[There are two basic types of narcissistic mothers, the ignoring type and the engulfing type. These may—and often do—overlap but most NMs have a basic style and will be primarily one or the other. Some of the following points may not apply to your NM simply because they describe an engulfing characteristic when your NM is an ignoring type—or vice versa. But our mothers are not the only narcissists we will encounter in our lives. In fact, being raised by a narcissistic parent actually sets us up to be prey for more of the self-centred emotional vampires as we go out into the world, from girlfriends who are anything but friends to lovers who love themselves best to husbands who are the mirror image of dear old mom. So, whether something looks like it applies to your NM or not, read and consider it carefully—it may give you the awareness necessary to avoid the predator lurking around the next bend. As ever, my comments are shown in violet. -V]
It's about secret things. The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self. It's about body language. It's about disapproving glances. It's about vocal tone. It's very intimate. And it's very powerful. It's part of who the child is. ~ Chris
5. She demeans, criticizes and denigrates.
The Word Reference website offers the following definitions:
Demean: cause to suffer a severe loss of dignity or respect.
Criticise: disapprovingly indicate the faults of.
Denigrate: criticize unfairly; disparage.
Undermining is what she does; demeaning you, criticising you, and denigrating you…that is how she does it.
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.
The “little ways” is actually key. Like water dripping ceaselessly on a rock, each drop is small and seemingly harmless. But let enough of them fall over a sufficient period of time and even granite can be worn away, diminished, even cracked and broken. Complaining about her incursions into your peace of mind makes you seem petty and hypersensitive because her jabs are too often easily reinterpreted by those who are not her constant target. And if you are the daughter of a MNM, may heaven help you because she is not beyond setting you up.
I was supposed to be the smart one, as evidenced by my (unwelcome) mid-year promotion from second to third grade. Forever after, this was used against me. No help was forthcoming when I asked for it—instead, I got “You’re supposed to be the smart one, you figure it out.” Of course, this set me up for a lifetime of failures because few people “figure it out” and do it perfectly the first time and every one of my failures was an opportunity for her to ridicule, demean, criticise and denigrate me.
An example: at the age of 10 or so, washing the kitchen floor on Saturday mornings became my chore. I was a skinny kid, not very strong, so I had difficulty moving the kitchen furnishings and moving a full bucket of hot water. Everything I tried garnered criticism, but not once did she give me suggestions as to how to manage the task better. And, to make matters worse, NM would tell her friends, hooting with laughter, about my mistakes on the way to learning something, like how I spilled a bucket of water I had balanced on the edge of the sink, soaking myself as well as the floor, how I just “pushed dirty water around” because I didn’t have enough water in the bucket to properly rinse the string mop…or the strength to properly wring it out. If I tried rinsing the mop under running water in the sink, I was wasting water. Nothing I could come up with worked (and wouldn’t until I was physically big enough to do the job right), which gave her endless opportunities to make me feel inadequate and stupid and useless.
My GC brother, by contrast, never suffered such indignities. His chores were always done, she would remind me. He didn’t have to be reminded, he did them properly, and didn’t make stupid mistakes like I did, trying to get attention. Right—I suspect she knew that I did his chores for him. If they weren’t done, I got punished because it was my job to make him do his chores and if I failed, I was punished for my failure. Since he refused to do them as he knew the consequences for his inaction would fall on me, I did them to spare myself from NM’s wrath. A side benefit for him, of course, is that it polished his halo, raised his esteem in NM’s eyes, and the fact that is was all based in falsehood meant nothing to either of them.
In any contest with another, if your NM is the judge, you lose. If you win and you are proud of yourself, you are a poor sport. If you lose, you are worthless. If you don’t compete, you are lazy. In fact, you may occasionally realize with surprise that you are actually in competitions you never signed up for—to be the smartest or the cutest or the most obedient or helpful…or even the worst, most incorrigible…child among those children NM can observe, including famous children she can know nothing about personally, but whose imagined attributes you are put into competition against. And you always, always lose.
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.
This can be taken to grave extremes. When I was frightened by a man exposing himself to me in the school yard late on a Saturday and I ran screaming through a small creek in my escape, she was totally unsupportive. She labelled my story as a lie and an “attention getting device” and an excuse to ruin a pair of shoes I hated. As a result, subsequent sexual assaults upon my person I never reported to her…I knew I would not be believed and that I would be held up to ridicule and maybe even punished.
Because I knew my NM would not support me in anything, I never told her of being bullied or teased, isolated or ostracized in the school yard. I fully expected her to take the side of the others, much as adults took her side when I complained of being beaten at every opportunity. “Whatever did you do provoke her that she would do such a thing?” I have been asked, and when I answered “nothing,” I was not believed.
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.
Mine was an ignoring malignant narcissist…they don’t find it necessary to hide their nastiness, at least not from their victims. I wasn’t difficult, I was “incorrigible,” to hear her tell it, so incorrigible that I was to be sent away to reform school. The judge, however, disagreed with her since I had never been in trouble with the law nor at school, but it didn’t change her view of me…if any thing, it made it worse. Despite the fact that I didn’t attend the hearing, NM later accused me of “charming” the judge and making her out to be a liar, something worthy of a lifetime of animosity.
Less blatantly antagonistic NMs, however, likely eschew such direct accusations and unashamed lies. For them, subterfuge and manipulation, back-handed insults and digs, damning with faint praise or seemingly innocuous remarks accompanied with a snide tone of voice giving away the insincerity. And MNMs are not above adding these tactics to their arsenal. I wrote a term paper once that took months of research and a lot of hard work to put together. I got an A+ on it. Proudly, I handed it over to be read and she put it on the coffee table. Weeks later I found it under a pile of newspapers and magazines and when I asked what she thought of it she said “You already got an A on it. What do you want? A medal?” She had not bothered to read a word.
Remember, NMs are not the only people who engage in this kind of demeaning, denigrating behaviour. If you are a DoNM, you were raised by someone who set you up as a purveyor of Nsupply and other Ns can smell it. You will attract both male and female narcissists to you, so if you have a friend or lover or spouse who criticises you relentlessly, makes comments that make you feel small or inadequate, who makes you feel small and weak rather than strong and empowered, you could be dealing with a narcissist in best friend’s clothing…
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.
There is more than one way to accomplish this. Malignant NMs often do these kinds of things with a conscious intend to wound and because they have no conscience or sense of familial loyalty, they can turn other family members into their flying monkeys in order to use them to hurt you. In my case, it was my daughter who was used in such a way. She became a substitute for me, and because she bought into the bullshit, she became a better daughter than I was. Of course she had to jump through a lot of hoops, turn her back firmly on the truth and even “forget” some hurtful things my NM did to her, like the time NM told her that she wished she had never had kids, that she had just stuck to cats instead, which sent my daughter to me in tears—“If she never had kids then I wouldn’t be here!” she wept. “Doesn’t she want me?”
One cannot mistake the message left in a will that disinherits one child and three of four grandchildren. The ones left out, the ones specifically singled out in the will to be told they were being rejected one last time, know they never mattered, and probably knew it long before that final confirmation.
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.
This is pretty much true of just about any narcissist when dealing with information that they don’t like, don’t want, or don’t agree with. If they can denigrate the messenger, then they don’t have to pay any attention to the message.
When my NM was 65, she had a heart attack. After a quintuple bypass she was given certain instructions, chief among them to stop smoking, change her diet (less fatty foods) and take certain meds. On a “duty visit” to her (with my now-late husband along—I would never, ever visit with her alone! She watched her mouth in the presence of witnesses!) I watched her light up cigarette after cigarette and finally had to ask what her doctor had to say about her smoking. “That young pup?” she said. “What the hell does he know?”
Later on, as she continued her litany of complaints (that’s what a “conversation” with her consisted of: her complaining and everybody else nodding and making the appropriate noises at the appropriate times) she complained about how expensive her medicine but that she, clever thing that she was, found a way to cut the cost in half—by only taking it in half the dosage ordered by her doctor! When I observed that if half the dose would do the job, surely the doctor would have ordered the lower dosage. I was completely ignored and she went on a diatribe about how expensive everything is and how she could barely afford to live…this from a woman who was on Medicare and had just inherited a small fortune from her own mother.
Her mother, my grandmother, lived 21 years after her triple bypass, but quit smoking, changed her diet, and took her medications as prescribed. My NM lived only four years after her surgery. She would take advice from no one, not me, not her doctor, not from any source. With the arrogance of a true narcissist, what she “knew” trumped anything anyone else could tell her, and she held our contrary knowledge and opinions in disdain.
It killed her.
Next: Part 6. She makes you look crazy