I’m going to discuss the last few points from the survey “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?” by Dr. Karyl McBride that most affected me in relation to my mother.
The first one I’m going to talk about is one of my mother’s defining traits:
30. Is your mother controlling, acting like a victim or martyr?
While I’ve never thought of it as “controlling,” my mother has acted like a victim or martyr for as long as I can remember. When she was going through her alcoholic phase, if I ever mentioned my displeasure at not knowing where she was (when she was 4 hours late for picking me up from my dad’s house), I heard one of three different responses:
- I had a difficult childhood.
- Sometimes I just need to forget about my responsibilities.
- I only do this occasionally (said in a whiny “poor me” voice).
The narcissistic mother who criticizes and hides behind a veneer of martyrdom when her child needs her support is another common manifestation of a narcissistic parent.
(excerpt from The Narcissistic Parent)
Sometimes the words would vary a little, and sometimes she’d combine a couple of them into one, but I heard those excuses from her so often that I can recite them verbatim at will. Even when I wasn’t complaining about her drinking, she still would mention the rough childhood she had on a regular basis. The story was always the same; bad childhood, her father beat her, her brother treated her awfully, nobody understood her.
I’m not saying that she was making it up–I’m sure she didn’t have a fabulous childhood–but the sheer frequency of hearing those stories began to wear on my patience, especially because this woman–who claimed to have such a bad relationship with her family–kept trying to be in contact with them! If I’d been treated the way she was, I’d have walked away from them a LONG time ago. As it is, I have very little contact with my maternal grandmother and any of the family on that side. My relationship with them wasn’t as bad as hers, but it was bad enough that I know I don’t want or need most of them in my life on a regular basis.
But her childhood aside, I’ve noticed my mother walks around as though she has the word “VICTIM” stamped on her forehead. For example, when I first moved to New York, she and her then boyfriend came with to help me move out there and to see the city. We were walking down the street together when her boyfriend and I noticed she wasn’t behind us anymore. She’d actually stopped off at one of those sidewalk 3-Card-Monty vendors. By the time we got back to her, she’d lost $100 betting on that game. Afterwards, she couldn’t actually explain why she’d stopped, when she KNEW those things are rigged, but she had done it anyway.
Another time, she came to visit me when I was living in Prague. Now, Prague is a relatively safe place, but it is known for pickpockets. There, they do what’s called “crowding” where groups of people surround you on public transit, and try to steal from you. By the time she came to visit me, I’d lived there 7 months without incident, but the very first day she was there her purse had been cut and her passport stolen. She’s also fallen for several email schemes and at least one get-rich-quick scheme.
Her response to each of those events is usually to blame the perpetrators for their dishonesty, which brings me to another point on the survey:
12. Does your mother blame things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her feelings or actions?
Rather than try to understand why she falls for each of these schemes, she blames “dishonest people” for taking advantage of her. Now, I’m not condoning the actions of those who prey on others, but they can only prey on those who allow themselves to be preyed upon. I’ve also heard her blame clothing stores for having mirrors in the fitting rooms; her reason being that she’s so overweight, she doesn’t want to have to look at herself in the mirror. That was her response, rather than accepting responsibility for her food choices, or lack of exercise.
Points 14 and 16 are things I only felt a little bit while growing up:
14. Do you feel you were a slave to your mother?
I wouldn’t say that I was a slave, but from the time I was about 8 years old, I had to babysit my brother whenever my she went out for the evening (which was pretty often). She also seemed to stop doing chores around the house. I totally believe that children should do chores in the house, as it builds character and teaches responsibility, but when my brother and I were old enough to do them, I honestly don’t remember her chipping in to do any herself, unless we had company coming over. This might have been a byproduct of her being a single mother, but when paired with #16, it felt like something more:
16. Did you have to take care of your mother’s physical needs as a child?
Again, this one needs to be tweaked a little bit. Aside from babysitting (at my young age) and the chores, there weren’t too many of her physical needs that I had to attend to (except for once or twice when she came home so drunk that I had to help her into bed). But her emotional needs . . . now THAT was another story. I DEFINITELY felt like I had to take care of those for her. In fact, it often felt like I was the adult in the relationship, not her, which is what’s known as “parentification,” one of the many tactics that a person with NPD might use on his/her child. As I got older, I felt this more and more.
As Michelle Piper explains it:
“. . . The narcissistic mother expects her daughter to take care of her when it should be the other way around. The daughter is made to feel responsible for the mother’s physical and emotional needs. These needs can range from an unfair share of cooking and cleaning to playing therapist while her mother talks about her relationships, sex life, and other issues. These are much bigger roles than any child should have to take on . . .”
Another great site, dedicated to daughters of narcissistic mothers, has this to add:
“. . . parentification is very abusive as the daughter–correctly judging this as the price of her mother’s approval, and not knowing any better–tries to take on the burden of meeting those needs . . .”
This expectation that my mother placed on me (whether intentional or not) meant I had to grow up VERY fast. In some ways it was a good thing, but in many, it wasn’t, as I’ll describe in better detail next month when I wrap this series up.
Stay tuned . . .