Monday, 9 May 2011

The Malignant Narcissist Mother is Grandiose and Indifferent

In the last post; I wrote about the malignant narcissist mother in the films Million Dollar Baby and Ordinary People.

Although the mother (Earline) in Million Dollar Baby is only in a couple of scenes; she is easy to identify as evil because of her outrageous selfishness and blatant cruelty toward her daughter Maggie.

On the other hand, the mother (Beth) in Ordinary People is far more insidious because she is very controlled and expertly obscures her malice toward her son behind a smokescreen of stiff detachment. Plus, she is skilled at projecting an image of the perfect, upscale, suburban housewife.
In his ground-breaking book People of The Lie, M. Scott Peck looks at the behaviour of ordinary criminals versus the behaviour of those he terms ‘evil’. He notes that there is a general randomness to the criminal’s destructiveness, and they are rather careless and open about their conduct: they’re not particularly interested in covering-up who they really are. In fact, they seem rather proud of their inability to hide their dishonesty and this is what makes them ‘honest criminals.’
Compare the common criminal to the malignant narcissist mother Beth in Ordinary People whose destructiveness toward Conrad is entirely selective and consistent. Her hostility toward her son is a deliberate pattern of behaviour. She chooses to go out of her way to harm him yet is careful to do it on the sly – that’s malice. Moreover, she is incredibly skilled in the art of deception and covert operation.
In describing those he calls ‘evil’ Peck writes:

Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, they are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what other might think of them. They dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes and outwardly seem to live lives that are beyond reproach.

The words “image,” “appearance,” “outwardly,” are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on the level of pretence. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the “people of the lie.”
Beth and Conrad - Ordinary People

Something that’s important to note in the film Ordinary People is that Conrad is on to his mother. He knows that she doesn’t care about him and that her only concern is what other people think. His older brother Buck – the ‘Golden Boy’ who died in the boating accident – was a charismatic, outgoing, star athlete type and likely not as smart and sensitive as Conrad. Therefore, Buck is the obvious choice to be the ‘Chosen One’ – he is amendable to being a human extension whereas Conrad is a much stronger personality though he may appear weaker because he’s thoughtful and kind.  Never mistake kindness for weakness. He did, after all, survive the boating accident while his brother perished. 

I think for a malignant narcissist mother like Beth, it’s Conrad’s awareness and independence that she fears the most because it threatens her delusions of grandeur and incites her greatest terror - exposure. How dare he have a mind of his own! How dare he not defer to me as God Almighty! He must be destroyed! 
Conrad isn’t like Buck. He doesn’t do for his mother what Buck did: he doesn’t ‘glow’ in his mother’s presence. There’s a flash back scene where Buck is telling his mother a funny story, he is beaming and she is giggling away like a school girl and beaming too. They are flirting with each other and basking in one another’s attention. It is a seduction scene between two narcissists - a real mutual admiration society - and it’s creepy.  The thing is; Conrad isn’t able to reflect back to his mother the admiration that Buck did and she views this as an attack that threatens her world of make believe as the most beautiful, wonderful, perfect, powerful, and desirable woman that ever lived. In other words, he unwittingly challenges her delusions and she’s not having it.
Yes, narcissists view others relating to them as equals as an actual attack.  Narcissists consider your failure to admire, worship and obey them as an attack. Yes, interacting with them as an equal is in their eyes hostile. Why? Because in their eyes you are beneath them, and by not acting out their fantasy for them, it is making their fantasies harder to believe, and delusional narcissists hate you for shining the light of reality on them, so they’re going to make you pay.
Narcissists think they are God Almighty which means everyone else is an insignificant bug.  And to maintain their position of superiority they must show they are better than you in every interaction with you. They must treat you like dirt; deny you any kind of regard including sympathy, affection, praise and all other forms of positive attention. In fact, many narcissists can’t even bring themselves to give-out negative attention because any attention at all takes the focus off of them and they can’t stand not being the centre of the universe at all times.  
So, don’t think even for a second that the malignant narcissist mother in Ordinary People is going to go visit her distressed son in the hospital. Hell no, that would be giving him attention and she needs to make it clear to him every day, and in every way that he is nothing and he doesn’t matter and that she wishes it was he who died in the accident not Buck.

In fact, Conrad’s suicide attempt annoys the hell out of her because his father is giving him attention which means she’s not getting every last drop of it.  So Beth convinces Calvin to ditch Conrad and go away with her to Houston during the Christmas holidays. Beth would rather abandon her fragile, suicidal son during his time of need than compete with him for attention. And, while his parents are away, Conrad faces a major crisis – the suicide of a friend from the hospital – and he comes very close to suicide once again.
In Houston Beth is absolutely beaming – ditching the Conrad has done her a world of good. Grinning from ear to ear, she suggests to Calvin that they go away again on another vacation soon. “Connie would like that, “ says Calvin. Beth snaps and shouts, “Why do you always feel the need to do that?! He controls you even when he’s 2000 miles away!” So, Beth attacks her husband even at the mention of Conrad’s name and adds a little projection to the mix. All narcissists are petulant little children and they need all the attention at all time. And, if they’re getting all of it, you’re getting none of it.
One way a narcissist can hijack all the attention is by eliminating the competition – in Beth’s case; her son Conrad. So, when she’s not making nothing of him by refusing to be in a photo with him, belittling him, ignoring or excluding him, she’s plotting to have him shipped away to boarding school. Or, in a dark way is continuing to drive him to suicide. Unfortunately for Beth, her son survived his suicide and now he’s got a shrink that seems to be helping him. So what does she scheme to do? Interrupt his therapy. Yes, she wants to go to London for three weeks and this time bring Conrad – I wonder why? But, Conrad’s Dad doesn’t want his son’s therapy to be disrupted because he sees that it’s helping him and Calvin actually loves his son.
Narcissists see themselves as supreme beings which means compared to them, everyone else is dirt, and with every interaction they need to prove this. Don’t bother trying to penetrate their callousness or expect them to show you regard of any kind especially love – they are not capable of it. Would you show sympathy toward a squashed ant? That’s how the narcissist views you – with complete indifference. They would rather leave you to fend for yourself in a crisis than expend an ounce of energy attending to your needs.
“I don’t know what he expects of me!” Beth says to her husband. “I never have known. He wants me to throw my arms around him every time he passes an exam?” Well, I can’t do it! I cannot respond when someone says here I just did this great thing - love me.”
The narcissist’s withholding and neglectful nature is active not passive – it requires thought and the appropriate action. They deliberately go out of their way to consistently deny others attention. Think about the psychic energy required in order to make others feel like nothing so they can maintain their delusions of superiority. And, in the case of the malignant narcissist mother Beth in Ordinary People, there seems to be no lengths she would go to, to sacrifice her son in order to preserve her narcissistic self-image. And, that is the only thing she actually grieved when her son Buck died – the loss of the image of the perfect family.
When it comes to narcissists of all stripes; don’t have low expectations; have no expectations. Accept them for what they are, not what you wish them to be. They have about as much concern for you as that fly you just swatted.


  1. Yep and I had nfriends who were just like this too. They were just like my nmother.

    1. I found I was a magnet for MN's after fleeing home when I was 16, it took many years of personal work and healing to stop punishing myself and polluting my life with MN's.
      I was constantly making deep fast friendships with older women, which inevitably in a couple of years show their true colors. It took intense self work to rid myself of this attraction, I had to realize I was seeking the familiar and still seeking a real mother.
      Now my choices in friends are diverse, supportive, and long term honest relationships.

  2. These types of mothers are very insecure and dependent.

    Mothers like this think they are harming their children, but in the end these mothers harm themselves.

    By ignoring their children or trying to make them feel insignificant, they only make their children stronger.

    Adults and children today can see right through these types of mothers.

    No one who saw the movie liked the mother in ordinary people.

    These types of mothers are evil and they will likely have to pay a price in hell. No one likes them here and likely no one in heaven will like them either.

  3. You've done a huge justice in creating this blog. And especially for writing about this movie and book.. I immediately went to check it out at the library last wknd and read it in one day, then re-watched "Ordinary People" (the first time I saw it was 5 yrs ago), and it totally hit me in a totally different way than before. I never knew the amount of nuances and hidden messages till now (after my own co-dependent and now, narcissist-weaning from my 2 crazy NPD parents).

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. If only millions more knew about this horrible condition and about your blog.

  4. Irene,
    Thank you for the positive feedback!

    I haven't read the book, but I will now. It must be good if you read it in one sitting. It really is interesting to watch the film again with a NPD perspective. The first time I saw it the mother character reminded me of my own... now I know why. *Shudder* It really is a well crafted film with its subtleties and nuances. It sure has stood the test of time as far as family dramas go.

  5. Thanks again Lisette. I go through up's and down's in working on my recovery, but understanding and seeing other victims of NPD's validated a lot for me... Narcissism is definitely one of the biggest red flags I look out for... in -anybody- I interact with now. It's so scary and sad that there are so many walking the planet who suck out the life of honest dwellers. (then again, maybe those dwellers are looking for someone to admire from their own NPD parents?)

    One thing about "POTL" is Peck goes into a lot about Exorcism.. which I'm not sure if I really believe in it or not. (growing up Agnostic, altho I'm Christian now) But... reading your blog, books, going through my own experiences.. I do start thinking there is such thing as the evil spirit.

    Anyway, I really hope you'll blog again soon. I bookmarked your site, and have told a few recovery friends about this. It's about getting the message out.

  6. I can laugh at this now...When I was around 19 I had several lumps in my breast. My egg donor took me to a clinic and put the bill in my name. I said to her, I don't have a job. She replied "then go get a job." I needed to go back to the clinic for follow up, I asked her to drive me, she said no. I then asked her for a dollar to take the bus, she told me to get the hell out her face. Thank you Jesus for sparing my life, almost 20 years later, I am still alive to tell my story. Despite the sociopath's attempt to destroy me.

  7. Oh gosh, this is my husband's brother (the favorite son) died at husband's mother is awful!! Always about her....I wouldn't know where to husband and I are 60 so i could write a book...

    I actually hate her!