Narcissistic Mothers Play the Victim While Vilify the True Victim
© by Gail Meyers
First up in the chronic emotional manipulator's bag of dirty tricks are pleas for pity, playing the victim, martyrdom, and vilifying the true victim. This is the first dirty trick in this series because of the destruction it can cause. This includes immediate results, as well as cumulative effects over the course of time.
Pleas for pity are a favorite of narcissistic emotional manipulators because compassionate people do not want to see people suffer. Manipulators know this, so they often resort to manipulating with pity in an attempt to get what they want rather than taking the honest approach of simply asking and allowing you to freely answer. The first step for codependents is recognizing when and how they are being manipulated. There is a distinction between helping someone who truly needs it and being played by a narcissistic manipulator.
In the mind of a manipulative narcissist, playing the martyr while vilifying the true victim is like killing two birds with one stone. In my experience, it is used in a vast multitude of situations with various twists depending on the narcissist's goal of the manipulation. This can be done so subtly that most may not even realize the reality of the situation.
It can transpire overtly or very subtly and covertly. So you may clearly see what the chronic emotional manipulator is doing. You may just know something is wrong, but not be able to put your finger on it. Conversely, you may not see the dirty trick that is being pulled on you until much later or when you learn about the bag of dirty tricks.
Playing the victim while vilifying the true victim can be used to conceal the wrongs of the manipulator, while simultaneously stripping the true victim of their virtue. It allows the narcissist to avoid responsibility while gathering pity. It is essentially taking you down a notch to make the abuser feel superior and in control while making you feel and look bad. Whatever characteristic you value in yourself, or the manipulator envies, will often be the target in this scenario.
For example, you pride yourself on being a generous person, but narcissistic mother is a con artist. So, they will rip you off, then accuse you of being a lying thief to anyone who will listen, including you. One favorite I have especially noticed is the totally and completely self-centered manipulator accusing you of being selfish.
Secondly, playing the victim while vilifying the true victim is used to conceal the narcissistic manipulator's abusive behavior and project the blame onto the true victim. Virtually every abuser I am aware of tries to blame the victim for their abuse in some manner. This cunning and deceitful maneuver is a double whammy.
You first endure their abuse, then they blame you, then you may also endure the societal disapproval or broken relationships for what is actually their behavior, based on the martyr tale lies they spread to conceal their abuse. This can sometimes lead to abuse by proxy as the manipulator triangulates by lying to and involving a third party in the abusive relationship.
Narcissistic Manipulation with PityThis is a real life example of what I repeatedly, although completely inadvertently, caught my narcissistic personality disordered mother doing when I was in my twenties. Poor little narcissist mother has been saving her pennies in hopes that one day she can buy this garden statue. She loves to garden and after looking and looking, this is the perfect finishing touch. She works so hard (as opposed to me who only worked at a desk), but she just has not been able to save enough money for it. She is going to keep saving until one glorious day she is able to buy it.
I was a single mother at the time, but she had her heart set on it. So like a well programmed adult child of narcissists, I surprised her by buying it for her even though I could not afford to. A couple of weeks later, just in the general course of conversation, my Grandmother tells me how she gave my mother the money to buy a statue she wanted for her garden. She was so excited to finally be able to buy it after saving for it for so long.
One would think that is shameless enough behavior, but it did not stop there. A few days later I hear my aunt tell how she also bought my mother the exact same statue. She works so hard, but she just could not afford to buy it. So my narcissistic mother accepted all three gifts without telling anyone the other two had already given her the statue or the money to buy it. This is just one more example of why I am astounded by those who claim narcissists just do not know what they are doing! She knew exactly what she was doing. This also fits right in with Dr. Scott Peck's claim of what tightwads narcissists are.
She attacked when she realized I inadvertently discovered her schemes. I really think part of the problem is the average, more honest person just can not grasp the depths of the pathetic behavior. In true narcissistic style, she then set out to convince the two of them this was my negative character trait rather than her repeated manipulative maneuver. Needless to say, I learned the hard way to stop buying her things, especially since I could not really afford to at the time in the first place. However, I do not even know how many times I discovered her pulling this scheme over the years.
Narcissists Vilify the True VictimsIn my experience with various emotional manipulators in the extended family, this is an all-time favorite dirty trick. I can not even imagine anyone pulling this off as cunningly and consistently as my narcissistic personality disordered mother. She used it quite a bit with varying little twists.
First and foremost, come hell or high water, my mother wanted to be viewed as the innocent martyr. By this I mean absolutely nothing was ever her fault. Ever. Regardless of what actually happened, she was innocent. Often times she was more than just innocent, she was the long suffering martyr. To paraphrase Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his book People of the Lie, she was intensely concerned about appearing good, but had no desire whatsoever to actually be good. The extreme to which this maneuver was used to accomplish such an appearance is nothing short of astonishing to the average person. No matter who it was or what happened, she was always either the hero or innocent victim in her tall tales.
I am convinced at times she did this purely for her own entertainment. Contrary to popular opinion, this clinical narcissist was not the stereotypical boisterous, bragging loud mouth. My mother was diagnosed by three separate licensed professionals over the course of two decades, but in my opinion she had a full blown inferiority complex too. While it was obvious to me when she was in public, there was no sign of it in private. I truly believe at times she pulled this dirty trick for no other reason than to relish the feeling of power and superiority I believe it gave her. At other times, the motive was more obvious - that is if you were wise to her true nature.
Narcissists Are Always the Innocent VictimsIn my twenties and into my thirties my mother was insanely jealous. Even though everyone from my best friend to the preacher's wife told me this, I did not have enough self-esteem at the time to even seriously consider the idea that anyone could be jealous of me about anything - let alone my own mother. At the time I still believed the tall tales that this one and that one attacked her because they were jealous, but she did not have a jealous bone in her body. In truth, she is perhaps the most insanely jealous person I have ever known. It was only years later when I looked back at some of the things she did, that I wondered how I could have possibly missed the fact. It was so blatant and obvious at times, but I just could not conceive of it at first.
My alcoholic pedophile step-father molested me for nearly a decade of my childhood. At 21 years old, I hysterically told my mother of the abuse, thinking at the time that she did not know. Interestingly, in hindsight, her jealous rages had already been in full swing for several years. Of course, she knew about the sexual abuse the whole time. In any case, she would viciously verbally assault me then turn around and tell everyone I was the one who did that to her. She would tell my siblings and extended family members how I had savagely attacked her because she did not protect me from the child abuse.
When I told my mother about my childhood sexual abuse, I broke the toxic unwritten family rule of never telling about the abuse. In this extremely toxic environment, it is not the abuse that is seen as the problem. It is the telling of the abuse that is considered the problem. I realized later that revealing the sexual abuse put me in her highly cherished victim role. I inadvertently knocked her off of her martyr throne, and cast her in a poor light for failing to protect me. I would later discover it was also because she had every reason to know he was a pedophile as early as a few days after their wedding. So it exposed more than I realized at the time. In any case, that was her response to me seeking recovery for myself. She did not want me to have any support or compassion from anyone, but sought to vilify the true victim.
She responded in true pathological narcissistic style by viciously verbally assaulting me, then flipping the tale and claiming I was the one who assaulted her. If you are on the receiving end of this dirty trick, it can be like a triple punch. I first endured her heinous assault during a time when I desperately needed a mother. Then, she breaks down your other relationships with false allegations of savage attacks, which can easily lead to abuse by proxy in toxic families. Thus, some of the people she tells the story to in turn punish or abuse the true victim again for treating their mother so poorly! This can erode or destroy extended family and other relationships both immediately and over time.
Gossips and slanderers can take down a ministry or church in this manner, and we are in the position of being a narcissistic personality disordered mother's child. Notice the sly and deceitful reason she attributed the attack to - that I was angry because she had failed to protect me as a child. That was always immediately followed with more avoidance of any responsibility to protect by her claiming she did not know. Then putting the blame back on me in one form or another. In reality, she was mad as hell I told about the abuse. It forced her to have to leave the pedophile and get a job, because she could no longer convincingly pretend not to know.
So the maneuver accomplishes quite a bit for the cunning, deceitful emotional manipulator:
- Her lying conceals her contemptuous behavior.
- It causes the true victim to be disparaged by having such vicious behavior attributed to her in the eyes of others.
- That damage to reputation is not forgotten by the narcissist or the ones who believe it. The narcissist will continue to build on it later until she destroys as much reputation and as many relationships as she can.
- It can deny the true victim any validation or support from others.
- It moves the narcissist a little bit closer to her martyr throne. After repeatedly pulling this stunt, she eventually declared how she hopes I heal from the sexual abuse. She really does, but she has done all she can. She just can not put up with being attacked all the time. I was not attacking her in any way, but she was viciously attacking me. I was trying to help her heal!
- It moves the scapegoat closer to being ostracized by others who believe the lies.
- It allows the narcissist to avoid responsibility for their abuse.
- It results in the pity mongering narcissist garnering all of the attention, support and highly prized pity for more manipulation and abuse by proxy.
She pulled the same dirty trick with various people in many circumstances. As I look back over the years, I can pretty clearly see who she was jealous of at the time or who she thought was figuring her out. If you heard a martyr tale about someone attacking her, you could almost be sure she was paying them back for something or she was jealous. (I realize the DSM says "envious," but I think it is "jealous." If envious means I want something you have but I do not mind you having it too, and jealous means I want something you have instead of your having it, then she was jealous not envious. A narcissist wants it all, all of everything and everyone for themselves).
Practical Steps with Narcissistic ManipulatorsI like to believe most of us are compassionate human beings, but it is a mistake to assume everyone has normal human characteristics. Some people may communicate in manipulative manners for no other reason than they have never learned healthier ways to communicate. However, there are those walking among us who, for whatever reason, do not possess such human characteristics as compassion, empathy or remorse. In my experience, narcissistic manipulators have no problem using, abusing, conning, lying and slandering even close family members. Actually, they seem to reserve their worst behaviors for those closest to them.
So while in my youth I jumped to help anyone in need, I have long since been practicing more discretion. There are those who are truly in need and authentic victims, but there are others who have just learned to get what they want by playing the victim and vilifying the true victim.
The very fact that you know this dirty trick will cause it to be less effective. Knowing the game can also empower you to handle it better because you see what is happening. If you spot this game, look at what the manipulator is really after in the situation. Think immature and petty, and you will often be on the right path. Then take steps to protect or remove yourself from the situation. Listen to your instincts!
Practice recognizing when you are being manipulated, pressured into doing something you would not freely do if you were asked directly with no pressure. Notice your body, when you muscles tighten up. Seek to strike a balance, between being so protective of yourself as to help no one and so easily manipulated that you are easily manipulated with pity ploys. This balance naturally came in time once I began paying attention to when I was being manipulated. For many years now when someone starts manipulating, it feels to me like I walked into a sticky cobweb.
Next up is the dirty trick of scapegoating, but first enjoy these tips from Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC on how to handle an emotional manipulator.
Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons