Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Malignant Narcissist Mother is Callous and Selfish

Earline Fitzgerald - Million Dollar Baby
In acknowledgement of Mother’s Day, I present to you, two of the most chilling screen portrayals of malignant narcissist mothers:


Beth Jarret - Ordinary People

Here we have Earline Fitzgerald visiting her daughter Maggie who is staying in a medical rehabilitation facility after a $1 million dollar fighting match has left her a quadriplegic. Of course, Earline first visits the happiest place on earth: Disneyland. And shows up with a lawyer in tow to arrange the transfer of Maggie’s cash.
Below, we have Beth Jarrett getting a hug from her suicidal son Conrad who has recently returned home after a four month stay in a psychiatric hospital.  Beth doesn't bother to visit Conrad in the hospital at all, and instead opts for a relaxing vacation in Spain and Portugal.
Though these two women seem very different, they are not. They are both malignant narcissists whose only concern is their own selfish needs. The one thing distinguishing them - besides where they holiday while their children fight for their lives - is their social standing and social intelligence. Earline is white trash and Beth is upper-middle-class. Their difference in social class is what makes for two very different depictions of the same type of evil – malignant narcissist mothers.
Earline is not only callously indifferent to Maggie, she is also overtly abusive, and when Maggie saves up enough money to buy her a house, instead of being grateful, Earline gives Maggie hell for endangering her welfare payments and medical benefits. She also belittles her daughter’s success as a fighter, saying that everyone is laughing at her. This is what makes the scene in the hospital so heartbreaking. Maggie has done everything she could to win the love of her mother, and her mother has no more regard for her than she would a bug. But because Earline isn’t sophisticated enough to hide her selfishness and outright contempt for her daughter, she is in fact less dangerous than her upper-class counterpart Beth. And Maggie quickly sees through her greedy, scheming ways and orders her out of her life, threatening to sell her house out from under her if she ever shows her face again. 
Conrad, however, has to deal with a more subtle form of covert abuse from a gracious, image conscious mother who is finely attuned to social mores. Beth isn’t a crude redneck like Earline but a refined, social butterfly that serves homemade candy apples to the neighbourhood trick or treaters, shows-up at parties with a smile on her face and a gift for the hostess, and sends Christmas presents to a long list of friends and family. She always remembers to be considerate and do the right thing on the right occasion. However, when it comes to her son Conrad, she neither acknowledges nor considers what is best for him. The fact is, her insensitivity toward Conrad is selective: a pattern of choices she makes at every turn to disregard him which confuses and destabilizes him to the point of suicide. So, like Earline, Beth's lack of concern for Conrad as a person is utterly consistent.  It would appear then, that both these ‘mothers’ – though one more obvious than the other – actually want to destroy their child.
Both films offer a poignant look at the narcissistic mother and it is in the evidence of their malignancy that each story reaches a resolution. For example, when Frankie – Maggie’s boxing coach played by Clint Eastwood – sees how outrageously cruel and greedy her mother is, he decides to carry-out Maggie’s wish to help her die. When Calvin watches Beth’s icy and bizarre reaction to Conrad’s expression of love - a hug - he finally faces the reality that his wife isn’t capable of love and decides to end the marriage. In this regard, both films end on a positive note with both children being saved from the destructive influence of their mothers. Particularly Ordinary People, for Calvin finally sees through Beth’s false front, which has collapsed, revealing her inner emptiness, and she is abandoned precisely for that reason – being empty.
I think the film’s title: Ordinary People is significant in that it describes the ‘ordinary’ existence of a family torn apart by tragedy and the ‘ordinary’ appearance of the existence of evil - Beth.     
For those of you who have yet to see the film here is a quick synopsis written from the perspective on an adult child of a malignant narcissist mother:
Everything about the Beth character screams narcissist and I remember when I saw the film – way back in the 80s – I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “My mother is just like her but way meaner.” With wide-eyed disbelief, all my new pal could utter was, “Oh Lise!”
After the death of her ‘Golden Boy’ in a boating accident, a malignant narcissist mother tries to drive her other son to suicide so she can rid herself of the inconvenience and focus on a life with her husband.
Ordinary People is one of the few films that I know of that closely examines the role a narcissistic parent plays not only in the destruction of a child but of the family unit. Though, those who aren’t familiar with NPD may find the character of Beth absolutely baffling. The description on the back of the DVD cover describes her as ‘the inexplicably aloof mother.' Even the shrink in the film doesn’t get it. In a therapy session he tells Conrad, “Recognize her limitations and don’t blame her for not loving more than she’s able. Maybe she just can’t show the way she feels.” Ha! She shows the way she feels alright: by an absolute refusal to give Conrad any attention she is letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that he is nothing - which is the essence of narcissistic abuse.

Ordinary People is such an excellent rendition of the essence of narcissistic abuse and the subtleties of narcissism, that I’m convinced Judith Guest – who wrote the novel the film is based on – had a very close encounter with a narcissistic parent of some sort.


  1. Wow-I'll have to watch that those-so familiar. And YES the more sophisticated Ns are more difficult as they are extremely covert in their abuse.

  2. These are both brilliant films and I want to see Ordinary People again.Not seen it for about 25 years. Going to have a look on amazon see if I can't get myself a copy. BB Baby is brilliant too, so heartbreaking. Love the way you've compared and contrasted the women in terms of class and overt/covert.

  3. Ordinary People is an amazing film! So subtle, yet so revealing. It always stuck with me. The mother in Million Dollar Baby - also a heartbreaking film - is only in a couple of scenes, but they are so powerful that you can't ignore the role of "mother" in Maggie's life. I've amassed a library of films with destructive narcissists, can't wait to write about them!

  4. This disease is so sad to me,it has been allowed to exist for so long,people in this world donot realize that these people need to be identiied in our world,and their kids are NOT to be with them ,they donnot have the ability or desire to love their kids....

  5. This would be a very different world if NPD was eradicated and yes the only way is to identify it in individuals and either prevent those with the disease from having children or remove their children from them at birth and place them in the arms of warm, loving foster parents. High profile narcissists like Tony Blair would not be able to kill millions if this were done, but how could such action ever be sanctioned?

    1. My guess is, it won't ever be sanctioned. Even if "they" figure out what causes evil, the priority will be to create an antidote as opposed to killing "human" life.

      I'm not a member of the optimist's club. Evil thrives in our social system. The world just keeps on getting sicker and sicker because the bad guys often rise to power.

  6. If a newborn child is ever removed from it's malignant narcissist mother at birth and handed to loving foster parents it will be a triumph for the world of psychology. It is pointless addressing problems in therapy which have their origins in the formative years. Something has to be done to protect future generations.

  7. I love your blog. And yes it would be a triumph. I used to wish I would have been removed from my home as a young child. As an adult I wonder how different my life would be had I been. My entire family is fucked up and warped and have irrevocably altered my life. Most of all I hate my mother. I'm so happy to have found a place where I can say this and be understood. One is not supposed to say such things and even when people seem to listen they can't or won't understand.

  8. I agree. People love to talk about forgiveness without realizing that if someone is repeatedly abusive to you it is not appropriate to forgive is completely irrelevant