Tactics of a Narcissistic Personality Disordered Mother
Photo used with written permission from Artist Sherit Ra via Deviant Art
© by Gail Meyers
This insight into narcissistic personality disorder is offered from the perspective of more than 40 years as the daughter of a late narcissistic personality disordered mother, as well as years of recovery. Reading a list of diagnostic traits of narcissistic personality disorder may be a helpful guide, but this is how some of those traits play out in everyday life. Narcissistic personality disorder is a serious condition that can be especially damaging to the children. It is not just a shallow or self-centered person. It can take decades for the children of a narcissistic personality disordered mother to recognize what the real issue is, many never do.
Gaslighting, forgive and forget, gossiping smear campaigns, and playing the victim while vilifying the true victim, are prevalent maneuvers of the narcissistic mother that will be discussed. These tactics were nearly always effective tools used to manipulate the "flying monkeys," too. Flying monkeys is a term taken from The Wizard of Oz and used to describe the often times willfully ignorant, easily deceived or intentionally abusive friends and family the narcissistic personality disordered mother manipulates into also harming the true victim. It is abuse by proxy that results from ignorance of the truth, lack of character to stand up for the truth or intentionally targeting a family member. Whether it is directly or indirectly, physically or emotionally, etc., narcissists use flying monkeys to do their dirty work.
Even though my narcissistic mother is deceased, the flying monkeys continue to carry out her pretend world. They do not appreciate when the scapegoat refuses to play along. However, the pretend world of the narcissist, the rabbit hole, is intolerable. It is about like standing on the lawn with someone who has their sunglasses on at high noon on a sunny day. They not only insist it is dark outside and those are not sunglasses, but that you agree with them that it is dark outside and those are not sunglasses. If you refuse to play pretend or state the obvious, then you are accused of being a troublemaker or crazy. Now imagine growing up in the rabbit hole as the narcissistic personality disordered mother's scapegoat.
|Gaslighting definition by Dr. Martha Stout|
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a favorite for the narcissistic abusers. What is gaslighting? It is a little known, but insidious form of abuse. The term was taken from the 1944 movie Gas Light, in which a psychopath intentionally tries to drive his wife to insanity. Unbeknownst to his wife, he had previously murdered her aunt, but did not get away with the jewels he wanted. Years later he romances the wife, they marry and he talks her into moving back into the house where he knows the jewels are hidden, and immediately begins isolating her.
While searching for the jewels in the attic, where he believes the jewels are hidden, he uses a gas light. When he uses that gas light it causes the other gas lights to dim. When his wife notices the dimming, he tells her she is imagining things. He moves things and when she can not find them he gives responses designed to cause her to doubt her perception of reality. Then, if that was not enough, he gets the housemaid to join in. So no one validates his wife's perceptions, which are 100% accurate by the way. I do not want to ruin the movie for you, but you get the point.
Gaslighting can take many forms, but can have the same result. It often causes the target to doubt their own sense of reality. It's what many abusers do when they abuse you, then the next day deny it happened. This can happen to the extent that we question our own perceptions and memories on an increasingly grander scale.
It can become like wearing down a rock over time, especially coupled with the exhaustion that often goes along with dealing with a narcissist. It's psychological abuse. It can dismantle our self-confidence as we begin to question ourselves instead of the abuser. It is especially damaging in severely dysfunctional families where the rest of the family pretends along with the abuser. What is wrong with me? Am I losing my mind? Or, are you being abused with an insidious form of abuse called gaslighting.
In the movie, he intentionally moved her brooch then pretended he had not when she was looking for it. We would likely say something like, "I could swear I put that in my purse!" Soon you begin to doubt your memory. This is also a variation of the gaslighting the Manson family used breaking into a home, not stealing anything, just rearranging a few things enough to cause distress. It is the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Think about that for a minute. It would be very upsetting to come home and find your home had been burglarized, but you could at least tell yourself they were thieves looking for fast cash. You come home to find your things moved around, but nothing stolen, there are only a couple of possible conclusions.
You can not comfort yourself with the idea that perhaps it was just a petty thief who violated your home because nothing is actually missing. Your personal belongings have just been moved. Do you doubt your own recollection of how you left things? Do you conclude it is something more sinister and directed personally at you, than thieves just wanting fast cash? It would be very disturbing. In dealing with a gaslighting narcissist, just realizing what is going on, that it is not you and being able to put a name on it can help you keep your sanity!
The Narcissist's Forgive and ForgetIn my experience some sick people love to try to beat you half to death with the Bible. Of course, it's usually redefined terms and biblical text taken out of context being used as a pretext. That's what cults do and in my opinion a family led by a narcissistic personality disordered parent is a little cult family. So, I guess it should not be any big surprise. Forgive and forget must be one of the all time favorites for abusive family members and those who enable them, so I would like to address it.
I think the Bible is pretty clear that God wants us to forgive, but that does not necessarily mean what you may have been taught. It can easily become the "forgive and forget" that has been handed down in my family for generations, but only to certain members, of course. You are required to "forgive and forget," period. This is usually followed by the implication or suggestion that you return for more abuse in order to "prove" you "forgive and forget." Otherwise, YOU are the one accused of being "mean," "unforgiving," or "unChristian-like" by the narcissist and her flying monkeys.
Narcissistic abusers of all kinds, as well as those who enable them, would love for you to believe this is what forgiveness means. Among other things, this confuses the fundamental difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness takes one, you. Reconciliation takes two. However, in some situations such as relationships involving ongoing abuse, reconciliation is not desirable, in which case you can forgive without forgetting or reconciling.
The Bible provides instructions on forgiveness, reconciliation or, in some cases, parting ways in different situations, such as when there is repentance on the part of the offending fellow believer or when there is not repentance. In Luke 17:3 it says, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him." This is to honestly, frankly, politely speak as you tell a person how you feel that he has wronged you. It does not say a thing about stuffing your normal human response of anger, pretending you forgave, "forgetting" and returning for more abuse.
"Forget" does nothing but play into the denial and the rest of the pretend world of the manipulative narcissist. Abusers often gaslight, (see Gaslighting) and those who do especially like to reinforce this belief because it fits right in with them pretending the abuse did not happen. There is no mention of repentance on the narcissist's part, but the focus is on your requirement to "forgive and forget." This is a deadly trap in my opinion and one my narcissistic mother had me in for several years as a very young adult. Besides allowing abuse God never intended for us to endure, it can also lead to enormous anger toward God.
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a tax collector." (Matt. 18:15-17) (Tax collectors were hated and ostracized because they had turned against their own people to collect the taxes. Secondly, they were despised because they were allowed to add their own "fees" to the amount collected, but many would demand a much greater amount. So they were considered traitors and thieves.)
That certainly does not sound like the "forgive and forget" I was raised to believe God required! It's actually the "forgive and forget" abusers and their enablers promote to knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate the cycle of abuse. While this is an instruction addressing an issue between two believers, even then you are not required to just "forgive and forget" ongoing abuse if you are a Christian and go back for more. Reconciliation without repentance can be dangerous. God does not want us to continue to be abused!
"Forgive and forget" also removes an opportunity for the abuser to be confronted with their actions and repent. Of course, that will never happen with a true narcissist! Some people never repent, nor are they truly remorseful. However, there are actually certain people the Bible tells us to avoid altogether, which includes a narcissist who masquerades as a "selfless saint."
Of course, the narcissist never forgives the slightest infraction - be it real, imagined or completely fabricated. No, "forgive and forget" is for the victim. If you hurt her feelings or even if she hurt your feelings viciously, but told everyone you attacked her, she has what any normal person would believe to be a long forgotten small disagreement filed away just waiting for an opportunity to use it against you. Bet on it. She has either actively sought revenge or it is seething just under the surface waiting for the right opportunity. God forbid there was anything more substantial.
On a related note, it can be difficult to grasp that someone in your life is this far gone, let alone the fact that someone is your parent. For years I told myself, "All things are possible with God!" Well, all things are possible with God, but God gave us free will. She did not want to change. It worked for her and it worked well.
She paraded as a "martyred, selfless saint," and was terminally ill for two years prior to her death. Even as her professed beliefs told her she was getting ready to meet her Maker, there was no making amends. There was no confession of the truth, remorse or apology for the lifetime of jealous fits, abuse, gaslighting, slander, smear campaigns, broken relationships, damaged reputation, etc. There were more accusations, lies and manipulation resulting in a dog pile by the flying monkeys as the puppet master's final carefully orchestrated earthly gesture before stepping into eternity.
Do not make the mistake of believing there is empathy or remorse in there somewhere, there is not. See the following on my lessons learned if you are waiting for an apology or dealing with a terminally ill narcissistic personality disordered parent:
The Dangers of Expecting a Death-Bed Apology from Your Narcissistic Personality Disordered Mother
The Terminal Illness and Death of a Narcissistic Personality Disordered Mother
If there happens to be some expression presented as an apology to someone, listen to it carefully. Listen for a subtle shifting of blame away from the narcissist, which I like to call a "non-apology." It will never happen spontaneously as you or I would apologize to someone because we are truly sorry. For example, you accidentally step on someone's foot and almost as a reflex you apologize. It is never like that with a narcissist because not only are they not sorry, but they have been plotting, seething and scheming to do whatever they did. They are also seething that anyone could think they did anything deserving of an apology.
If it gives the appearance of an apology, there is an ulterior motive in there if you look for it. For example, the narcissist gives the "apology" not for the benefit of the person on the receiving end, but for the benefit of an audience who happens to be the narcissistic supply and flying monkeys. Again, they are not truly sorry, but if they do not pretend to be it could cost them in the eyes of their all important narcissistic supply and flying monkeys.
Do you "forgive and forget?" Poll
12% Yes, I forgive and go back for more
31% Yes, I forgive but then I protect myself next time
29% No, I forgive but I never forget.
29% No, I do not forgive or forget
370 people have voted in this poll. Poll closed.
The Narcissistic Mother's Smear CampaignsIdeally, if someone has a problem with another person, they go directly to that person to discuss it. However, that's just often not the case in a dysfunctional family. Some people do this without bad intentions because they have not recognized the habit or if they believe the person will become angry or violent if they communicate directly. However, this can be a favorite of manipulative narcissistic mother that can get you in deep before you even realize what is happening.
Let's use Daughter, Mother and Aunt as an example. Daughter has done something Mother does not like, but instead of going to Daughter about it, Mother tells Aunt about it. Aunt listens to the gossip, then involves herself in the situation, creating the triangulation. The Mother's intentions may or may not be bad. It could be an old habit and she may not realize the damage she is doing unless it is pointed out to her. Daughter then does not have the opportunity to address the issue with Mother, as well as potentially having her reputation harmed with Aunt.
The Narcissist Plays the Innocent Victim While Vilifying the True VictimsOn the other hand, Narcissistic Mother does this with evil intent and it goes something like this. Narcissistic Mother just verbally assaulted Daughter because Daughter confronted Narcissistic Mother about her lying about Daughter. However, when Narcissistic Mother calls Aunt, she tells Aunt that Daughter just verbally assaulted her because she confronted Daughter about her lying (notice the flip, the projection of the bad behavior onto the true victim).
It appears to strip Narcissistic Mother of her wrong and true victim Daughter of her virtue, killing two birds with one stone. Narcissistic personality disordered Mother then appears innocent of the abuse, damages Daughter's reputation with Aunt and an alliance is formed against the true victim. Aunt may very well believe she is doing the right thing and standing up for the innocent person even though she may be unknowingly being deceived, used and manipulated.
However, there are also family members who are willfully ignorant along the lines of being silent partners. Aunt becomes Narcissistic Mother's flying monkey to do her dirty work and heap more abuse on Daughter for daring to confront Narcissistic Mother about her lying. If you choose to confront a narcissist, be prepared for the rage and revenge.
Narcissistic Mother Playing Concerned Parent While Destroying RelationshipsThe gossip may also be thinly veiled as fake "concern" for Daughter, whom the Narcissistic Mother just attacked after Daughter confronted Mother about her lying. In this scenario, the Narcissistic Mother may lie by saying something (usually dripping with martyrdom), followed by fake concern. "I tried to be a good mother, but I am so worried about her irrational emotional state."
To the undiscerning, this sounds like a caring mother expressing concern about her daughter. It is gossip just the same, directed toward casting doubt on Daughter's stability. If we stand back and look at it, it is classic narcissistic behavior. The Narcissistic Mother held herself out as the innocent victim who must endure this irrational child (who is not being irrational at all, but responding normally to the verbal attack and abuse) and tarnished the reputation of true victim Daughter in the mind of Flying Monkey Aunt.
Narcissistic Mother has also "explained" any upset Daughter might display, so that Aunt will automatically attribute it to "irrational behavior" should she see Daughter. If Aunt is a well trained Flying Monkey Aunt, she will often turn around and give true victim Daughter a talk about treating her mother better! (Remember, the reality of what actually happened was Daughter confronted NPD Mother about lying about her in the first place!)
|Do Not Become a Narcissist's Flying Monkey Video|
Do not underestimate the cumulative damage this can cause to your reputation and other relationships when a slanderous narcissistic mother repeats this stunt over a span of years. A lying, manipulative narcissist can completely destroy your relationships before you even realize what is going on.
Narcissistic Mother May Lie to Both Parties During TriangulationAnother version of this scenario often used by a narcissistic mother is to lie to BOTH parties about the other one. They use this to divide and conquer, even, or perhaps especially, among their own children. So they lie to Daughter about Son, then to Son about Daughter. If Daughter and Son are not wise to the tactics of Narcissistic Mother, they will each be angry with or dislike the other based on the lie. When Narcissistic Mother does this for months, years or decades it can end up severing the relationship between Daughter and Son.
This is exactly what Narcissistic Mother wants. She wants to be the hub in the middle, the one each child goes to and she certainly does not want them comparing notes. This also allows her to further punish a scapegoat child by manipulating and deceiving the other child or children. Remember dysfunctional families have scapegoats, but a scapegoat is not required unless someone is chronically refusing to take responsibility for their behavior as narcissists are notoriously known for doing.
In my experience as the oldest of five children, with the two oldest children being wise to the tactics to some degree, a narcissistic mother will go to extraordinary lengths to divide the knowing from the deceived children. Make no mistake about it, all of the children are being used and manipulated.
While it may appear the narcissistic personality disordered mother loves one child more than the other, in reality it is just that in their current deceived state they are more useful to the narcissist. A narcissist greatly fears being exposed for one thing and the deceived children serve as narcissistic supply as well as flying monkeys - as long as they are deceived, easily manipulated or willing to continue playing the narcissist's let's pretend games.
In my experience, the narcissist was a prolific gossip (spending hours a day on the telephone gossiping), who triangulated to divide and conquer, manipulate and punish. Watch your back! The same narcissist who tries to guilt trip you to death with twisted Scripture will completely overlook what the Good Book has to say about gossip!
Healing from a Narcissistic Personality Disordered Mother
After all of the hurt, anger, pain, frustration, trying, forgiving, trying again, praying, walking away and going back, it did not change anything about my narcissistic mother. It cost me time, money, enormous energy, broken relationships, trauma, devastation, anger, and nearly my life. She was my mother and I loved her, but I can honestly say had I fully grasped what the therapist was telling me decades ago - the true depth - I would have walked away and never looked back.
No contact would have been the healthiest option for me by far. Oh, I did walk away, more than once, but I would have stayed far away and never returned. I do not issue that opinion lightly. True narcissists do not change, they destroy other people, including their own children. The biggest mistake you can make in my opinion is to underestimate a narcissistic personality disordered individual.
It is important to me to be as transparent as I am able to be in my articles on this topic simply because I know there are many others out there who have dealt with or are dealing with the same situation. The simple fact that you are not alone can aid the healing process. I was in my 40's before I found so much as one other human being on the planet who had experienced my situation. It was a very healing experience just to have someone who truly understood because they have been there!
If this sounds like your mother or father, know you are not alone. Healing is possible after a narcissist, even if the narcissist was or is your mother. Join us at:
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Mother Facebook by Gail Meyers
Narcissistic Abuse: Echo Recovery is a community page on Google+ by Gail Meyers.
Also, being around a narcissist was once explained to me in a way I think is good to keep in mind. Allowing a narcissistic personality disordered or malignant narcissist to stay in your life is like being injected with a steady stream of venom, then wondering why you don't feel so good. You wonder because you might not be able to put your finger on exactly what is wrong. It's not you.
Get the viper out of your life, cut off the flow of venom, find some healthy support and start the journey toward healing and wholeness. Healing from a Narcissistic Mother provides some ideas and tips I have learned along the way.
*This article was originally published by Gail Meyers on
October 15, 2011 under the title of When Your Mother Has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It was moved to this blog due to being copied from top to bottom, then the original being targeted in order to remove it from the search results and gain priority over the original.