, exercise that you enjoy and spending time with Nature.” (Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D, author of Freeing Yourself From the Narcissist in Your Life)

If you have just come to the understanding that your parent has the narcissistic personality disorder (or both have it), please start looking for ways to heal.

You are worth it. You deserve to be loved, to be happy, to find peace, to be the person that you were created to be.

You deserve a good life filled with love, peace, and healthy relationships.

Here are some resources to help you along the way…


 

Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications.

169 thoughts on “Surviving the Narcissistic Parent: ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists)

  1. I am very new to this.
    My mom and I have never had a solid relationship. I struggle now to put into words how I feel. I am going to be 29 soon and I just realized this past weekend I think there was a problem in my childhood. I am one of three children, the middle, the last brother came ten years after the first and his upbringing was completely different. I have soooo many good memories from my childhood that I feel so guilty mentioning the bad ones…..
    Before I was in second grade my mom told my brother and I that if we weren’t quiet she would cut our tongues out and we would have to live in the crawl space with the children before us that didn’t keep quiet. She used this threat often. They even had names…Johnny and Suzy. When I would cry, or mention this later in life…I was just being too sensitive.
    I remember being sick in bed when I was really littler. I had a cough. A very annoying cough. She came into my room and gave me meds but she was always screaming because I shouldn’t still be coughing. She told me if I coughed one more time I would have to sleep in the minivan in the garage…so I smothered myself with my pillow and prayed she didn’t hear. Later in life…she said she was joking and I was sensitive.
    She hated that fact that I potty trained myself while we were on vacation and she still tells people how much that pissed her off and inconvenienced her trip.
    But I have so many good memories of vacations and trips and holidays…
    They were never physically abusive to us…at least I thought we deserved to me spanked and whipped with a belt for what we did. Later in life, she says she realizes now it was wrong and that she needed a “pill” back then. But those aren’t the things that bother me.
    One time she said we were being shipped off to boot camp and we would never see them again because we were bad kids. The more I cried, the more she threatened. Later in life, she says she was only joking and I was too sensitive.
    From all the reading I have done in the past couple of days I feel like I would have been the scapegoat..but I am also the most successful of my three siblings thus far and have achieved the highest degree, though they are both doing quite well for themselves also.
    What recently spurred this whole process into action and my realization of the problem began a few years ago. My mom is great at giving me backhanded compliments and horrible apologies. She would say things like “Your hair looks nice down…maybe you should that more often” or “You look so much prettier with makeup…just a little bit would help so much” She tells me I have horrible style and taste in clothes but she relishes all the hand me downs that I give her and thinks she is the best dressed woman there is. There isn’t a day that goes by that she isn’t wearing something that was once mine. She made it her absolute duty that I looked presentable on my weddding day with full hair and makeup professionally done even though I told her I didn’t want to, I wanted simple. She wouldn’t have it. My mom’s comments, backhanded compliments…they hurt. We have had NUMEROUS arguments through the years regarding this but I’m always the wrong one…I’m always too sensitive and she shouldn’t have to change her personality to suit me. She just told me that she doesn’t think she can change her personality for me and that she fears speaking to me now. I just asked her to be nice and to love me the way I love me.
    There is so much more.
    I feel guilty for thinking my mom might be narcissistic. She says it is all in my head.
    The other thing that bothers me….Both my parents smoked during my entire childhood. A LOT. I was sick A LOT!! They wouldn’t stop. They didn’t care. If it bothered me, I could leave. So when I was old enough…I just stayed upstairs in my bedroom to avoid it…and then I was a horrible child because I was never with the family and I was loner. They didn’t care if I could breathe. I haven’t had to take antibiotics once since I moved out their house….I took them several times a year while living there.
    There is too much and I feel anxious again now…I appreciate any helpful comments or direction.

    Thank you all.

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    • A lot of this sounds familiar. Where to start … years ago while in therapy I explained that I too felt like I wasn’t ever physically abused, even though yes, I was beaten with a belt so bad on several occasions that she actually apologized one time for it … but then she pretended it never happened. I also had my lip bloodied, once in front of my friends. One friend mentioned it to her own mother who then called my mother, but my mom, being the master manipulator/spinner/liar explained that what my friend saw was totally justified. Later in adulthood (she always brings up the past, not me) my beatings were rationalized to me as what kept me from going rogue in adulthood like this same friend (who ratted her out for her abuse against me.) And I thought, you mean the same friend who is married to a hardworking man, with two beautiful children? Doesn’t sound like a failure to me. She also told me if I ever ran away from home, to never bother coming back. She said it as sober as a judge with such forceful hate. She also said if I ever told anyone about the beatings that I would be taken away from her and sent to a foster home where I would be molested. I was too ignorant to realize that would never happen, since my biological father was active in my life and would be the one I would be handed over to. She also threatened to send me to live with him, which upset me, because even though he said he’d love to have me and I loved him very much (he’s now deceased) he lived out of town and I’d have to change schools. Then after I sobbed and pleaded, she “let” me stay. She brings up this very painful memory — like all other painful memories — and LAUGHS about it and expects me to laugh along with her and then taunts me when I don’t. And that thing on this site about talking about you in front of you as if you’re not even there? She STILL does this and I’m 40 years old, oftentimes to answer a question that someone else has asked me, because she wants to spin the truth the best way possible so that they are impressed with what a great daughter SHE has.
      As far as clothes, I had the best — partly because she didn’t want me to experience the shame of poverty like she did as a kid (she never said she was teased, so I don’t know where that comes from), but also because I was (and still am) only to serve as a reflection on her, so I damn sure better look good. Every morning in high school, I was encouraged to wear a full face of makeup and if I didn’t curl my baby fine, impossible to curl hair, then she’d express her disappointment. She would also literally inspect my makeup each morning before I went to class, telling me to smooth out foundation lines, etc. In elementary school, I was too skinny. She’d lament this and ask me why I couldn’t be more like so-and-so child. And my seven-year-old hair “stunk.” She said this to me with such revulsion that I developed a paranoia about smelling bad that she tells me I need to get over. (I don’t have the energy to tell her WHERE this fear comes from.) In high school, I started gorging myself, which didn’t work to put on the weight she wanted, but that’s another story.
      As for cigarette smoking, I hated it and every adult in my house did this (we had extended family living with us at times.) I begged and pleaded for them to go outside or smoke in the basement, but they didn’t care. Even when my eye doctor sat right in front of me and told my mom that my eye wasn’t infected but rather irritated by cigarette smoke and not to smoke around me. She nodded and said ok, but lit up in the car minutes later, saying, “oh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
      And I too, as you have stated, have good memories of vacations, but holidays were different. Every Thanksgiving for some reason I’d come down with the flu and she would scream at me for ruining Thanksgiving. She STILL brings this up. At Christmas my brother and I got whatever we asked for, but it was all ruined for us, because EVERY Christmas she’d fly into a jealous rage of some sort — either because her childhood wasn’t as good as ours or, more often than not, she didn’t get what SHE wanted for Christmas. (But she’d never tell us what she wanted!) I can’t tell you how many times she scorned me or my stepdad for not getting her what she wanted. As an adult, all I want for Christmas is a good meal and peace with my husband. I’ve gotten it for the last seven years when we moved away and she pouts about us never spending the holidays with her.
      And my memories of these things? Oh, I misunderstood her. She wasn’t serious. I should have known that. Or, when that fails, she’s changed. She’s not the same woman she was years ago. And oh, that time she kicked me out on my ass at 19? I should have reasoned with her to let me stay. Yes, our perceptions are always wrong as far as these people are concerned. (Gaslighting.) Except we’re right and they know it, but nothing threatens an N more than the truth so they will stop at nothing to quash it.
      I too have volumes more I could share about the brother who went no contact 9 years ago or the rich hobnobbing family friends who mysteriously disappeared after being grifted out of money, etc. and everything else, but it is, as you say, an anxious topic. The best thing I ever did was get into psychodynamic therapy with a counselor who had been a patient, himself. Not only did he believe me, he actually made me aware of what had happened to me after all those years of my defending her indefensible behavior. I saw other therapists who just didn’t get it, but when you find a good one it can change your life. I wrote another comment here that will hopefully show up and you can read it where I kinda expanded a little bit on a fresh way of looking at the situation so that it empowers you. As for whether or not you still communicate with her, that’s a tough one. I’m still trying to sort that out myself so that I keep my sanity and boundaries while keeping her from flying into a rage. Sigh….. Sorry so long.

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  2. Thank you for this comprehensive list and for putting the snide and familiar in the context of black and white, for EXPOSING these evils for what they are. I went NC in 1997 (and haven’t looked back) after years of therapy that never managed to parse out the NPD etiology. Several years later, the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers blog became my path to enlightenment on this devastating subject – thank goodness for the internet!

    Our growing up at the hands of this very special incarnation of evil and not all ending up institutionalized somehow, is nothing short of a miracle. Seriously! Please pat yourselves on your backs for the sheer reality of having managed to SURVIVE your childhoods. Yes, it really WAS THAT BAD! Kudos to ALL of us. Really!

    Now do yourselves a HUGE favor (because, yes, YOU ACTUALLY DESERVE IT) and:

    1. Work your derrieres off to free yourselves from the horrendous shackles of NPD (whether this – for you – means going LC or NC) because, dammit: YOU DESERVE IT!
    2. Go out into the world and CELEBRATE (because YOU DESERVE IT) the reality that YOU are, in fact, the NORMAL one.
    3. Live life as if you DESERVE it (because, dammit: YOU DO DESERVE IT!)
    4. Relish the NORMAL relationships you form with NORMAL people and CONGRATULATE yourselves, once again, for having turned out THIS NORMAL despite a childhood comprised of figuratively crossing the Antarctic continent, ON foot, and IN winter. Welcome Home to everyone here. YOU MADE IT!

    LOVE to all of you and HUGS to everyone who needs one today. Why? Oh, because YOU DESERVE IT! 🙂

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    • Hi Camilla! Wow, did you ever make me feel good today, even though I am having a wonderful week. I went Nc in May, for the second time and the last, believe me! A lot of good things happened to me this week and your post just made my day even better! How nice to read those empowering words! Yes we do deserve it! Indeed, we did go through hell through life because of that! Hugs and kisses to you and all!

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  3. I had another blow out with my mother on Friday after finding out she told my 12 year old son that “I was mean”, and I looked at my husband who was witness to the whole thing and said, “something must be wrong with me. I don’t even feel bad about anything I just said to her. I don’t feel bad about cussing and screaming at her. I have nothing left for her. Shouldn’t I have SOME sort of feeling towards her? She’s my MOM.” His response was “No, she’s been putting you through hell your whole life” (He knows because I made the mistake of letting her live with us for a while and she almost ruined my marriage.) She’s been manipulating me and my brothers my whole life, and now none of them even know me, much less speak to me. Now she’s starting on my 12 year old son. I don’t think so. I have a BS in psychology, and I always kind of thought she was narcissistic, but that I was “handling it”. I really wasn’t. This last blow out lead me to lots of researching and reading this weekend. Lots of tears and a horrible awakening. I see my situation over and over in many posts, comments, and articles I read, and I find I share that query-how do we make it just STOP? I want badly to go NC and never look back, but how do I explain this to my 12 year old who loves her? Will I ever have a relationship with my brothers (she totally triangulated all of us, and I am DEFINITELY the scapegoat). I remember once when my oldest brother (the golden child) grabbed me by my shirt collar after calling my mom on her sh#$ and threatening me if I ever spoke to HIS mother that way again…she’s done everything but lay a hand on me. She has done every single thing on this list in her life minus becoming physically abusive. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I don’t want to drag my son into it too. How do I explain this to him? I don’t trust her that she won’t turn my own son against me the way she did my brothers. How do I go no contact and keep him in tact? Help!

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    • Hi! I know what you are going through! It’s a lot of hurt, pain and anger. It has been a few months now, so I don’t know where you are at, at this point. I went NC with my mother in 2010 for three years, reconnected and she started up with me again. I am going NC for the last time! Follow your instincts! You are young, I’m 61! Don’t let her ruin your life. They know how to do that very well. They have no empathy! I, like yourself, always felt that there was something missing, feelings for her. How could we have f.eelings for people who hurt us, especially our parents! My father was worse! We had physical and emotional abuse. My mother to this day says that we were the bad kids! How could I love this woman. Although there is an alternative you could start with. I did, but it didn’t work out for me. You could confront her to try to change your relationship with her. There is a way to go about it. I didn’t do it right because I lost my temper and just about told her off, I didn’t though. I read the book Toxic Parents, I recommend it. I also have three other siblings, one who I cut ties with, alcoholic and my mother enables him. I always was her scapegoat so I truly understand your story! She is also triangulating my siblings and plays the victim which my younger sister does not seem to see as clearly. It’s not worth all the hurt! Because that’s what it is. I feel free. .. Guilt and anger goes away slowly. I do not regret my decision and feel good about myself! Sorry about the ranting but it did feel good to vent. Let us know how you are doing!

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  4. This is amazing. I just recently wrote about my experiences, which is very similar.

    For years, I could explain what I went through, but didn’t have a word other than controlling, manipulative and nasty to describe it. When I learned what narcissism was, all the pieces fell into place. This describes my mother to a tee.
    This IS abuse when actions meet behavior, and why I ran away from home at 17.
    She used to raid, take, and destroy my stuff. Especially whatever I valued the most. She would purposely hijack opportunities, (I had a chance to go to the Olympics to do some advertising for a company, and she said no, for absolutely no reason whatsoever except to be vindictive) and use carrot and stick to control me or play with my moods. She would be viciously verbally abusive, was always right and everyone was always wrong (her way or the highway), she could dish it out but couldn’t take it back, would destroy relationships, anything she did for anyone else benefited her, manipulative and lies about everything, when she couldn’t be in control she would lose her mind. She was always the center of attention, played favorites (Cinderella Effect – I and 8 other were adopted, but her three biological kids and their families were treated much better), was explosive when she was mad (walking on eggshells all of the time), she could do no wrong/deniable, and was very bitter. And when as kids we were no longer “controllable”, she would have us institutionalized (PINS – People In Need of Supervision) claiming she did he best she could, and we were in a good home, were lucky for the opportunity blah, blah, blah… And the state fucking paid her $400 a month for 13 years to do this, with no oversight. Because I didn’t want to be institutionalized, no one would listen/believe me (Including a shrink) and I couldn’t take it anymore, I ran away from home. What really got her goat was, I succeeded and didn’t come crawling back. Although, I shouldn’t have gone back at all.
    By the way, this is why I hate mother’s day. My mother was a piece of shit.

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  6. Thank you so much for writing this article. My father was a psychopath, and I now realise that my mother is a narcissistic parent. When I get a little older, I will leave this house and never look back. I have been so unhappy, and I now realise that none of my parents have ever said “Well done” or hugged me. They have never loved me. A couple of years ago, I talked to my teacher about my family and my mother in particular, and my teacher made it very clear to me that the things my mother did were not normal things to do for a parent. My mother would blame me for not having found a proper pet assurance yet (I was 14 years old). When we had a fight, she would take my arms, so I was afraid I would fall down the stairs. One day, she yelled at me for 15 minutes, because she thought I had eaten 3 beefs, even though I had not eaten any at all. When she left my room, I closed the door and tried to fall asleep on my bed. After 30 minutes, she came back. I ignored her and tried to sleep again, since I knew she would start yelling at me if I said something. I was still crying and was so scared, since she had yelled at me right into my head. Then she said, she would have me admitted to a psychiatric facility, since “I was obviously very depressed and suicidal, as I did not want to talk to her”.

    The next day, I told my teacher what my mother said. My teacher said my mother had not thought about what she was saying.

    i called the municipality, asking how I could move out when I was only 15 years old, but they did not want to help me.

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  7. Pingback: On silence, healing fibromyalgia, dealing with narcissism, and learning a whole heck of a lot about myself – Toward the within…

  8. I needed an answer regarding how to answer my narcissistic mother in law when she asked to see our daughter last night. I told my wife to respond to the text by saying that she was not the only parent, which she did. this morning my phone rang and I was literally panicked. I had thought there would be two possible outcomes. one would be that there would be no further inquiry and two would be what happened. I didn’t answer and haven’t listened to the voicemail. the amount of damage that has befallen my small family at the hands of not just my mother in law, but my sister in law who is possibly on a higher level of narcissism if there is a hierarchy, her husband who has the most inflated sense of self of any of these narcissists, and her brother who retains deniability by living in a different city and refuses to read any correspondence from my wife is deplorable. by deplorable I mean that I could not have imagined that things could get into a situation where the power given to the orchestrators of all of this – the power given to them as the family business where my wife had done above and beyond with increasing responsibility over the past 20 years for the enabler, her father, was sold.

    I still have trouble understanding how or why anyone would actually do this, but I’m getting a clearer picture given the amount of incidents from the past 25 years, which seem trite in comparison. bringing over a box of various food items to “help” during times when we were paycheck to paycheck, and even during times when we didn’t need anything at all that were all past expiration date is a good example of what type of passive aggressive behavior that I had thought was not a big of a deal, but still just TWISTED. they had been given the protection that is given to a multinational corporation after the sale of the business. in hind sight it was all laid out by her mother and sister, which I initially voiced to my wife, but she really thought her father was there for her. but because her sister’s husband was placed into a position of authority over her and because the now owning corporation would not listen to my wife when she maintained that he needed some supervision, he abused the power he was given without anyone to protect or backup my wife. even her father watched some of the insanity of the situation and remains in full denial, which as the enabler I completely see this much more in the way I had initially seen it – with a gut feeling that he was being told what to do by his wife and his oldest, who had always had a mired jealousy over my wife – wanting everything she had and acquiring everything she voiced she wanted. everywhere we have turned for legal help seems to dead end and in the aftermath, after losing our financial standing, with me being disabled and my wife being a shell of her former self we are now being sued for a bogus unlawful detainer, which won’t hold up in court, but after reading all of this I am almost afraid that it won’t given the retaliation that could follow.

    so in search of how to respond to the manipulation tactics of the these people I ended up being given a 100% accurate portrayal of who they are and what I am contending with. they are simultaneously offering us a new place to move to as they pretend that the property manager they hired a few months ago to evict us is actually the one who is suing us, not them and that they “don’t know anything about it” – a phrase that has been the only consistent one regarding this whole web (speaking of webs and widows, I find it bizarre that through all of this we had asked on several occasions to have an exterminator out to this property specifically because of all of the black widows in the back yard. coincidence? nope … the only legal recourse they have is flawed by the fact that they forgot to mention that the owner of the property, the second pawn in this game: my wife’s brother, had decided not to accept the rent payment which her mother had offered 6 months in advance after acknowledging that what had been done to us was not our fault and that they had decided to do everything they could to help us until we decided what we wanted to do …

    that was this past xmas eve after my mother in law had fallen ill with no one to gloat over her. it was a big deal to her and she mentioned it several times. I’m now understanding why, but moreover I am seeing that although our situation seems to look dire it is possibly close to being at an end. and although my wife has legal recourse against this corporation, her broken self image tells her she was somehow at fault. probably because her mother still tries to justify all of it by pointing to irrelevant things that happened a long time ago that amount to nothing other than proving how discriminatory her father has been since she had our child and since my bizarre debilitating health condition came on.

    so what I have taken from this search for what to say – how to respond to my mother in law’s attempt to set my child up for some scheme or to take her somewhere that we have asked her not to take her, putting her in harms way for her own ends is that we are not alone. though our situation might be unique, everything regarding the PND has opened my eyes. so much so that I have sent it on to others who know of our situation and they quickly respond with disbelief at how spot on this explains things.

    still … what the hell do I do? it seems like I have to be just as calculating with my response.

    I’m sure I will figure it out.
    I cannot express how much this has helped. I wondered if I should send this to my in laws … ha ha!!! but who knows what that could, other than make things worse. someday I will be able to.

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  9. my mother was strung out on pills from the time i was 5 when she broke her leg in a ski accident. to keep the attention off herself she blew stuff, me and my brothers did, so out of proportion that one of us got it every nite when my dad got home.
    my dad was normal so soon enough he realized my mom was abusive and worthless and he got a girlfriend and never punished us again.
    my grandma literally raised us and loved us til the day she died.
    at 12 years old i had an ulcer. my dad saved me and sent me 2000 miles away to boarding school. i had a blast but got in some trouble too. my dad taught me to keep my mouth shut to mom because her drama and hysterical bullshit was something to avoid at all costs. i got expelled and my dad sent me on vacation twice so she wouldnt find out.
    when i graduated high school my dad left my mom for his girlfriend of 15 years. my mom was so consumed with herself she thought her marriage was perfect.
    i came home from college and the house was sold all my stuff was gone and it was ‘poor her’ she was destitue without my dads pay check…found out later she put all the stuff she wanted in storage.
    my dad paid her 20000 a month child support and alimony. us kids never saw a penny of it. we went our seperate ways.
    i moved to arizona, talked to my mom as little as possible.
    my mom got a boyfriend who was so impressed with the 20 grand a month he turned as crooked as her and with his 4 kids they lived off my dad for 5 years. they moved around so my dad wouldnt know what she was doing ..
    that was nothing. my mom stole a 75000 $ trust fund from me that was suppose to be accurring interest til i turned 35, for 15 years.
    i got 12000 when i turned 35 and some bullshit story about the stockmarket going bad.
    my mom stole mine and my brothers inheritance from my grandma, by making her sign a new will a week before she died leaving everything to her. the signature looks nothing like my grandmas.
    til the day my dad died he bailed me out of a ton of situations i got myself caught up in. ..my brother got pulled over in my moms car for a broken headlite and she made him stay in jail for 5 days!!!
    i find it so odd my mom has stolen money from the only people that ever loved her. ..and she goes to church….
    i have lumps on my breast and arizona said i made too much to qualify for state health insurance so i got it in illinois using my moms address.
    it was great insurance until my mom got it cancelled ‘because the extra mail bothered her.’
    so i am sick in arizona with zero insurance and my mom won’t even send me a couple bucks for food cuz her s.o.b. husband left her broke.
    she makes everything about her.. and when you think she couldnt dissapoint you any more than she already has, she can and she does…

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  10. This was spot on about my father. There is no other way to address this person, than to cal him father. But he definitely doesn’t deserve the title.

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  11. Wow This describes my mother to a 90% my older sister was the scapegoat and my older brother the golden child i became a scapegoat too when i decided to rebel against her manipulations at 20 yrs. Old i. Wasnt aware she would manipulate or control me until my husband made me aware that her behavior and favortism towards two of my siblinhs wasnt normal. My mother is very controlling I was the first to call her out on her ways and recently my poor sister the scapegoat that has suffered the most .I dont speak to my mother i tell my sister she doesnt love us and never will. we are the worst in thw world because we are not her servants.

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  12. One of the best articles I’ve read about NM! Trust me – I’ve read a lot!
    As more and more is known about NMs and NFs, as ACoNs I would love to see an equally rewarding article on how to heal, as much as one realistically can. There is so much out there about this on the internet now, with varying degrees of quality – it is in the fine nuancing from someone who obviously gets it. Few really do!
    Apologies if you’ve been asked this time and time again, but there’s too many comments to read through!
    Truly a fabulously you-nailed-it article that every daughter (or son) should have access to.
    Thank you!

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  13. I have stumbled across this page whilst searching for answers to my personal issues.
    Everything that has been described above in points 1-24 are spot on! Not just a handful of the descriptions but every single description describes my mother. I am beginning to question my fathers’ role also.
    Does anyone know of any research relating to ACoN and sexual interests, fetishes, needs, orientation? I would be very appreciate of any thoughts or information and links.

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  14. Been there, done that, gone no contact, thrown out all gifts, ignored all ’emergency life and death surgeries’ to appeal to my kindness (aka sucker) and make me rush to her side…. whoah, been reading up a storm on narcissism (Gone through many of HG Tudor’s books, which describe the method and motivation, though mainly focused on romantic partner narcs, not parents, but similar modus operandi) and getting a few others. they are all writing about my mother. Same person, to a T. So glad I went no contact; been a while but am much stronger. Thank you God.

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  15. This site is fantastic- at 50 years of age I have finally limited my mothers influence on my life to being able to see my Facebook page.

    I was the scapegoat who became the protector of my younger brothers, with an older sister who was the golden child, reading some of the stories I am greatful that I have always known there was something wrong with my mum – and by 12 new I could never trust her for anything. Extended family members always told me I was ok and not the one with the problem, which meant my self esteem was not totally destroyed, although I struggle to wear a dress or any shoe with a heal as I can still hear my mothers comments. I also struggle if anyone other than my husband, and kids, grabs me and goes to pull me into a hug – I freeze, emotions go crazy, as I consciously remind myself that the person is not mum. Mums “hugs” involved her grabbing your arm and giving you a hiding, they were never about comfort or support.

    I escaped from my family when I was 17, and my mum moved to the other end of the island, so for 8 years I had no contact and began the process of healing. My mother returned to my life with threats of a bloody suicide for my half brother to find, I became his protector as I had been to my other brothers. He has Aspergers and was being bullied at school for being different, and bullied at home because he grew out of his uniform, needed money for school etc.

    My mothers frustration when I negated her suicide threats was to tell my brother everyday that he would kill her – I ended up having to get him committed to a teenaged mental unit and tell the doctors of his home life, and beg them never to send him back to her. I was lucky they believed me and he went to live with his father after that.

    My journey to find peace has been slow, but I am finally starting to find peace about my life and my decisions around how I manage my mum – sounds silly but I have never wanted to hurt her, I have just wanted her to stop hurting us.

    I have managed to reconnect with all my siblings, and only one brother remains in contact with mum, the rest have in the last 4 years or so begun the journey to find peace and understand what mums upbringing has done to us.

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  16. Very useful and thorough post, thank you so much.

    Random recollection (they keep popping up as I am reading about this stuff): I have this really vivid memory of an incident where my Golden Child older brother cut himself with a craft knife by accident and hit a blood vessel to his finger. He would have been around fourteen, and I around six. He needed help pressure bandaging the finger and actually didn’t get any from our mother. I remember how surprised I was since a) he clearly needed assistance, and 2) it seemed to me she rarely denied him anything, so this really stood out for me. She was just yelling at him to go away, “I don’t like blood, stop bothering me.” That really shocked me. I tracked him down in the bathroom and asked if I could help, and passed him materials etc. My mother stayed away and showed no interest in the proceedings. We were silent and grim and withdrew to our rooms for the rest of the day. Message received loud and clear: Can’t rely on the parent in case of emergency. Parent seems not to care. That really sunk in deep for me that day. Yet another reason I never felt safe at home from the time I was little. And you couldn’t talk about this kind of thing with anyone outside the family because more likely than not they would never have believed it. Not in that nice family.

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  17. Add the power of millions of dollars behind this, and a spoiled-rotten son who learns to care only about money, and they will destroy your life!!

    These evil people should be locked up forever, but their money and lies protect them from facing TRUE JUSTICE!!!

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  18. I’ve been in therapy for ten years trying to get passed my two NPD parents. I’ve recently began making progress with boundaries. I’ve had to cut off meaningful communication with them. And also with my oldest sister, who seems like she’s developing NPD herself. I’ve really lost who I am just because I was busy trying to earn love from them. I became what they wanted and they still don’t love me. (Because I hear them talking in the next room, which I believe is intentional). But I don’t need their approval anymore. And I don’t love them anymore. I’m still scared all the time, but I’m working on it. This blog is extremely helpful. Thank you.

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    • I’m so sorry, you are going through this. It is very hard indeed. Talk about it with people you trust and love you. Get all the help you can because going NC is hard, especially with several family members at the same time. Been there done that. I am a grandmother and still growing! Take care! Hugs!!

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