Monday, 26 June 2017

Characteristics of Malignant Narcissists

Characteristics of Female Malignant Narcissists

The complete Treatise can be found at Harpy's Child

1. Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She doesn’t want to have to do this, but she only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help.

Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her. 

She’s also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She’s very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don’t wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done. The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that anyone who might intervene will not hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public. She’ll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence, the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!).

2. She favoritizes. Narcissistic mothers commonly choose one (sometimes more) child to be the golden child and one (sometimes more) to be the scapegoat. The narcissist identifies with the golden child and provides privileges to him or her as long as the golden child does just as she wants. The golden child has to be cared for assiduously by everyone in the family. The scapegoat has no needs and instead gets to do the caring. The golden child can do nothing wrong. The scapegoat is always at fault. This creates divisions between the children, one of whom has a large investment in the mother being wise and wonderful, and the other(s) who hate her. That division will be fostered by the narcissist with lies and with blatantly unfair and favoritizing behavior. The golden child will defend the mother and perpetuate the abuse by finding reasons to blame the scapegoat for the mother’s actions. The golden child may also directly take on the narcissistic mother’s traits and tasks by abusing the scapegoat so the narcissistic mother doesn’t have to do that herself.

3. She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” (this is a phrase commonly used by abusers of all sorts to invalidate your experience of their abuse) that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened. Nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the abuser.

Narcissists will gaslight routinely. The narcissist will either insinuate or will tell you outright that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things or be so uncooperative. You’re oversensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re hysterical. You’re completely unreasonable. You’re over-reacting, like you always do. She’ll tell you that you need treatment for your mental problem and she will talk to you when you’ve calmed down and aren’t so irrational. She may even characterize you as being neurotic or psychotic.

Once she’s constructed these fantasies of your emotional pathologies, she’ll tell others about them, as always, presenting her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She didn’t do anything. She has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. You’ve hurt her terribly. She thinks you may need psychotherapy. She loves you very much and would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.

She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious antipathy towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners. She plays the role of the “concerned” mother/sister so perfectly that no one will believe you.

 4. She’s a liar in too many ways to count. Any time she talks about something that has emotional significance for her, it’s a fair bet that she’s lying. Lying is one way that she creates conflict in the relationships and lives of those around her - she’ll lie to them about what other people have said, what they’ve done, or how they feel. She’ll lie about her relationship with them, about your behavior or about your situation in order to inflate herself and to undermine your credibility.

The narcissist is very careful about how she lies. To outsiders she’ll lie thoughtfully and deliberately, always in a way that can be covered up if she’s confronted with her lie. She spins what you said rather than makes something up wholesale. She puts dishonest interpretations on things you actually did. If she’s recently done something particularly egregious she may engage in preventative lying: she lies in advance to discount what you might say before you even say it. Then when you talk about what she did you’ll be cut off with “I already know all about it…your mother/sister told me... (self-justifications and lies).” Because she is so careful about her deniability, it may be very hard to catch her in her lies. The more gullible person may never realize how dishonest she is.

To you, she’ll lie blatantly. She will claim to be unable to remember bad things she has done, even if she did one of them recently and even if it was something very memorable. Of course, if you try to jog her memory by recounting the circumstances “You have a very vivid imagination” or “That was so long ago. Why do you have to dredge up your old grudges?” Your conversations with her are full of casual brush-offs and diversionary lies and she doesn’t respect you enough to bother making it sound good.

On the rare occasions she is forced to acknowledge some bad behavior, she will couch the admission deniably. She “guesses” that “maybe” she “might have” done something wrong. The wrongdoing is always heavily spun and trimmed to make it sound better. The words “I guess,”  “maybe,” and “might have” are in and of themselves lies because she knows exactly what she did - no guessing, no might haves, no maybes.

A Narcissistic mother and sister will say whatever feeds their purpose of the moment, without regard for the truth, so when the purpose shifts, the Narcissist mother and sister must contradict their past statements. This contradiction may occur within the context of a single conversation, or even a single sentence.

5. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain. This exceptionally sick and bizarre behavior is so common among narcissistic mothers and sisters that their family members often call them “emotional vampires.” Some of this emotional feeding comes in the form of pure sadism. She does and says things just to be wounding or she engages in tormenting teasing or she needles you about things you’re sensitive about, all the while a smile plays over her lips. She may have taken you to scary movies or told you horrifying stories, then mocked you for being a baby when you cried. She will slip a wounding comment into conversation and smile delightedly into your hurt face. You can hear the laughter in her voice as she pressures you or says distressing things to you. Later she’ll gloat over how much she upset you, gaily telling other people that you’re so much fun to tease, and recruiting others to share in her amusement.  She enjoys her cruelties and makes no effort to disguise that. She wants you to know that your pain entertains her.  She may also bring up subjects that are painful for you and probe you about them, all the while watching you carefully. This is emotional vampirism in its purest form. She’s feeding emotionally off your pain.

A peculiar form of this emotional vampirism combines attention-seeking behavior with a demand that the audience suffer. Since narcissistic mothers and sisters often play the martyr this may take the form of wrenching, self-pitying dramas which they carefully produce, and in which they are the star performers. 

6. She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism. If you criticize her or defy her she will explode with fury, threaten, storm, rage and destroy. It’s easy to provoke her wrath because she takes everything personally and any attitude short of constant emotional and physical availability is perceived as a slight. If you’re short with her because you’re exhausted and depressed, she has to have it out with you over your “hostility.” If a toddler shouts “I hate you” at her she gets angry and punitive. If you refuse her nosy request to let her read the letter you got she shouts about how unappreciative you are and how hard she has it. She has no sense of perspective or separation and she can’t let anything go.

7. She terrorizes. All abusers use fear to control their victims, and your narcissistic mother/sister used it ruthlessly to train you. Narcissists teach you to beware their wrath even when they aren’t present. The only alternative is constant placation. If you give her everything she wants all the time, you might be spared. If you don’t, the punishments will come. Even adult children of narcissists still feel that carefully inculcated fear. Your narcissistic mother/sister can turn it on with a silence or a look that tells you she’s thinking about how she’s going to get even.

Not all narcissists abuse physically, but most do, often in subtle, deniable ways.  It allows them to vent their rage at your failure to be the solution to their internal havoc and simultaneously to teach you to fear them. You may not have been beaten, but you were almost certainly left to endure physical pain when a normal mother would have made an effort to relieve your misery. This deniable form of battery allows her to store up her rage and dole out the punishment at a later time when she’s worked out an airtight rationale for her abuse, so she never risks exposure. You were left hungry because “you eat too much.” You always went to school with stomach flu because “you don’t have a fever. You’re just trying to get out of school.” (She resents having to take care of you. You have a lot of nerve getting sick and adding to her burdens.) She refuses to look at your bloody heels and instead the shoes that wore those blisters on your heels are put back on your feet and you’re sent to the store in them because “You wanted those shoes. Now you can wear them.”  (You said the ones she wanted to get you were ugly. She liked them because they were just like what she wore 30 years ago). The dentist was told not to give you Novocain when he drilled your tooth because “he has to learn to take better care of his teeth.” (She has to pay for a filling and she’s furious at having to spend money on you.) Unlike psychopaths, narcissists do understand right, wrong, and consequences, so they are not ordinarily criminal. She beat you, but not to the point where you went to the hospital. She left you standing out in the cold until you were miserable, but not until you had hypothermia. She put you in the basement in the dark with no clothes on, but she only left you there for two hours. 

Narcissistic mothers also abuse by loosing others on you or by failing to protect you when a normal mother would have. Sometimes the narcissist’s golden child will be encouraged to abuse the scapegoat. Narcissists also abuse by exposing you to violence. If one of your siblings got beaten, she made sure you saw. She effortlessly put the fear of Mom into you, without even touching you.

8.  She’s exploitative. She will manipulate to get money or objects she envies out of other people for nothing. This includes taking from all family members.

9. She projects. This sounds a little like psycho-babble, but it is something that narcissists all do. Projection means that she will put her own bad behavior, character traits and flaws on you so she can deny them in herself and punish you. 

10. She is never wrong about anything. No matter what she’s done, she won’t ever genuinely apologize for anything.

11. She manufactures “no-win” situations. In the classic “no-win” scenario, the narcissist’s family member is manipulated into a corner and then presented with a demand that they do something degrading, humiliating or painful in order to please the narcissist. Any response other than complete compliance triggers retaliation. As always, the payoff for your mother/sister is the elicitation of painful emotions. Whether you subject yourself to her degradation or you fight back and end up subjected to shaming, threats and blaming by the narcissist, you will experience a sense of helplessness and fear, and those emotions are very satisfying to the narcissist. That feed is also augmented by the pain she elicits by undermining, insulting and demeaning you and, as the scene winds down, by blaming you for the entire event. These scenes are great fun for your narcissist mother/sister, for whom they are exciting and entertaining as well as satisfying, and who gets to feel as though she has been very clever. She commonly has an attitude of pleasure and excitement throughout, which she will make no effort to hide. The family members of narcissists often describe the “little smile” she had as she played out the no-win scenario. She wants you to know how much fun she’s having and how much she loves your pain. There is no betrayal more wounding than knowing your own mother/sister/daughter is reveling in the pain she deliberately caused, nor any emotion more delicious to your narcissistic mother/daughter/sister than your sense of shock and misery that she is hurting you deliberately and for fun.

12. She blames. She’ll blame you for everything that isn’t right in her life or for what other people do or for whatever has happened. Always, she’ll blame you for her abuse. You made her do it. If only you weren’t so difficult. You upset her so much that she can’t think straight. Things were hard for her and your backtalk pushed her over the brink. This blaming is often so subtle that all you know is that you thought you were wronged and now you feel guilty. Your brother beats you and her response is to bemoan how uncivilized children are. Your boyfriend dumped you, but she can understand - after all, she herself has seen how difficult you are to love. She’ll do something egregiously exploitative to you, and when confronted will screech at you that she can’t believe you were so selfish as to upset her over such a trivial thing. She’ll also blame you for your reaction to her selfish, cruel and exploitative behavior. She can’t believe you are so petty, so small, and so childish as to object to her giving your favorite dress to her friend. She thought you would be happy to let her do something nice for someone else. 

Narcissists are masters of multitasking as this example shows. Simultaneously she is 1) Lying. She knows what she did was wrong and she knows your reaction is reasonable. 2) Manipulating. She’s making you look like the bad guy for objecting to her cruelties. 3) Being selfish. She doesn’t mind making you feel horrible as long as she gets her own way. 4) Blaming. She did something wrong, but it’s all your fault. 5) Projecting. Her petty, small and childish behavior has become yours. 6) Putting on a self-pitying drama. She’s a martyr who believed the best of you, and you’ve let her down. 7) Parentifying. You’re responsible for her feelings, she has no responsibility for yours.

13. She destroys your relationships. Narcissist mothers/sisters are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted. Unless the father has control over the narcissists and holds the family together, adult siblings in families with narcissistic mothers and sisters characteristically have painful relationships. Typically all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all. In part, these women foster dissension between family members because they enjoy the control it gives them. If no one communicates except through the mother/sister, she can decide what everyone hears. Narcissists also love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in other’s lives. Watching people’s lives explode is better than soap operas, especially when you don’t have any empathy for their misery.

The narcissist nurtures anger, contempt and envy - the most corrosive emotions - to drive families apart. While her children are still living at home, any child who stands up to the narcissist guarantees punishment for the rest. In her zest for revenge, the narcissist purposefully turns the siblings’ anger on the dissenter by including everyone in her retaliation. (“I can see that nobody here loves me! Well I’ll just take these Christmas presents back to the store. None of you would want anything I got you anyway!”) The other children, long trained by the narcissist to give in, are furious with the troublemaking child, instead of with the narcissist who actually deserves their anger.

The narcissist also uses favoritism and gossip to poison her childrens’ relationships.  

The scapegoat sees the mother as a creature of caprice and cruelty. As is typical of the privileged, the other children don’t see her unfairness and they excuse her abuses. Indeed, they are often recruited by the narcissist to adopt her contemptuous and entitled attitude towards the scapegoat and with her tacit or explicit permission, will inflict further abuse. The scapegoat predictably responds with fury and equal contempt.  After her children move on with adult lives, the narcissist mother and daughter make sure to keep everyone apprised of the doings of the others, passing on the most discreditable and juicy gossip (as always, disguised as “concern”) about siblings and other family members, again, in a way that engenders contempt rather than compassion.

The end result is a family in which almost all communication is triangular. The narcissist, the spider in the middle of the family web, sensitively monitors everyone for information she can use to retain her unchallenged control over the family. She then passes that on to the others, creating the resentments that prevent them from communicating directly and freely with each other. The result is that the only communication between anyone is through the narcissist, exactly the way she wants it.


  1. SO RIGHT ON! Thank you for another right on target article.

  2. My narc father had a narc mother like this. She had a snide comment for everyone.

  3. I keep trying to imagine life without the internalized cruelty-- like, what it could be like if I had my own back, washed clean of her who-do-you-think-you-ares and you're-filthy-to-your-core. ... How to get to a place where I never hear her shit ... it is happening, I think. It's slow. It's expensive therapy ($200/hour).
    I've gone LC. That has been enormously helpful. It's the only way -- other than NC, as you advocate. Otherwise you're stick in her quicksand.
    Lots of love to you Lizette.

    1. Hi D.E.M,
      I'm glad to see you dropping by the blog. I hope therapy helps with the internalized cruelty. Getting some distance and going at least LC will help you gain some clarity. The fact that we have to spend our lives undoing the damage they inflict on us is a travesty of justice. What narcissist parents do to their children is utterly sickening. Keep on keeping the distance for your peace of mind. You owe it to yourself.
      Lots of love to you.

  4. Isn't it nuts??? Thousands of dollars to just get to a place of self worth, which is itself still a lot of work. I have a good shrink who makes the best faces of disgust when I recount mother's lovely attacks!!
    She's in total favour of LC and NC.
    I just heaved a huge sigh. What a trip.
    Xxooo thanks for your blog and humour and righteousness

  5. I've printed this out and will reread regularly. I love how you clearly explained the dynamics of of how narcissists operate. You have a black belt in decoding these predators' mindset. I can't thank you enough Lisette. Keep up the great work. Susan

  6. Hi Lisette, I reread this blog post, and I wanted to further comment. It is so true that these Narcissists always tell us how hard they have it. My mother did this for years, told me how hard she had it, when frankly, she had it way better than me. And this caused me to feel guilty for years if I did anything that brought me joy or which improved my life. It caused me to not excel or move forward in life. It's funny how this affected me in a negative way.

    Also, these Narcissists can't let anything go. Whenever you talk to them, they are incessantly rehashing events from the past, that they have never resolved or dealt with. So it becomes a broken record. And I notice this with other Narcissists too. Very eye opening and I won't fall for this dynamic ever again.

    Finally, the best line of all is how Narcissists will blame us for their abuse. Isn't that the truth. You described this dynamic so well. My mother would always say that, oh you have such a nasty personality that I can't get along with you. Not because she was a raging bitch that I was reacting to in the first place. And the spider web analogy is SO good. I will carry this in my thoughts, as they do stand in the middle of their web and call the shots. But the fact you make us aware of this dynamics is the best empowerment to win the battle against these predators. As always, thanks for opening my eyes. Susan

    1. Hi Susan,

      Good comment. Thanks! I can relate to everything you wrote. When I was younger guilt and even shame would surface on those rare occasions when I felt safe, happy, succeeding or even loved. I can still recall exact moments when the guilt and shame invaded wiping-out my good feelings. It can only be described as having been programmed not to feel deserving of what others take for granted (feeling safe, content, happy, loved, thriving). I believe this stuff - self sabotage/deprivation - is so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that it's difficult to counter unless we recognize it and name it. Narcissistic abuse by parents is essentially programming us to feel undeserving and unworthy of the good stuff. I mean, how dare we enjoy our lives - that would make THEM feel irrationally envious, and it's always about maintaining the narcissist's comfort level. I think a lot of ACONs, myself included, actually may experience anxiety when things are peaceful and pleasant. We were primed for life in a psychological war zone, so we're always in fight or flight waiting for the other shoe to drop.

      Yes, narcissists can hold a grudge for even the tiniest slight. It's almost satisfying to know this because that means there is always a burr in their saddle, chafing their pompous ass; which means they are never happy. Smug? Yes. Happy? I think not. Narcs feel entitled to abuse the living crap out of us our entire life and we are just supposed to take it. And if we dare give them a taste of their own medicine even once in a lifetime they will never let us forget it.

      Yep, narcs blame us for their abuse. It's the world according to the narcissists. They demand that we do as they say not as they do. They are control freak bullies who will never take responsibility for their own disgusting behavior so they need to smear who they are onto us.

      PS. I wish I could take credit for the article, but I did not write it. The article has been online for about 10 years and the author has remained anonymous. "Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers" has become something of an ACON treaty. You can read the full article by clinking the link to Harpy's Child at the tops of the page.

    2. I had never seen that article by Harpy's Child. I read it in full and is it ever a classic. I'm going to print it out as well and insert it in my binder, where I keep various empowering articles.

      And tell me about feeling undeserving and unworthy of any happiness, joy or anything good for me for that matter. It was so deeply programmed in my mind that I think I deliberately have eliminated all form of joy and happiness in my life. It's very validating to see you felt that way, experienced anxiety, guilt and shame. Reading all this makes me aware of the dynamics, so I can catch my thoughts and work on feeling deserving and worthy. Looking back, I do see how we grew up in a war zone and were primed for terror. I so needed to read this blog post this weekend. And now, I can stop feeling guilty for being happy or for having any joy in my life. We frigging deserve it!!