I want to do a few posts on narcissism, but introducing the complex world of a manipulative narcissist is no easy task and certainly not within my usual 500 words. Realising my parents are textbook narcissists was a pivotal moment in my own therapeutic journey and I would like to share how I got there.
Narcissistic parent’s only ever have one agenda – their own. Everything has to be about them or they will brand you as selfish. If a child commits the biggest sin known to a narcissist by attempting to assert their own free will or opinions, they will meet with fierce opposition and even rejection.
A narcissistic parent who is also a martyr only visits additional heartache on their children. The martyr will portray the perfect doting parent, while professing to lay life and limb down for her offspring, “But, look how they repay me, after all I ever done.”
The perfect way to promote her martyrdom is by having a “bad child” who she bravely endures on a daily basis. “Oh what a terrible life I am having,” is her motto and she will go to great lengths to prove those hardships, often to the detriment of her own children.
It would never have crossed my mind as a child that my own mother had any kind of fault. In my innocent eyes, she was perfect in every way and the ‘poor me’ routines along with the beatings were only what we deserved. If a narcissistic mother boasts of her perfection on a daily basis, these self-absorbed messages become part of our early core beliefs, even when the evidence suggests that the perfection simply doesn’t exist.
Everyone would hear of her martyrdom and I was destined to be the problem child. From the difficult pregnancy and the long hours of excruciating labour to my audacity to express a free will as a three-year old. “Yous would break the patience of a saint,” she bemoaned after leathering her small children with a slipper for minor misdemeanours. “You fucking wee bastard, I wish I never had you.” In the community and our local church, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
Her resentment for my existence was proudly on display, as though my sole purpose in life was to be the scapegoat of our small and secretive family. I took the blame for the not-so-nice side of her character that would erupt whenever things didn’t quite go her way. Her depression and foul-mouthed temper were everyone else’s fault, and always mine.
“You were a great baby until you were three years old and then I don’t know what happened…”
This repetitive statement puzzled me for years until I realised the simple answer had more to do with her own selfishness. When I turned three, my sister was five years old and just starting school. The martyr’s daughter was no longer there to entertain the “troublesome toddler” while she had time to go back to bed or sit in miserable depression all day long.
I would feel furious when mum went back to bed as soon as my sister left for school. I delved into a lot of wonderful mischief but received harsh punishments for my selfishness and inconsideration for my “poor old mother,” who was only in her late 20’s. One morning, I spread a “full” jar of hand cream over the seat of her armchair. On another occasion, I ate a “full” box of chocolates and then was violently sick. “Yes, that’s God punishing you for eating your poor old mother’s sweets… ” The worst crime of all was decorating my sister’s dollies with biro pen.
Mum’s first task when she eventually got out of bed was to see what her ungrateful little bastard had been up to and there were always harsh punishments ahead. Years later while recalling these memorable events, she would proudly admit, “Yes, I leathered him up and down that living room.” Recalling the crime had only one purpose and that was to reinforce her terrible life and martyrdom. And we used to think this was “normal.”
Dad would come home and mum’s spiel still echoes through my mind today, “You think I don’t deserve a bloody rest… I’ve just made breakfast for everyone and then put my daughter out to school… I only have one lung… I’m not able ya know… and I do my best for this family and this is what I get… you won’t have me around for long… you should make the most of me while you can…I’m done with this life.”
Mum would cunningly recount these stories to friends, relatives, and even neighbours, but her deceitfulness was always careful to leave out the intimidation and violence. She needed people to view her as the long-suffering martyr who was having such a difficult life with her unruly child.
My father’s status as an Electrical Engineer was a world away from anything mum’s own dysfunctional family ever achieved in the history of their alcoholism. Dad spoiled her in every way and his unopened wage packet paid for her comfort and luxurious home, while my sister and I believed in our own poverty. You could say mum struck it lucky when she met a fellow-narcissist.
Our childhood endured statements that demanded the utmost appreciation and devotion and was contradictory to the reality we endured. “You should be grateful for such a lovely clean home” and “You’re lucky to have a good father who puts food on the table every day… And you don’t know how lucky you are to have a warm clean bed at night… You have the best… best parents.”
My sister seems to have bought into this drivel from a very early age, but I imagine that was her means of survival. The poor girl was always terrified to step out of line. Of course, I rebelled and continued to internalise the belief that I was bad, worthless, and flawed. Maybe this was all part of the narcissistic mother’s cunning plan for the ‘Golden Child –v- Scapegoat’ roles we each adopted, but that needs to be for another post.