Why a Narcissist can’t stand your happiness
One tell-tale sign of having been abused by a narcissist is feeling wary of your own happiness. That may sound strange or odd. Why would anyone shy away from smiling, laughing, getting excited, or feeling vitalized? The answer takes a little explaining but gets to the root of the narcissist’s danger to others.
Happiness in healthy relationships
As I’m writing this there’s a toddler across the cafe with his mother. The boy is wholly occupied with some sort of toy. His mother watches him with a deep fondness in her face. She glides her fingers over his hair while being careful not to disturb his focus. I think it’s a safe bet that she’s happy because her son is happy.
This was a pretty beautiful display of non-possessive love from a mother to her child. The boy evokes an expression of mother’s love by doing what makes him happy. Extrapolating from this episode we might assume that when this boy thinks of how his mother thinks of him he might feel warm, special, and worth her care. In short, thinking of how she thinks of him leaves him feeling loved. Of course toddlers don’t “think” in the same way adults do but they have ways of knowing how they are are thought of. This boy is lucky in that his template for how how others think of him is accurate and positive.
A huge component to restoring your capacity for happiness is taking good care of yourself. Sign up for my free webinar to learn 7 proven strategies for self-care to recover from narcissistic abuse.
The Narcissist’s drive to destroy your happiness
The notion of non-possessive love does not compute for a narcissist. She insists that everyone else’s happiness goes through her. Why? This is where the motivational systems of “normal” people and narcissists dramatically diverge. Most of us seek mutual connection with those closest to us. A narcissist’s fundamental motivation is to dominate those closest to him. This kind of domination is particularly insidious. A narcissist wants her victims to care more about what she thinks about them than what they think about themselves. Once the victim makes this shift they are trapped by the narcissist.
The case of Joe: Survivor of a Narcissistic mother
The narcissist expresses an attitude of superiority to the victim and highlights why the victim is – supposedly – inferior. He will be quick to blame his victim for acts of fate. He will accuse the victim of character defects when an honest mistake is made:
Joe was a client who survived a narcissistic mother. He would recall moments of terror where his mother would ask him if he had done some household chore. She inevitably asked him about one that he had forgot about. When he answered ‘no, I forgot’ she launched into a rage. While screaming at the top of her lungs she accused him of being selfish, inconsiderate and irresponsible. She would then use the good moments earlier against him. “You just want to be the center of attention but you don’t do anything to actually help this family!”. Spittle would spark out of her mouth as her eyes turned black with hate at him.
The worst part of her attack was that if he wanted a relationship with her then Joe had to agree that he was as terrible as she claimed. Kids have to have a relationship with their parent so this was not really a choice for Joe. Joe’s mother had no qualms about exploiting a child’s natural dependency to achieve the domination she so craved.
As therapy proceeded, Joe and I figured out that his mother’s tirades often came after good moments. See Joe is naturally funny, charismatic, and caring towards others. When his mother would get home from work he and his sister would go into the kitchen while she made dinner. Joe would playfully tease his sister and joke around with his mother. Her questions about the chores would come towards the end of eating dinner.
Joe and I determined that his mother felt that her dominance was threatened by his ability to raise the spirits of her and his sister in those moments. Despite indulging in the fun herself as dinner was cooking, she had to inevitably punish him lest he think that she thought well of him. His mother was determined for Joe to think that he had no real value to anyone. Who could ever love a selfish, inconsiderate monster? The truth was that Joe’s attributes would attract many people to him and this was the problem for his mother.
As this kind of abuse wore on, Joe developed a very stoic demeanor. With select friends he might show his humor but he generally constricted himself. Although he felt a sense of deadness inside, this tactic spared him his mother’s rage. Joe has recovered much of his liveliness through his own strength and hard work in and out of therapy.
Why do narcissist’s seek to dominate?
In order to understand why narcissists operate so poisonously in relationships, it’s important to understand a little more about how ‘good-enough’ reciprocal relationships work.
We need others’ recognition to become ourselves. Remember the riddle:
If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Jessica Benjamin explains why the answer would be a resounding ‘No’ when it comes to human development. Without the other’s recognition of who we are, what we are doing, thinking, becoming we do not feel confirmed in any of those ways of being. If we clap, for example, and nobody else hears it then we will not feel like we made a sound.
Benjamin puts it best:
A person comes to feel that “I am the doer who does, I am the author of my acts,” by being with another person who recognizes her acts, her feelings, her intentions, her existence, her independence…The subject declares, “I am, I do,” and waits for the response, “You are, you have done.” (p. 21)
Importantly, the other has to act and be independent of ourselves. We don’t feel truly recognized if we are controlling the other to provide the recognition. Recognition must be given. It can never be taken. The toddler in the cafe received his mother’s recognition as he played with his toy. She gave it to him because she wanted to. Her respect for his focus on the toy showed that she recognized and respected his independence too.
If the other has what we need and we have no absolute control over whether it is given then our independence rests in our dependence on the other. There is a boldness and a vulnerability in being who we are. Bold because we must act in accord with what we truly feel. Vulnerable because we need the other to be willing to recognize those acts and we cannot control the other’s willingness. We also need that recognition to acknowledge our own independence.
A narcissist rejects this vulnerability. It’s beyond the scope of this post to explore why. At the deepest of levels, a narcissist has traded recognition from an independent other for domination of a submissive other. In this kind of arrangement there is nobody left to truly recognize the Narcissist. Although the narcissist forgoes the kind of recognition that would let him feel his real existence, he gets a feeling of power and superiority in exchange. Those ‘fruits’ of domination are not attributed to his real self but to a grandiose inflated version of himself.
So the narcissist is making do with domination instead of recognition. The lack of true recognition is like a chronic wound that requires constant bandaging. Scarily the narcissist bandages his own despair and terror of going unrecognized with further domination of his victim. He needs a constant supply of feeling dominant or he will psychologically implode. The narcissist, then, is dependent on the other. He needs the other’s submission to keep feeling powerful over and over. In a sense – despite how self-assured and independent he may seem – the narcissist cannot exist alone. He needs a victim to feel like he exists.
Your happiness threatens the narcissist’s domination
Expressing genuine happiness is one of the surest signs of life. Feeling vitalized while in relationship to a narcissist punctures his dominance. To show your independent existence and vitality via happiness creates a pull for the narcissist to recognize you. Doing so would come at the cost of his feeling dominant. How can a self-perceived king or queen show respect to a pauper? If that pauper even seems content instead of obedient, well the narcissist won’t stand for it.
Narcissists must protect their domination by searching for and destroying your sources of happiness. Joe’s mother’s invective illustrates this. She likely experienced Joe’s happiness before dinner as a threat to her ability to dominate him. Claiming that he was deceptively trying to get away with not taking out the trash by wanting to be the center of attention was meant to spoil what was good in Joe. She was attempting to get Joe to doubt the virtue of his own happiness. To make him think that he hurts others when he’s happy. She temporarily achieved this during Joe’s childhood. The result was Joe abandoned his own quest for recognition and adapted by trying to anticipate and meet all of his mother’s needs. He had to submit to her domination.
Who the narcissist chooses as her victims
Narcissists can only do this to people who are vulnerable to them. Tragically this means that children are the most common victims. Children like Joe learn that their happiness makes “mommy hate me”. The polar opposite of the boy’s experience in the cafe.
The victim of such abuse must develop a set of rules to keep him out of the narcissist’s line of fire. This means policing oneself to not betray any signs of excitement or enthusiasm unless it reflects directly upon the narcissist. Joe’s mother insisted on this. He could joke around with her but not others. He had to restrict his friendships because she would make up reasons to ground him if he seemed excited about his social life. Part of the narcissist’s domination is to convince his victim that she has no value unless the narcissist says so.
It is tragic to think of how the victim of such abuse has to dislocate themselves from themselves just to stay out of danger. They cannot have spontaneous experiences of joy or meaning. They cannot even know how they feel because that involves looking inward instead of outward at the narcissist. All of these ways of being provide the narcissist with what she wants: to know she has power and control over her victim.
The same process can happen between adults. Often the adult victim of a narcissistic partner was raised by a narcissistic parent. As such the contortions required by the narcissist to provide a veneer of obedience are familiar if highly uncomfortable.
Recover your happiness without fear
The purpose of this blog post was to highlight a feature of surviving narcissistic abuse that can leave a survivor feeling like he operates according to an entirely different set of rules than seemingly everyone else in the world. This can feel alienating. Everyone, the thinking goes, should want to be happy…what’s wrong with me that I shy away from such experiences? The answer is nothing at all!
Feeling averse to your own happiness actually reflects your psychological flexibility and resiliency to survive a relationship that offered you nothing and expected everything. It is important to begin to reframe this habit as a virtue rather than a defect or anything of the sort.
Next, it is important to populate your life with people who have not forsaken the task of mutual recognition. That’s a mouthful, but it simply means good people who want recognition and who are willing to provide it to you too. Most survivors of narcissistic abuse have deep capacities for empathy so providing recognition is usually no problem. It’s learning to accept and feel deserving of others’ recognition that is the more difficult task. Identifying and nurturing relationships with such ‘safe people’ is big part of my online course on freeing yourself from narcissistic abuse.
Therapy is not the only means for recovering from narcissistic abuse and your right to happiness. It can be useful though. The important quality to seek in a therapist is a wholehearted and earnest attempt to understand you and your perspective. From that starting point, the legacy of narcissistic abuse can have a shorter half-life than would otherwise be.
Such a great article, thank you!
Thank you. I am glad you found it helpful.
I appreciate this article.
I especially appreciate the reminder that my often resistance to my own happiness is a sign of my resilience. I appreciate your encouragement to see this inclination as an asset rather than a flaw. Reading this article, I can’t help but tap into the pain and sorrow of growing up in a house hold with narcissistic parents day in and day out. It reminds me of the courage and strength it must have took to have gone through all of it and survive. And not just survive, but to come out the other end with a heart that desires to treat others with kindness and respect, different to the way was treated.
I so seldom contemplate my strengths. I spend most of my time contemplating the exact opposite.
Thank you so much for this much appreciated reminder.
Thank you for the feedback and for how well you described the pull to conform to the Narcissistic parent’s prescription of reality.
They are not happy in themselves in their own self , inner core and being. And have to break someone and then control them as they are co dependant on them, and this gives a great sense of power and they are not on their own.
Very dangerous people they are ….had my fare share of them near me and around me.
Yes they’re control freaks and extremely jealous and full of pride. They are dark souls incapable of real love because they have created a false self that they idolize. As soon as you realize what they are run!
Thank you for this article. I recognize that I have a significant fear of success after being raised by narcissistic parents. It is difficult even though I am in therapy for PTSD. I forego doing the things I love, for fear of punishment, although I have not lived with my parents for over 2 decades. My father was particularly harsh when I got a good grade or excelled at my special interests. “You think you’re better than me? Why do you always have to be the center of attention?”
“Feeling averse to your own happiness actually reflects your psychological flexibility and resiliency to survive a relationship that offered you nothing and expected everything. It is important to begin to reframe this habit as a virtue rather than a defect or anything of the sort.”
Thank you for this paragraph. It gives me hope. I wish peace for myself and for everyone who has survived a childhood with abusive, narcissistic parents..
Thank you for your reflections on this post, Michelle. Your ability to endure the kind of cruelty you describe in your father’s reaction to your feats is remarkable.
I was moved by this article, and recognised much of my own experience. My mother could not bear my happiness on the one hand , and would tell me ‘ you always want to be somebody, but you are a nobody ‘; on the other, she would scream ‘ why, why aren’t you happy’ when I was having a nervous breakdown from the abuse I was receiving year in year out. I have difficulty feeling entitled to happiness still, in my 60s .Your articles give me hope, are immensely valuable and highlight many deep and subtle issues that arise from narcissistic abuse. Thank you Jay.
I am so relieved to have read this highly accurate description of Joe’s experience with his mother, i.e. what motivated her to act that way. So entirely unfair this is, my heart just goes out to anyone who has been raised this way. This really spelled it out for me with regard to the treatment I received from my narcissistic father. He would come home from work seething with anger. Total holy roller, too, often claimed that he should have been a priest (gag me with a crucifix.) Sadly, my mother’s trauma bonding created a feeling of abandonment for me. I was scapegoated along with my 3 younger brothers. I became her “counselor” she would cry to, but she always took my father’s side against us kids, agreeing with him that we were “bad”. We were subjected to criticism and hate. Constant drama, crying, and scary fights were the norm. So I had zero support, and as a result I was unable to bond with either parent. She became like him, or maybe she was a covert narcissist the whole time, I think, because she was very jealous of me, which was so hurtful and unfair. You just don’t think very highly of someone like that who is supposed to be your mother. I swear, I don’t know how I managed to have so many friends in school, but I did. Got good grades, went to parties. I was stronger than I thought. I’ve always loved to have fun with people, although when I think about my former years it was as if I was orphaned. So now that I have decided to heal (going “no contact”) and reading articles on this topic, I’m a lot more optimistic about living the good life! Thank you for posting this blog.
The words ‘ you think you’re better than me’ were not said outright by my father but I knew from age 4 or so that it was a competition. He made sure you felt bad about yourself but talked glowingly about me to others. Very confusing as a child and even now as an adult. I was the oldest and basically told by my mother that I wasn’t wanted or more specifically that she resented getting pregnant 1 month after her marriage.
Things did not improve when my father died. I handled the POA for my father because my sister asked me to( I’d done the job before). I was executor but 9 days after my father died siblings were yelling at me on the phone. I immediately renounced the job in favor of the alternate, the sister for whom I did the POA. She resented that, too. I guess I was supposed to do it all. I also gave up the majority of my inheritance ( all legally done). It was the only way to get away from my siblings. I was sick of being stepped on by this family. I’ve done pretty well in my life and I think my father and siblings were afraid of that. They couldn’t figure out how I did it. Some was luck and some was skill. Sorry for the rant.
Amazing story there, similar childhood dynamics growing up with my father always in competition and rivalry and challenging behaviour on his part. I could of got 99pc cent out of an exam and still wouldn’t be impressed.
I knew then just to keep our conversations simple when we met up and it was very superficial. I would be always walking on eggshells and if he gave me a compliment and I would find that so weird as id be awaiting the negative one afterwards.
Would of had an impact on my self esteem if i let it, it did in my younger years but when i got older i kind of put it down to you know what I’m dammed if i do and dammed if i don’t, so i let it rub off me like water.
Just worked on my own self drive and self improvement.
Didn’t need to seek validation from my father
Where as my other brother was the GC and never knew anything other than praise…i blame my Dad for his split parenting style
Indeed, this is another excellent article.
I really appreciate all the work you’ve done to help and heal others, which I suspect reflects your own inner well being.
All good things.
Thank you very much, Max. I am glad that you found the article useful and appreciate your feedback.
jayreid I by chance found your blog, believe me, it’s awesome your insight into narcissistic behavior is beyond comprehension you explain this disorder like no one could explain your point of view is very unique seriously I knew it because I survived narcissistic abuse my father is a narcissist and my mother is a codependent personality my father is what you have described always envious suspicious controlling to the point they expect you to take permission to live or die life really sucks
Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad it resonated with what you have survived at the hands of your father. I hope that your process of recovery from this kind of treatment continues.
Thank you for the explanation of how a narcissist trades recognition for domination. I have just ended a completely destructive relationship with a malignant narcissist, I am in counseling, and I have read several of the best books on the topic, but for some reason the rationale for their behavior just didn’t click for me until I read your post. I am so relieved by it that I wanted to post this comment and thank you. I am healing more every day, and this insightful explanation has helped close one of the main gaps in my understanding. I mean that very much. Thank you for your amazing work.
Thank you for this feedback. I am very glad to hear that you are recovering from this form of mistreatment and that this post on the narcissist abuse dynamic was helpful.
Im in a relationship with a malignant narrissist and hes got lots of anger fits but he has all the digasotic traits as well, my issue is i cant leave him and im submissive to him just to make the relationship easier he can be a good man when people understand the problem well i accept him always .
Lance, I agree with you completely. Very well said. 👏
Hi. I’m 46 and the mother of two beautiful children. I still dont allow myself to be happy and even hold back from enjoying my own family. I still struggle with this, even after years of therapy. I still feel like I need her “permission” to be happy. How do I overcome this?
Thank you for your comment. I think you put the nail on the head in explaining how it feels to look to someone for the green light to feel happy when that person finds expressions of your happiness to be what makes them feel jealous rather than happy for or with you. There is no way to win this arrangement for the child and you touch on the long process it can be to feel safe while being happy. I wish you very well in the recovery process. To your credit it sounds like you’ve built up quite a full life for yourself.
At 52 years of age I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that my NPD father actually knows/knew what he is doing to me and my siblings. Your words rang too so much – “Feeling averse to your own happiness actually reflects your psychological flexibility and resiliency to survive a relationship that offered you nothing and expected everything. It is important to begin to reframe this habit as a virtue rather than a defect or anything of the sort.”
My mother enables him but was such a sweet woman who does not have the ability to stand up for herself and is now 100% brainwashed that “HE” is the one and only right person in our family dynamic.
I have so much to learn and accept but I still feel that I need to solve the problem when deep down there’s only one way this problem will ever be solved. The heartache of loving someone like this is wrenching – you can’t just suddenly unlove this person 🙁
When I was young and before I knew what narcissism was, I called my mother the “happiness ruiner”. Any time something good was happening or I was happy, she made it a priority to ruin it. She also took away anything that made me happy. Being the scapegoat, I had no one except my pets. I had two dogs that were my babies. One day I came home from school and she told me she gave them away. I cried in my room all night and she never came in to check on me. I was a star gymnast. It was my passion. She made me quit and refused to let me go back when I begged her. She ruined all holidays and birthdays and vacations. Even as a young adult, if I was with friends or knew I was having fun, she would have my father call me and demand income home or they would kick me out of the house. I have so much anger at her because I feel like she stole 35 years of my life from me.
I felt the same way it was like if I was happy doing something then my mother would always find a way to ruin it. it was she babied me in the worst way and I often feel like an unwanted guest in my own childhood house or anywhere with my little brother and mother. Now I am doing online school for college I am scared of telling her too much because she can easily mess it up too.
I also called my mother the “happiness ruiner”. Every time we would do something as a family that my enabler/narcissistic father organized and my malignant narcissistic mother would insist we went to, as soon as I showed any enjoyment or happiness, she would find a reason to scold me or embarrass me, anything to ruin the experience for me. She has always been intent on ruining any happy moments in my life. She’s tried to ruin my marriage multiple times. Thankfully, I no longer speak to her and have kept her away from my children. I know if I had given her the opportunity she would’ve tried to ruin mine and my husband’s relationships with our children as well as ruin my children’s happiness. She absolutely cannot stand for me to be happy. She has taken any and every opportunity to try and destroy my happiness. I’m taking my life and happiness back, and refusing to allow her to be a part of my life and my family.
Jay Reid – Thank you for this article. The part about taking away any moments of happiness resonates with my life. My malignant narcissistic mother has been trying to destroy any moments of happiness and peace in my life for as long as I can remember. I often wondered why she was always so intent on ruining my happiness. The more I understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the more I understand how and why my mother abused me.
This describes my experience so much. It was so confusing because on the surface they were saying kind things to me, buying me excessive gifts, but emotionally I was in the darkest hole. I became self harming later in school and when they asked me why I felt the need to do that, I said I didn’t know why ~ that’s how confusing it can be. I also felt like my life was stolen for those years because I could never express my reality to anyone so it was like I didn’t truly exist for those years. However I believe in a higher power and my experience did give me kindness which gave me support from many strangers along the way. I still managed to have good days and good memories~ albeit without any cohesion. I’m free in awareness today and loving every moment of whatever time I have left
Hi, just thank you so much for this ♥
Deep pain is what they cause us, yet they are wounded at their core. Unfortunately My mother/brother we’re a team both narcissistic/aggressive passive/enabler. My mother was dismissive of all my emotional needs. My father tried his best within what he knew. I tried and was silenced/threatened. My Faith was always infinite, it keep me going regardless of the pain/wrong doing. Once in my 40’s I fully surrendered my existence to GOD I couldn’t understand my existence on this plane, miracously healing started taking place to the infinite degree. God helped me understand the entire puzzle of my life. It’s blown me away. My heart prays for them and sends them healing thru Christ. I have fully released them from my core. it has freed me to live the life that I was always meant to live filled with LoVE JOY PEACE and infinite trust that in the hands of my creator I will never be forsaken/betrayed. God helped me understand that by freeing them he could fully free me . He revealed my soul purpose, I shine more then ever. As a highly sensitive person I feel for each one of you, but set yourself free so that you can experience the freedom your soul deserves and may your journey never again be hindered by their ill behavior and send them light. I learned that I reap what I sow. I send more light to those who do me wrong then ever before and GOD has infinitely Blessed me. He has given me more then double for my suffering.
What you name ‘God’ I would call the ‘deep realization’ that I didn’t and couldn’t control the abuse and misfortune that happened to me as a result of this abuse.
I only could do the best with the best I knew and believed in at the time.
In hindsight I discovered that many of my actions to fight the abuse and unjustice had a negative outcome in the short term. This proces went on for years till I was almost homeless and finished.
The ‘Wonder’ happened when my biggest problems to just survive were solved after just one phonecall I got.
All my efforts to solve those problems seemed to have been useless over those years.
In hindsight all my ‘failures’ in fighting the abuse and unjustice turned out to have been exactly the right approuch in solving those problems finally.
Someone must have been guiding/helping me with a lot more wisdom than I have.
Since this ‘insight’ I’m better able to let a part of my ‘fighting unjustice’ to a more wise authority. Something like Guardian Angels. Passed away loving humans who keep an eye on you.
In my case this must be my father and Kathy Crayco (look her up).
You call this experience ‘God’. Probably we speak about the same.
Still I feel that I have my own responsabilty. Their guidence is not unlimited.
If I choose to seek the road of hate and contempt (which often lures) I feel they will leave me. But it’s so very hard to stay on the road of love and understanding in this world. Evil is so common and justified by many.
I therefore cann’t believe there is one good ‘God’ taking care of us all. This is clearly not the case. It’s a wishfull, magicall thinking, delusion to believe such a thing bordering on a psychotic state concerning reality.
To leave all your problems in the hands of a delussional, allmighty ‘authority’ is a step too far for me.
It potentially relieves people of taking their own responsability and place this responsibility completely outside of themselves. This is what we see happening all the time in all religions and narrow minded political systems based on a one-sided ideoligy.
So does an all knowing, loving ‘God’ exists? I’m sure not. If so there wouldn’t be so much pain and grieve in the world.
Do Guardian Angels exist (passed away loving humans)?
I come to believe so. I don’t know.
Anyway I learned to accept this possibility for how things turned out for me I could never ever have figured out myself. And in hindsight it has been the best solutions.
Even (especially) my failures were essential to the solutions.
Since I believe in forces and wisdom higher than I can comprehend.
But not in one all-knowing and loving God.
Then at last; bless you you found the higher ground in loving and setting yourself free and refused to become bitter and hatefull towards your abusers.
I find it remarkable and very strong if you really own this yourself instead of only projecting this ‘love and forgiveness’ outside yourself on a ‘God’ that you made your own.
Maybe denying all the anger and hate you really feel towards your abuser(s).
Maybe only wishfull, magical thinking projected on a ‘God’ to be able to deal with it.
Anyway you choose the path of love. And that’s what really matters.
Thank YOU your message is helpful in infinite ways.
May your journey be filled with LIGHT☮️
So helpful, so insightful! Really great.
“At the deepest of levels, a narcissist has traded recognition from an independent other for domination of a submissive other. In this kind of arrangement there is nobody left to truly recognize the Narcissist. Although the narcissist forgoes the kind of recognition that would let him feel his real existence, he gets a feeling of power and superiority in exchange. Those ‘fruits’ of domination are not attributed to his real self but to a grandiose inflated version of himself.”
This is so enlightening. You deeply understand and brilliantly articulate the dynamics of narcissism
I took 50 years to figure out why my mothers controlling, sneaky, rotten behavior has had a huge role in how I have turned out, I have never married and never had kids. I have had girlfriends but have somehow always self sabotaged myself. I have NEVER let my mother meet any of them, always having some kind of fear that was just below the surface, I wish I had figured this out earlier in life. but you just can’t get back lost time
Wow, I’ve been looking for this depth of explanation for a long long time. Thank you for putting so clearly why they need to dominate/abuse. They have shut away their natural emotional want of healthy recognition for a harder more desperate tactic.
Thank you too for understanding why I don’t feel happy. It’s such a relief to be seen, like you’ve given my soul a quiet & caring hug.
What has struck me though, is the close edge that the narcissist and the scapegoat walk. Both neglected, both detached from self, both have buried their real selves, both coping, both alienated from genuine happiness, both doing what they have to do to survive.
What defines us as scapegoats is that we don’t have to dominate. And we have empathy and compassion and thankfully a great ability and wish to heal. I’m so grateful that within me was that courage to resist them, to defy, to hold on to independence, to survive and to not have succombed like the golden child does.
Is there a reason why we were scapegoated so badly? Or do the narcissists try it on everyone regardless, until they find a kind & sensitive person who feels the pain very deeply and gives them what they are hunting for.
Thank you 🙏.
Took me a long time to accept that the narcissist targeted us not because we were weak, but rather because we had so much to give.
Growing up I always knew my mother was some version of nuts but dad was verbally and emotionally abusive to the point where my crazy ass mother seemed safer. I was so screwed up in the head from my first 18 years of life I foolishly assumed once I moved away and started my life as an adult it would be better. So at age 17 I got my girlfriend pregnant and at 18 had a daughter and a brand new wife. Of course I had to drop out of high school and work to support my family. Turns out I married a pretty blonde female version of my father. I was committed to the whole til death do us part thing but damn it seemed like I was going to live forever. No matter how bad things were between us, I did do my best to make sure both my kids knew they were loved and had some good memories to take along to adulthood. As far as the wife was concerned, it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do. I was devastated when she asked me to move out and sign the divorce papers when they arrived. I started drinking but found I could not drink alone or if I was too depressed. I started a new job and without a wife to worry about I partied with my new co-workers on the weekend and life was great. I started dating a girl from work and when my ex found out she went ballistic. I pointed out the fact that she was the one with the side guy while we were married and she asked me to leave. That’s when she pointed out how stupid I was. Turns out the boyfriend and divorce were supposed to get me to realized how much I needed to change to be a better husband. Things got weird for a while cuz her boyfriend called and apologized for his part in our breakup and he was crying because she did the same thing to him. The new boyfriend had moved in already and she told him I was trying to get her to sleep with me so he was going to beat me senseless. That didn’t work too well for him but I felt sorry for the poor bastard so i went easy on him.
Last year I finally hit the number where I am now divorced longer than I was married. Life is sucking again but now is where my mothers version of nuts is making this chapter of life painful and exhausting. Dad died and mom is old so one of my older sisters and I agreed to help mom out since we didn’t have families to worry about and lives close by. Until recently, I didn’t really know what a narcissist was. Turns out I’ve been tortured by them my entire life. Not sure about dad but he was dysfunctional at least. Very controlling, manipulative, verbally abusive and a decade before I was born he looked away while mom physically abused my two oldest sisters. One of them is dead. The other is old and hasn’t been sober at all in her adult life and is an abusive narcissistic bitch to her kids. My older sisters were the scapegoats, and our younger is moms golden whore. She’s given everything dad left her away to ensure little sis could stay drunk and not be bothered by bill collectors. She even sold the property that dad let to me in his will and gave little sis that as well.
Mom really does hate it when my older sisters and I are happy or doing good. They both drink heavily and in my 50’s I turned to drugs rather than alcohol. Before I gave up and went the drug route I used to encourage my sisters to quit drinking. Now I realize that drinking is not the cause of their problems and stopping drinking takes away their coping mechanism. All this shit and my older sister and I help the old bad out when she needs it only because this dysfunction hammers us with guilt if we don’t. That doesn’t mean I need to be pleasant as I spend my time and money keeping her place looking good. I am currently looking for a good therapist. She’s old so I figure when she’s gone I can look into getting off the drugs. I did things backwards. People usually hit rock bottom while on drugs. I turned to drugs after I found rock bottom and where I’m at now is a small step up. At least I can honestly say that while my kids were young, I was not doing any drugs and rarely drank.
By the way, thanks for the article. Lots of good info and it really resonates. I don’t really expect anyone to read this poorly written vent of mine. I just had a lot of things going through my mind after reading this and just let it flow.
Hope u get off drugs soon…U deserve to have a beautiful life…stop helping ur mom! She is not ur mom in a parental sense…just someone who is jealous of you and wants to ruin…if u like to give money…be done with that…take care of urself…
I’m so sorry for your pain. Praying you get off of the drugs. You deserve nothing but the best. So sorry your parents weren’t capable of being loving and supportive parents. You deserve to be truly happy.
Yes! The Happiness Hater! I was always a serious child while my 3 younger siblings were loud, silly and goofy. But the minute I started to have fun my mother would turn and look at me with “the look” and mock me into shame. My whole life she reduced my happy events into nothing while praising the other siblings into oblivion. Even now with her being 84 yrs old if we are in a social situation she comes at me w snarky remarks. I have tried coming back at her, but she is oblivious to it and it just makes everyone else uncomfortable. 🙄
And your explanation of the start of narcissism makes so much sense to me now. She was born next to last in a poor farming family of 7 kids. She often said her sisters raised her which now I can see how her inner self was probably never recognized and so she developed this tough controlling exterior. Their family nickname for her was Tuffy! Thank you for this explanation. After a lifetime of beating my head against the wall I’ve finally started to get a handle on my relationship w her but just never understood how she could continue even now at her age like this. It provides relief to know for sure it really is THEM. Not us. Your reframing statements on how strong we all are in surviving this terribleness is such a relieving lifeline. Thank you again.
It is really quite hard for a person with integrity to accept that someone can feel so inadequate that they make a decision, albeit as an instinctual self preservation reaction to a perceived threat, to adopt the ongoing strategy of a ‘cover up’ to avoid personal feelings of inadequacy.
But this is what happens, and results in a constant shift of limelight onto the victim so that attention rarely if at all is focussed on the performance of the Narcissist. So the victim ‘carries’ the narcissist and adopts a whole internalised life strategy to ameliorate the persecution and the aggression he/she is subjected to.
This adaptation cannot just be switched off, and semblances of it remain even after realisation, and these continue to affect the rest of life, and waste it to some extent. Tragic loss.
Exactly! So tragic.
You knocked this one out of the ballpark. Thank you.
Thank you for this article. I would like to know if this is a good example: After many years together with the ex – years where I continuously ‘walked on eggshells’ – I started to detach and travel solo. He could not come with me since he was not able to get a passport due to very bad life choices he’d made. Not only was travel a life-long dream of mine, but it served to strengthen me. I felt alive and so happy during this time! Finally, over the phone while separated due to Covid, he gave me an ultimatum; I had to choose either my travels or staying with him as he had said (in a previous over-the-phone rage) that he needed someone full time to wash his clothes, cook and clean. It was shocking to say the least. Most important, he also said he hated my happiness and that every time I would return home with a sparkle in my eye he felt only anger and resentment. I knew then that this person had become very dangerous, and of course I chose me. I am happily living on the other side of the planet now. Never mind I will always miss the person I thought he was in the beginning…
This fills in so many gaps in my understanding… I feel like I can exhale! Thank you! I was holding on because I didn’t fully understand but I do now 🙂
Thank you again!!
Great article! Love to read it in simple words!
I try to figure out how to deal with the trigger of being happy. Being happy for me is the cause of narcissistic abuse – so what can I do to feel happy and turn off this trigger? Being happy is not safe.
On a ten-day trip to Europe, my sister constantly browbeat me, scolded me, and harassed me. After a castle dinner in Ireland, the host invited the group downstairs for coffee. I lost sight of her and her partner in the crowd. After searching for them downstairs, I hit on the idea she might have gone to the car. I found them there. I explained I was looking for her downstairs for coffee. “YOU KNOW I DON’T DRINK COFFEE AFTER NOON!” she snarled. “No,” I said, “I did not know that.” She continued to berate me. Exasperated, after having had days of this treatment, I said “Shut your b*tchy, critical mouth.” (Usually silent under the abuse, I had had some mead to drink.) Driving back to our housing, she put the accelerator to the FLOOR, terrifying us over the peaty Irish roads. Her partner cautioned me later to handle her with kid gloves. Still, after he returned home and she moved back in with him (from Germany), he had finally had enough, and just set her belongings out on the curb, throwing her into a panic.
This is just one of many episodes. I have not talked to her in eight months.
I read this article as a result of what happened yesterday, on Christmas Day.
I was excited and happy that it was snowing, and I put on my favorite wintry music mix (this one was only about 6 songs or so) of old-fashioned “Let it Snow,” “The Snow Song” from White Christmas, “Moonlight in Vermont,” etc. I expressed my joy and love of this music in front of my four year old son and my husband. I said how I grew up listening to this when it snowed, because my dad would put it on. when we got to The Snow Song (maybe 3 songs into the list) my husband asked me to skip it. I said, ‘why? I like it. ‘
Later, my son asked, ‘when are we opening presents?’ and I said, ‘when Daddy’s ready. Where is Daddy, anyway?’
Realizing I hadn’t seen him in a few minutes, I went to the bedroom and said, ‘whatcha doing?’ He said, ‘reading.’ I said, ‘Oh, I thought we are we going to open presents or eat breakfast?’ He replied calmly, ‘well, you wouldn’t skip that song. You know I don’t like that kind of music.’ I could tell this was a kind of “punishment” now because he’s done something like this before. So I said, “And you know how much that grieves me, because it’s special music to me and my family.” He said, ‘You listened to it all day yesterday.” I immediately defended and corrected and said, “No, I didn’t! I listened to Christian Christmas worship music, (which he likes too) and I definitely didn’t listen to it ALL day.” He shrugged. He often doesn’t acknowledge when I’m correct or adjust his way of thinking when I explain myself. So I could feel something churning inside me and myself getting angry and hurt, so I said, “I’m not going to let you ruin Christmas.” And I walked out of the room.
The problem is, I did let him ruin it–internally–for me. I had a sour feeling in my stomach all day. When I think about the interaction, it still bothers me.
I tried to see it a different way. But I am almost convinced he couldn’t bear to see me happy. We haven’t been close (have been working on issues for awhile now) and he has behaved this way before. I feel like he fights me on anything I want, anything that makes me happy, anything that I like–unless it’s his idea or a gift from him. This was one small exchange that has happened in many other ways that have been equally distressing to me. Giving gifts was a hollow exchange that made me sad rather than joyful. He gave me a lot of gifts, but he couldn’t–or wouldn’t– give me the gifts I truly crave–connection with him and understanding and mutual respect. Cherishing. Tolerance.
It’s not that I don’t respect his dislike of my favorite music, although that makes me sad. But his need for me to not play it or to skip certain songs feels disproportionate, unreasonable, especially since he plays country songs (many of which glorify drinking and womanizing) and it’s not like I was blasting heavy metal or something offensive to him. I would like to learn how to minimize the emotional impact these episodes have on me. I was able to rein in my hurt and anger and sorrow so as not to mar my son’s experience of Christmas, but I went through the day and into the next feeling unloved and like something deeply wounding had occurred, even though it was just a simple exchange about stupid music.
Oh, this is so, so sad. What are you going to do? Is this a sign of things yet to come? I can hypothesize from field data from life with my family, that narcicissts only get worse with age. It gets very dark. It’s so depressing to be with someone who ruins Christmas. You cannot waste your life with someone who resents your happiness. My husband had to listen to that country western music at work, and his asesssment of it is exactly the same as yours. I pray you have someone to help you emotionally and economicly to get away from this controller. You are never lonelier, than when you are with someone who does not really care about you. You are young and you have choices. What mindtrips will he play on your sweet child? I fear you have experienced some red flags or warning signs. You can find someone joyful, who will dance with you to your songs, when it snows!
The article is very accurate. It’s therapeutic for me to vent, so here’s my story –
I am the 2nd scapegoat of 4 brothers. The original SG fled for the navy at age 18, then remained away from my nutty family for many years.
The original GC brother recently died after many years in a mental hospital. He was the big family secret, even hidden from the SG brother, and I learned that only when Dad died so I shared it with the SG then. We kids were also isolated from extended family because of my parents’ shame. Mother was (I now know) pretty far advanced on the Narcissism spectrum. Dad was an uninvolved enabler.
I had become the new SG and had received the head game abuse, physical torture, and I was designated the identified patient. Adolescence was rough, I started going down the wrong road. I am extremely lucky, fell into a good job and I am retired for 18 years with health care. I unsuccessfully tried a number of times to persuade my GC brother to come to work with me. He would have been retired for a long time also.
Dad died about 30 years ago, after being sent home from the ER after he collapsed in a restaurant parking lot with a high BAC. I truly believe the narc let him die on the floor later that night at home. She was an evil person. She never shed a tear and cleaned out the closet as soon as Dad died.
GC brother was, I thought, my best friend. Although he had been offended by Dad and stayed away for a couple of years, he suddenly started becoming the most attentive son to his Narc mommy.
Shortly before she moved from the house I was raised in, she erupted into a juvenile rage (over nothing), kept slamming the phone down on me, even changed the locks on her house. I suspect that what set her off was that her primary doctor pointed out how nuts she was and wrote something to that effect on her chart. She insisted on taking her medical files on her last visit. I am guessing she had them hidden in her house?
Golden brother moved her into a nursing home in Pennsylvania, where she lived for 3 years. I suspect that golden boy and mommy concealed about $300k from Medicaid. I say that because the house was sold basically in the dark of night, and she was whisked out of state. He also waited 5 years after she moved (and 2 years after she died) to file the will with probate. Coincidentally, there is a 5 year statute of limitations for the fraud. He’s not stupid. In any event, the Narc probably had him hopping, because she was no longer the matriarchal queen of the house. Nursing homes have pecking orders. Im sure she got a lesson in humility.
As far as the estate, guess who got 0, guess who took the lion’s share. It’s easy to get angry about this, but the fact is that his narc mommy talked him out of working with me so he is instead flipping junk houses in Pennsylvania at age 60, and she sabotaged his first 2 marriages. He left wife #2 for a bar fly with 5 kids. So he got the big prize from playing the game, but it came at the cost of a good career and 2 marriages.
If you ever want to see a graphic representation of the Narc – Golden Child relationship and you ever tour the National Cemetery, walk along Patton and you will see the most ridiculous headstone that golden baby selected for his mommy. It is totally inappropriate for that solemn place of honor, but an eternal reminder that Narcs own the souls of their golden children. My mother hated not controlling me.
God bless all of us scapegoats!
Thank you for this written recognition 🙂
Your course, ebook, blog, youtube videos really had such a big impact on me how I am now kinder to myself during my recovery. Thank you wholeheartedly for all your work and your boldness to share it with us ! I find your contributions especially helpful for finding a balance to note where the narcisstical internalized programs lay but also to validate them. Before finding your content I was creating many inner war between inner parts of myself after having understood their negative effects on my life quality today and these were counterproductive on my healing journey.
During my journey it really become a problem to motivate myself to go trough the pain of realizing and recognizing that I was kinda indirectly abusing myself letting me doubt myself whether I was actually trustworthy to look out for myself and for my own happiness or whether I was just “bowing” in order to “survive”, “not fighting hard enough for my happiness”, letting her have her way with me DESPITE knowing better and my protests at the beginning. (She became worse over time) ( I only started to understand that emotional/psychological death is a thing recently and I felt imediatly remorse how I was treating my inner child until then)
While the topic is immense important (I still have not healed this issue despite being away from her for some years now) , there was an additional very valuable aspect in this explination which was eye opening for me. I know your emphasis is to help us understand our perspective better and to refocus on our experience rather than to understand the narcissist. (like explained in your other blog entry, which is actually also a big healing step)
But I was really stubborn as a child, believing that if I would despite the abuse, be there for her (my mother), validate her emotional needs, correct her if she behaves mean, explaining that she should not judge people but their actions and still be there for her and focusing on her needs before mine that I will break through. That she will start trusting me and change her view of me and when this would be achieved the family could work together to creat happiness for all of us. I mean her words and “intention” was the same, just her perception and emotions needed to “heal” this was my reasoning back then (altruistic narcisissit).
However, I was never successful. One “mistake” and it felt that all my deeds and sacrifices I made was not even remembered or now seen in a dark light due to this one “mistake” a la the prove that my intentions were bad from the start and egoistic. And it really hurt me when I got her sth she needed and asked for and instead of being happy she was angry until I pretended it would be from her “golden child”. Or when it was “my turn” after everyone else, no one cared.
To read that narcissists actually do not wish to recognize others and prefer domination above recognition of themselves and their needs and therefore are not valueing it, worse fighting it, explains many very hurtful emotional very confusing situations in my past, where my intentions seemed to be perceived totally opposite.
It finally explains to me (please correct me if I am making a to far leap) why “love” cannot reach them especially not from the scapegoated child.
It is not that I was mistaken “feeling” what would be the solution for the root problem. If I can let her feel seen, welcomed, loved, she would treat others also with kindness and would not suspect mean intentions…. But my investment had never a chance to be successful since they were not able to reach her, she already interpreted these actions as undermining her authority and domination and already decided that these “values” would be more important to her than being in a mutual relationship, respected and welcomed/loved as the person she was with her strengths and weaknesses? In particular, since every nice action from the scapegoated child would already be perceived negatively?
Is it safe to come to these conclusions? That there was no chance of a “break through”. That I was just participating in a war of “dominance” without being aware off it?
And is the presumption safe to make that realizing and recognizing this coping strategy for a narcisisst maybe even more painful than for a scapegoated victim to realize their coping strategies since it would offend their “self image”, while the healing process would improve the self image of the survivor?
This is an incredible article. Thank you so much. I’ve bookmarked this so I can continue to re-read it.
This makes so much sense. I always feel anxious when things are going well for me as as usually it follows by something bad (mother sabotaging my happiness some way or another). After few years of finally stepping away from my narcissist mother, I never knew why I continued to feel like this. I’m learning so much.
“It is tragic to think of how the victim of such abuse has to dislocate themselves from themselves just to stay out of danger. They cannot have spontaneous experiences of joy or meaning. They cannot even know how they feel because that involves looking inward instead of outward at the narcissist. All of these ways of being provide the narcissist with what she wants: to know she has power and control over her victim.”
Wow. That really hit home!
Thanks for the E-Book Ray. Just when I thought I’d learned all I need/want to on this subject you go and make things clearer. I’ve been no contact for 7 years. I am alone.. but I am healing. Slowly.
Thanks for your help. x
Thank you for this insightful and helpful article. I recently admitted to myself and others that I have been emotionally abused and neglected by my toxic parents. One of them is a narcissist and the other has enabled his bad behaviour by not acknowledging it, forgetting the awful things he’s done to me and flying off the handle if I set boundaries and speak my mind. I am 35 have no self esteem and I feel lost even though I have a degree and had hopes of making something for myself. But I’m a long way off from healing. Luckily I have an amazing partner who is kind and supportive. But having children myself I’d something I’ve actively decided not to do for fear of putting them through the same ordeal, either at the hands of their grandparents or worse myself. I know I need to distance myself from them to fully heal. They are still desperate to have me in their life but it’s simply an attempt to maintain their idea of a “loving family unit”. It’s so sociopathic. They think they’re good parents because they have supported me in the past financially but they are emotionally inept.
Absolutely spot on. This is what I never really understood in the 20 years I lived with my NPD father, and now I’m staying at my NPD grandma. This is very hard to pinpoint. Everytime I get excited, lost in the happy moment doing what I love, these “people” figure out meaningless mundane “tasks” or “important stuff to say” only to divert my attention.
excellent article and insight….profoundly accurate and astute.
you have articulated the despicably toxic narcissism and the pathos of the victim in such a way as to make the whole thing tragically heartbreaking .
moves me to tears….empathizing with all the victims who try, so bravely, to withstand the narcissist’s hideous abuse.
saving this..thank you.