Friday, August 9, 2013

Movies about Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Movies Starring Narcissists



© by Gail Meyers
Dealing with a narcissist is more than most adults can handle, let alone dealing with one growing up!  I know the feeling.  After the ordeal that was the first 40 years of my life, I began learning everything I could about narcissistic personality disorder.


I learned about the tactics, such as forgive and forget, gaslighting, playing the victim, triangulation, the silent treatment and more.  I developed an insatiable appetite to learn about the disorder and dysfunction.  Then one day I realized narcissists are in movies, too.


Some of these movies were very helpful during the time when the denial was shattering and reality began staring me in the face.  I hope you will find some of them helpful, too.  There is just something about seeing the behavior displayed in a character we are not deeply emotionally invested it.  It becomes clear, easier to see.


Then there is the issue of validation.  Narcissists perfect the art of gaslighting.  Gaslighting invalidates your feelings, emotions and experiences.  It can leave you feeling crazy, like you put your head in a washing machine.  Some of these movies also provide some much need validation to someone who may have been gaslighted for years or even a lifetime.  


If you are not sure what gaslighting is, keep reading or for a more in depth discussion, see this article on gaslighting.

If you have dealt with or are dealing with a narcissist or narcissistic personality disordered person, it is likely an experience you will not soon forget.  Even more so, if you are an adult son or daughter raised in the chaos and abuse.

I thought if I felt that way during my recovery, that others might too.  These movies can also be helpful for friends or loved ones who are trying to understand, but have not been able to.

So I put together this list of favorite movie picks.  If you have a movie that you think is a great choice, please mention it in the comments.  There everyone can enjoy it or I can add it to the list.


Gaslight

This movie is an absolute must see for anyone dealing with or recovering from a narcissist.  Gaslight is an award winning psychological thriller that so clearly demonstrates gaslighting techniques and the devastating results it can have on a person.

More and more people are coming forward and speaking out about narcissistic parents, siblings, spouses, neighbors and bosses.  Thus, I deem this one a must see for everyone!  This movie is where the term gaslighting originated.

The original version was released in the United Kingdom, prior to a Broadway show of it under the name of Angel Street.  Then, this version was released in the United States in 1944, starring the legendary Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten.  Angela Lansbury, of Murder She Wrote fame, makes her movie debut as the mischievous young maid.

The movie is set in Victorian London with Ingrid Bergman playing Paula, the gaslight victim.  Charles Boyer plays her sinister gaslighting husband, Gregory Anton.  Many classify him as a psychopath or antisocial personality disordered. Years after the murder of her aunt, Gregory and Paula fall in love and marry.

Shortly thereafter, Gregory convinces Paula to move back into her childhood home, the house where her aunt was murdered.  Paula agrees, but as soon as she does the trouble begins.  She notices the gas lights dimming, but when she mentions it to her husband he tells her she is imagining things.

Little does Paula know her husband has a secret he will do anything to protect.  He is the one who murdered Paula's aunt years before, but did not get away with the jewels he was after.  So when the lights are dimming, it is because Gregory is in the attic when he believes the jewels are hidden.

When he uses the attic gas light, it causes all of the other lights to dim, just as Paula remarked.  Gregory continues to gaslight Paula, but soon steps over the line into physical gaslighting.   He moves her broach, but when she cannot find it he tells her she has been forgetful lately.

Gregory continues to gaslight and isolate Paula as the emotional tole becomes more obvious.  Notice in the movie, there was no physical abuse, nor did Gregory ever raise his hand to Paula.  Yet, she is on the verge of losing her mind. Will Gregory get away with it?  Will he find the jewels?  I can not spoil the ending!


The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is often discussed as the classic tale symbolizing narcissism.  The entire movie can be analyzed within the framework of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder.

Actually, it has been in the book, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists:  Coping with the One Way Relationship at Work, Love and Family.  However, the reason I have mention it here, is for the reference to the flying monkeys.

Flying monkeys is a term you will often see used when reading and learning about narcissists and narcissistic personality disorder.  Sometimes writes have used the term so often or for so long, they forget to define what it means for those who do not know.

The flying monkeys do the Wicked Witch's dirty work in the movie.   The Wicked Witch sends the flying monkeys after Dorothy.  Among other things, the Wicked Witch wants Dorothy's red slippers.  Notice in the clip the Wicked Witch is actually green, and that Dorothy has done nothing wrong. She just has things the Wicked Witch wants.  Thus, the people a narcissist manipulates and uses to abuse by proxy are often referred to as the flying monkeys.


The Sopranos

David Chase created this HBO TV series that ran from 1997 to 2007. He was inspired to create a storyline about a mobster seeing a therapist because of problems with his mother. David relied heavily on his relationship with his own allegedly narcissistic personality disordered mother when creating the roles for the series.

This is a great source for sons of narcissistic mothers.   Livia Soprano displays endless narcissistic behavior, including sucking the life out of her children. True to narcissistic form, on her son Tony's wedding day she tells her soon-to-be daughter-in-law that Tony will eventually get bored with her.

Later she manipulates a family member into putting out a hit on Tony because he tried to put her in a nursing home. Tony plots his revenge, intending to suffocate his mother, but she suffers a stroke. When she is released from the hospital Tony goes no contact with his narcissistic mother.

Livia displays classic behaviors of a narcissistic personality disordered mother before her character dies during the course of the series.


Mommie Dearest

This is another must see for daughters of narcissistic mothers.  Mommie Dearest is a movie adult sons and daughters of narcissistic personality disordered mothers often relate well to.  It is often spoken of as a chillingly accurate account of what it is like growing up in such an environment.

Mommie Dearest is based on the real life story of Christine Crawford, adopted daughter of the late Joan Crawford. Christine reveals the secret hell of her childhood, inflicted on her by her mother. 

It is most widely known for the "no wire hangers" scene.  Be warned, the clip is rather intense as Christine's mother flies into a rage because Christine's clothes are on wire hangers instead of nicer hangers.

As an adult, Christine claimed even their adoption was a publicity stunt.  Being overly concerned about the way things look, rather than how they feel, is classic narcissist behavior.

Some confirmed the validity of Christine's claims, while other disputed it.  Some believe Joan was bipolar, others have alleged she was borderline personality disordered, and still other claim it was OCD.

Regardless of the diagnosis, this movie clearly displays familiar maternal narcissistic traits.  In an interesting side note, Christine and her brother were written out of Joan's will after her death in 1977.  The will states the reason for being disinherited as "reasons which are well known to them."      

White Oleander

White Oleander stars Michelle Pfieffer, Renee Wellzeger and Robin Wright Penn, with Michelle Pfieffer doing an amazing job of playing the narcissistic mother, Ingrid.  In this movie the story is told from the daughter's point of view, which makes it even better for adult children of narcissists.  The mother's narcissism shines through brightly.

After several unsuccessful attempts to reconcile, Ingrid discovers her love interest has been seeing a younger woman.  Ingrid continues to obsess about this man until she ends up breaking into his house and poisoning him with white oleander in a fit of jealousy.

Ingrid often seems to forget she even has a child as she vacillates between ignoring and engulfing behavior.  Astrid is the more mature of the two.  Ingrid is then sentenced to life in prison for the murder, leaving young Astrid to be cared for by the state.  The story follows her through a series of abusive foster homes while also keeping the focus on her mother's narcissistic behavior toward her.

A Woman Scorned:  The Betty Broderick Story

This movie chronicles a real life high profile murder case that divided public opinion and ended in a hung jury after the first trial.  Meredith Baxter received an Emmy for her top notch portrayal of Betty.  There are so many videos about it on YouTube, I had a difficult time choosing just one, but here it is.  It is a video by American Justice highlighting the facts and circumstances surrounding the case.

Dan and Betty Broderick were married for nearly two decades.  Dan had an affair with his much younger assistant prior to divorcing Betty to marry her.  The movie highlights Betty's increasingly provocative behavior leading up to the murders of Dan and his new wife.  It was alleged that Dan gaslighted Betty and narcissistic personality disorder was alleged against Betty during the trial. 

The movie demonstrates the way a narcissistic mother manipulates her children, as well as other features of the behavior.  Even after murdering her husband and his new wife, Betty had a field day manipulating the media with the classic narcissist maneuver of playing the victim while vilifying the true victim. 

Also demonstrated in the movie is the way a narcissistic mother manipulates her children, using them as pawns. Besides A Woman Scorned, there is a second movie, as well as books written about the case.      
  

Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment is a 1983 movie starring narcissistic Shirley McClain and Debra Winger as mother and daughter.   Shirley McClain won an Oscar for her performance portraying this narcissistic mother.

The movie opens with the often referred to scene of Shirley McClain being anxious her sleeping infant daughter has suffered crib death. She walks into the room, nearly climbs into the crib, pinches the baby until it cries, then leaves the room while baby is crying stating how much better it is that the baby is crying.

The concern she conveys is focused on her own anxieties rather than her infant daughter.  Years later when her daughter shares the news that she is pregnant, her mother flies into a rage as if it is a narcissistic injury for her to become a grandmother. Again, the narcissistic mother views this event in her daughter's life as how it affects her.


Sybil

This movie was remade in 2007, but Sally Field is amazing in her performance as Sybil in the 1976 film. Sybil is a shy, unassuming school teacher who suffers a breakdown. This leads her to see a psychiatrist, Wilbur. As the movie progresses, various other personalities of Sybil's introduce themselves to Wilbur.

Wilbur traces the multiple personalities to childhood abuse Sybil suffered at the hands of her mother. Wilbur locates Sybil's father who confirms Hattie, Sybil's mother, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. However, he denies Sybil was ever abused.  Such gaslighting is typical behavior in toxic, dysfunctional families. It displays how Sybil's abuse, perceptions and memories are invalidated.

Eventually, Wilbur drives Sybil back to her childhood home where horrific abuse took place. Then the movie beautifully demonstrates Sybil and Wilbur working through the healing process as Sybil recovers her repressed memories and gets in touch with her anger.

Moreover, the reintegration of repressed memories and the healing process is so beautifully brought to life in this film that it is included in this list.  The movie Sybil shows the part amnesia plays in dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder). She goes on to lead a full and happy life. If you decide to buy or rent this movie, be sure to get the full unedited edition. One version apparently has more than an hour of footage from the original film edited out of it.

Perhaps of interest to some, is this video on Sybil Exposed. Debbie Nathan's examination of the story and claim it was an elaborate fraud.

If you have a movie you think should be included on this list, please let me know in the comments.  All of these movies and many more can be found in the bookstore.

Who is the narcissist in your life?
47% Mother
8% Father
29% Spouse/Significant Other
4% Sibling
1% Grandparent
1% Child
1% Boss
6% Other
2% I do not have any narcissists in my life.
275 people have voted in this poll. Poll closed. 
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*This article was previously published on November 21, 2011 on HubPages prior to being moved to this blog.

19 comments:

  1. As an adult who divorced my my mother, and pretty much my family to escape her malignant narcissism, I too have an insatiable appetite to find out more on the issue. I think my mother may also border on psychopath as well. She was good at getting others to abuse me, including my brother and my step father, and she played victim, all too well. She has smeared me so badly to family they believe I abused her, even though her behavior nearly got me killed.

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    1. That totally sounds like my mother as well. I just figured out my mother has npd, but the damage has already been done. I hope I never have to see or hear her ever again. Just like you, I'm taking as much information in as I can. I can't believe it has took me so long to find out.

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    2. I wouldn't blame yourself. Narcissistic Mothers are very smart and crafty, and know how to redirect problems onto another.

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  2. Unfortunately, I know exactly what you are saying about being abused by a narcissistic mother but then have everyone believe you abused her. I am so glad to hear you have escaped. I wish you well in your healing journey.

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  3. A friend of mine turned me on to the film Now, Voyager. Please let me know if you would consider that a film about narcissism.

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  4. Anonymous, I am not familiar with this film so I looked the description up on Wikimedia. I have cut and pasted just the first paragraph:

    Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is an unattractive, overweight, repressed spinster whose life is dominated by her dictatorial mother (Gladys Cooper), an aristocratic Boston dowager whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to the woman's complete lack of self-confidence. Fearing Charlotte is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her sister-in-law Lisa (Ilka Chase) introduces her to psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), who recommends she spend time in his sanatorium.

    Just that first paragraph, knowing nothing more, my guess is definitely! You have piqued my curiosity, so I want to watch it now. What are your thoughts on the film?

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  5. Id like to add that american psycho is a movie about narcissism despite the title (american psycho as psychopath). The movie is about a self-obsessed male of 80s yuppie era with taste for murder. however, spoiler alert!! (if you have not seen it), finding out that commited murders are all his grandiose twisted fantasy. The title however is far from precise and is deceiving, because despite the killings being attributed more to psychopaths the character does not go well with the psychological profile of a psychopath, and is more associated with self obsession. I do understand that psychopathy may turn out comorbid with NPD however there is a certain distinction between narcissistic psychopath and a narcissist. I presume that narcissistic psychopath is more self-obsessed and feels more self-entitlement than a regular psychopath, however goes about without being hurt when faced with his imperfections. In the movie, the character in fact feels extreme dissapointment when he fails (e.g. the business card scene). And the inner monologues also explain the idea of him being this way, being hurt until he becomes ''not being there''.
    Also Jude Law has starred in two NPD films. Firstly, Alfie is about a narcissist. It is deemed to be about a harmless selfish metrosexual, however, it includes some obivous clues on NPD for example the his promiscious lifestyle, using women. I see that this movie is not being treated as it should be. It is viewed as a lecture on what men who choose to womanize realize at the end, however, the moral is more deep (not sure if the makers of Alfie with Jude law are aware of it, however I am sure that makers of 1966 movie or the writer of the Alfie (book) might be more sure about "what's it all about"). However, its possible that Alfie, rather than turning womanizing NPD sufferers or ordinary men on the right track turns, paradoxically lures men into the charming lifestyle of Alfie or the "N".
    And the second one is wisdom of crocodiles. It is viewed as avampire flick, however it covers the subject of emotional vampires pretty well with metaphors of vampirism and pretty obvious clues on the mirror watching, trying to attain perfection in the eyes of the significant other. The main character sucks blood as it contains emotions, and considers that the perfect love shall end his misery of this need to feast on blood (emotions). The character also reminiscens on a childhood event (probably it was meant as the event which caused him to be like this) when holding on to a branch of a tree and trying his best to hold on, though not being able to save himself and falling (after which he does not remember anything at all).

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    1. Anonymous, I have seen several professionals make various distinctions between narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy and others claim it is essentially splitting hairs. Then, as you stated, there is the possibility of comorbidity. I have not seen these movies in order to comment, but I will look into it. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.

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  6. I think the abusive mother in the movie, Precious, is exactly like my narcissistic mother. She did every single thing that mine did (gave her a beautiful name, allowed the father to sexually abuse her, became jealous as a result, was extremely, physically, abusively violent, sabotaged her, told her she would not be good for anything but welfare, made her sign up for welfare, abused the grandchildren that were the result of the incest, and put up a false front. There was a scene of her overfeeding Precious (mine did not overfeed me, but she made me dress in such ugly clothes and shoes that I was made fun of at school), but I think she might have deprived her of food as well, because in one scene, pregnant (by her father) Precious stole some food and ran. The one thing the movie mom did not do, was pretend to be nice to Precious. Mine pretended to be nice to me as a way of hoovering me back in, since I never have been interested in being part of dysfunctional relationships.

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    1. I am sorry for your pain, Anonymous. I hope you are finding some peace and recovery in your life.

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  7. I recently saw August Osage County which stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. I was in awe as I watched the movie as I related to the family dysfunction. Meryl Streep gives a great performance as a narcissistic mother. I felt like I was watching my own family.

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    1. Amelia, thanks for the recommendation.

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  8. I know this article is about narcissistic mothers but I would like to make a comment on Debbie Nathan's claim about multiple personalities. I don't know about Sybil and the whole fraud thing but I do know that I am offended by her claims. I am a 56 year old female and I am a multiple.I have Dissociation Identity Disorder (DID) as it is termed now, I had a narcissistic mother and was severely sexually, physically, and verbally abused by her and others. Parts (personalities) do not come out and do something you can't do; they come out and protect you from a trauma so severe, it cannot be handled alone. I was 5 years old when the sexual abused started and I feared my mother more than I feared my abuser. DID is real and living with it is a challenge every second of my life. It is nothing like it is portrayed in movies,etc.I invite Ms Nathan to live one hour and my head and tell me DID is a fraud. Thanks for the website.

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    1. Anonymous, I am sorry for the pain you have endured. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with us.

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  9. reviews for the betty movie on amazon are giving betty the sympathy for the way her ex treated her

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    1. Yes, the case divided the jury and the city for that matter.

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  10. Thank you for this great and much appreciated website. Ordinary People could be added to the movie list.

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    1. I did add Ordinary People to the movie section of the bookstore along with many others, but I have not added to this article. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  11. Other movies: Black Swan, where Natalie Portman's mother is a narcissist and tries to sabotage her daughter's success.

    The Fighter, Melissa Leo plays Mark Wahlberg's mother. Mark Wahlberg is the scapegoat child while Christian Bale is the golden child. The mother uses her daughters as flying monkeys to attack Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend (Amy Adams) who is standing up for Wahlberg.

    Another interesting movie I watched recently: Ever After: A Cinderella Story. The wicked stepmother (Anjelica Huston) is obviously a narcissist. What's interesting is the way the step-sisters are portrayed. One step-sister is the golden child and is clearly a narcissist in the making. She keeps her cool composure in front of an audience, but when she realizes Danielle/Cinderella (Drew Barrymore) is her competition she throws a huge fit in front of the Queen, no longer able to keep the mask on. The other step-sister is the scapegoat, told to be silent and always getting the leftovers from the golden child. When Danielle/Cinderella refuses to do her chores, the scapegoat stepsister is forced to take her place. I liked this movie because there's a clear happy ending. The stepmother and golden stepsister are forced to work as servants, while the scapegoat stepsister and Danielle/Cinderella live happily ever after.

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