The Child and the Narcissistic Martyr

*Trigger warning*

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 theirthG5BL4TQA 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.”

thPW2DWHOOMy 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.

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42 thoughts on “The Child and the Narcissistic Martyr

  1. edwinasepisodes

    I can’t imagine how awful it must have been living with not one, but two Narcissistic parents. Your mother in particular, sounds very unbalanced! It must have been hell knowing you were going to get a beating all the time, What a dreadful childhood you must have had.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, two for the price of one! It was a dreadful childhood indoors, but the 60′ & 70’s were the best years to grow up, so I spent every possible moment outside. They used to ask why I never wanted to sit with them…lol… talk about the blind leading the blind. Cheers, Edwina

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  2. Ellen

    Abuse and dysfunction never declares itself in words. That’s part of what keeps it all going – there is an ‘official version’ that the abusers put out to all, and they may believe it themselves also. I think they often do. How could they admit the truth to themselves that they were abusers? They must twist that reality.

    In my family, that happened also. It was very important how we all appeared to the outside world. And even in the family, the parents always had to be right and infallible. Then it’s so difficult for the child to disentangle and figure out what the real situation was.

    So more power to you Cat for figuring it out and telling your story.

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    1. Cat Post author

      “More power to cat” is spot on, Ellen. This is why I want to do a few posts on this because the increased knowledge sets me free from guilt and self-blame and I hope that one day, there will be no more self-recriminations.

      I agree, they do believe in their own version. They would never see the verbal or physical punishments as being abuse. “Yes, it was different back then” some might say. However, years ago, we knew little of sexual abuse or paedophilia, but those kids still experienced sexual abuse, all the same. One of the most difficult parts is dealing with their make believe and because they truly believe in their own goodness, they cannot see the damage and genuinely feel I am the bad disloyal one… “We truly don’t deserve this.” That’s heart breaking and more reason to block their emotional blackmail with knowledge of their textbook narcissism. Honestly, you couldn’t get any nearer a textbook Narc.

      If our parents are perfectly infallible in every way, their children are less likely to grow up feeling they are unable to achieve that same level of perfection in their own lives

      Thanks, Ellen 🙂

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  3. Priceless Joy

    Sounds like you went through much of the same as me, somewhat different but still the same. We thought everything was because of us, we were bad, we didn’t love our mother enough, and we would go to the devil’s abode for being such bad children. My mother would actually grab a suitcase and start packing and tell my sister and I she was leaving us. I was beat almost every night when I was a wee little girl because I was so bad. It was all my fault. blah blah blah. I am so glad you have risen above her Cat. You can see what the BS was all about now and know that it isn’t your fault after all. It wasn’t ever your fault but her own sickness.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Joy… It seems we both got the brunt of their bad moods, which feeds a self-belief that everything is always our fault. I think you’re like me in that you feel guilty for other people’s feelings and if you say something to someone, you’re then worried you might have just upset them. This comes from our childhood, Joy. It’s very hard to shake of those early core messages that contributed to our making. I am starting to rise above it slowly and reading about narcissism really does help. Are you able to rise above your own stuff, Joy? I know you had lots of therapy, but I’m sure the aftershock of childhood still rumbles from time to time.

      OMG you just triggered a hidden memory about my own mum packing her suitcase, yes, my martyr did the same on more than one occasion, although I seem to remember feeling pleased that she had finally gone, so she soon stopped that malarkey 🙂 I might have even offered to carry her suitcase. No joking aside, it is very alarming when the parent does this

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      1. Priceless Joy

        For the most part (but not always) I am able to rise above it. Sometimes it hits me in the face. But like you, identifying those feelings and knowing why they are there helps a lot. The packing the suitcase thing and scaring us into believing they are leaving, stirs up the “fear of abandonment” feelings. Terrible for little ones! I can just picture you gleefully helping your mom carry her bag. Haha! You’re too funny!!

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  4. therabbitholez

    What always hacks me off is that if you were to say to anyone what really took place behind the front door no one would believe, you, even worse, they would tell your mum, and the punishments would escalate for a few weeks.

    My own mother was very critical, and years later when I confronted her about certain things, she flat out denied it, I wish I had a selective memory, there is no point in trying to have a real discussion with them as they constantly move the goal posts. and that’s your fault too, the cycle never ends.

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    1. Cat Post author

      She was more likely to complain to people about her hard life by saying how worried she was for Cat’s behaviour and wellbeing , “I love him very much and have tried everything, I don’t know what to do… I only want the best for my children.” If any of her children did happen to complain about her to other’s on the outside, people would then say, “But, she always speaks so highly of you… she’s only doing her best…” Narcs are careful to set the scene both indoors and outdoors. They are hell-bent on portraying their own perfection and any flaws just won’t do.

      I remember you saying about your mum, she passed away, yes? They do try to invalidate our memories, even some of the benign ones. The tactic is to throw doubt on anything you might remember and if it is too bad they will say, “He/she always did have a vivid imagination.”

      Thanks as always for your contribution

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Kat, I truly believe the martyr’s are the most damaging and their children always grow up believing in their own selfishness. Thank you Kat

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  5. Anxious Mom

    Jesus. That’s one I’ll never get, the bragging about beating the kids. Sigh. And ((hugs)).

    My dad once told me I should be grateful to him because without him, my mom would have aborted me. You could tell that he truly believed this was something he deserved a pat on the back for, while I was horrified (at age 13) to have been told that.

    Their mindsets are just unbelievable.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, bragging about the beatings, “It hurts me more than it hurts you.” When I was under eight, my dad used to show me the palm of his enormous hands and say, “look how red and sore my hand is” Imagine how my butt felt but that thought evidently was above him

      Pew, your Dad sure does come away with crackers, between the abortion and the gun/suicide thing, he really knows how to boost a gals confidence. Thanks AM

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      1. Andi

        Oh no, I didn’t mean that at all! I don’t expect trigger warnings on stuff like this. I was just trying to relay how much I can really relate and empathize with this kind of mother. But thank you for your kindness ❤

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  6. painkills2

    I can’t help feeling sorry for your mother… I know, I know, I should dislike her intensely. But look at all she’s missed out on by being so conceited — really, she’s lost her whole life. What a waste. Perhaps she’s not even conceited, but actually hates herself and takes it out on everyone else.

    On the other hand, there’s no excuse for the abuse. So in the end, any sympathy I had is easily cancelled out by her violent nature and the torture she put you through. Maybe after she passes away, her brain can be donated to science so we can all figure out why she ended up like this.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I also feel sorry for my mother, but I’ve spent so many years feeling guilty for her, I didn’t allow myself to see past her ‘poor me’. At the back of my mind, I know she is also suffering a mental disorder and maybe needs a little more understanding and compassion, but I need time to absorb the narcissistic theory because it is validating and healing. Lol I imagine her brain would be too twisted to be of any use to scientists 🙂

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  7. Glynis Jolly

    I’m quite certain that you know a lot about this personality flaw. Because I know this, I have a question for you. Can a narcissist manipulate what others think of her through her children. Example: “My daughter is so intelligent, yet somehow her teacher, who is obviously an idiot, can’t recognize intelligence within a family.” It’s the long way around for saying how smart the parent is by the parent. Or is this something else? :/

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      1. sensuousamberville

        Possibly she is meaning is how others view the child is important to the Narcissist, they want to impress, so they push their children to beyond the limits to impress others, caring little for how this will impact the child. If the child appears to be smart, then the parent can make or imply the same…. “she is a chip of the old block”. Or to receive those comments would make the parent swell up as they desire praise so much.

        sorry for sticking my nose in.

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  8. myspokenheart

    My dear Cat,
    Your “relationship” with your mom sounds so remarkably familiar to me. I was lucky that my mom was not a narcissist – but the great matriarch of the family, my grandmother – ‘Granny’, definitely was. And as my mom was a very young single mom I spent a lot of time with my granny.
    I also experienced a great lack of wisdom when I went and married myself a narcissist. It’s funny how when you’re living with a narcissist you know something is wrong (YOU KNOW) but can’t quite put your finger on what, and every time you try to figure it out, try to put some light on it; you’re told its’ your fault, your problem and your issues that are causing the problems, and even though you know it isn’t true you start to doubt yourself.
    Thankfully I have freed myself from that but it’s funny how reading about your experiences is bringing back memories and feelings I have chosen to disassociate myself from, especially the ones where I feel I have failed my children.
    (((HUGS))) Andrea

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    1. Cat Post author

      I understand what you mean about how we just know something is wrong when living with a narc, even as a child, I sensed their “oddness” Children of narcissistic caregivers grow up doubting everything and have a belief in their own selfishness and of not being enough. Thanks, Andrea, I hope it didn’t trigger too much unpleasant memories

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  9. mandy

    You’re doing a fabulous job describing the narcissistic parent, Cat. As a matter of fact, I’ve done very little study on it, but reading your words, my own mother is jumping right off the page and I’m going, “That’s MY mother!” so I know you writing these posts is going to be really helpful in helping people sort out what they maybe weren’t able to before. How many times did my dad tell me that I was going to make my mother “sicker” than she already was if I was played too loud, if I told her what he was up to…and she would tell me my brother would kill himself if I told him my father was a molester, or that I’d be responsible for the family falling apart if I “told.” wtf! Thanks Cat for sharing your terrible childhood experience to help others.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Mandy. I have been reading a little of Narc mothers, but wanted to portray the reality of the textbook narcissistic martyr. I am more than half way through your amazing page-turner of a book and there have been many times when I have screamed Narcissist Narcissist at both your parents, if you could call them parents. They are two of the worst case Narcissists I have yet to read about. Thank you, Mandy I am now even more blessed to be one of your friends.

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      1. mandy

        Aww, Cat, don’t make me get teary. I so appreciate your feedback. Hearing another perspective is so validating that I wasn’t nuts after all. I never thought about my parents as narcissists because I really hadn’t learned about that. I think your discussions talking about your parents has been what’s opened my eyes to it, because you’d write something and I would go, “Yes, that’s MY parents, too!” So thank you for that, Cat. I treasure you.

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        1. Cat Post author

          Nuts? You were the only sane one, they were all truly NUTS in every way. Reading about the Narc mother is a real validating experience, it’s like “suddenly seeing the light” The next post I am planning is the narcissistic parents ‘Golden child – v – Scapegoat’ you may well identify with that too

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  10. bhavpreet

    ohh .. these people sucks … the world is a much bigger place than Narcissism .. no one is perfect …physical appearance changes with time .. so what …. but i think in your time you will be a great parent .. 🙂

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  11. manyofus1980

    Cat this all sounds so sad. They treated you so badly. I think though its good you can see their flaws, you know it wasnt you, i know it has taken a long time, but now you know, now you can see it was all them and never you or your sisters fault. X

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    1. Cat Post author

      It’s been extremely validating to learn of narcissism and, you’re right, it’s a relief to know it wasn’t me after all. Thanks Carol Anne

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  12. Pingback: The Narcissists Golden-child & Scapegoat | My Travels with Depression

  13. D.G.Kaye

    Wow, that was a mouthful Cat! I’m glad to have found your blog through Mandy’s page. Your post here summed up narcissistic behavior so succinctly. Narcissist have to find weapons that make themselves look better compared to anyone else. I too believe that depression is somehow a major factor that contributes to this disease. Nice to connect. 🙂

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  14. Londiwe

    Hi Cat,

    I know the posts are from 2015 but I have only just found them.I was ( still am) the bad one of the family, the scapegoat.My life is a mess( on the inside) because I am quite functional on the outside.I am fed up of living an unbalanced life where internally I feel such a mess but externally look and sound ‘normal’
    My mother was the same with me.She was always bemoaning why she had such a horrible child as l and why God had punished her by giving her me for a child.She said all sorts of things about me that made me conclude that I must be the worst child on earth but at the same time she obviously was a saintly mother for putting up with me and ‘loving me so much’ .She did slip up and said that shewished that she had got rid of me etc.

    She died in January thankfully after years of unsuccessfully trying to continue to make me her narcissistic supply.In the end I too, was cold hearted towards her.I had nothing left to give after having sacrificed my whole life to pleasing her.I have( had) 5 flying monkeys to contend with plus an enabling father.Frankly I don’t know how I survived this concentration camp we called family.It was sheer torture.I am in my 3rd attempt at therapy and 2failed marriages.

    Thank you for posting about your life and recovery.It gives me hope for my own recovery.

    Thank you so much,
    Londiwe

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  15. Londiwe

    Oh my goodness! You have just described my life/childhood with a Narcissistic mother .I was journaling and doing a internal dialogue between a critical mother and a wounded child when clear as day I could ‘identify ‘ my mothers feelings for me of how much she loved me etc despite the fact that she always moaned about what an evil child I was and that I needed exorcism! It made me believe that I was a bad child and she was a long suffering mother! I couldn’t trust my own feelings because she told me she loved me but treated me like dirt so obviously it was all my fault and she let me believe that ! 52 years I have believed this 😩

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