Three Must-Read Posts for Mother’s Day If You’re an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

photo credit: flickr user raw pixel

Advertisements on TV and the radio go over the top in portraying all mothers as idealized heroic women who did absolutely every single thing right.

Motherhood, however, is far more complex and grittier than those bleached versions of it. It’s a vocation that, when approached right, requires maternal sacrifice, encourages a selfless love from the mother, and fosters virtues in the family.

Motherhood is a special calling to live out the definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Some mothers do their best to follow that definition. They can inspire us and present a type of motherhood that adult survivors can learn from to parent their own children.

But then, some children were brought up with a broken version of the above or one that goes in the exact opposite of it.

The maternal love received by some children was impatient, was unkind. It was jealous, it was pompous. It was inflated and rude. It sought its own interest and was quick-tempered. It brooded over injury. It rejoiced over wrongdoing and despaired the truth. It bore nothing, believed nothing, hoped for nothing, and enduring nothing. That twisted version of love failed.

For those adult survivors of emotional child abuse, the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday can be incredibly difficult. So, on this day before the holiday, I offer these three articles from The Invisible Scar archives that cover different approaches to surviving (or ignoring) Mother’s Day.

Onward and upward.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer 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 online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers [Book Review]

[photo credit: flickr user Stephanie Overton]

[photo credit: flickr user Stephanie Overton]

Some daughters grow up with a nagging sense of something not quite right in their relationship with their mothers, though the daughters can’t place their finger on what’s off exactly. It’s a vague, pervasive feeling of being unloved and ignored. They feel like somehow, in some way, the loving relationship that other people seem to have with their parents is eluding them.

These daughters may not even know they are being emotionally abused. They’ve been conditioned to endure—from their mothers—constant demands for the spotlight, attacks on their personhood, razor-sharp verbal abuse, debilitating mind games, the Greek chorus of belittling comments implanted in their heads by their mothers, and so much more. These daughters just want their mothers will treat them lovingly… but their mothers only care about being adored.

Perhaps you, too, have felt something was terribly wrong in your relationship with your mother. Something inside you whispered, “My mother is never very loving to me. She’s actually very mean and selfish. Why is everything always about her?”

As immediate as that thought maybe have been, your trained (by your mother) inner child immediately sprang to berate you for feeling that way. How dare you think such awful things about your mother! How could you demand anything, you worthless child? How could you ever say that your poor, dear loving mother is anything but loving? Everyone says she’s the best mom! Why would you ever think badly of her?

Yet that little voice was there, for one shining moment, and it has led you to seek answers and find help. And now you have the obligation to yourself to find out exactly what happened to you, what lifelong effects you now bear because of your upbringing.

How Do I Know Whether My Mother Is a Narcissist?

If you suspect that your mother is a narcissist (i.e., that your entire upbringing and beyond revolved around her needs), you are not alone.

The exceptional book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Dr. Karyl McBride provides the guidance you need to determine whether your mother has narcissistic traits, understand the type of narcissist she may be, and, of utmost important to The Invisible Scar readers, how to break free from the narcissistic cycle and become emotionally healthier.

What’s particularly engaging about the book is how the author, a licensed marriage and family therapist, weaves a sub-narrative of her own relationship with her narcissistic mother into the book. McBride doesn’t reveal so much that the book becomes an exercise in navel-gazing nor reveal so little that the reader is left feeling cold and alone.

The book is written in the voice of a well-informed, caring, and understanding friend, who will support you in a better understanding of your upbringing and its effects on you. McBride’s guide is, at its heart, an optimistic one that focuses on the reader’s awakening and healing. It is not about picking at one’s emotional wounds and allowing hate or anger to fester.

“I do not believe in creating victims,” McBride writes in the introduction. (Don’t skip the intro. It sets the tone for the book.)

“We are accountable for our own lives and feelings. To be healthy, we first have to understand what we experienced as daughters of narcissistic mothers, and then we can move forward in recovery to make things the way they need to be for us.”

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. Recognizing the Problem
  2. How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life
  3. Ending the Legacy

1. Recognizing the Problemgood-enough-book-cover-290x441

The term “narcissist” is frequently misused in the media, but McBride’s book provides a professional, solid definition of what narcissism is. “Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, which means it exists on a continuum ranging from a few narcissistic traits to the full-blown narcissistic personality disorder.”

The nine traits of narcissism, as listed in the book, are…

  • Has a grandiose of self-importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of her
  • Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes

McBride then provides examples of each of those traits and a questionnaire that helps shed light on the existing relationship between mother and daughter.

Also in the first section, McBride discusses the 10 “stingers” of the narcissistic-mother/daughter dynamic. Those stingers are “ten common relationship issues that occur between mothers and daughters when the mother is narcissistic,” states McBride.

Examples include…

You find yourself constantly attempting to win your mother’s love, attention, and approval, but never feel able to please her.
Your mother does not support your healthy expressions of self, especially when they conflict with her own needs or threaten her.
In your family, it’s always about Mom.
Your mother is critical and judgmental.”

That constant lack of self-worth, that unending barrage of crippling self-criticism inside your head, is the voice of the narcissistic mother. And that criticism can manifest itself in different ways, as explored in the chapter “Faces of Maternal Narcissism.”

2. How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Life

If you’ve arrived to The Invisible Scar to learn more about narcissistic parents, you know that you’ve been deeply affected by having such a parent.

There’s the self-doubt, the “jumpiness” (from being trained, as a child, to hurry to your NPD parent’s every beck and call), the lingering sadness of the mother-sized hole in your heart, the lack of boundaries (or trust) within your other relationships due to your first relationship with your mother, illnesses… and so, so much more.

You probably aren’t even aware of all the ways that your narcissistic mother affected you.

Take time to read about what behaviors you might have learned and/or imitated.

For example, McBride discusses the high-achieving daughter (who will try to “win” Mom’s love), the self-sabotaging daughter (who will make herself feel as crappy as her mother says she is), and the myriad behaviors that the daughters of NPD mothers adopt, subconsciously or not.

Those behaviors can affect how the daughter mothers when she becomes a parent.

At The Invisible Scar, I receive so many emails about adult survivors terrified that they will become their mothers. “I won’t have kids! I refuse to become my mother!” and “I’m becoming my mother! Help me!” are common themes in those emails.

The good news is that daughters of narcissistic mothers aren’t fated to become their mothers. Daughters get to choose what sort of mother they will become.

In the book, McBride discusses the turmoil and issues those daughters have once they become others. Some overcorrect the deficiencies in their mother’s parenting (e.g., they become ultra-lenient in opposition of their mother’s ultra-control); some end up being like their mothers because they lack the blueprint for new parenting skills or simply have not awoken to the truth of their upbringing.

And some daughters do find a middle ground.

We strive to do the right things for our children, and none of us wants to pass along our own undesirable legacy,” writes McBride. “Breaking the cycle is a challenge when you have no positive role model as a mother. Daughters of narcissistic mothers often feel as if we are blazing our own trail of love in raising our babies.

If you see yourself making mistakes in parenting, don’t panic. You don’t have to be afraid even if you have learned or inherited some narcissistic parenting traits. This does not mean you are narcissistic. You can change. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to allow yourself the awareness of possible mistakes you could make or have made, and work to correct them.”

3. Ending the Legacy

In the last section of the book, McBride also provides a very detailed step-by-step guide to recovery from this mother-daughter relationship.

“Now that you have a solid understanding of the psychological dynamics you were subject to as a daughter of a narcissistic mother and how they have adversely affected your life, it is time for you to come to terms with the past, release your unrealistic expectations of your mother, and take charge of your life to heal,” writes McBride. “Now it’s your time to make your life more peaceful and comfortable.”

For the daughter of a narcissistic mother, the idea of life being peaceful sounds like a having a unicorn for a pet—yes, it’d be lovely, but such a thing isn’t possible.

But, oh, dear daughter of a narcissistic mother, yes, peace is possible.

The road to recovery is clearly outlined in McBride’s clear, unhurried but succinct writing. She details the various stages of grief (including grief for the relationship that you never had with your narcissistic mother and grief for the child you didn’t get to be).

To Invisible Scar readers who write me about how to become individuals rather than attachments or extensions of their abusive parents, “Chapter 11: A Part of and Apart From” is crucial. (Read it with your highlighters and sticky notes on hand.)

McBride stresses repeatedly the necessity of adult daughters to stand on their own.

“To be authentic and whole—this is the ultimate goal in recovering from a narcissistic mother,” writes McBride. “The next step for you to take toward this is to separate psychologically from Mother as an adult, so that you can grow your own internal emotional psyche. For when you grow your own internal emotion being, you become resilient and strong. You can stand on your own. You can sustain yourself in the face of maternal deprivation, bear up under any negative litanies from your mother, and withstand criticism from anyone in the external environment.”

McBride wraps up the book with guidance, a list of questions, case-study segments, and encouragement to help the daughters of narcissistic mother heal and, most importantly, lead a far more emotionally healthy and authentic life.

A Word About Toxic Mothers

The author avoids the trap of only discussing an active relationship between mother and daughter. McBride acknowledges (in Chapter 13) that some mothers are too toxic for any form of relationship.

“If your mother is indeed unchangeable and you find yourself being constantly abused by her, it is important to know that disconnecting from her can be healthy,” writes McBride. “When you decide to make this choice, however, make sure that you have completed your own recovery work. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your mother without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain, and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that  you desire.”

***

That recovery work, the healing journey, and the peacefulness of living in the truth are the focus of the work here at The Invisible Scar.

Because of McBride’s clear understanding of the reality of daughters of narcissistic mothers and her dedication to improving the emotional well-being of those daughters, I highly recommend this book to all women who suspect their mothers are narcissists and who want to break the cycle and become emotionally healthier and happier human beings.


 

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, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

 

ACoNs Speak Out: The Highlights of a Recent Study About Parental Narcissism

[via flickr user Raul Liberwirth]

[via flickr user Raul Liberwirth]

Editor’s Note: This May, research project manager Valerie Coles emailed me about giving adult children of narcissists (ACoNs) an opportunity to participate in her study (along with Dr. Jennifer Monahan) about parental narcissism. Tonight, she sent the highlights of the summary and news. Note that the researcher used the term “perceived” not to invalidate ACoNs’ experiences but to show objectivity. She explains this in an email: “The term ‘perceived’ is used since we are operating out of an academic lens and objectively we are testing perceived narcissism. The only way to not include perceived and have the scale go anywhere to be of use is to test the narcissistic parent directly and then the entire point of the study (assessing narcissism from the child’s perceptive) is eliminated.”

Her email regarding survey highlights follows:

Thanks again to everyone for helping us develop and validate a measure of parental narcissism! The response from the ACON community was tremendous, and we are the envy of our colleagues that so many of you took time out of your lives to help us with this research.

We currently have a paper from the questionnaire out at an academic journal for review. If it is accepted for publication, we will update this message with a link for the article.  Below is a brief and general review of some of our findings. When the scale and findings are published, you will have the opportunity to look at more specifics.  Please note that some of the results may seem “common sense,” but we needed to build off a foundation of empirical research since, as you know, there is presently no published scale that measures parental narcissism behaviors from the perspective of the adult child, and very little research in general. Thank you again!

Scale Development and Study 1

Our goal was to develop a measure of parental narcissism. We started with 36-items. A total of 1,236 people took this original scale, 976 of which were ACONS from 34 countries. We examined whether the 36-items worked together as a scale.  We eliminated items that were problematic and ended up with 18 items that assessed four dimensions of parental narcissism: lack of empathy/indifference, negative grandiosity, center of attention, public versus private personas.

  • Lack of Empathy/Indifference
    A lack of empathy is a key characteristic of narcissism. On the ACON sites, the lack of empathy is often described behaviorally as indifference and examples given by ACONS of parental indifference include the parent minimizing the feelings of the child and a lack of interest in the child’s feelings.
  • Negative Grandiosity
    Grandiosity is “an inflated appraisal of one’s worth, knowledge, importance or identity.” Measures that assess grandiosity from the narcissists’ perspective, not surprisingly, focus on the positive side of grandiosity (“I am the best!”). From the ACON perspective, however, it is the negative grandiosity, that occurs especially when the narcissistic parent feels under attack and, thus, vulnerable. From the ACON perspective, when a narcissistic parent fails or is in the spotlight for not being a good parent, her/his insecurity can result in grandiose statements that reflect the parent is “the worst parent in the world” or “no one loves me.”
  • Center of Attention
    Center of attention dimension reflects the positive, inflated, self-absorbed, and individualistic disposition of the narcissist. For the narcissist, the world is about “I” and “me” never “you” or “we.” From the ACON perspective, nothing is about the child unless it benefits the parent in some way. ACONs also write about how conversations focus around the parent’s interests rather than the child’s.
  • Public versus Private Personas
    Narcissists can carefully construct their self-presentation in public such that they appear less negative in public than in private, at least in the short term. While differing public/private personas is not a characteristic typically measured by narcissism scales, it is a behavior often noted by ACONS who write of parents who present a friendly, charming persona only in public.

These 18-items formed into these four dimensions of parental narcissism behavior (lack of empathy, negative grandiosity, center of attention, and different public/private personas). The four dimensions all correlated highly with each other and together the four formed a final “Perceived Parental Narcissistic Behavior” (PPNBI) scale. 

To create the PPNBI scale, we summed up the scores on the 18 items.

What is the PPNBI Related to for the ACON?

ACONS who took the parental narcissism scale also completed some scales about themselves. 

Here are some of our findings:

  • Higher scores on parental narcissism (PPNBI) were positively associated with ACONs feeling depressed as a teen and also with feeling depressed within the last year.
  • Higher scores on parental narcissism (PPNBI) were negatively associated with feelings of well-being as a teen and with feelings of well-being in the last year.
  • ACONS with higher scores on the parental narcissism scale were more likely to indicate you don’t trust other people, in general.

What other measures of the narcissistic parent is the PPNBI related to?

Scores of parental narcissism are…

  • Negatively associated with feeling that your parent cares for you and negatively associated with feeling like your parent gave you freedom to be yourself/do what you wanted to do.
  • Positively associated with idealizing one child in the family (aka: a golden child) and with devaluing a child (aka: a scapegoat).
  • Very strongly related to verbal aggression.  The higher the scores of parental narcissism, the more verbally aggressive the parent acted.

Study 2

In study 2, we tested the 18-item scale again to see whether it worked the same way and generated the four factors (lack of empathy, center of attention, negative grandiosity, and different public/private personas). In Study 2, 625 participated (505 were ACONS from 34 countries).

We did replicate the findings from Study 1 that found these four factors and that the four factors all worked together to form the Perceived Parental Narcissistic Behavior Index (PPNBI).

What other measures of the parent is the PPNBI related to?

In Study 2 we found further evidence that the PPNBI is a valid and reliable score. For example, that the PPNBI was positively associated with a typical measure of narcissism (Narcissistic Personality Inventory).  This was good news as it provides us evidence that our scale IS capturing narcissistic behavior.

Additionally, we found that the PPNBI was negatively related to a parent being perceived as agreeable and positively associated with a parent being perceived as extraverted.  For the ACON, we found that those who rated their parent high on the PPNBI were more likely to negatively associate with the secure attachment style and positively associate with the fearful attachment style.

Finally, parents who score high on the PPNBI were also more likely to score highly on parentification, which is a term for making the kids do the work of a parent.  The more narcissistic your parent, the more likely the parent had expectations that the kids would take care of things a parent would normally do.

* * *

In conclusion, the goal of this research was to develop and provide initial validation data for the Perceived Parental Narcissistic Behavior Index (PPNBI). The identification of perceived parental narcissism is critical to gain a better understanding of and illuminate the unique challenges ACONs encounter. Before the PPNBI, no measure allowed family members to assess whether a parental figure was narcissistic. The PPNBI is an 18-item measure that taps into four types of parental narcissistic behavior: lack of empathy, center of attention, negative grandiosity, and different public/private personas. The PPNBI correlates with a known measure of narcissism and correlates with being verbally aggressive and caring less about one’s children. The PPNBI is positively associated with ACONs depression and negatively associated with their well-being and ability to trust others.

Across both studies, 1,481 ACONs worldwide from 48 countries participated and many webmasters generously posted the study URL on their web pages (THANK YOU!). This is the first study for either of us where we received over 100 emails from participants thanking us for doing the research and letting us know how meaningful it is that researchers are paying attention to the ACON population and their family dynamics.

As we mentioned above, the full research from this study is under review at a journal.  If it is accepted and published, we will be delighted to send you a link to the research (we can’t do this until the work is published).  We can’t thank all of you enough for helping out with our research. The $100 gift cards were selected by a random drawing and have already been mailed to the winners.

Again, many thanks!

Valerie B. Coles, MA
PhD Student, Research Project Manager
University of Georgia


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, such as Kapost, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

From the Editor’s Mailbox: ‘Earning’ a Parent’s Love, Experiencing Flashbacks, and Explaining NPD

[photo credit: flickr user dorkymom]

[photo credit: flickr user dorkymom]

The Invisible Scar receives lots of emails every month, and some have questions best shared with our readers in this “From the Editor’s Mailbox” column. The subject matter merits more input, and, though our main advice is for the sender to turn to therapy, we also invite helpful insight or support.

Here’s a look at the most pressing questions from readers this month. (Only names have been changed.)

Q1: My mother just shouts and screams at me but really it’s intolerable. And, yeah, the dilemma that “Am I too sensitive that I got hurt just by this?” “She’s my mother… Maybe this is the price one needs to pay to get some love.” “She should be hated or loved?”—Kate

This question has many different components, so we’ll break it up into those components and address each one:

My mother just shouts and screams at me, but it’s really intolerable.
One should not shout or scream at another person regularly. Yes, people do sometimes shout and scream; it’s normal to be upset and get irritated/angry/frustrated and shout. However, it is not normal to do this regularly.

The constant shouting and screaming is verbal abuse.

Shouting at someone and screaming at another person shows a completely lack of respect for the dignity of the other person.

Am I too sensitive that I feel hurt just by this?
To feel hurt by someone screaming and shouting at you is a normal reaction. When shouted at, some people shut down, others feel hurt. But it is normal to not enjoy being screamed at.

Emotionally abusive adult children have often been conditioned to blame themselves for feeling hurt by the abusive parent. The adult survivors have been trained to take abuse then squelch any feeling of hurt by it. This is one reason why so many adult survivors of emotional child abuse have health issues; they have been suppressing their very normal reactions to abuse and are getting sick.

This conditioning to blame oneself (the recipient of the abuse) rather than the parent (the abuser) is one very real reason why adult survivors must go to therapy. Their ability to know what is normal behavior (or at least within the range of normal behavior) has been corrupted by abusive parents.

(Granted, sometimes adult survivors of emotional child abuse are hyper-sensitive, but this is a very big subject to cover. We’ll do so later this year. However, in this case of a mother screaming at the child regularly, the answer is clear that no, the child is not being sensitive.)

Maybe this is the price one needs to pay to get love.
This sentence is heart-breaking because it is a familiar one to adult survivors of emotional child abuse. The adult survivors longs for love, wants paternal love so desperately… that need is normal. However, the abusive parent is acting unloving, so the adult survivor believes the change needs to happen in him/herself. The child feels s/he must change.

Change, however, must happen within the adult survivor’s heart and the abuser’s. The adult survivor must learn to limit exposure to the abuser. Create space away from the abuser; don’t put yourself in the firing squad. Tell the abuser to stop, and let him or her know that you will not see the abuser until a profound change has been sustained for a long period of time.

Love is not a screaming match. Love is not abusive. Love is not a dark powerful force that destroys another human being. The love of a parent is to be freely given to the child. A child is to be loved and respected and cared for by the adult; it is the right of a child to be loved by his/her parents.

The best definition of love comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited. It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offense or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love never comes to an end.

She should be loved or hated?
This is a very difficult question. To feel hatred toward one’s abuser is normal. Even feeling a confusing mix of “love” and “hate” is normal. But that doesn’t mean that hate should take up permanent residence in an adult survivor’s heart.

Many adult survivors struggle with “honoring one’s parents” when the parent is abusive.

To answer that question, we’ve asked a Catholic psychologist. He said that one can honor the position that a mother or father takes; one honors the role of a parent and what it is supposed to be… and an adult survivor can, in time, pray for his or her parent as a sign of honor for the position. But all that does not mean that the adult survivor needs to pretend false intimacy with the abuser or even maintain any sort of social relationship with the parent.

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse doesn’t have such simple emotions as love or hate toward the parent. A strange brew of love, hate, anger, frustration, pity, confusion, etc. exist. Which is why, as always, we advise therapy to help the adult survivor navigate through the morass of emotions.

Q2: I wondered if any adult sufferer, who is trying to put the past behind them, looks at themselves in the mirror to see physical features in themselves that they are trying to forget. We can’t help genetics, but it is painful to see the eyes/nose/mouth of a parent who you are trying so hard to forget, staring back at you in the mirror. I look away or try to focus on bits that are  more me. How do others cope?—James

We’ve asked a group of adult survivors of emotional child abuse this question and answers included…

  • Remember that just because things look the same, that does not mean they are the same. You are your own person, not a replica.
  • Focus on the differences, not the similarities, of your looks. You may have the same eyes, but whatever, you have a totally different mouth or nose.
  • Make a change. Maybe you get your ears pierced or wear contacts instead of glasses. Highlight something that’s uniquely you.

Readers, what tips can you add to this list?

Q3: I just spoke to a friend who is moving back to a place that has some really bad memories for her. She’s an adult survivor of emotional child abuse and has not yet completely dealt with it. She’s worried she might have a breakdown once she goes back to this place where she spent a part of her childhood.Irene

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse often experience flashbacks to the abuse. Your friend might very well have these, but she can teach herself different techniques to deal with these.

The In Care Survivor Service Scotland produced this free downloadable guide, “Anxiety Flashback and Grounding Techniques,” which is packed with self-care ideas for handling flashbacks.

Q4:  I have been separated from my children’s NPD father for almost 3 years.  I am very concerned that my 19 year old son has taken my place as his father’s “scapegoat.”  Can you suggest a jumping off point for explaining this to him before it’s too late.  An article or place to start.  I needed someone to jump in and make me aware of my skewed reality and I think he needs the same.—Clark

Talking to your son about your ex-husband’s NPD will have to be  handled delicately at first. We suggest a gentle yet clinical approach… Lovingly tell your son that you’ve been reading about narcissistic personality disorder… See how your child reacts to this. Your son may chime in with, “Oh, that sounds like Dad!” If not, gently suggest that you think your son has a narcissistic father.

You can find resources for adult children of narcissists here.

Q5: Do you know of any support groups for the emotionally abused spouse? I need more support. I haven’t been able to find support groups for survivors of emotional abuse.—Vivien

You may want to call your local women’s shelter and ask for support groups available to you. (Emotional abuse is domestic abuse.)

This Facebook Group, Women’s Emotionally Abused Support Group, may be a good resource to find a local support group.

[photo credit: flickr user Ken Douglas]

[photo credit: flickr user Ken Douglas]

 


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, such as Kapost, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Movie ‘Tangled’: Mother Does Not Know Best

Editor’s Note: Upon reading this post, some readers may say, “Oh, ‘Tangled‘ is just a movie!” Indeed, “Tangled” is a movie, but not just one. Stories, whether in books or movies or television programs, teach us about ourselves, about what we value, about what we love, about what we hate. No “real-life Rapunzel” or “real-life Mother Gothel” may have existed, but for the myriad daughters with NPD mothers, the story itself is not too unlike their own stories.

* * *

Quick, name the cruelest Disney villain… Did you name Mother Gothel? As a parental figure with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), Mother Gothel rates high on the list for her twisted, abusive and relentless treatment of her “adopted” daughter, Rapunzel.

I recently re-watched “Tangled” and took note of the destructive NPD characteristics demonstrated by Mother Gothel. (Spoilers abound from this point on.)

19 NPD Traits of Mother Gothel

From the back story narration at the start of the film, the viewer learns that an ancient woman named “Gothel” has been using a magical plant’s restorative powers to maintain her beauty and youth. When the infant princess in the kingdom where Mother Gothel dwells is dying, the castle guards retrieve the legendary plant to heal the princess, and it does.

1. Mother Gothel isolates her child

Movie: When Mother Gothel finds out the plant is gone, she sneaks into the castle tower to steal the plant. Not finding it, she kidnaps Rapunzel (whose hair has the same restorative powers when a spell-song is sung) and whisks her away to a tower.

Flash-forward to the present… Now, Rapunzel is a teenager. She has spent her entire life so far in isolation. Mother Gothel comes and goes from the castle as she wishes (though uses Rapunzel’s hair like a fire-escape rope through the tower window to do so), but Rapunzel cannot. She must never leave the tower. No family. No friends. No one else in her world except her so-called mother and a chameleon pet that she has anthropomorphized.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents make it difficult for their children to form bonds outside the family unit (and often even within members of the immediate family). They do not put the time, effort, and energy required to take their children to sports practices, school events, or play dates, all of which make forming friendships exceedingly difficult for their children.

NPD parents want to be the sun to their children, so any outside influence is banned or severely limited. If the child manages to make a friend, a NPD parent will make fun of the friend, mock the friend, twist the child’s image of the friend, all in small phrases here and there in time, so the child will find him/herself either giving up the friendship or maintaining a secret one.

2. She presents a false image of herself

Movie: Mother Gothel assumes the role of a mother (albeit an abusive one), never letting Rapunzel know that she is the lost princess. Mother Gothel pretends to care about Rapunzel’s well-being; she only keeps her hidden because bad people will want to steal her magic hair!

Mother Gothel pretends to be a loving mother, but she insults her daughter, does not listen to her, keeps her isolated, does not properly clothe or feed her, keeps her intellectually starved (the poor kid has three books on her bookshelf), lies to her, berates her, mocks her, and so forth.

Her real self is cruel, self-centered, violent, destructive, vain, and scheming. Rapunzel sees all that in flashes, but having been brought up in isolation, she has no basis for comparison to truly loving behavior.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents are not the same in public as they are in private. They often portray themselves as loving, caring, and concerned parents to people that they know.

In some cases, they talk about their children in glowing terms, so that all who hear assume the parents talk to their children in the same loving way. (They are wrong; NPD parents will shred their children’s self-esteem in private though they praise the children in public.)

In other cases, NPD parents talk about how concerned they are about their children’s depression, moodiness, etc., setting up the parent as a martyr while casting the child as troubled or disturbed. (That will come in handy when the adult child decides to break free the NPD parents; the NPD parent can then say the child has always been troubled and disturbed. Poor parent!)

The NPD parent is a master of manipulation and wearer of many masks. Only the scapegoat child knows the naked truth.

3. She presents a false view of the world

Movie: In the song “Mother Knows Best,” Mother Gothel presents a frightening view of the world:

Real-life equivalent: The child of NPD parents is taught that the outside world is scary, cold, and hate-filled. To go into the world and try to make friends, be educated, get a job, have a romantic relationship, and so forth is to risk doom. Only by following the family’s code of behavior will the child be “safe.”

If the child or adult child does manage any achievements outside the home, the NPD parent will be sure to attribute the success to good parenting or to spoil it by making fun of it or adding so much pressure that the child grows weary and exhausted by his/her efforts and abandons it.

4. She plays the martyr

Movie: In the above song, Mother Gothel rattles off a dozen things then says, “Stop, you’ll just upset me” even though the whole song is her trying to frighten Rapunzel.

Rapunzel initiated a conversation with her mother to discuss what Rapunzel would like to do for her birthday. However, the entire conversation is derailed by Mother Gothel who turns it into a song about how scary the world is and how all Mother Gothel wants to do is protect her daughter from it.

When Rapunzel tries to steer the conversation back to the original point, Mother Gothel gets all self-pitying. “Oh, now, I’m the bad guy… sniffle.”

Yes, Mother Gothel is.

Real-life equivalent: Any action that an NPD parent does is an act of great sacrifice. Made dinner for the child? The poor parent had no energy and no desire to do so yet somehow struggled in an act of great love to make it so just to feed the child! Gone to work? The poor parent had a headache or hates his/her job or would rather be home, and yet somehow managed, out of great and tremendous love, to go to work all for the child!

NPD parents make everything they do “for the child” a huge deal.

Also, any attempt by the child to forge an existence outside the parent is seen as an act of rebellion or an act of condemnation against the parent… after all the poor parent has done! The parent has “sacrificed” so much for the child. Everyone knows so!

5. She threatens her daughter

Movie: Mother Gothel sings a threat that is bone-chilling: “Don’t forget it; you’ll regret it.”

Real-life equivalent: The child of an NPD parent is conditioned to do what the parent wants or ELSE. The “or else” can be the withdrawal of affection, the silent treatment, grounding, physical abuse, or very often, more emotional abuse (so much that an act of perceived rebellion will not be worth even attempting).

6. She views Rapunzel only as an instrument for her personal use, not as a person

Movie: She calls Rapunzel “my flower” because that’s all she sees in Rapunzel: the magic, healing flower, not the person she is.

When she kisses Rapunzel, she kisses her hair.

When she touches Rapunzel, she touches her hair.

The only thing that Mother Gothel sees when she looks at Rapunzel is her hair.

An NPD parent does not see her daughter for who she really is; that’s apparent from the “Mother Knows Best Song.” She considers Rapunzel chubby, vague, naive, clumsy, fragile as a flower, etc. As demonstrated by the rest of the film, none of those labels are true. Rapunzel is pretty, resourceful, smart, strong, and graceful.

But Mother Gothel has never cared enough to listen to her child. When Rapunzel talks, Mother Gothel does this:

Real-life equivalent: An NPD parent does not know his or her child, whether the child is still young or an adult child. The NPD parent may be able to rattle off facts about the child (such as the kid likes a show, the adult child is a dentist, etc.), but the parent will not know the child. The child may have a keen intelligence, a wonderful sense of humor, a fondness for growing flowers, a generous heart, etc… but the NPD parent will not acknowledge or even register mentally who the child is.

NPD parents cannot see beyond themselves to see their children nor can NPD parents see beyond who they want their children to be.

7. She puts down her daughter’s looks, personality, and abilities

Movie: Mother Gothel sings about how Rapunzel is ill-equipped to deal with the difficulties of life: “fragile as a flower,” “still a little sapling, just a sprout,””sloppy,” “underdressed,” “immature,” “clumsy,” “they’ll eat you up alive,” “gullible, naive, positively grubby, ditzy and a bit vague,” and “you’re getting kind of chubby.”

Other insults are scattered throughout the film.

Real-life equivalent: Same. Without the singing.

8. She pretends that love is making her sound critical when the opposite is true

Movie: Mother Gothel says the reason she rattles off all those perceived traits is “I’m just saying ’cause I wuv you.”

Real-life equivalent: For the most part, the slights and insults from an NPD parent to a child are subtle… and they work together, one cut at a time, to bleed the child’s heart dry. However, sometimes (and later in life, the NPD parents grow more obvious and rougher in their comments as they age), the insults are obvious.

The NPD parent will always say that the comment comes “from love.” The comments are not meant to hurt the child, but to let the child know the truth of the matter. An NPD parent will say such things as: “I’m only saying this so you know the truth,” “I’m telling you this because I love you,” “I just want you to know what everyone is thinking,” and “I don’t think this, but other people do.”

“Love” is the NPD parents excuse for being hateful towards their children. But love is not like that. Love is gentle, love is kind. Remember that.

9. She prevents her daughter from sharing her gift with others

Movie: Because of Rapunzel’s gift (when Rapunzel sings a certain song, her hair glows and magically restores youth and vitality to people who are old and injured and in contact with her hair), she could work wonders for the people in the kingdom.

Judging from the horses and clothing of the movie, this takes place during the medieval period, the medicine and understanding of the human body was limited, so any illness must have been devastating. Rapunzel’s gift of healing could have saved myriad people in the kingdom, but, because of Mother Gothel’s self-centeredness, Rapunzel was unable to use her gift for others.

Worst of all, Mother Gothel makes Rapunzel think that her gift is something that people will hurt her for. Mother Gothel takes something beautiful inherent to Rapunzel and turns it into something shameful.

Real-life equivalent:  The NPD parent’s focus is and will always be him/herself.

Always.

And for the child of an NPD to have any special gift or talent, a lovely personality, a gentle heart, etc. will not be tolerated by the NPD parent. The NPD parent will mock or shame the child for “trying to be special” or for “wanting to stand out.” Or an NPD parent will ground the child for showing such a gift or even take away the child’s art supplies, music, etc. as punishment. Unless the NPD parent can glean some attention from the child’s gift (“Oh, I have such a talented child!”), the parent will not support the talent.

Moreover, an NPD parent will make fun of the gift or belittle it to the child, making the talent, gift, or personality trait something despicable, ridiculous, and insignificant. (“But really, does anyone care about the flute? It doesn’t save lives, does it?” “Oh, so you can do math in your head? Well, can you make money from that?”)

10. She wants to one-up her daughter whenever possible

Mother Gothel presents herself as prettier and smarter than Rapunzel. She looks in the mirror and says, “When I look in the mirror, I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady…. Oh, look, you’re here, too.” She also cannot let Rapunzel’s declaration of love go without trying to do her one better.

Rapunzel: I love you.
MG: I love you MOST.

Real-life equivalent:  The unspoken rule in the household of an NPD parent is that the NPD parent is the bright shining light. Everyone else must revolve around the parent. No child would dare outshine that parent.

11. She conditions her daughter to serve her

Movie: When Mother Gothel asks Rapunzel to sing for her and then they’ll talk, she is setting conditions for Rapunzel and the exchange that needs to happen for Mother Gothel to pay attention to her. It is suggested that Mother Gothel would not listen to Rapunzel if she did not sing for her.

Mother Gothel wants what she wants FIRST.

Real-life equivalent: The children of NPD parents are conditioned, as infants, to bend their will to the will of their parents. What matters is not the child’s own needs, dreams, hopes, friendships, studies, job, lives… but the parents’. When an NPD parent asks for help, the child will jump to serve. When an NPD parent complains, the child is quick to ease the parent’s suffering. When an NPD parent expresses a desire, the child leaps at the opportunity to fulfill that desire. The child, even long into adulthood, often will not know better, will not know that they have their own person to care for, their own lives to life.

The child has been conditioned to serve and to serve quickly and to serve the NPD parent at whatever cost.

12. She gaslights her daughter

Movie: Every year on Rapunzel’s birthday, candle-lit lanterns are released by everyone in the kingdom as a symbol of hope that the missing princess would return. Rapunzel sees them from her tower, and she mentions wanting to see them to Mother Gothel. Her captor scoffs at her saying they are not lanterns at all.

Real-life equivalent:  An NPD parent plays mind games. (Here’s a deeper look at gaslighting.)

13. She puts her own needs above those of her daughter

Movie: Mother Gothel has fashionable clothes, fantastic make-up, and a life outside the tower, judging from her comings and goings. However, Rapunzel wears clothes that do not fit her and doesn’t even have shoes. She is also ridiculously skinny.

Rapunzel only has three books in her tower. She needs more art supplies (she’s run out of room on the walls). She sews a dress for her chameleon but the material is from dress. She doesn’t have any furniture. Her wardrobe is empty. Her sewing dummy doesn’t have materials.

Real-life equivalent: An NPD parent doesn’t think about the needs of his or her child. NPD parents may maintain the basics (food, shelter, and clothing) but even those may be done poorly. And the child is conditioned to not ask for anything.

14. She neglects the emotional needs of her daughter

Movie: In addition to everything else on this list, Mother Gothel is a soul-killer, for she fails to feed the natural talents and very basic emotional needs Rapunzel has. Mother Gothel is irritated by Rapunzel’s mentioning of her birthday (“I distinctly remember you had a birthday last year.”), ignores Rapunzel’s obvious exciting news when Mother Gothel comes back from getting hazelnuts for that soup, breaks into song about herself rather than focusing on Rapunzel, and abandons the conversation when it no longer suits her. (Considering they are the only two people in the tower, Mother Gothel does precious little to engage in conversation with her daughter, especially after being gone for a long time.)

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents do not build up their children. They neglect to provide the unwavering love that growing children need (or that even adult children need from their parents).  They do not support their children in their endeavors nor understand the difference between encouragement and nagging.

NPD parents do not listen to their children or allow them to express the myriad emotions that make up the human heart.

15. She attributes great meaning to small matters in her life and little meaning to great matters in her child’s

Movie: Mother Gothel makes a big deal about that hazelnut soup…. but she doesn’t care about Rapunzel’s upcoming birthday. Typical of an NPD parent, she has a distorted view of the importance of events.

Real-life equivalent: A child will seldom know what is a big deal and what isn’t a big deal in the eyes of the NPD parent.  A flicker in the child’s eyes can unhinge an NPD parent. However, anything important in a child’s life will be seen as no big deal. 

16. She abuses her daughter in secret

Movie: Mother Gothel spies on Rapunzel and Flynn in the camp, and in typical NPD fashion, she confronts her daughter in secret rather than in front of others.

Real-life equivalent: NPDs are notorious for showing their true sides to the abused child and hiding all the abuse behind a false pleasant self in front of strangers.

17. She belittles her daughter for wanting to have her own life

Movie: When Mother Gothel speaks to Rapunzel, she belittles her for asserting her independence and mocks her for assuming Rapunzel can decide what is best for herself.

Real-life equivalent: Same thing. An NPD parent cannot handle the idea, let alone the reality, of his or her child having a life that does not revolve around the parent.

18. She makes her daughter feel like no one could possibly love her

Real-life equivalent: The NPD parent will belittle those who love her child. In some cases, the parent may express bewilderment that anyone would love the child. In most cases, the NPD parent is adamant that no one will love their child. “How could anyone love a child who [fill in the blank]?” “Why would anyone love someone who is so [fill in the blank]?” “No one could ever love someone who [fill in the blank]!”

19. She kills what her daughter loves

Movie: She also takes what Rapunzel loves and attempts to ruin it. She mocks Rapunzel’s growing feelings for Flynn (“A wanted criminal? I’m so proud.”) and then sows seeds of disinterest in Rapunzel’s heart. This distrust will lead to the capture of Flynn and an impending execution.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents will destroy what a child loves or use that loved item or person as a weapon to be wielded against the child. A relationship will be poisoned by the hand of the NPD parent. A task will be tainted by the NPD parent. An item that the child loves will be “accidentally lost” by the NPD parent or withheld as punishment.

This behavior, like all those mentioned on the list, extends from the child’s early years and into the child’s adulthood.

* * *

Watching the movie “Tangled” can be exhausting or triggering for the adult child of emotional child abuse (especially abuse by an NPD parent). Even though the movie is geared towards children, however, much can be learned by those adult survivors:

  • You can escape the tower. Really. You need not be locked up forever by the parent. You’ve always had the ability to escape your enslavement. Take that opportunity now.
  • You will be conflicted once you’ve left… but it’ll be all right. Rapunzel was torn between returning to the tower and her alleged “safe” life and the freedom of life outside the castle. That conflict is normal for adult survivors of emotional child abuse.
  • You are stronger and smarter than you think. Even in captivity, Rapunzel was able to forge some talents and develop her inner strength. You may have been held emotionally captive by your NPD parent, but you can move forward. You are braver, better, stronger, smarter, kinder, and more lovable than you can possibly imagine.
  • You are worthy of love. You really are. You can be loved for who you really are… (Don’t expect that love from NPD parents, though; they can only “love” themselves). But you can be loved by good friends and the new family that you forge from friendships.

Onward.


 

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.