Surviving A Parent’s Narcissistic Rage: The Value of the Freeze & Submit Responses
This post considers the take-no-prisoners quality of narcissistic rage. A narcissist’s rage can feel – and sometimes be – life-threatening to its recipient. First, narcissistic rage will be described and a case example provided. Next, I discuss the role of rage in the narcissist’s psychology. Particular attention gets paid to how rage ensures others comply with the narcissist’s inflated sense of self. Third, I will discuss the impacts of such rage on the child victims.
Last I will discuss the process of recovery from living under the threat of narcissistic rage. Most important for survivors is to identify, value, and respect the ways they survived such rage – especially when survival required submission to the narcissistic parent.
What is narcissistic rage?
When a narcissistic parent explodes in rage at her child, she seeks to destroy and ask questions later. Children who suffered bouts of narcissistic rage from a parent often describe feeling hated by the parent. This is for good reason. The narcissist does in fact hate the object of his rage while in this state. He may even convey a sense of murderousness towards his ‘offender’.
Children who survived such parenting speak of the spine-chilling turn that would happen when the parent grew angry. Mom or Dad seemed possessed by a demon – there was something in and behind their eyes that terrified. Survivors know that there was no pleading or arguing to assuage the parent’s rage once this turn occurred. The only way to respond – and survive – was to submissively freeze until it was over. Showing fear and accepting blame for the narcissist’s rage and hatred is the only hope a child has to survive it.
Perry’s father would explode into screaming tirades at his mother for all of Perry’s childhood. Perry described his father as being suspicious and derisive towards his mother – particularly during their nightly dinners. His father would perceive an offense from his mother and slam his hands down on the table. Then he would tell his mother things like “You are so stupid! How could you have even asked that question?!” or “Just shut up, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about”. Then his father would ratchet up and up to find more reasons why his mother deserved his criticism and hatred in that moment. His mother would endure these bouts of rage until his father determined he had finished with her. Perry remembered knowing that when his father was raging the worst thing to do would be to talk back or walk away. He – and his mother – just had to sit there while his father let loose on her. Freezing in this manner was a very adaptive move on Perry’s part because it minimized the damage from his father.
Why does a narcissistic parent get enraged?
I find it useful to think of the narcissist’s psychology to understand his or her rage reactions. As described in a prior blog post, the narcissist feels a core sense of worthlessness and copes by disowning those feelings and consciously insisting on their specialness, importance, and superiority while coercing others to treat them in kind. This coping mechanism is largely unconscious and requires low empathy and remorselessness. Two deficits most narcissists come by easily.
When this type of fragilely assembled psychology comes into contact with the slightest failure of others to reflect back his artificially inflated sense of self then he may leverage rage to teach that person a lesson about how he should be treated. Any experience where the narcissist feels hindered in his ability to see himself – and/or have others treat him – as superior can set off his rage. An altruistic narcissist, for example may see herself as so supremely caring that her children should only show gratitude and deference towards her. When her son protests that he wants to play with his friends instead of stay home to pick up his room, she can experience this as him treating her in the worthless way she feels about herself. In her mind, any treatment that is not overly compliant with her wishes means that her son thinks she is worthless. In this moment she has to relocate that sense of worthlessness in her son rather than herself. Rage comes in very handy for this. By exploding into a screaming scathing assessment of him for being ‘selfish, disrespectful, inconsiderate and impossible’ she gets to see him as the worthless one instead of herself. Her child will also tend to believe her because her authority as his mother makes him assume she knows him best and it is adaptive for him to accept her accusations because that can make her rage and hatred towards him come to an end – albeit temporarily.
So narcissistic rage can serve to restore the narcissist’s fragile inner equilibrium and serve as a warning to her children. A narcissistic parent who demonstrates a willingness to make her children the focus of her rage lets them know the dire consequences of not complying with her expectations. In short, the parent’s rage is the threat the child must now remain wary of and seek to minimize. It is not just that the narcissistic parent expects special treatment from their children. They often threaten to make the child feel hated and worthless if they do not comply.
One of the most pernicious aspects of a parent’s narcissistic rage is the calculated way she employs it. In most cases, narcissistic parents knew to keep their rages hidden from disapproving others. They were able to know when they could explode in rage and when they could not. Survivors of this treatment learned to expect rage behind closed doors – not in public.
John would get screamed at almost everyday by his narcissistic mother for various ‘offenses’. He vividly recalled her screaming at the top of her lungs at him then the phone ringing. She would pick up the phone, mid-tirade, and sweetly say “Oh, hiiiii, I’m so glad you called. I was just thinking of you…”. At the time he could not make use of her obvious hypocrisy because that would have only enraged her further. Later in therapy he was able to helpfully see how his mother’s duplicitousness reflected her pathological narcissism.
Is there any way for a scapegoated child to avoid the parent’s rage?
The writing above may imply that a child can avoid a narcissist’s rage so long as he reflects back her inflated sense of self. Scapegoated children know different. Sometimes, it is a child’s existence not what he does or does not do that evokes the parent’s sense of worthlessness. As I’ve written elsewhere, when a narcissistic parent sees qualities in her child that she covets then she will often seek to scapegoat that child. Narcissistic scapegoating refers to the systematic blaming and self-worth undermining of a particular member of the family. Usually a child, this person is selected to be the reason for all of the family’s problems. Since the narcissist is never short on grievances she has a convenient receptacle for them in her scapegoated child.
The unfortunate reality for the scapegoated child is that she will have to endure bout after bout of her parent’s narcissistic rage and hatred. The child may be smarter, kinder, more genuine, stronger – whatever it is that evokes a sense of unconscious diminishment in the narcissistic parent. Not unlike the Mother in the fairy tale Snow White, such parents look at the child and realize they are no longer the ‘fairest in the land’ and this enrages them. They don’t need to ask a woodsman to take her into the woods and bring them the child’s heart. Instead the parent leverages her authority and the other family members’ fear of her reprisal to blame and castigate the child until she feels convinced again of her superiority.
Impact of Narcissistic Rage on the Child: Learning to freeze and submit to survive
In the literature on attachment trauma, there are 4 basic ways to respond to a threat. The list below categorizes each response based on the odds of victory for directly confronting the threat and on how permanent the threat is to the person. For example, someone encountering an aggressive stray dog has low odds of victory and low permanence. This person could flee, freeze or try to submit to the threat.
The 4 responses to trauma
1) Fight: Summon anger and aggression to seek and destroy the threat. (Odds of victory=High, Permanence of threat=Low)
2) Flee: Leverage adrenaline to create a safe distance between you and threat. (Odds of victory=Low, Permanence of threat=Low)
3) Freeze: Use fear to stay very still until the threat has passed (Odds of victory=Low, Permanence of threat=Low)
4) Submit: Curry the favor of the threat to take mercy on you. (Odds of victory=Low, Permanence of threat=Low)
A child faced with a raging parent has very low odds of victory and very high permance of the threat. Thus, the child’s only options would be to freeze or submit. As described above, the source of the narcissist’s rage is feeling like someone – often the child – is not reflecting back their superiority. Freezing and submitting communicate the implicit message that the narcissist is in charge. Thus, these modes of response by the victim help the narcissist restore their inflated sense of self-worth. To fight or flee the narcissist would only further enrage him.
So, the tragic – for the moment- reality of the child with a narcissistic parent is having to freeze and/or submit when the parent flies into a rage at her. Being ready to freeze and/or submit does not come naturally. Most children are born with a source of vitality and energy that must be curtailed to be able to submit and/or freeze. This is where self-diminishing beliefs come in.
How shame and self-loathing can be ADAPTIVE in the face of narcissistic rage
One of the very adaptive ways one can ready oneself to freeze in fear and/or offer a submissive countenance is to develop beliefs about oneself that engender such reactions. Janina Fisher – an expert in understanding and coping with the effects of prolonged abusive childhoods – has brilliantly described how self-diminishing beliefs about oneself can serve the function of making it easier to submit and/or freeze. A child who believes he is defective will have a much easier time doing whatever his narcissistic parent tells him to do than a child who believes he is deserving of respectful treatment from others. Thus, he is spared from further rage attacks and more likely to survive his childhood.
In my own practice, I have found this understanding to be a critical reframe for victims of childhood narcissistic abuse. Instead of seeing the self-diminishing beliefs they carry as a noxious holdover from the past, we work to understand how such beliefs allowed them to be here today. For instance, a client who expresses a hatred of his physical appearance may have used this self-hatred to ready himself to accomodate his father’s nightly rages he faced as a child and adolescent. If he hated himself enough – the ingenious logic went – his Dad could not do anything to make himself hurt anymore than he already did. The task, once the threat of narcissistic rage is over, is not to be at odds with such beliefs but to appreciate their role in helping the client survive. That is, the client’s relationship to these beliefs gets changed from adversarial to appreciative. In so doing, the power of such beliefs is diminished and the client’s sense of safety in the present is increased.
I want to mention one further challenge to appreciating how one survived: feeling traumatically triggered. When a survivor had to invoke the freeze or submit response towards a raging narcissistic parent he likely felt small, weak, and endangered. Once the child grows to be an adult, he will likely have many experiences in the world where he knows he is a full-grown adult amongst other adults. Sometimes a thought, cue in the environment, word said by another, etc. can catapult the adult survivor back to that same submitting child that knew how to survive. In these moments, the adult does not feel like the adult he is but rather the child he was. Richard Schwartz uses the term ‘blending’ to describe such moments. The traumatized part of the survivor is evoked and takes over the adult’s sense of himself. When this happens, it can reinforce to the adult survivor that he actually is the way he feels in such triggered states. Such experiences are the legacy of surviving narcissistic rage and are dealt with by cultivating connection to the present reality when in such a triggered state. Next, the survivor can use his awareness of his adult self to attend to the part of them that feels afraid and work to soothe this part. This, in short, is an exercise in deep mindfulness.
Narcissistic rage reflects the narcissist’s efforts to re-assert their inflated self-worth via coercion of others. Facing such rage attacks for the child can feel hateful and murderous. Children must learn to readily submit and/or freeze in the face of such attacks or perish. Recovery from such abuse involves re-framing the use of submit and freeze as survival strategies rather than a sign of weakness. In addition, moments of feeling triggered back into the state of freeze or submit in adult life can happen. Therapy can help one to unpack such moments so that the present does not get lost to the past.
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy to recover from narcissistic abuse please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.
It’s just so hard to me to see your concept of them projecting their own self-hate and flaws upon someone else. The concept of them feeling reminded of their own inferiority by their child or someone else makes no sence to me.
In a way it makes them sound a suffering person who needs our understanding and empathy.
I object. They have no deep-down feelings of inferiority but only superiority. All they consider beneeth them, they disgust or hate.
They truly are convinced they are superior to the majority of other human beings (and all living creatures).
They just miss some essentail parts in their brains (which is proven many times).
No psychologicy needed. No excusses that way.
Their brains function like intelligent reptiles.
You make good descriptions on the behavior of those people but your psychological background still misses the point that realy matters.
Those people have a brain disorder which doesn’t allow them to see and feel beyond their own internal superior world. This is set and done forever. No deep shame or inferiority-feelings.
Those are not in their brains frame-work. No denial or projection. They truly believe they are superior and most other humans are failing them because of that. That’s why they deserve punishment and comtempt.
Please consider this. Your arguments still give room for empathatically understanding the Narcissists/Psycopaths asif they suffer from a deep feeling of shame and inferiority.
This just isn’t the case. Their persistence in keeping their behavior over the years is prove of this fact.
They are born feeling superior and they die feeling superior.
Great post – it all makes sense. As a child I experienced this from a parent, and I’ve come to see that attempting to make sense of, and figure out the reasons, why a parent is abusive is not the solution to self-love. Whatever issues that adult had/has, is never about the child, and is always the responsibility of the parent to work through without depending on a child. Healing from this type of abuse is a long term commitment that requires an abiding nurturing of the child, without reservation – in real time, and within.
Thank you, Jay, for all the professional soul-searching work you do.
Inthink you are only seeing this from how it feels to the outside person, not the narcissist. He is trying to explain the inner world of the narcissist, his motivation. This sounds exactly like how my dad behaved! (The post, not your comment!). Yes to the outside the narc seems so confident. But inside, he is not. But he cant face his own issues, they are too shameful, or weak or whatever, and they bury this and instead demean others. If you look carefully you will see people do this all the time—they see others through the lens of their own behavior—a liar assumes others always lie, a thief trusts no one, assuming they will steal. But neither will admit to being liar or thief! It is very difficult to see things objectively as well when there is a lot of emotion involved, such as warranted anger toward a narc abuser. You dont have to feel sorry for your abuser. But your inclination to feel sorry for the abuser described here shows the goodness of your heart’s tendencies. 💜
Narcissists only have black and white thinking. There is no gray. Everything is either all good or all bad. They also have very weak egos and are very insecure BUT you will never see that part of them as they wear a mask to cover up their insecurities. They present a fake facade to the world. This is why they project an air of superiority, haughtiness, and entitlement. It’s all fake.
Also, since they only have black and white thinking they see their children as either all good or all bad. The favored child is the “golden child” and is an extension of all the narcissists sees as good in themselves. They might not be good or have any special talent but the narcissist will pretend they do. Susie might not be the brightest but Narc. mom or dad will claim she’s number one in the class and that she inherited her intelligence from the narc. The other child is the scapegoat and is a projection of all the narcissists sees as bad in themselves. This child might see the truth that there is something wrong with Narc. mom or dad and may spill the beans, so they are labeled crazy, bad, or a problem.
The narcissist’s ego is so fragile they cannot tolerate criticism. They certainly cannot tolerate you seeing underneath their mask. They suffer narcissistic injuries easily. As a result, if you’re on a pedestal (seen as good) you can quickly be devalued and kicked off the pedestal (now seen as bad).
People are only tools to the narcissist. They provide “narcissistic supply.” The enablers, golden child, and flying monkeys admire and ooh and aaah at the narcissist. They build them up and refuse to confront their bad behavior. The narcissist demeans other people for supply too. The more they tear you down the stronger they feel. And yes, they are like reptiles as they have no empathy. They don’t care if they hurt others. They know right from wrong but still proceed in treating people horribly. They don’t care how others feel.
I was always the scapegoat and have been used and thrown away ibasure u this is all real and painful
My father died when I was four years old and I look just like him and my brother who is older is from a previous encounter before she was married to my father and she shot him self in front of both of us had nightmares for the child but until I was 30 I thought therapy and healed myself several times and I just keep getting beat down by my mother who cares for me my narcissistic covert mother who makes me her scapegoat whenever she needs to feel better about yourself she tells everybody all my business she beat me down right before I accomplished something she’s taking both of my children for me and made them just not want anything to do with me or have time with me and nowShow me to the wayside and sister with me and made me look like I caused all the problems in the family it is a real disorder and it affects a lot of people and we don’t even make these people pay or be accountable for the behavior we just MoveOn and let these people keep existing and beating down the good people that care they had consciousness care about other people that care about themselves have a present themselves and we beat them down but narcissist
Sorry Emmi, I agree with you about all you said except for reptiles feel no empathy. My tortoise is extremely caring and empathetic. She knows when I am sick or hurt emotionally and will come to rest her head and leg on my foot. I left her at a shelter when I went on a trip and the owner phoned me concerned that she wouldn’t eat. She also waits for me if I go out at the door until I come home. So unfortunately you were wrong to label a narcissist like a reptile. My mom and my tortoise are nothing alike. I know my tortoise loves me, I am definitely not sure about my mom. I have given up hope on her.
I agree with you that a narcissist (my narcissist mother) feels superior to her core. She does not get depressed or believe she needs to heal or change anything about herself. She believes all problems are with the people around her. But, she is aware when her children do not treat her in a loving way, and she will punish us viciously for it, telling the world that her child is worthless and treating the “deviant” child with hatred. By deviant, I mean anyone who does not completely agree with everything my mother says and believes is deviant and to be hated in her mind. I don’t think she believes she is inferior on a deep level, but I do think she is afraid of being perceived as imperfect. I agree with Dr. Reid’s statement, “Any treatment that is not overly compliant with her wishes means that her child thinks she is worthless. In this moment she has to relocate the sense of worthlessness on her child rather than herself” I am, and was, the scapegoated child of a narcissist mother. One of the hardest parts in my healing process is that my sister and brother insist that our mother is perfect and side with her. I realize that this is a survival strategy for them, but it still is so, so painful that they will not acknowledge her abusive behavior towards me (or them). My mother is elderly and her narcissist abuse has become financial. She has given my sister 100K for a down payment on their house, but will not share her financial abundance with me. At this point I am afraid that she will actually write me out of her will if I continue to point out her narcissistic traits. So, for my own happiness and emotional safety, I keep my life at a peaceful distance from her, complain about nothing, pretend she is sane, and end my visits with her if I ever feel triggered. The way I end my visits (or phone calls) when triggered is with the words, “Well then…” For example, she says something terrible about my son and I say, “Well then, I have to go now because (insert any excuse here) my friend Wendy is coming over to teach me how to make sauerkraut. Love you mom, bye!” It’s been a long journey of healing and I still have a ways to go. The best part of my healing journey is that I am no longer romantically attracted to narcissists and am together with a loving, secure partner who does not make me “work for love.” I wish you all the best in your healing journeys!
I believe my mother, now 79 has NPD, and I have always been her scapegoat – the target of her rage, cruelty, manipulation, gas lighting, lies and, isolation from other family members.
Maybe look up Winnicot’s developmental notion of the ‘stage of concern’ which I believe narcissists never reach. I do agree with the author in that a narcissist has a very fragile sense of self, and their rage is a very real attempt to protect their fragile self from disintegration. For me, this does not excuse their hateful behaviours.
My mom is a narc. She once told me she felt inferior and not good enough in a rare serious conversation. The rest of our lives she exerted her power and control. Just raged at me a few days ago amd im traumatized.
I disagree with Ge Rijn. It is only in the last week that I have recalled how my father was often anxious and judging by body language, feeling inadequate on many occasions during my childhood.
I now have a film of him in his teens and it shows his insecurities in front of other elderly family members. My conclusion is that we are all subject to enormous competitive pressures throughout our developmental years, and that some under this pressure feel overwhelmed, and adopt a strategy of being superior in order to cope with their insecurities. Their self esteem is then based on a completely imaginary self, and not on actual verifiable and illustrable achievements. This tactic puts the child under the spotlight, and removes attention from the performance of the narcissist.
I contend that some instinctively react to pressures, and as a defence mechanism adopt the role of intimidator as a ‘preemptive strike’ tactic. I think this becomes embedded as a strategy after successful use in intimidating others into deference, and then becomes the personality type thereafter.
In my 20s I sometimes used to shrink away from people’s raised hands, even strangers passing in the street who may only have been adjusting their hair for example.
I have mentioned my intimidated body language, which has later been sensed by others of the narcissistic type, and they then using me as a target for the same purposes because they ‘new’ that I was a suitable target.
My disposition wrecked my life and career, and only at my now age of 72 can I see clearly what I have been used for
I understand what Ge Rijn is saying. Parents like this basically let themselves be on their worst behavior with their kids because of how easy and juicy of a target we were with all of our innocence, easy submission, vulnerability, eagerness to please, and utter helplessness. The food was always readily available and the mechanism for feeding was easy to mask. Their inferiority or worthlessnes stay masked with other adults because they were a more difficult opponent being equal or greater in self-worth. It was a form of non-violent child abuse. As kids we only see an insatiable person feeding their ego and using us as food and I always knew it was wrong. After reading this I was able to see how I continued to very subtly go into freeze mode throughout my life to survive or avoid possible threats. It can still be useful at times but fighting seems like it could be a better choice now that I am older.
Thank you for this post. I understand a little bit more about narcissistic rage – but it’s still a hurdle I’m working to jump as an adult survivor. This helps weld together all the abusive relationships I’ve survived in the past… And I’ll agree with Tina here – fighting conceived threats seems like a much better option these days. Fear of being verbally abused or physically attacked and then being mocked for the pain it caused or ignored and pretending like nothing happened is still something I will overcome. I do have to remind myself that I am in control now, that I’m a survivor and I have removed ALL threats from my life.
Wow. Tonight, election night, my mother initiated text messaging to me. She stated things that displayed she craves attention. She is 74 years old and a recent Widow. My parents stayed married for 54 years. My father was the enabler of her pathological narcissism. I was mostly the scapegoat child and my older sister was The Golden Child but that could change. I was born with a chronic disease, type 1 juvenile diabetes at age 7. I never should have gone into a diabetic coma but many doctor said it was only due to neglect because I had so many symptoms weeks prior. By the time I was nine years old I had to give my own injections and take care and call a local pharmacy to make sure I got my refills of insulin. I might have had two narcissistic parents because they found each other. My father was so angry up until the day he died that he perceived I got all the attention because I was a child with type 1 diabetes! I tried to get my father recognize that his wife used me as a tool to get him upset. My father did show empathy so I do not think he was a narcissist. He was a misogynistic controlfreek. He was generally a good father but a horrible husband.
Earlier today my mother texted that she was going to take sleeping pills and hopefully not wake up because of anxiety with the election. I was well-versed in her tactics. I made sure we put 3000 miles between us. But also she’s very conditional, refuses to talk over the phone and only text messages.I suggested she call me and I would distract her with fun Hollywood gossip talk. She refused. I added a couple of suggestions of Comedy podcast she could listen to. I also included a link showing many news outlets warning of anyone that seeks Comfort this week with alcohol or drugs may have an addiction problem and it is better to reach out to a person and talk and do other things that I was suggesting.
(Fyi- my mom is anti trump! She does NOT see any parallel w herself and trump! I constantly see the parallels! The Chronic lying, conditional, hypocrisy, contradictions, criminal Behavior, hatred so many POC and then the denial of any of these characteristic when confronted with them).
So then I would submit to my old ways and think I was wrong and maybe I was Miss judging Trump’s and my mother?!
As a child I would run and hide from my mother’s physical abuse and then she tried to get me taken away to mental home! Is that point they tried to put her away because they saw si much neglect with my type 1 diabetes. Then my grandparents, maternal, came into the picture and my mother agreed just stay at facility for 3 months.
I believe my father was told by experts it would be better to separate the children from my mother. He chose to move away with all of us. Then she would cheat on him with other men and then they would go to family counseling and only once did the psychiatrist asked to see the children. We both gave our versions of what we observe. The psychiatrist said it would be best that my parents divorce so parents chose to go to a different psychiatrist!
My point is, my mother currently sees a psychiatrist with e medical visits during Coronavirus. Previous to current psychiatrist she saw about five other ones. Once she even claimed he was in love with her and she went around telling all of us about it. I contacted the doctor and found out he had been dead for several years! I told my father and he said I must have gotten the wrong name. We learn never to confront my mother with the truth.
Not one single mental health professional ever confronted my mother either. Is that the normal practice? That she continues to hurt family and friends is that what she has been told in her session? She extorted 300k. And ribbed every business she ever worked fir. My dad wrote a check for $250k to one company. My mom COMPLAINED HE DIDN’T GET HER A XMAS PRESENT! My father would complain he paid $650 for two sessions a week for my mother for three years and all he wanted was an apology. Write it out, say it in person, whatever just want an apology. She refused to do it. I confronted my mother and she gave a hundred excuses why she doesn’t need to apologize.
Psychology doesn’t work for abused or abuser. Not that I see. Total distance- geographically and emotionally is what has helped me. And I was punished of course, when my father suddenly died nobody contacted me past year. I talked to my father once a week for the last 10 years. When he didn’t pick up the phone for two weeks in a row and did not reply to any messages I contacted local police and found that my father was in the hospital. My mother told me a lie and said he was on a road trip with the neighbor. My father left a will but of course I never knew about and could not afford an attorney. My mother reached out to me in March 2020 at beginnning of Coronavirus. She was traveling around with my sister. And now she was mad at my sister.
Unfortunately, I had my own health problems and was in the hospital, not for Coronavirus but complications with my diabetes. Surgeries to save my eyesight.
And then I was laid off from my music teaching job. Got a temporary janitor job. And everybody was infected with CV and my doctor said it was too high of a risk to work with people. I would never survive if I got Covid.
So I asked my mother if she could help me pay my rent, utilities and food. I applied for unemployment, I went to Food Banks, but any rent that was not paid would be due in full or at high %payment plan
I was surprised my mother agreed but it seems she may have felt guilt? Spent all this money on my sister. Gave my sister my dad’s Corvette, I actually sold my car! Los Angeles without a car during covid-19 it was getting risky to take public transportation. My best friend had moved to Oregon. And there is no friend that could financially help out. The worst time to look for a roommate!
Since May 2020 my mother had been PayPal me money. All unemployment ended and now I’m in dire straits. My father left my mother millions. I was supposed to get $100k but hv no way to enforce my Dad’s will in Scottsdale AZ. Gated community etc.
so I have been financially dependent on my mother and always made nice nice the past few months. One month she would be angry at my sister and then she was nice to me. We know how it goes, right? My dog needed life-saving surgery that cost $3,000 and she paid for that. Of course no matter how much verbal gratitude and sent presents and handmade artsy things, never is appreciated because then I would hear how ungrateful I am. My mother demanded that I come to visit at Thanksgiving. Thankfully in one regard, Covid high in Los Angeles I convinced her it would be too dangerous for me to travel and I might infect her. So it was dropped
Tonight she freaked out on me. Misunderstood a text message that had obvious misspellings & context. So she said never contact her and she hopes I starve and end up on the street. I begged her to call me. It was obvious it was a misunderstanding. I am so sorry I did not proofread my texts. Please can we just talk on the phone so nothing can be misunderstood.
So I submitted. but now I am freaking out because what she wishes upon me may come into fruition. Tomorrow I will see what type of job I can handle with all my medical problems. The state is already helping me with my health care. So it is limited to doing more than that. So many people need help right now it is very limited. Yes I looked into disability but we are waiting on doctors confirm I have type 1 diabetes since I was a child. I was diagnosed in Miami Florida 43 yrs ago. It has been 3 months of phone calls & emails frim CA state n SSI attorney. 0 replies.
Does anyone have suggestions if you are financially dependent on your narcissistic parent. Of course I wanted to only be temporary. The during the holidays. And Covid 7000 infected A DAY in LA. it is going to be really rough . I just downsize to have very little expenses so I cut my cable and internet months ago. I can do things online through my smartphone.
I am just really afraid and mad at myself. Truth is I would not have survived if my mother did not help me out the last few months. But of course since I chose to depend on her it is very whimsical. I do not have a back-up plan.
Please tell me I’m not the only one in this situation! I’m not the only idiot that went to the narcissistic parent for help? I had a surrogate family but unfortunately the woman that would help me emotionally and financially died of covid in April. I should have been working a little harder to get some kind of savings again but I had no income. I’m a long way from any Social Security. I sold everything of value already.
Any suggestions, even if it is not to ask for any help anymore from my mother, I am opento read it . And I sincerely want to know from the psychologist point of view, do you ever tell a narcissist how to improve or even confront them with their narcissism? If so, how does the narcissist react?
I have come to become an atheist recently. And when I’m honest with myself, I do not have love for my mother. Contempt and disgust. Indifference. Proud that I separated myself from her. Disappointed that I depended on her now financially.
I feel I am the narcissist and always take online surveys. All I care about between my mother and me is if she’s going to send me money or not. But then I conclude nope, I’m just a moocher! But with good excuses?
My support system of friends n family r gone. I have superficial friends now. Chat on phone kind of thing. But 0 person to be my emergency contact.
You’re not the only person in that situation my feelings and situations and emotions are similar I won’t go into it but I dealt with a lot of the same stuff I was not the golden child I was the one that worked as a slave for her and was a paycheck for her for the time I was four years old until I was 19 and then after that I was just a slave to clean your house because I was constantly dependent on her and up until now I have the last two years I have provided for myself and all the mishaps in between point a and point B it was caused by the emotional Buse that she inflicted on me and everybody else around her I have come to believe that the only thing that can solve it is distance and finding a way to survive the matter what yourself because they will only inflict more pain I wish you the best and there’s always counseling and there’s always ways to seek out therapy and seek out helping other organizations right now that’s the best I can do for you because it’s what I’m doing for myself right now they threw me to live in a dumpster after I took care of all of them for 10 years the abuse of it always being about her never being about my situation and fixing them when I went home always being about her clean your house doing your shopping taking care of the mishaps on the bills and they were all my fault everything is my fault and she’ll never see it she even took my cat that I can’t take on the road with me everything I try to accomplish his ruined I would work nine hours a day sometimes for days a week at her house and the rest of the time I was trying to be cute when I had not finished up my own stuff and it was never possible you will never go anywhere I went nowhere in 10 years time except advanced her
I would like to draw attention to the part where you mentioned self-hatred as a protective mechanism, i.e. “you can’t hate me more than I already hate myself”. It sounds sensible as a psychological theory, but it really doesn’t check out with my experience at all.
While my parents definitely had rageful outbursts, they were never outright hysterical, and they were careful to find reasonable excuses for getting angry at me. What stood out to me more – esp. during my teen years, after we moved countries and they were under high stress – were their sadistic/cruel comments. They would huddle together and whisper nasty things about me. Or out of the blue just point out some flaw about me, usually something that I’m most sensitive and insecure about. Often they would do this when they were in a bad mood for whatever reason.
I feel that my self-hatred/low self-esteem came from that. They would always couch it as “pointing out your flaws out of benevolence so that you can improve,” but I didn’t feel the love. In fact I felt they really hated me and had contempt and disgust for me in those moments, it was in their faces and their voices.
So what I’m trying to say is (and sorry for being wordy), my self-hatred was something foreign that they put in my head, and made me believe it was native to me. But it was not. They did their best to make me feel inferior, and it worked. When I finally woke up to the fact that I was abused, the self-hatred and low self-esteem went away – maybe not entirely, but it’s definitely better.
So idk, it feels unhelpful to say it was protective. To me the protection came from my anxiety and fear (the freeze response), by freezing out their scoldings and criticisms. But the self-hatred only caused unequivocal harm. It made feel like I played right into their hands and fell for their trap the whole time.
Thank you very much for sharing this very important perspective. You describe a systematically cruel and vicious way of being treated in your family. I think you point out a very important alternative perspective on this – that the self-loathing necessary to take on through such treatment is like a curse that needs to be vigorously cast out in order to recover. It sounds like this approach has paid big dividends in terms of recovering your sense of real self-worth.
In some other cases, I have found that one sort of breaks into different parts to survive such chronic and targeted abuse. And the path to recovery can involve recognizing the specific role in protecting the self that each part played. As that happens, there can be a sense that things within oneself are not as they seem to be – in a good way. That, a part that echoes the abuser’s criticism is burdened by having to do this, and as that part gets differentiated from the burden he has had to carry, a new understanding develops.
Anyway, I just wanted to lay out this other perspective in reference to what you describe. Again, thank you for offering this point of view. I think it is a really important one to consider and ultimately I believe that it is whatever works for each individual that is to be trusted.
I have experienced aparent like this, and have 2 kinds of residual behavior—the instinctive fawning toward people i now see were narcissists, but didnt understand that at the time, and emotional explosions of my own if memories of my parent’s abuse arise. A man with a low voice telling me what to do, for instance, once resultd in a totally inappropriate rebellion against him! These emotional flashbacks are my biggest adapting fear in my adult life. Unlike others in the family, i rebelled openly against my dad (then ran!) on occasion. I think this both messed me up big tie, but also allowed me to develop a relationship with him that the other family members did not. And i a, drawn to difficult personalities in strangers, feeling the challenge to tame them into friendliness! (Am pretty good, sometimes) and i cNt trust a man & never married… my dad was messed up & messed me up, but i saw how deeply he suffered, too, and now whatever issues i have, i know they are all mine to address. Blaming the origination incessantly wont fix anything, only leave me stuck, like the rest of my family, in my own dysfunction…
Ok well…you obviously haven’t met my father. I’m now in a place where he is completely cut out of my life. Much happier than having to Freeze or Submit to any more BS.
Take your power. Much Love.
I love your explanations Jay. So clear and so revealing. My chilhood makes sense to me now and also the relationship with my sister today. It’s not fraternal. I’ve felt that she wants me to be her garbage can , I am always to blame, always faulty and I am not going to take it. But there were moments when this was not clear to me and I felt afraid, guilty. Thank you so much for your blog. I look forward to reading you!
Now a year later I read this article and my comment (and the others) back then again. I see now I overreacted in some ways.
I read your article mainly as another attempt to make excusses for the (narcissistic) abusive parent by stating they project their assumed subconsious self-hate, very low self-esteem and insecurities onto their children (and other people).
Suggesting their rage is not really aimed at us but at parts of themselves they project into us (others).
And you are also suggesting those narcissistic parents were abused themselves which made them abusive themselves.
This is an issue I struggled with quite some years believing the very same. In fact this believe kept me much longer in abusive relationships than necessary. This opened the door for them to misuse my understanding and empathy even more.
You might be right in your interpretation about severe abuse and narcissists. But this interpretation leaves a wide door open for victims to empathize with their abusers. To excusse their misdeeds and feeling guilty about rejecting and abandon them.
And you might be wrong also. And I believe now in many (severe) cases you must be wrong.
I’m sure these severe narcissitic people are much more about nature (genetics) than nurture (upbringing).
With those people the assummed self-hate and insecurities are just not there.
Their mostly obvious grandiosity, entitlement and lack of empathy though are all over the place. And stay solid.
Their narcissistic rage is not about self-hate or insecurities. It’s just about feeling a (dictator) king or queen who comes across someone who challenges her/his status. How dare you!!
This is my view about abusers/narcissists/sociopaths in general.
They might have been abused themselfs. But there is a choice in life at a certain age. I truly believe that if you don’t have the nature (genetics) to become an abuser you won’t become- or stay one as an adult. Your empathy and consience won’t allow it happen or to continue.
True abusers though never really change. In their core they stay the same all their live. My mother stayed the same (and even got worse) till the day she died.
I just think it’s important to not put so much attention to the assumed self-hate and insecurities to those abusive narcissistic/sociopathic people. In many cases they are just not there but the opposite. It gives them another free ride to abuse their victims even further (and they know it).
That was about my critic about your article. Leaves me ending with mentioning I really appreciate your insights and efforts. They are a joy to read.
“I’m sure these severe narcissitic people are much more about nature (genetics) than nurture (upbringing).” ABSOLUTELY true. You just can not blame PURE bad intentions on upbringing. You just can not. You can blame emotional outbursts, yes. But you can not blame CALCULATED bad intentions.
Right now I’m living with my grandparents, who raised my N father. And yes, there are problems, it is a dysfunctional home, but there is NO WAY these two people ever hurt my father on a level that’d explain what he is doing. If anything, my grandmother is still making excuses for him.
I wish I HAD known about scapegoating & narcissistic mothers earlier in my life .
This information has given me insight , understanding & relief , that it wasn’t all in my head . It was a reality .
My mother physically , mentally & emotionally abused me all my life . She has manipulated my children against me .
My father sexually abused me . My case went to court . Because family did not believe me , my mother minimalised it and told everyone I had ruined HER life ! It was the only way to be validated . After the court case my mother manipulated my daughter who now has nothing to do with me . Heartrending pain for me.
I lost my siblings / family & children . I have been trying to make sense of my life , and to read about Scapegoating has done that . Still need time to digest some of it . Big thank you . Sara
I have to say Your mother is evil plain and simple and you do well to stay away from her.I believe your story and Im sure as a child it must of been hard for you to go through this .My heart and prayers are with you and I hope you find a guiding light to fill the void in your heart!!Much love and Peace to you!!
Hi, this was a real eye opener for me. I knew I had a rageaholic father but didn’t really understand what that meant, or how he was actually a narcissist. That first line that you wrote about the freeze reaction, oh man.. that was my childhood.. until I got old enough to argue and yell back. Surprisingly sometimes that helped, then it all ended when he left when I was 15, well the screaming ended at least. As an adult I have experienced many emotional and physical reactions that have been associated with my PTSD from childhood, part of which are attributed to my father. I have just barely begun really trying to find out some answers, even though I’ve been seeing a psych for many many years now. I know I block things out and that I have a memory problem. Recently my daughters dad told our 5 year old, “ no tears, your a big girl” and it really bothered me. And as I read this article I started actually focusing on my childhood, and I remember now that after a rage, sometimes I couldn’t hold back the tears and I would choke on them in the corner, trying furiously not to show them as my dad would say “Ok, enough! It’s all over now. Your a big girl, you don’t need to cry” so now I get why that comment the other day bothered me so much.. This is something my dad told me frequently until I learned how to not cry in front of him. Yet I only barely have remembered it today, after 25 years. Do you suggest adults who were victims as children try to remember these forgotten or suppressed memories? Or should we just leave them in the past? Thank you for your article.
I have received 15 years of therapy which finally gave the courage to completely cut out my narcissist mother from my life. I resisted the entreaties of my uncle (her brother) to “let bygones be bygones” and go visit her as “she is a little old lady now”. I felt guilty at the time but had a good talk to myself after the conversation and realized that I was responding as I had as a child but that as an adult I knew it was the best self care I could give my self. I recommend therapy for anyone dealing with this pain. I live in Canada now and received all this help from Mental Health Councilors which cost me nothing financially. They healed me, encouraged me, and gave me the will to survive. Don’t be afraid of therapy, it is your best chance of feeling well again.
After some reflection, I started to notice a repeated pattern of behaviour from my mother. I had already identified my father as a narcissist, possibly sociopath but my mother was the parent who did a wonderful job raising us. It wasn’t until I moved to a family property when I came up against my father and brother who prevented me from being equal. My younger brother, the Golden Child who lie and get me into trouble. I missed a trip overseas with my family because my mother believe my brother over me. I am a grown woman but I am not treated as an equal rather a 4 year old child. I am a little bit different to my siblings. I am a truth seeker, spiritual, creative and emotional. I am caring and have a lot of empathy for people. I married someone like my father who is a narcissist so I have had to endure a father and ex-husband causing me pain for no reason. Unfortunately, my mother has given her power over to my father and I am being punished yet again. Now that I see a pattern emerge I can examine my relationship with my mother. My mother, father and younger brother are now coercing and blackmailing me which is painful on so many levels. Fortunately, I have the support of one of my siblings although he likes to sit on the fence. I have the support of my friends for which I am grateful and I came across JAY REID by accident and related so well to what he was talking about I made contact with him. I must say I’m very impressed by his knowledge.
Unfortunately, I did not have knowledge of Narcissistic mothers until I stumbled on an article a couple of years ago – after my mother had died. I could swear that bloggers that shared their experiences were talking about my mother.
I have to say that although she was mentally abusive toward me my entire life (the physical abuse stopped when I was about 7), I did not have the displeasure of witnessing Narc rage until the last few encounters with her.
Apparently, the importance of her matriarchal queenness was somehow threatened. She went bonkers when I went to visit with my wife and son, following a vacation. She put on quite a display – rocking in a chair, frowning, arms crossed like some kind of a spoiled 5 year old. A few days later I called and she told me to do something that was anatomically impossible with my telephone. On subsequent occasions, she slammed the phone down as soon as I spoke. She then changed the locks on her doors, something that was quite stupid, considering she was 88 years old and her golden son lived 80 minutes away. Oh yeah, but she got to spite me. That was the most important thing, after all.
This is my childhood precisely. I am almost shocked by realizing now that it was a pattern of behavior not exclusive to my mother. This is so helpful to me and gives me a direction to pursue in understanding and ultimately freeing myself. Thank you.