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It isn’t easy dealing with a narcissistic domineering mother, because of the lasting impressions she can leave on you. But it’s possible to survive and rise above her behavior. External contacts like your father, school faculty, even your siblings or friends can help. But not much. While normal parents also often experience their children as extensions of themselves, normal parents also let go and do not infringe son or daughter independence. After all, the goal of raising healthy kids is for them to fulfill themselves.
Establishing the ‘ideal,’ successful world—career, owning your own home, family—isn’t a simple walk in the park. And no one said it was going to be easy. But there’s someone in your life that makes it look that way: your mother. She’s the woman everyone admires—she’s a judge, lawyer, doctor, or teacher. She’s on the PTA or is the power behind your church or synagogue. She smoothly balances being socially nimble, while contributing to the community in a way that leaves others in awe. In their eyes, she’s superwoman. Most people don’t know that this superwoman has a secret. Like everyone in this world, she has a flaw. No one is the epitome of perfection, and in mom’s case, the issue is narcissism.
The outside world may embrace her, but you know mom as self-centered, brittle, easily angered and “always right.” She may be loved by her friends and colleagues, but they don’t know the mom you know. You get maternal love now and then, but it’s unpredictable and punctuated by control, anger and a need to walk on eggshells.
Characteristics a narcissistic mother:
An extended list was provided in Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers
Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers
"Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers" by Dr. Karyl McBride
"Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life" by Dr. Susan Forward
"Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life" by Dr. Linda Martinez-Lewi
"You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother!: Understanding and Healing for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers" by Danu Morrigan
"The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed" by Jasmin Lee Cori MS LPC
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 the 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 terrorizes. 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 Novocain 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
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.
- Lying. She knows what she did was wrong and she knows your reaction is reasonable.
- Manipulating. She's making you look like the bad guy for objecting to her cruelties.
- Being selfish. She doesn't mind making you feel horrible as long as she gets her own way.
- Blaming. She did something wrong, but it's all your fault.
- Projecting. Her petty, small and childish behavior has become yours.
- Putting on a self-pitying drama. She's a martyr who believed the best of you, and you've let her down.
- Parentifying. You're responsible for her feelings, she has no responsibility for yours.
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.
Author unknown. Was republished by parrishmiller.com in the hopes that it will be of help to someone.
To maintain their self-esteem, and protect their vulnerable selves, narcissists need to control others' behavior – particularly that of their children seen as extensions of themselves. Thus narcissistic mothers put tremendous pressure in case their sons or daughters not meeting the standard of what is expected. As a result, children of narcissists learn to play their part and to perform their special skill, especially in public or for others; but typically do not have many memories of having felt loved or appreciated for being themselves, rather associating their experience of love and appreciation with conforming to the demands of the narcissistic parent.
In acute cases such a mother is overcontrolling the child. Attempts to acquire independence lead to punishment in the form of blame, criticism or emotional blackmail, and attempts to induce guilt, may be used to ensure compliance with the parents' wishes and their need for narcissistic supply.
Not all self involved mothers are bone fide narcissists. Some just have narcissistic tendencies. In any case "knowledge is power". That's why I created this page
A narcissistic parent is a parent affected by narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder. Typically narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and may be especially envious of, and threatened by, their child's growing independence. The result may be what has been termed a pattern of narcissistic attachment, with the child considered to exist solely to fulfill the parent's wishes and needs. Relative to developmental psychology, narcissistic parenting will adversely affect children in the areas of reasoning, emotional, ethical, and societal behaviors and attitudes as they mature. Within the realm of narcissistic parenting, personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of molding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parents’ expectations.
Narcissistic people with low self esteem feel the need to control how others regard them, fearing they will be blamed or rejected and personal inadequacies exposed. They are self-absorbed, some to the point of grandiosity; and being preoccupied with protecting their self image, they tend to be inflexible, and lack the empathy necessary for child raising.
Narcissistic parents often produce either narcissistic or codependent children in turn. Whereas a self-confident parent – the good-enough parent – can allow a child its autonomous development, the narcissistic mother uses the child as a means to promote her own image leaving the latter feeling a puppet to her emotional/intellectual demands
The consequences of being raised by a narcissistic mother can be subtle or dramatic, often affecting adulthood. Neither the mother nor child may realize this until then. Remember, that children must adapt, and the way we do it influences who we are to become.
Children of a resistant, more stubborn temperament parent defend against being supportive of others in the house. They observe how the selfish parents get their needs met by others. They learn how manipulation and using guilt gets the parent what he or she wants. They develop a false self and use aggression and intimidation to get their way. Some of the most common issues in narcissistic parenting are due to the lack of appropriate, responsible nurturing which ultimately contributes to a child’s feeling of emptiness, insecurity in loving relationships, imaginary fears, mistrust of others, identity conflict and inability to develop a unique existence from that of the parent.
The sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family learn to meet the parent’s needs for gratification and try to get love by accommodating the whims and wishes of the parent. The child’s normal feelings are ignored, denied and eventually repressed in attempts to gain the parent’s “love”. Guilt and shame keep the child locked into this developmental arrest. Their aggressive impulses and rage become split off and are not integrated with normal development. These children develop a false self as a defense mechanism and become codependent in relationships. The child's unconscious denial of their true self perpetuates a cycle of self-hatred, fearing any reminder of their authentic self.
Narcissistic parenting often leads to children being either victimized or bullying themselves, hypersexual in nature (media driven), having a poor or overly inflated body image, tendency to use and/or abuse drugs or alcohol, body modification such as piercings or tattoos, or acting out (in a potentially harmful manner) for attention.
With a boy, here is one way development can go: when you were a child, you desperately sought praise and validation from your mother, inadvertently tying yourself to her will. This may have even resulted in being labeled a “momma’s boy” because you did everything your mother asked just to please her although it hardly helped your relationship with her. You aim to please, but now lack the ability to appreciate your own needs. You may end up with a demanding, narcissistic woman as a mate, because this is all you know. It will exhaust you.
Or, you can identify with your mother and become narcissistically inclined yourself. You become successful, mom is pleased (because you reflect well on her) and you assume that women should admire you as well. But, where is the empathy required for good relationships? Therein lies the problem.
Like with a boy, the daughter of a narcissistic mother hasn't received the maternal empathy every child deserves: you become an extension of her need to show off. Are you pretty enough? Are you smart enough? Are you too heavy or too thin? And, how about your hair?
Your mom tells you time and again that she’s a great mother. Most kids believe mom’s stories or simply choose not to take her on. It’s too costly. Down deep, your self esteem is damaged. You haven’t been validated for who you are; instead you’ve been ducking her judgments or pleasing her. When you try to individuate, it’s a fight. And, sometimes, that’s the best solution.
Daughters may identify and emulate mom’s narcissism and become narcissistic themselves: they have a desperate need for validation, which can’t be filled, no matter how rich or pretty you become. Love for yourself has its origins in sensing the love of your parents. This is damage that's hard to undo.
If narcissistic mother has two or more children she often plays them one against the other. One child became golden and the other a scapegoat. Typically if this is a son and a daughter, son became a scapegoat and daughter -- a golden child, although there are exceptions.
If you are a designated scapegoat you potion is very painful. You please because you are trained to do so. You don’t take on your mother on because, like most school age kids, you want and need her support. Still, she may get mad at you for forgetting your homework, making a mess or annoying her in some random way. You think it’s you and find yourself anxious in her presence. Then you get a little older, your consciousness continues to evolve, and you realize your mother’s actions and behavior lacks normal maternal nurturing. You see other kids and their parents.
Psychology Today blogger, Karyl McBride, Ph.D. puts it this way:
“Narcissists are not in touch with their own feelings. They project those feelings on to others and are not capable of empathy. They cannot put themselves into your shoes and feel or understand how something might affect you. They can only see how it affects them. They are hypersensitive to criticism and judgment, but constantly criticize and judge others.”
Your mom comes home and demands attention. If you hold back, she takes offense and attacks. She’s tired. She’s irritated. She just wants it her way, and your feelings better align with hers. If you have to hear the word “ungrateful” one more time you’ll scream. But, most times you don’t. It pays to wait for the rage to abate. If you fight, she fights to win. Many normal parents get into power struggles with their kids, but a narcissistic parent truly needs to win. It is both desperate and scary.
Children experience continued psychological whiplash being raised by a narcissistic mother. You realize she controls with the threat of withdrawal or rage with you and your siblings. Your father goes along to get along, or is long gone. Yet, we all require maternal love.
Extracted mainly from Narcissistic Abuse Movies about Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Caught between his mother and his girl-friend, John Cusack will have a hard time to survive and become a man. You can almost touch the hate those two women feel for each other. Their last encounter is really a scene you will remember : set in Phoenix, in a motel, in a subtle variation of PSYCHO's first murder, it is a moment of great cinema.
Although my situation was different, I really thought Precious hit the nail on the head for the abusive mother. And I agree with you Gail: my mom was nice in between too, to draw me back in!!! AND to have the joy of being close to me as she consoled me from the abuse SHE caused! EEEEEK THE ILLNESS!!! My heart went out to Precious.
the whole film was a character study. Most of the acting is heartbreakingly good, and the movie did a very good job putting us into the mother's shoes. It shows the perspective of a broken woman who started to fall apart long before Kevin did it.
06/06/16 | Observer
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From then on, the mother memoir was a staple, and everyone had her favorite. There were the sadistic or dysfunctional mom memoirs-from 1978's mythic-term-coining Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford, to Drew Barrymore's recent Wildflower-as well as memoir-like novels of this ilk: Janet Fitch's White Oleander, which was also a movie starring a wonderfully cruel and manipulative Michelle Pfeiffer. There were the grumbling-together, complexly meshed mom-and-daughter memoirs-Vivian Gornick's Fierce Attachments is considered the best in this or any mom memoir sub genre. Also, the mom-as-nurturing-pal memoir-Cheryl Strayed's plucky adored mother's cancer death triggered the destructive grief-spiral that Strayed reversed through her Pacific Coast Trail trek. The happy-housewife-mom-teaches-her-careerist-daughter-a-lesson memoir? Anna Quindlen's reality-based novel One True Thing (and its Meryl Steep and Renee Zellweger movie version) had that aced. And the dependent-mother-and-parent-like-daughter-as-roommates fix was available via Katie Hafner's lovely, incisive Mother Daughter Me a few years back.
But then a funny thing happened: Guys took over the mom memoir field. TV reporter John Dickerson wrote On Her Trail about his childhood resentment of and estrangement from-and then ultimate appreciation of and bonding with-his busy female parent, the ambitious, path-carving TV reporter Nancy Dickerson. Kevin Jack McEnroe, son of Tatum O'Neal and John McEnroe, produced the roman a clef Our Town, in which his maternal grandmother-wild, poignant, drug-addicted actress Joanna Moore-moved the dysfunctional mom meme back a generation. More emotionally satisfying were the hugely successful recent good-mom memoirs by loving gay sons: Both Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, which helped a lot of authors by name-checking them (thanks, Will!) and George Hodgman's rightly acclaimed Bettyville gave reassurance, with literary panache, that an adult male will become a daily helpmate to his infirm widowed mother, even if it means moving, as Hodgman did, from Manhattan back to Missouri. (This winning sub-genre-the gay guy momoir-was recently put on steroids when Anderson Cooper wrote a memoir with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.)
But, as terrific as these books may be, the likability of their heroes (albeit genuine) unintentionally diverts credit from a more typical and arduous heroism. For it is overwhelmingly daughters, not sons, who are left to care for-and, certainly, to lifetime-tangle with-their mothers. Happily, the female mom-memoir is now back in the fine form of two of the season's most lauded nonfiction works. Betsy Lerner's The Bridge Ladies fills the conventional-critical-mom-you-rebelled-against-but-now-see-with-fresh-eyes slot. And Ariel Leve's An Abbreviated Life shows, in spare, poetic memories, a daughter grappling with a woman who wrote award-winning poetry and feminist documentaries, but gave her only child formative years filled largely with neglect, insecurity, embarrassment and terror-and an adulthood of PSTD therapy and mostly futile serial attempts to flee her mother's neediness.
Lerner's 'The Bridge Ladies' fills the conventional-critical-mom-you-rebelled-against-but-now-see-with-fresh-eyes slot. And Leve's 'An Abbreviated Life' shows a daughter grappling with a woman who wrote award-winning poetry and feminist documentaries, but who gave her only child formative years filled largely with neglect, insecurity, embarrassment and terror.
The two writers seem happily mismatched to their circumstances: Lerner-a literary agent known for shepherding Patti Smith's award-winning best sellers, for being frank about her (successfully treated) bipolarity and for writing a wildly popular blog full of snarky self-deprecation, has come home (to New Haven) to live near a mother who, along with her best friends, is so cautious, proper and conventional (despite a hidden socialist youth), you thought her ilk had disappeared with Mamie Eisenhower. And elegant Leve was raised in an East 79th Street penthouse, is a graduate of Hewitt and NYU and is a former writer for the London Sunday Times Magazine. Yet today-with delicious improbability-she regularly commutes from her West Village apartment to a rural house, in Bali, on a dirt road full of ambling chickens, to be a mother to the 9-year-old twin daughters of her boyfriend Mario, a gentle "Tarzan-like" water-sports instructor from Turin, Italy, who has never been to America (he's coming for her June 14 book launch). "It's gonna be like an American version of Crocodile Dundee," she predicts. The life she lives with Mario "is the farthest from the life I've known-we are from two different planets. We're not in the ex-pat community; he lives as a local and I'm the only Jew there. He virtually lives in the water, he doesn't talk a lot and it wasn't until we were living together a year and a half that I took my first hot shower there." Living with Mario and the girls "unfroze my heart," she says. "As I found myself 'mothering' the twins, I was very aware of the key nutrients I'd been deprived of. Feeling heard. Feeling calm. Feeling safe." And she learned that she had it in her to not repeat the mothering she'd experienced. "I was able to soothe them when they were angry or anxious or hurt. I was instinctively behaving with them in the way I wish I'd been treated."
Lerner, meanwhile, set out to really know the five impeccably coiffed, emotionally girded women with whom her mother played bridge every week for 50 years, and she herself learned the card game in order to plumb the bumpy humanity hidden beneath their hide-bound marry-early-and-well-and-Jewish-and-do-not-work-outside-the-home trajectories. Her own mother, Roz, who for years criticized every outfit Betsy showed up in, was vulnerable to her as never before. Betsy learned of Roz's post-partum depression and hidden details of the childhood death from pneumonia of Betsy's younger sister. By contrast, Leve set out to document her own childhood, one of such trauma that "my adulthood has been about recuperating" from a mother of wildly fluctuating moods who sometimes screamed at her, slapped her and berated her without acknowledging it, left her with nannies (one of whom dropped dead in an airline seat next to young Ariel), and had knock-down-drag-out fights with her boyfriend, and who was so grasping that Leve, even in her 40s, felt "I will never be free from her," that mantra virtually universal to women-and "I will never know peace."
Lerner went the other way: from distance to embrace. Her mother has been on her book tour with her, both women greeting the myriad 50-ish daughters and 80-ish mothers eager to read a literary kumbaya instruction kit for women who still make their own Passover gefilte fish and never finish a thin mint without retouching their lipstick…and their daughters who, as teens, rolled joints on Rolling Stones album covers. Her book is heartwarming but astringent: An award-winning poet, Lerner is far too coolly observant for schmaltz, and her characters' ordinary lives, which might read desultory in lesser hands, are never patronized. By contrast, Leve's prose is soulful, cryptic, musing and her mother was a flamboyant Manhattanite during the boundary-less, radical-politics-bumptious 1970s: hosting Mailer, Bellow and the foxier Ms. magazine crowd at dinner parties so bristling with argument and wit, Ariel couldn't get any sleep on school nights. Lerner's book has a cross-generational happy ending; Leve's is a singular triumph, quietly shared with Mario and his daughters.
Empathy is a key to both books. Lerner, who was taken by the love Cheryl Strayed showed for her mother in Wild (and who is a big fan of Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts and "anything David Sedaris") says: "The most difficult thing I learned was that the ladies never expressed their pain and therefore were never truly consoled. People praise their generation for a stoicism we boomers supposedly lack. But I felt in talking to them that the unspoken did more harm than good," and Lerner is sorry for that.
Mothers, in good ways and bad, stick to their daughters' psyches. Mom-memoirs can be good literature and socially juicy voyeurism (Leve's, especially). They can also be therapeutic, whether we see our own dyad or its opposite in their pages.
As for Leve's favorite works by women, "The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion moved me a great deal. The material was terrible but the tone was never self-pitying-which I admire. I respect Kathryn Harrison's memoir The Kiss-and admire her bravery to tell the story. Mary Karr's memoirs have always slayed me as well." And "Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities is a gorgeous story that when I first read it, I stood absolutely still without moving from start to finish." Schwartz was a friend of Leve's mother, and it was from this complicated, imperfect-even wounding-older woman that Leve gained her love of language. Despite the pain inflicted, "I love my mother and have compassion for her, which is something that I hope comes through in the book," Leve says. "She did the best that she could. It took me a long time"-11 years-"to be ready to write my story because of how it would affect her. But she has always championed freedom of expression and speech. She was fearless in her writing, and I am grateful that I inherited that."
Mothers, in good ways and bad, stick to their daughters' psyches. Mom-memoirs can be good literature and socially juicy voyeurism (Leve's, especially). They can also be therapeutic, whether we see our own dyad or its opposite in their pages. And so: May these two new books' success spur others. Lerner, for one, as a literary agent (who does a fair amount with female pop stars) and as a reader, has a wish list. Exhibiting sublime patience, and a Lemonade-tinged high bar, she says, "The mom memoir I'm waiting for is Blue Ivy's."
An oft-overlooked fact is that the child is not sure that it exists. It avidly absorbs cues from its human environment. "Am I present?", "Am I separate?", "Am I being noticed?" – these are the questions that compete in his mind with his need to merge, to become a part of his caregivers.
Granted, the infant (ages 0 to 2) does not verbally formulate these "thoughts" (which are part cognitive, part instinctual). This nagging uncertainty is more akin to a discomfort, like being thirsty or wet. The infant is torn between its need to differentiate and distinguish its self and its no less urgent urge to assimilate and integrate by being assimilated and integrated.
"Just as we know, from the point of view of the physiologist, that a child needs to be given certain foods, that he needs to be protected against extreme temperatures, and that the atmosphere he breathes has to contain sufficient oxygen, if his body is to become strong and resilient, so do we also know, from the point of view of the depth-psychologist, that he requires an empathic environment, specifically, an environment that responds
(a) to his need to have his presence confirmed by the glow of parental pleasure and
(b) to his need to merge into the reassuring calmness of the powerful adult, if he is to acquire a firm and resilient self."
(J. D. Levine and Rona H. Weiss. The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism. Jason Aronson, 1994)
The child's nascent self must first overcome its feelings of diffusiveness, of being an extension of its caregivers (to include parents, in this text), or a part of them. Kohut says that parents perform the functions of the self for their child. More likely, a battle is joined from the child's first breath: a battle to gain autonomy, to usurp the power of the parents, to become a distinct entity.
The child refuses to let the parents continue to serve as its self. It rebels and seeks to depose them and take over their functions. The better the parents are at being self-objects (in lieu of the child's self) – the stronger the child's self becomes, the more vigorously it fights for its independence.
The parents, in this sense, are like a benign, benevolent and enlightened colonial power, which performs the tasks of governance on behalf of the uneducated and uninitiated natives. The more lenient the colonial regime – the more likely it is to be supplanted by an indigenous, successful, government.
"The crucial question then is whether the parents are able to reflect with approval at least some of the child's proudly exhibited attributes and functions, whether they are able to respond with genuine enjoyment to his budding skills, whether they are able to remain in touch with him throughout his trials and errors. And, furthermore, we must determine whether they are able to provide the child with a reliable embodiment of calmness and strength into which he can merge and with a focus for his need to find a target for his admiration. Or, stated in the obverse, it will be of crucial importance to ascertain the fact that a child could find neither confirmation of his own worth-whileness nor a target for a merger with the idealised strength of the parent and that he, therefore, remained deprived of the opportunity for the gradual transformation of these external sources of narcissistic sustenance into endopsychic resources, that is, specifically into sustaining self-esteem and into a sustaining relationship to internal ideals." [Ibid.]
Aug. 11, 2015 | /time.comEven as the comet that is The Donald continues to streak across the political sky-as babes peer in wonder out their windows, dogs bay in fear in the night and scholars debate the source of the great apparition-it's worth taking a moment to feel some compassion for the man who's causing all the mischief.
The fact is, it can't be easy to wake up every day and discover that you're still Donald Trump. You were Trump yesterday, you're Trump today, and barring some extraordinary development, you'll be Trump tomorrow.
There are, certainly, compensations to being Donald Trump. You're fabulously wealthy; you have a lifetime pass to help yourself to younger and younger wives, even as you get older and older-a two-way Benjamin Button dynamic that is equal parts enviable and grotesque. You own homes in Manhattan; Palm Beach; upstate New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Rancho Palos Verdes, California; and you're free to bunk down in a grand suite in practically any hotel, apartment building or resort that flies the Trump flag, anywhere on the planet-and there are a lot of them.
But none of that changes the reality of waking up every morning, looking in the bathroom mirror, and seeing Donald Trump staring back at you. And no, it's not the hair; that, after all, is a choice-one that may be hard for most people to understand, but a choice all the same, and there's a certain who-asked-you confidence in continuing to make it. The problem with being Trump is the same thing that explains the enormous fame and success of Trump: a naked neediness, a certain shamelessness, an insatiable hunger to be the largest, loudest, most honkingly conspicuous presence in any room-the great, braying Trumpness of Trump-and that's probably far less of a revel than it seems.
Contented people, well-grounded people, people at ease inside their skin, just don't behave the way Trump does. The shorthand-and increasingly lazy-description for Trump in recent weeks is that he is the id of the Republican party, and there's some truth in that. Trump indeed appears to be emotionally incontinent, a man wholly without-you should pardon the expression-any psychic sphincter. The boundary most people draw between thought and speech, between emotion and action, does not appear to exist for Trump. He says what he wants to say, insults whom he wants to insult, and never, ever considers apology or retreat.
But that's not someone driven by the pleasures of the id-which, whatever else you can say about it, is a thing of happy appetites and uncaring impulses. It's far more someone driven by the rage and pain and emotional brittleness of narcissism, and everywhere in Trump's life are the signs of what a fraught state of mind that can be.
There is Trump's compulsive use of superlatives-especially when he's talking about his own accomplishments. Maybe what he's building or selling really is the greatest, the grandest, the biggest, the best, but if that's so, let the product do the talking. If it can't, maybe it ain't so great.
There's the compulsive promotion of the Trump name. Other giants of commerce and industry use their own names sparingly-even when they're businesspeople who have the opportunity to turn themselves from a person into a brand. There is no GatesWare software, no BezosBooks.com; it's not Zuckerbook you log onto a dozen times a day.
But the Trump name is everywhere in the Trump world, and there's a reason for that. You can look at something you've built with quiet pride and know it's yours, or you can look at it worriedly, insecurely, fretting that someone, somewhere may not know that you created it-diminishing you in the process. And so you stamp what you build with two-story letters identifying who you are- like a child writing his name on a baseball glove-just to make sure there's no misunderstanding.
On occasion, there is an almost-almost-endearing cluelessness to the primal way Trump signals his pride in himself. He poses for pictures with his suit jacket flaring open, his hands on his hips, index and ring fingers pointing inevitably groinward-a great-ape fitness and genital display if ever there was one. After he bought the moribund Gulf+Western Building in New York City's Columbus Circle, covered it in gold-colored glass, converted it into a luxury hotel and residence, and reinforced it with steel and concrete to make it less subject to swaying in the wind, Trump boasted to The New York Times that it was going to be "the stiffest building in the city." If he was aware of his own psychic subtext, he gave no indication.
It's not just real estate Trump seeks to own or at least control. There was his attempt to trademark the words "You're fired," after they became a catchphrase on his reality show, The Apprentice. There was his offer to donate $5 million to a charity of President Obama's choosing if Obama would release his college transcripts to him, Donald Trump. In both cases, Trump wants something-possession, attention, the obeisance of no less than the President-and so he demands it. The behavior is less id than infant-the most narcissistic stage of the human life cycle.
The petulance of Trump's public feuds-with Rosie ODonnell ("a total loser"), Seth Meyers ("He's a stutterer"), Robert De Niro ("We're not dealing with Albert Einstein") and Arianna Huffington, ("Unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man . . .")-is wholly of a piece with the fragility of the narcissistic ego. In Trump's imaginings, it is Fox News's Megyn Kelly who owes him an apology for asking pointed questions during the Republican debate, not Trump who owes Kelly an apology for his boorish behavior and school-yard Tweets ("Wow, @ megynkelly really bombed tonight. People are going wild on twitter! Funny to watch"). As for his sneering misogyny-his reference to blood coming out of Kelly's "wherever"? Nothing to see here. It's Jeb Bush who really should apologize to women for his comments about defunding Planned Parenthood.
Trump was right on that score; Bush was indeed clueless to suggest that the annual cost of protecting women's health should not be as high as $500 million-or just over $3.14 per American woman per year. So Bush did what people with at least some humility do: He acknowledged his mistake and at least tried to qualify the statement. That option, however, is closed for the narcissist. The overweening ego that defines the condition is often just a bit of misdirection intended to conceal the exact opposite-a deep well of insecurity and even self-loathing. Any admission of wrong shatters that masquerade.
To call Donald Trump a narcissist is, of course, to state the clinically obvious. There is the egotism of narcissism, the grandiosity of narcissism, the social obtuseness of narcissism. But if Trump is an easy target, he is also a pitiable one. Narcissism isn't easy, it isn't fun, it isn't something to be waved off as a personal shortcoming that hurts only the narcissists themselves, any more than you can look at the drunk or philanderer or compulsive gambler and not see grief and regret in his future.
For now, yes, the Trump show is fun to watch. It will be less so if the carnival barker with his look-at-me antics continues to distract people from a serious discussion of important issues. It will be less still if Trump actually does wind up as the nominee of a major political party or mounts an independent campaign and succeeds in tipping the vote one way or the other.
But that kind of triumph is not the fate that awaits most narcissists. Their act becomes old, their opponents become bold, and the audience-inevitably-moves onto something else. Trump the phenomenon will surely become Trump the afterthought. He is a man who desperately hungers for respect and attention and who, by dint of that very desperation, will likely wind up with neither. The pain will be his; the relief will be ours.
Adapted from The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World by Jeffrey Kluger by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey Kluger.
There's more than a few examples of the archetype doing the rounds at the moment, from the three lovably awful kids in Amazon's brilliant "Transparent" to the title character of Alex Ross Perry's brilliant "Listen Up Philip," which opened in limited release last Friday and will continue to expand in the coming weeks. Said archetype is of course often complex, and "asshole" frequently doesn't cover it. These characters often are masking deep pain, insecurity, self-doubt and or misplaced arrogance. But we know these types and while often not likable, they're real and often quite hilariously awful.
So, to mark the release of "Listen Up Philip," which features a deliciously prickly Jason Schwartzman in the lead as a egocentric young writer who damages all his relationships, romantic or otherwise, we thought we'd pick out ten of our favorite self-absorbed, unpleasant and yet curiously watchable characters to go alongside his great turn in the aforementioned film. It should be noted that most of our examples come from the last decade or two, but that's not entirely surprising, given that we're arguably living in the most self-obsessed, insular age in human history (this is of course the era of the selfie). Take a look at our picks below, and let us know your favorites in the comments section.
Sweet and Lowdown
Sean Penn as Emmett Ray in "Sweet & Lowdown" (2000)
Woody Allen is an obvious touchstone for "Listen Up Philip" ("Husbands And Wives" is named specifically by Ross Perry, and Sydney Pollack's character in that arguably qualifies for this list too), and Allen's certainly representative of self-absorption. But none of his creations have been more self-absorbed, or more asshole-y, than Sean Penn's central figure in "Sweet & Lowdown." The role of Emmet Ray, a reasonably well-known, heavy-drinking, scumbag of a jazz guitarist whose life is continually overshadowed by that of his idol Django Reinhardt, was originally penned by Allen (under the original title of "The Jazz Baby," back in the early 1970s) to be played by the writer/director, but after nearly thirty years in a drawer, went to Penn (though Johnny Depp was also reportedly considered). And it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job. Penn brings a mix of swagger and deeply insecure neuroticism that makes him very much a creation of Allen, but one that doesn't simply echo the filmmaker in the manner of so many of his leading-men surrogates. As with the lead of another later film about a guitarist, the Coens' "Inside Llewyn Davis," Ray is talented, but enough of a fuck-up (drunken, a sometime pimp, kind of a coward, tight with money, and with a self-inflated view of his own "genius") that he'll never make the kind of impact that he'd like to. And when potential redemption comes along in the shape of Samantha Morton's sweet, mute Hattie, he throws it away in order to marry socialite Uma Thurman. And when he's dumped by her, he's stunned when Hattie's moved on. He's almost irredeemably awful, and yet Penn's performance, one of his very best, manages to find pathos, as well as a pleasing level of comedy, in the character, the kind of thing the actor doesn't get to do enough.
The Life Aquatic
Bill Murray as Steve Zissou in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (2004)
Wes Anderson characters can generally be grouped under the banner of "self-regarding" to one degree or another, from Max in "Rushmore" to even the animated Mr. Fox. But his prize asshole might just be Steve Zissou, in Anderson's fourth film. An oceanographer and documentary maker modelled loosely after Jacques Cousteau, Zissou is a man whose limited fame and prestige has gone very much to his head, who drags his inexplicably loyal crew on an Ahab-ish revenge trip against the shark that ate his long-time partner (Seymour Cassel). He has a certain affection for the people he travels with (he does at least launch a rescue mission when even hated insurance company employee Bud Cort is captured by pirates), but is resolutely unlovable otherwise, particularly in his relations with basically everyone, from consistently hitting on pregnant reporter Jane (Cate Blanchett), treating Klaus (Willem Dafoe) like a bullied lapdog, or feuding childishly with his maybe-son Ned (Owen Wilson), who's eventually killed in a helicopter crash on the hunt for the shark. Anderson's characters, even cantankerous assholes like Royal Tenenbaum, usually find some form of redemption, but there's surprisingly little for Zissou: Ned, who turns out not to be his son anyway, dies, and Zissou is once again acclaimed at a film festival for his finished picture. It's a decidedly sour note, and perhaps one of the reasons that the lavish, lovingly made 'Aquatic' is possibly Anderson's least-loved picture.
The Social Network
Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" (2010) "You're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like because you're a nerd," says Rooney Mara's Erica to Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) at the beginning of David Fincher's Aaron Sorkin penned "The Social Network." "And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole." And it's perfect introduction to the condescending, snobbish, ambitious, narcisisstic founder of Facebook, the website that will eventually make him a billionaire.
And as the film goes on, Zuckerberg never exactly improves: he creates an insulting blog about Erica, hacks into Harvard's network to steal photos of women to let people rate their attractiveness, possibly steals the idea for his site from a trio of other students, freezes out best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and ends up rich but estranged, endlessly refreshing his friend request to Erica. He's selfish, self-regarding, prickly and defensive, but in the hands of Eisenberg's meticulous, brilliant performance, you can also see why.
He embodies the true revenge of the nerds, a twisted and bitter one, but he's only that way because that's what he thinks he has to be. As his attorney, Marylin (Rashida Jones) tells him at the film's conclusion, "you're not an asshole, Mark. You're just trying so hard to be."
A Fish Called Wanda
Kevin Kline as Otto in "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988)
Self-absorption is often something that seems to come with intellect, as demonstrated by the characters on this list. Many of these figures genuinely are the smartest person in the room and treat anyone they deem not to be on their level with according levels of contempt. Otto, in "A Fish Called Wanda," is something slightly different, and all the funnier for it: he's a moron who only thinks he's the smartest person in the room. The result, unusually for a broad comedy like Charles Crichton's 1988 hit (penned by co-star John Cleese), won Kevin Kline a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The character is the film's secret weapon, a borderline psychotic, Limey-hating dimwit with a severe inferiority complex, which manifests in his continual threats to those around not to call him stupid. But as his lover Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) tells him, "I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQs." Otto is a man who thinks "the Gettysburg Address was where Lincoln lived," that the central message of Buddhism is "every man for himself," and that the London Underground is a political movement. He's the ultimate Ugly American abroad ("you are the vulgarian, you fuck," he tells Cleese's Archie when he calls him on his swearing), a terrible driver with the most hilarious off-putting cum face in cinematic history, and a total tour de force from Kline that still remains the actor's finest hour. He's the truly hateable kind of asshole in the best possible way. It says it all that, after somehow surviving being run over by a steamroller, he becomes Minister of Justice in apartheid-era South Africa…
Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary in "Young Adult" (2011)
Arguably Jason Reitman's best film to date, a brilliant gender-swapped inversion of the arrested-development theme that's dominated the comedy movie in the last decade or so, "Young Adult" revolves around a titanic performance from Charlize Theron, playing one of the most unrepentantly unlikable, unchangeable characters in recent cinema. Theron, arguably in a career-best turn, plays Mavis, a divorced writer of the teen-aimed books whose series has just been cancelled. On a whim, she returns to her small Minnesota hometown in an attempt to win back her high-school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), who's just a had baby with his wife (Elizabeth Reaser). Mavis is clearly having some kind of deluded break with reality, but part of the brilliance of Theron's performance is how unquestioning she is of herself: a Mean Girl grown up, chasing simpler times when she ruled the world, and prepared to do just about anything to get there. Theron never courts your sympathy, but there's still a deep sadness in Mavis' absolute lack of self-reflection, not least when she's comes close to a breakthrough, only to be talked out of it by one of her few remaining admirers (a brilliant Colette Wolfe). People talked about her bravery in changing her appearance for her Oscar-winning turn in "Monster," but there's just as little vanity in her performance here, and the film simply wouldn't work without her.
The Assorted Jerks Of Noah Baumbach
Another obvious touchstone for "Listen Up Philip," Noah Baumbach is arguably, and we mean this in the nicest way possible, the king of the self-absorbed asshole. In fact, we decided to amalgamate his collected jerks into one selection, because otherwise it could have taken up half of the entire list. The filmmaker's been interested in the archetype ever since his debut "Kicking And Screaming," about chronically procrastinating recent college grads, but (after co-writing the script for two of Wes Anderson's most self-absorbed characters with "The Life Aquatic" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox") reached something of a zenith with what we like to call 'The Asshole Trilogy' : "The Squid & The Whale," "Margot At The Wedding" and "Greenberg." 'Squid' is the best, as we gradually see the effects of self-absorbed, generally toxic novelist Bernard (Jeff Daniels) on his son (Jesse Eisenberg) during the parents' bitter divorce, ending movingly with Walt rejecting the Way Of The Jerk. 2007's 'Margot' was disliked by many at the time, but has only grown in stature, with Nicole Kidman's brittle, sharp turn proving to be a perfect fit for the filmmakers' world-view, appalling (but still human) as she takes her frustrations in life out on her son. 2010's "Greenberg" is the least of the three, despite a raw and uncompromising performance by Ben Stiller in the title role, a thwarted man-child who can't see much beyond his own needs and worldview. The three films aren't the easiest watch (no wonder that Baumbach's next film, the delightful "Frances Ha," felt like such a breath of fresh air), but together do a pretty great job at encapsulating the era of mammoth selfishness.
Campbell Scott as Roger Swanson in "Roger Dodger" (2002)
Jesse Eisenberg makes another appearance on this list (his more malevolent side in the recent "The Double" could also have qualified), but for once, he's not the asshole. That would be Campbell Scott, who is remarkably brilliant in Dylan Kidd's minor classic "Roger Dodger." Scott plays the titular Roger Swanson, a New York ad-man who's asked by his 16-year-old nephew to help him learn how to seduce women so he can lose his virginity. Roger's a self-described player and essentially a misogynist, and attempts to induct his young relative in what he describes as essentially a war of the sexes. A smarmy early '00s precursor to today's pick-up artist scumbags, Roger doesn't have the charm that he thinks he does, particularly given that he's in an unacknowledged meltdown after being dumped by lover/boss Isabella Rosselini. Like many such people, he hates almost everyone around him, but no one brings out quite so much bile in him as himself, and it's this brilliant duality that makes the performance one of Scott's best. Kidd's film is a woozy, witty examination of sex and masculinity, and though it missteps a little towards the end in offering something of a redemption for the character, it still gave us one of the more iconic cinematic douchebags of the last couple of decades.
Rachel Getting Married
Anne Hathaway as Kym in "Rachel Getting Married" (2008)
We think of being an asshole as a specifically male trait, but we've already seen with "Young Adult" and "Margot At The Wedding" that there's no gender divide. "Rachel Getting Married" is another great example, one that's arguably sadder and psychologically richer than either. Jonathan Demme's film stars a revelatory Anne Hathaway as Kym, who returns home from drug rehab to attend the wedding of her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), only for the family's long-brushed-over painful past to emerge, as it tends to do in movies like this one. Kym initially seems like a comically awful person, a selfish, up-staging drug addict who hijacks the rehearsal dinner to make twelve-step apologies, and who seems to delight in deliberately upsetting almost anyone in her family and not accepting any blame for her actions. But over time, Kym richens, as we learn that she killed her younger brother in a car accident when she was high, and while that itself is clearly a terrible and selfish action, it's only continued to haunt her, and Hathaway is superb in painting a picture of a woman who longs to be forgiven by people who would like to, but might just find it impossible. Demme and the movie never let her off the hook, but that whatever small progress she might make happens at all feels all the more moving for being so hard-won.
As Good As It Gets
Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets" (1997)
Ol' Jack plays cantankerous assholes the way Tom Hanks plays nice guys or Tom Cruise plays people who jumps off tall buildings: brilliantly, vigorously and frequently. In James L. Brooks' award-winning rom-com, Nicholson builds on earlier performances like "Five Easy Pieces" "Carnal Knowledge" and "Heartburn" to create something like a crown prince of unlikable fellas, OCD-suffering, racist, homophobic, misogynist misanthrope novelist Melvin Udall, whose carefully controlled life is upended by the intervention of gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear), and single-mother waitress Carol (Helen Hunt). Nicholson might be playing a slightly sitcom-ish, Archie Bunker-ish character, but the mix of his typical devilish charm, smartly and sparingly used, and a detailed psychological realism that makes Melvin into more than just an archetype, elevated the performance to Oscar-winning effect. Though of course it helps that Nicholson is clearly relishing the lovingly and intricately-written speeches that he gets to deploy ("never, never interrupt me, okay?," he tells Simon. "Not if there's a fire, not even if you hear the sound of a thud from my home and one week later there's a smell coming from there that can only be a decaying human body and you have to hold a hanky to your face because the stench is so thick that you think you're going to faint"). There's a certain degree of cheesiness to the way that Melvin softens up thanks to the love of a good woman, but Jack never makes you doubt it for a minute.
Last Days of Disco
The Many Assholes Of Whit Stillman
Like Baumbach, Whit Stillman is a director who's made a career with characters who can't quite see past their own bubble of existence (and, usually, privilege), up to and including his current Amazon pilot "The Cosmopolitans." The pattern began with his debut "Metropolitan," in which Stillman favorite Chris Eigeman plays arguably the platonic ideal of the director's favorite archetype, a big-mouthed upper-class cynic who one can imagine going into Wall Street and essentially becoming Patrick Bateman in years to come ('"the surrealists were just bunch of social climbers," he condescendingly says at one point). Follow-up "Barcelona" sees Eigeman in a similarly smug role, the ugly American abroad, while "The Last Days Of Disco" sees Kate Beckinsale (who's fantastic here) as a particularly callow example of the type ("remember the Woodstock generation of the 1960s that were so full of themselves and conceited? None of them could dance," she tells someone at one point with the naivety of youth). If one was ungenerous, one could argue that the narrow worldview of his films makes Stillman and his archaic language rather self-absorbed himself, but that's a misreading: Stillman is ultimately a social satirist, a sort of cinematic heir to Jane Austen (whose influence is felt in his most recent picture, "Damsels In Distress," more than ever), savagely poking at the ridiculous attitudes and views of his characters without ever quite judging them.
Honorable Mentions: There were various other possibilities that we dismissed as not quite being quite the right brand of asshole for this specific theme: think of Kirk Douglas in "Ace In The Hole," Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in "Sweet Smell Of Success" (too toxic), even William Atherton in "Die Hard" and "Ghostbusters" (which veers closer to a simple villain). Among the ones who came closest to qualifying were Ed Norton and Micheal Keaton in "Birdman" (we wrote about their self-absorbed asshole-ish tendencies here), Rachel McAdams in "Mean Girls," Matt Damon in "The Departed," Paul Reiser in "Aliens," Aaron Eckhart in "In The Company Of Men," and Tom Hulce in "Amadeus," along with both Jason Schwartzman's villain, and arguably Michael Cera's hero, in "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World." Any others? Let us know below
May 14, 2013 | The Narcissistic Life
If you want observe people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or strong narcissistic traits, look no further than your TV set. There are many memorable movie characters who display the basic characteristics of narcissism: the grandiose and overinflated sense of self, lack of empathy, exploitation of others with no remorse, and excessive self-focus. Listed below are some of the more well-known narcissists portrayed in the movies:
Movie: The Devil Wears Prada
Played By: Meryl Streep
About: Now this is an NPD character that sticks with you.
Movie: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Played By: Kenneth Branagh
About: This is the definition of narcissism. Lockhart is hilarious. One of the comical moments from the series is when Lockhart is talking to Harry during his detention and says "Fame is a fickle friend, Harry. Celebrity is as celebrity does. Remember that." *turn and smile* He goes to such lengths as to fake his fame and risk the deaths of many students just to keep his ego fed.
Movie: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Played By: Sam Rockwell
About: Zaphod (and Sam Rockwell) is great and Rockwell plays him well- he's fun for the role he has.
Movie: American Psycho
Played By: Christian Bale
About: Bale plays the role with what appears to be ease. He's a completely memorable character with some very iconic scenes.
Movie: Dinner for Schmucks
Played By: Jemaine Clements
About: Whether or not you liked the movie, most have agreed that Jamaine Clements was the best part.
Movie: The American Pie Trilogy
Played By: Seann William Scott
About: Stifler thinks he's hot stuff, almost obnoxiously so. But he's not without his insecurities underneath it all. He's probably not a true narcissist as the rest on this list–it's much more of a front, at least partially. But there's no doubting he thinks highly of himself, and he's funny while he thinks so.
Played By: Ben Stiller
About: "I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is."
Movie: Forgetting Sarah Marshall/Get Him to the Greek
Played by: Russell Brand
About: Russell Brand was hilarious in them–clearly the best part of the movies.
Movie: The Princess Bride
Played By: Wallace Shawn
About: Vizzini: "I can't compete with you physically, and you're no match for my brains." Westley: "You're that smart?" Vizzini: "Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?" Westley: "Yes." Vizzini: "Morons."
Movie: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Played By: Will Ferrell
About: The narcissism is right there in the title of the film! He's a fun character, wrapped up in his own little world.
Played by: Charles Boyer
ABOUT: This classic movie is where the term gaslighting comes from, to indicate how an N (or other abuser) lies to you to make you doubt your experience of reality. Although the film is a bit dated now (it was made in the 1940s) it is still extremely gripping and terrifying. The narcissist in this film, Gregory Anton, is trying to deliberately send his new wife insane in order to inherit from her. An absolute must-watch for anybody interest in learning more about malignant NPD.
MOVIE: Mommie Dearest
Played By: Faye Dunaway
ABOUT: A classic film. It's the real-life story of total narcissist Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina. This is a chillingly accurate portrayal of the hell of being raised by a narcissist.
MOVIE: White Oleander
Played by: Michelle Pfeiffer
ABOUT: Michelle Pfeiffer plays the narcissistic mother in this amazing film, and by all accounts does a terrific job.
MOVIE: Gone With the Wind
Played by: Vivien Leigh
ABOUT: Scarlett O'Hara is a total narcissist in this classic tale.
Other Movies Portraying Narcissistic Characters
• American Beauty (narcissistic mother)
• East of Eden (narcissistic father)
• Ordinary People (narcissistic mother)
• Mermaids (Cher as Mrs. Flax)
• Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (narcissistic sister)
• Sybil (narcissistic mother)
• The Little Foxes (narcissistic mother)
• Flowers in the Attic (narcissistic mother)
• Matilda (both parents are narcissists)
• Coraline (both "other" parents are narcissists)
• Precious (narcissistic mother)
• Girl Interrupted (Angelina Jolie)
• Life or Something Like It (Angelina Jolie)
Apr 23, 2014 | Psychology TodayOf all the oppressive, crazy-making features of the narcissist, the one perhaps most frequently cited is their exasperating dishonesty. And such untruthfulness has at times led their no-longer-so-gullible victims to describe them as con artists. Here's a highly selective sampling of such complaints:
- "The lies, the flirting, the lies, the comparing, the lies, the ambivalence, the lies, the belittling, the lies, the teasing, the lies, the built up promises, the lies, the setting up for disappointment. Did I mention the lies?" [!]
- "I had never known a real con man in my life. I thought only the stupid or elderly got suckered."
- "They memorize body language and can spot a person who might feel a little vulnerable a mile away."
- "My ex-husband used to tell HUGE lies about me. Lies that always made ME look bad and HIM look like a martyr (when the opposite was true). I didn't realize this until AFTER we separated and, Boy, was it devastating! I thought that I knew ALL the horrors, to find out there were even more. . . . I didn't think I could take the pain!"
- [And, particularly, note this striking observation on the narcissist's incorrigible habit of prevarication-which is in line with the substantial literature linking the so-called "pathological liar" with the narcissist]: "N would [even] lie when the truth would save his neck."
The controversial Dr. Sam Vaknin, creator of this forum on narcissism and himself a self-confessed NPD, has written profusely-at times, brilliantly-on the subject. In his article "Pseudologica Fantastica," he freely admits:
- "I lie. Compulsively and needlessly. All the time. About everything. And I often contradict myself. Why do I need to do this? To make myself interesting or attractive. In other words, to secure narcissistic supply (attention, admiration, adulation, gossip)."
... ... ...Below, I'll summarize some other distressing characteristics of the narcissist regularly alluded to by their victims:
- Because they're not genuinely interested in others, they're poor listeners. Though it can seem that they're listening attentively, they're unable to accurately repeat back what was said to them.
- Calculating how every situation might benefit (or disadvantage) them, there's almost always an ulterior motive behind what they say or do.
- They can be extremely mean-spirited (as in taking an almost perverse delight in raining on another's parade).
- They're untrustworthy: As one discussant bluntly puts it: "Don't tell them anything you aren't prepared to get shoved up your butt later . . . or down your throat, or in your heart in the form of a dagger. And of course there are those things you tell them that you have to be prepared to have TWISTED into things they can shove…".
- Despite their self-confident, better-than-thou exterior, they often betray feelings of weakness, insecurity, inferiority, jealousy, and cowardice. One commenter even sums them up as "emotional cripples."
- If they're far out on the narcissistic continuum, they can't be changed-and certainly not by their partners. Here's the most pointed (and painful) description of the futility of even trying to alter their behavior: "What I, and others on this board, have learned from dealing with N bullies in our personal lives applies to terrorists. There can be no appeasement, no attempting to reason with them, no attempt to "fix" them, to unseat their deep-seated hatred, shame and envy. Sounds terribly harsh to the uninitiated, but not recognizing that can only lead to our own destruction."
The one consolation for victims of the narcissist's "dagger" (or "vampirish teeth") is the hard-won insights they eventually gain, which makes it possible for at least some of them to repudiate a relationship that's been so toxic to them. Again, in their own (sadder-but-wiser) words:
- "Looking back on ALL the Ns I've ever known and merged with, I see there WERE signs within minutes of meeting the N that they were grossly selfish, immoral, sex-addicted or [that] something was definitely 'off' [about them]. I didn't honour my intuition, gut feelings and instinct. The truth is that I had almost no experience setting healthy boundaries."
- "Staying with an N, or making contact with an ex-N, is like putting your hands directly on a hot stovetop to warm them. It will "work" for five seconds before it scalds you."
Mar 16, 2016 | Psychology Today
...narcissism is marked by an entitlement surge-those moments when a normally understanding friend or partner or coworker angrily behaves as if the world owes them. It's usually triggered by a sudden fear that their special status has been threatened in some way. Until this point, their need for the world to revolve around them is mostly under wraps, because it hasn't been called into question. Kevin didn't ask for Sherry's support or even try to understand how hard her year after her mother's death had been. In his mind, he deserved her full understanding because he felt so close to his dream of a becoming a law partner.
The entitlement surge of subtle narcissism is a bit like the normally happy drunk suddenly becoming surly and going on a bender, cleaning out the liquor cabinets and storming off to buy more booze. Your usually affable boss suddenly tears into you, worried that the latest project (his idea) is failing. Unbeknownst to you, he's secretly had plans to become the CEO ever since he arrived. Your partner begins complaining about the messy house after your pregnancy, feeling he works hard enough that he deserves to come home to a clean house....
... ... ...
To read more about subtle (and dangerous) narcissism, including specific, research-backed strategies to protect yourself from it, order Rethinking Narcissism (link is external) today.
Feb 17, 2016 | Psychology Today
Narcissism has never been an official mental health disorder. Narcissist isn't a recognized diagnostic descriptor either; it's shorthand for someone who scores higher than the average on narcissism measures and may or may not be disordered
...It's a mistake to talk about "symptoms of narcissism." What people usually mean is symptoms of pathological narcissism or NPD.
Anonymous on February 17, 2016 - 9:04am
I have two narcissists in my family. One borders on sociopathy so I avoid her, she scares me. The other narcissist is my mother. For years I lived in terror of her rages, and how the family pretty much revolves around her. I didn't understand how a parent could be so cruel, and assume everyone else was a bad person.
But now that can attach a label to the problem and get a better understanding of what is happening and why, I can create much better boundaries and sit back and watch the crazy unfold. My mother is pretty frustrated that her usual tricks aren't having the impact on me that they once did.
As far as healthy narcissism goes, it's something I'm working on. My mother has stripped all of our self-esteem, as she relishes putting loved one's fault under the microscope as often and loudly as possible. I grew up with massive amounts of fear and anxiety assuming everyone was very concerned about every minor mistake I made. I wish I had worked on this earlier. Mom taught me how to make a mountain out of a tiny molehill.
Craig Malkin PhD on February 19, 2016
It sounds like you've been through hell
And come back. It's true, many children who've lived with extremely narcissistic parents--and I count myself among them--grow up to struggle with a more generous self-image. It's like we swallow that parent whole, their voice plaguing us at every turn. It's hard work silencing that inner critic. But that's the task -- well worth undertaking-- of overcoming echoism and finding our voices. I wish you well in continuing to find yours.
Apr 14, 2014 | Psychology Today
Curiously, deep, deep down-and undoubtedly unconscious to them-they know they're not really what they project. In fact, one of their central defenses (or stratagems) is to endlessly project onto others the very flaws (and fears!) they're unable, or unwilling, to allow into awareness. As critical as they are about others' shortcomings, they're amazingly blind to their own. (And in this respect, the reader might take a look at my earlier piece, "The Narcissist's Dilemma: They Can Dish It Out, But . . . ").
... ... ...
"To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance." ~ Oscar Wilde
Although as stated, this quote is undoubtedly ambiguous, the term "romance" leads me to believe that Wilde's notion of self-love leans toward the pathological-and maybe the auto-erotic as well. But healthy self-love really has very little to do with the romantic: it's grounded in positive self-regard and an acceptance of one's flaws and frailties. On the contrary, being "in love with" oneself (as implied by Wilde's quote) suggests a self-absorption that can only be detrimental to narcissists in their relationships with others. In fact, one of the most common descriptions of unhealthy narcissism emphasizes their inability to care about other people-apart, that is, from how these others might satisfy the demands of their (insatiable) egos.
"Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm, but the harm [that they cause] does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves." ~ T. S. Eliot
This quote makes a vital distinction between narcissists' being malevolent (cf. the sociopath) and their simply lacking concern about how their behaviors might adversely affect others. It's yet another way of drawing attention to their supreme self-absorption, which makes it impossible for them to empathically identify with another's feelings, Most of the time they don't consciously intend to take advantage of others. Such exploitation is merely a side effect of their overriding need to feel more important and better than others-and so feel "good enough." Nonetheless, their insensitivity to the wants and needs of those around them can at times be nothing less than astonishing.
... ... ...
"Narcissists are great con-artists. After all, they succeed in deluding themselves! As a result, very few professionals see through them." ~ anonymous.
This statement seems somewhat exaggerated to me. For most therapists learn quickly enough the signs and signals that give away a narcissistic patient (e.g., regularly blaming others for their problems, taking very little responsibility for why their lives aren't working, telling them how to do therapy, etc.).
Still, the quote is instructive in pointing out not only the enormous self-deception in the way narcissists see themselves, but also their singular expertise in deceiving others. Speaking with bogus authority, they typically have an excellent track record in getting others to see things as they do, even though the result to those so taken in can be disastrous (e.g., being persuaded to make a truly ill-considered investment).
All of which is to say that-on many different levels-getting involved with a narcissist can be as dangerous as a snake bite. And the unexpected sting of it all can, alas, last a good deal longer.
Note 1: In examining literally hundreds of quotes for this post, I came across many that centered not anywhere so much on the narcissist as on their hapless victims. Consequently, my next post will explore the damage that narcissists-especially those far out on the narcissistic continuum -do to those who unwittingly put their trust in them. It's called "The Vampire's Bite: Victims of Narcissists Speak Out."
Note 2: If you'd like to explore other posts I've written on narcissism, here are the links:
- "6 Signs of Narcissism You May Not Know About,"
- The Narcissist's Dilemma: They Can Dish It Out, But . . . ",
- "Narcissism: Why It's So Rampant in Politics,"
- "Our Egos: Do They Need Strengthening-or Shrinking,"
- "LeBron James: The Making of a Narcissist" (Parts 1 & 2), and
- "Reality as a Horror Movie: The Case of the Deadly Sweat Lodge" (Parts 1 & 2-centering on James Arthur Ray).
Note 3: If you'd like to check out other posts I've done for Psychology Today blogs generally-on a broad variety of topics-click here.
Have you ever watched someone perform a card trick which appeared to be magic? Has anyone ever explained a 'magic' card trick so that suddenly you understood how it worked and why you were fooled by it in the first place? Have you ever experienced the 'Aha!' moment which comes after dissecting the steps of a card trick?
The Narcissist's Seduction is a card trick. (Please note that while using the term narcissist, I am also referring to Antisocial personality disorder, sociopaths, psychopaths, as all these disorders seem to bleed into each other in the middle and all perform many of the same card tricks.) Before you know that it is a trick, it appears to be magic. Once you've been fooled, however, you can dissect the layers and see exactly how the narcissist deceived you and with what ease you were deceived.
While the Narcissist performs his card trick of seduction upon you, the world around you, once gray and common, becomes magical. You would never guess that the very special relationship you are developing with the narcissist is actually a formulated recipe to create an aura of intimacy so that you will open up your trust and let this person into your life completely by throwing normal caution to the wind.
The narcissict who came back into my life after an absence of eighteen years played the most spellbinding of card tricks on me. It lasted close to three years, during which time I was under his control.
With an onslaught of cards and letters pleading forgiveness based on his 'getting his act together', with gifts of money and jewelry to myself and our adult daughter (whom he had not supported or raised), with nice clothes, exceptional manners and excessive friendliness to our friends, with constant attention, flowers, and putting his best foot forward by accentuating his upcoming art show and hiding his degenerate friends, by making puppy dog eyes and expressing his sadness at the years spent without us, by swearing to our daughter that he had always been and would always be in love with her mother, by lying about his drinking and getting high, my ex husband the narcissist managed to wriggle a center stage position in our lives within four months of contacting us.
As my daughter recalls, "He sent a few gifts, said the right things, dressed nicely, was extremely polite, and we opened the door of our life wide open to him, willing on very little grounds to forgive all his previous bad behavior and neglect."
As an opener of the card trick, the narcissist preys upon your vulnerabilities. I was vulnerable to this narcissist for several reasons. First, I was disappointed in love and lonely. Second, I had unresolved feelings for the narcissist. Third, I had a fanciful delusion of 'true love' which was probably based upon our relationship when were twenty and he had worshipped me on a pedestal. Fourth, I had a belief in life as a spiritual journey, in which I should trust the people who came into my life if they appeared to have good intentions. Finally, I had a soft heart and forgave easily.
All of these characteristics combined within me to create a perfect storm for the narcissist invasion of Spring 2008.
When the curtain fell two and a half years later, the narcissist's mask dropped and I could see him for what he truly was- an emotional manipulator who had used me for a sexual relationship and as a short cut to have a relationship with our daughter. Heartbroken, my world broke apart, and I have chronicled my emotional reeling in the first several months of this blog.
For many months last year, every day brought new revelations of what the narcissist had lied to me about, as I pieced together the pieces of the shattered reality he had convinced me to be true.
In retrospect, I realize that his whole performance was a card trick. I see through it all. I see my vulnerability, his deliberate lies and putting his best face forward, his overzealous politeness to my friends and family, the gifts, the long phone calls, the vows of eternal love, as simply steps of the narcissist's card trick of seduction. The trick worked; he eased his way into our lives without ever having to explain or atone for his past behavior. He simply glossed over it.
The narcissist card trick is all about show. It is about anticipating what others will want to see in order to gain their trust. The trick is about front loading affection and intimacy with gifts and money. In this way, it is a sort of bribery. Narcissists lie, cheat and bribe their way into our lives because they want something from us. We are only a means to an end for them, and the seduction trick is their entrance ticket into our hearts.
Now that I see how the trick works, it is no longer a mystery. It is perfectly clear. But my knowledge is four years too late.
Are you reading self-help books telling you to spill your guts and Save Your Relationship?
Keep your self-examination PRIVATE. Do not tell your spouse. Do not send him or her a letter of apology, listing your many flaws and faults. Many of us make that mistake before learning about pathological narcissism. There is a huge distinction between normal narcissism and pathological and one of the differences is introspection. When people who naturally introspect realize they have contributed to problems in the relationship, they take responsibility for themselves and alter their behavior.In a normal relationship, both people recognize their 'shadow side': the things we do unconsciously that disturb us and confuse a partner. We see it and we change it and we grow as a result. We assume our relationship with a narcissist works the same way–that once we admit we were selfish or self-centered, they will do likewise.
Have you noticed how healing an argument can be when both people take a hard look at themselves, admit their flaws, and apologize? When people apologize, I've noticed that other people are quick to forgive because they also realize that despite their best efforts to love someone, they ALSO make mistakes. With the narcissist however, admitting your flaws LETS THEM OFF THE HOOK. What happens afterwards is that during another altercation, the narcissist USES every intimacy you revealed about yourself to justify WHY they did what they did. You feel like a failure and the narcissist is off the hook….AGAIN. As long as we admit to having contributed to 'the problem', the narcissist will AVOID (deny) his or her responsibility!This is counter-intuitive for people who are NOT narcissists. So we apologize again, hoping the narcissist will mirror our behavior by doing likewise and they DO NOT. In fact, they will build on your humble admission of fault as a character trait. For example: everyone does things that are 'selfish' (insert whatever 'trait' you want here). You say, "I am so sorry for only thinking of myself!" and you expect this admission to trigger a similar response from your partner. Instead, each time you are taking responsibility for your behavior, the narcissist accuses you of being selfish. He or she doesn't say, "I feel neglected when you do such-and-such". No. Why not? Because "I feel neglected" is self-revelatory. Instead, the narcissist says, "You are a Selfish person. Even YOU admit it."
Most people who have written about their break-up with a narcissist, have learned to introspect and take responsibility for their part in the fiasco. Most people also learn over time, that the narcissist will use any excuse, ANY EXCUSE AT ALL, to avoid taking responsibility. Your short list of defects, mistakes, flaws, and weaknesses become the reason WHY the narcissist acted the way they did. It may appear to others that we're pointing accusatory fingers at narcissists without examining ourselves. This is simply NOT true. We have learned, even if we aren't conscious of it, that our admission of personal weakness will be used against us.In a normal relationship, people are LOATH to bring up any intimacy someone has revealed about themselves. They respect the person's willingness to be honest about their problems. They empathize with how it feels when your weaknesses are used like weapons of humiliation. There's an invisible line that we do not cross, even if we are angry and defensive. We do not use someone's painful revelations against them.Most people have been taking responsibility throughout the relationship, catching themselves in the act and apologizing. They didn't realize the narcissist was gathering ammunition instead of examining him or herself. The narcissist may cry or weep or appear to be suffering when you apologize but sad to say, it's not real. You'll know that the next time you've done something really swell and the narcissist says, "You may have excelled at that project, sweetie, but that's because you are so incredibly SELFISH. Even YOU said so!"
During my divorce, I read a recommended book titled "Spiritual Divorce" and dutifully listed my mistakes, flaws, ignroance, blah-blah-blah and tried to have a 'closure' conversation with my spouse. I did not know about narcissism at the time. Do Not Do This if you believe your partner is narcissistic. It releases them from whatever introspection they are capable of and increases your VULNERABILITY. It's humiliating when your tender admissions, offered in 'good faith', used against you. Or shared with the narcissist's new rescuer.You must be cautious when sorting through self-help books that are NOT recommended for pathological relationships. YOU, the non-N, may end up being humiliated, degraded, and your most spiritual aspects of yourself brutalized. If you want (or feel a need) to self-deprecate, please post to a support group that allows you to express your feelings whatever they may be. For some reason, most people WANT to admit the things they did 'wrong'. We need to purge and confess to being flawed. That's the good and the bad about having a conscience.
Remember: Pointing fingers at narcissists is difficult for Non-Ns. We want to be fair. We want to be honest. For every finger pointed at the N, we have three pointed back towards ourselves. So in order to feel good about ourselves, we can admit to having flaws, shadows and defects, too. But we CANNOT, SHOULD NOT, DO NOT need to admit this to the narcissist. It's not good for YOU and it's definitely NOT good for the narcissist.When narcissists feel threatened, they cannot stop themselves from using whatever ammunition they have to defend themselves. Some narcissists regret their behavior afterwards but not nearly as much as we regret having trusted them.Hugs,
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The Last but not Least
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