Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Malignant Narcissist Father: Human Extension, Soul Destroyer, Cause of Mental Illness

I saw Shine when it was released theatrically back in 1996, and to this day, I never forgot the final line of the film.
Standing over his malignant narcissist father’s grave, David is asked by his wife, “What do you feel?”

He answers, “The thing is. I feel nothing.”
When I saw Shine, it had been about six year since I last saw my malignant narcissist mother, and I knew I would never see her again.  Her toxic anger that she had projected into me was slowly dissipating. My body no longer reverberated at the very thought of her.  I knew that time would eventually heal me and release her Demon for good. All I had to do was to stay away from her - forever.  I was starting to “feel nothing.”  I pictured myself standing over her grave and reciting the line from the movie.
I didn’t know what malignant narcissism was when I saw Shine.  All I knew is that I identified with the story. When I saw the film it enraged me.  I wanted to stick my hands in the movie screen and strangled the father.  However, when I watched it recently, I saw it as a very hopeful film; almost triumphant.  As fragile as David was, he made the decision to escape enslavement of his abusive father and ultimately found acceptance, real love and a real family.  Never underestimate the strength of the non-narcissist child’s soul. The poster of a liberated David says it all.
The story of David Helfgott’s relationship with his father is a very good example of a malignant narcissist parent as “human extension,” “soul destroyer,” and “the cause of mental illness.”
The film opens with an adult David’s first intelligible ramblings being, “It’s a lifelong struggle to survive undamaged and not to destroy any living, breathing creature. The point is, if you do something wrong you can be punished for the rest of your life.”
What David is referring to in “doing something wrong” is making the decision to defy his father and go to The Royal College of Music in London. This reminds me of Conrad, who in the film Ordinary People,  says to his psychiatrist, “You just do one wrong thing.” The “one wrong thing” being surviving the boating accident while his brother, “the golden boy” drowned.  here
Conrad is tormented with guilt because he exists. His reaction coincides with the malignant narcissist mother’s mantra: “You have no right to live!”
David is tormented because he salvaged his self. His reaction coincides with the malignant narcissist parent as human extension: denying the child a right to a self.
The film Shine jumps back and forth from young David, to adult David, and teenage David. We see David as a young piano prodigy wowing the crowd while he plays at a music competition. A man remarks, “That boy is great. He’s really good.” David’s father proudly replies, “That’s my son.”    

Early on we find out that David’s father was a victim of his own narcissist father and has carried on the family pathology. When he was young he saved up enough money to buy a violin and his father smashed it, and denied him music lessons. Throughout the story he tries to make up for his childhood deprivation visa vie exploiting and sacrficing David. Sadly, he never transcended his relationship with his own malignant narcissist father; he merely survived it by becoming evil himself.
David’s father is a ruthless tyrant who tells him, “Always win. Always win. You’re a lucky boy. Say it, very lucky. One day you will make me very proud. Next time what are we going to do? We are going to win.”  
When David wins a prestigious music competition, his father shouts, “We won! We won!” The use of the word “we” indicating that his father doesn’t see his son as separate from himself. Also, he always refers to David as my David which indicates ownership.
When David gets an invitation to study at America’s finest music school his Father in enraged. Although he drives his son to succeed, he is spitefully envious at the attention he receives. He wants David to succeed but on his terms: he does not want David to separate from him and lead his own life.
The narcissist father is self-absorbed and his feelings, needs and wants are the most important thing. What’s right for his son, what’s best for his son is insignificant. He continually undermines David's development as a person because it threatens him.
He denies David the opportunity to go to America telling him, “You are lucky to have a family. I won’t let anyone destroy this family. I am your father and I know what’s best.” David’s father says to his wife, “What has he suffered? Never a day in his life. What does he know about families and my mother and father?”
David’s father constantly pulls the “family” guilt card on him. First, by making David pay for the abuse inflicted on him by his narcissist parent, and next by laying claim to David’s soul. “Family” simply means ownership to a narcissist. His father rules the roost and everyone revolves around him. His wife is nothing more than a voiceless slave and his daughters are just pieces of furniture.
David’s father terrorizes him and uses fear to control him and this manifests in David lacking self- confidence and being an incredibly anxious teen that still wets his bed. However, despite David’s fragile state, he is noticeably angry at his father's refusal to let him study piano in America. What follows is a disturbing scene of emotional incest where David’s father cuddles him and says, “David my Boy, it’s a terrible thing to hate your father. You can’t trust anyone, but I will always be here. I will always be with you forever and ever.”
When it comes to the malignant narcissist; a child's healthy reaction of anger to unjust treatment is perceived as hatred toward the offending parent. Naturally, it's always about the poor, hard done by narcissist. The child's assertion of their self-worth makes them feel bad. 

Also, with a narcissist parent there is perverse, engulfing, manipulative “love” to perverse, controlling hatred and abuse. There really is no in between: it goes from one extreme to the other which indicates that their idea of “love” is merely control and manipulation. And, should you fail to follow their script to the letter, apparently you "hate" them. The child's total compliance and absolute obedience means loves; any assertion of will, independence, or self, means hate.  The narcissist parent's emotional level remains in a perpetual state of infancy.
David eventually receives a scholarship to attend the prestigious Royal College of Music in London and this accomplishment incites his father’s jealous rage. He laughs at David and says to him, “So you just think you can do as you please? I am your father who has done everything for you!” He then beats David.
“So you just think you can do as you please?!”

Now this is a very familiar line. I was accepted into a special programme in high school that malignant narcissist mother continually lorded over me.  She constantly threatened to deny me of the opportunity. Some seven years after high school, she screamed over the phone, “You get to do whatever the hell you want!” I asked her what she meant, and she screamed, “You wanted to be in that programme in high school and you got to be in that programme!”

That was the last time I ever spoke to malignant narcissist mother. It was clear that not only was she insane but that she would forever remain bitter, spiteful and envious of my claim to a right to a life.  Needless to say, she abandoned her family - without a trace - during my year in that high school programme.

Behold; the perverse hypocrisy of the malignant narcissist parent: they abandon their parental responsibilities; no one, and I mean no one, takes them to task for the unconscionable act; and in their sick mind, the child "gets to do whatever the hell they want!" Hmm, projection much? The words: "Bat Shit Crazy" come to mind.
Back to David… His father tells him, if he goes to London, “You can never come back to this house again. You will be nobody’s son. The girls will lose a brother. You want to destroy your family?!  My David, if you go, you will be punished for the rest of your life!”
David claims his self and walks out the door. Hurrah!!
Again, I have heard this exact line, “If you leave now, you can never come back!”
Translation: I am a malignant narcissist parent, and you belong to me!  How dare you live a life of your own! My dreams were smashed and now I'm going to smash yours! Don’t you understand what family means?! It means ownership! You belong to me! If you refuse to relinquish your soul to me, you will be cast out into the world with nothing and no one. I will destroy you!

Early in the film an adult David mutters in one of his incoherent ramblings, “Perhaps, I haven’t got a soul? Daddy says, I haven’t got a soul.” Well, Daddy tried to sacrifice his son's soul in an effort to preserve his own narcissistic delusions.
The malignant narcissist parent is perversely willful. They ruthlessly pursue having their own way, all-the-time.  Absolute control is priority number one. Never think for a second that “the chosen one” has it good. For beneath the surface, they are but an empty, soulless puppet hanging by the strings of a controlling narcissist parent. They get what they deserve – psychological enslavement.
The malignant narcissist parent is insanely defensive and if you defy them in any way they will explode in fury, threaten, storm, rage and destroy. Taking ownership of your own life provokes their wrath. They are rendered impotent by a child who exercises their right to self-preservation. further, their bitterness over the child's "perceived" defiance eats away at them like a cancer.
So, David walks out the door and heads to London. The next scene shows his dad “vaporizing” him, a la George Orwell’s 1984. He sets fire to all of David’s scrap books, articles, and keepsakes. This also happened to me. I too was “vaporized” by malignant narcissist mother.
In London, David begins to shown signs of mental illness. He sends his father letters but his father doesn’t respond. During an intense recital he has a mental breakdown and is hospitalized and given shock treatment. He returns to Australia and telephones his father who hangs-up on him.

The malignant narcissist parent is callously indifferent to the child's welfare. They don't care at all if the child is sick, well, alive, or dead. The fact that David is all alone, ill, and homeless is insignificant. His father's only concern is winning the war he has waged on his son's soul.

The child is always better of without the malignant narcissist parent in their life. Had David's father allowed him back into the inner sanctum, he would have destroyed David completely.

We then see David living an adult life in a psychiatric hospital. It is never clear what mental illness he suffers from. He is described as having a complex disorder, and living in his own world. It is clear that all his nonsensical ramblings are all about his father’s destruction of him.  In the hospital, he rambles, “It was a battle ground. A war zone. It just destroys everything. It really does.”
It seems David’s father actually got so far into his head that he took over his thoughts to the point of mental illness. Shock therapy – that was administered to David – is about erasing memories; wiping the slate clean if you will. Obviously, shock did no good in getting David’s father out of his head.
So, David survives in the world, battling the ever present demons of his father’s abuse but eventually through the kindness of strangers finds acceptance for who he is, as well as love, and family.  He befriends a woman who owns a local restaurant, plays the piano for her patrons and eventually marries her good friend. A newspaper article is written about him: “David Shines. Remembering when…” His father reads the article and goes in search of his estranged son.
He arrives at David’s apartment and tells him, “You are a lucky boy David. No one will love you like me, no one. Do you realize what an opportunity you have here? When I was a boy, I bought a beautiful violin, I saved for this violin. Do you know what happened to it?” David is repelled and turns his back to his father. He pauses, realizing that his father has not changed, and he replies, “No. I have no idea what happened to it. What happened to it?” With that, David's father realizes he no longer has control over his son and walks out the door. David watches from his window as his father disappears into the night.
It’s a subtle, yet powerful scene of an adult child of a narcissist taking a stand and not giving in to the repetitive brain washing pattern of the abusive parent. By refusing to acknowledge his father’s violin story, David was letting him know that that chapter is over, and he had moved on. However, David’s narcissist father had not moved on. Indeed, he was forever stuck in the past, as most malignant narcissist parents are. They never change, they never grow as people, and they never get over that moment when a child "defies" them. In some kind of ironic twist of justice, the child’s exertion of independence ends up controlling them for the rest of their lives.
And so, David finds redemption. He embraces his passion for music and creates a loving family for himself.
And as the film draws to a close he says;

“I am here. And life goes on and you just have to keep on going. You can’t give-up.”


  1. Thank you for such a well-written, thoughtful review. I'm putting it in the queue so I can watch it later ...

  2. Thanks Kiki. I hope you enjoy the film even though I've given most of the story away - oops.

  3. Wow. Lots of that story is too grossly abusive to be familiar personally but, damn, what's so very familiar is the reasoning that runs "I suffered and was thwarted... your life is my chance to express what was thwarted in me... you are lucky to have the chance to express my dreams as I did not... therefore you have nothing to complain about."

    - GKA

  4. GKA, So true.. "I suffered and was thwarted... your life is my chance to express what was thwarted in me..."

    I think ALL narcissists do this, not just N Parents. Pronoia entitled one of her blog posts "Invalidation by Comparison." It's a narcissist's weapon.

    When I was 20 I worked as an assistant to a N who had it all, including a doting mother. Oneday, she decided not to pay me and when I persisted in getting my money she said, "when I was your age, I couldn't even afford to buy myself a nice pair of shoes."

    Meanwhile, she was living large in a nice new house and making good money while I was all alone, without family, in a new city, thousands of miles away from home, and struggling to pay my over-priced rent.

    As an N she was not only taking advantage of my vulnerability but justifying her abuse by an irrational comparison.

    The pathetic N is always looking for payback for their "perceived deprivations" from everyone and every situation.

    Words can not express how much I loath their kind!

  5. That's such a clear-cut case, the prosperous non-paying employer who expects to get the sympathy. Glad you are out of that situation now.

    Don't know why but it seems perfect that the invalidation-by-comparison would be about shoes.


  6. Lisette,

    You might like to check out this book, the reading of which went a long way to helping me "debrief" after being around the cult mentality of Malignant Narcissists; for that is the essence behind MNs - the Worship of Me.

    "Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty" by Simon Baron-Cohen. A link to a recent reader review

    I am a soul-centered counsellor and work with people who can claim the labels of ACON and Adult Children of Mentally Ill Parents - except I feel those labels perpetuate the illusion of 'normal'. There are people who can respond effectively and compassionately and people who have no respond-ability or empathy. It's a sliding scale, it's not fixed.

    The truly soul-murdering side of having a MN mother, is that the experience kills the Mother archetype within YOU, because no-way, no-how do you want to be 'just like your mother'.

    At some stage, you have to drag yourself out of the biological NM mother toxic swamp. You have purged a lot within this blog. If you feel the need to no longer swim in this swamp - then leave it. You have left enough signposts for others to find their own way out.

    Eventually you will come to a place where the suit 'Daughter of Malignant Narcissists' will pinch and rub, for you will have outgrown it and your wings will need more room.

    Be well.

    1. Rain, your theory is nothing but New Age bs. You have no clue about what you are talking about... Do everyone a favor, don't counsel anyone. They'll end up more confused and screwed up than before.

    2. Rain-in-the-Face2 July 2012 14:33
      Your words come across as condescending! You consider yourself a counselor for those in need of guidance and healing. However, when you describe victims as claiming to be this and that, the question then becomes whose side are you on, the abusers or the victims? Finally, no one can tell someone else when it's time to step away or move on, that decision is up to the individual. However, I do agree with you that at some point, we need to stop identifying ourselves as abused and seek out new ways of living. If we don't move on, then we're giving our powers away to the abusers.

  7. Hello Rain-in-the-Face,

    Thank you for your previous posts (where you put the words together in a very craftful "Wow!" kind of way), and I also thank you for this post. I appreciate your book recommendation and will check it out.

    I must admit however, that I took you for a counsellor upon your first post and let some of your following comments sit for a few days before publishing because of my instinct about you.

    As far as this more personal comment/post goes, I feel the need to refer to you as too-much-in-my-face.

    You wrote: "I am a soul-centered counsellor and work with people who can claim the labels of ACON and Adult Children of Mentally Ill Parents - except I feel those labels perpetuate the illusion of 'normal'."

    This is fascinating to me. You believe these labels perpetuate the illusion of 'normal'?? WTF?! Can you elaborate? Is it the normal person coming from an effed-up family with narcissists that are under the illusion that they are normal? As much as your writing can be bing, bang, boom! The boom has no leverage. It has no force. You sound like a new agey preacher type. Most people who "claim" ACON or coming from a family of mentally ill, know damn well their family is NOT normal. I believe mentally ill says it all.

    First off, do people enter your office claiming to be ACON? Because if that's so, that is a huge step forward for ACONs. Seriously. Who the hell knows what an ACON is unless you are one - who also happens to be a counsellor - OR are trolling the net looking for "clients." I'm pretty damn sure if I told my GP, or any doctor, I'm an ACON, they would stare at me with a blank expression. ACON is not a widely recognized term not even in the therapeutic community. At least not yet. There's no 12-step programme for being an ACON (thank god) but rest assured this is not "common" knowledge. And the only way someone would walk into your office claiming to be an ACON is because they discovered the information online like the rest of us... Or, they ran into a savvy counsellor looking for the latest "style" of patient. It's going to take a real therapy shiller to know what the hot topic of the decade is.

    Okay. Then you go into all this shit about me having a MN Mother and you try to define me by this. Nice try. At this point, I have no need or desire to defend myself. I know who I am, and what defines me. Some dude on the net.... is well, just some rambling dude on the net.

    Please don't bother shilling for clients on my blog. I don't put up with that shit. The readers here are too smart for that.

    But as a fellow ACON to another ACON. Be well.

    This isn't a place to creep in and get bizness.

  8. "Who the hell knows what an ACON is unless you are one?" LMFAO True, true!!! I AM an ACON, but sure as hell wouldn't walk into the office of a "counselor" with a chief complaint of being one; they'd look at me like I was effing nuts! With that being said, I had no plans of walking into any therapist's office in the near future, but after reading the condescending comment from the rain-in-the-ass poster above, I'm even less interested.

    I could say a lot more, but considering that Lisette addressed every thought I had and then some, I won't bore you.

    Your work here is appreciated, Lisette. I'm looking forward to the day you start churning out your kick-ass posts again. :)

    ANON the ACON

  9. Great to hear from you ANON the ACON!

    Your comment made ME LMFAO! Thanks for the being here, and for your support.

    Lisette the ACON