As if injured instincts are not enough. There is a darker side to being the daughter of a narcissistic mother. And this, I believe is the most damaging.
The central tenet of narcissistic personality disorder is that everything and everyone exists to construct and maintain her flawless self image. Any criticism or inference that she is anything less than a Good Mother has to be denied. Any strong feeling that doesn’t fit with the construct – self loathing, rivalry with her daughter for Daddy’s attention, rejection, resentment, guilt, shame – has to be displaced. Projection becomes the primary weapon of self defense.That’s when the scapegoating begins.
Here I am forced to borrow authority from a woman who is farther along in the process of identifying the patterns that shape – and destroy – our instincts, self confidence and lives:
In a narcissist’s family, dysfunctional roles are the norm, and narcissistic mothers are always the producers, directors, and casting agents for the entire production. Children are assigned roles to play long before they are old enough to resist them, and grow up within the confines of these limitations, knowing nothing different exists anywhere. It is typical of parents with personality disorders to select at least one “Golden Child”, who can do no wrong, and at least one Scapegoat, who can do no right.
When deciding (unconsciously) what child will play each role, the narcissistic mother weighs her options on a deep, intuitive level. Which child is the most sensitive? Which child reminds her of a hated parent, or the ex-spouse who stood up to her, or something within herself she cannot accept? Which one asks more of her, either intentionally, or by way of circumstance? Which child expresses unhappiness more often about the unbearable situations the narcissistic mother creates? Which one is more vulnerable, or more outspoken? In short, which child bothers her the most?
By the time I graduated high school, I was in full blown codependent rebellion, acting out by drinking, smoking and having sex with my steady boyfriend. One day, Mamma allowed as how her friends believed that we were so close, “you’d tell me if you were having sex with Joey.” Hmph Why should this come as a surprise? When Daddy was gone to New Orleans for Grand Lodge, Mamma let him stay over, sleeping with me in my bed.
“I know I can trust you.” *wink *
When I confirmed her suspicion, Mamma decided it was time for me to get married.
Halla-fucking-leuia, I had an escape! So I married the 20 year old boy my mother picked for me, moved to Houston, TX and continued to act out in ways that my parents considered scandalous.
The inference that my mother somehow contributed to my wonton ways was such anathema, she declared to everybody and my brother that I was sick, bad, ugly and crazy. From that moment until the day she died, my sister became The Golden Child and I became the Scapegoat.
This Scapegoat will ultimately be made to carry the lion’s share of the family’s blame, shame, anger, and rejection so the rest can more easily retain their patterns of dysfunction. This child will always and forever be the one who is not good enough, even when she excels at something – indeed, especially when she excels. This child will endure more put-downs, sideways remarks and behind-the-back betrayals than the rest of the family put together. This child will endure the wear and tear of the family’s dysfunction in a way that will enable the others to continue looking good despite the family’s toxicity.
Let me tell you, being the scapegoat in a dysfunctional family stinks. I could do no right. My sister could do no wrong. My brother was sort of in between. My mother might complain about some shabby treatment she received from Bobby, but my sister was above reproach.
Of course, what Mother said to me was nothing remotely like what she said about me, or wickedly attributed to me in the retelling. Everything I said or did was run through the narcissistic filter in order to inflate Mamma’s public image as the long suffering Good Mother of a Bad Daughter. Triumph was minimized. Tragedy was maximized. Whatever was discussed was twisted into a personal affront to her. As she was threatened and/or perceived a hurt, she ran a number with the other members of the family.
This colored my siblings’ perceptions of me, tainted our relations and goaded them into more hateful retaliations than I could ever conceive.
Let me count the number of public humiliations visited on me by my brother. Let me number times my sister called, read me the riot act about some imagined insult to our mother, called me “Bitch” and hung up on me. You know what? I cannot. They are too numerous to mention.
Ironically, I was the lucky one. I got out. Then I spent the next 40 years working through layers and layers of codependency with drugs, alcohol, shopping, work, food, anything that might fill the hole where self love should have been.
Since I turned 40, I have believed that there ought to be a moratorium on what you can blame on your parents. At some point, it’s your choice. Boy was I wrong about that. Being the family scapegoat is like “Hotel California.” You can check out any time you like; you can never leave.
For the Scapegoat, there will be disregard and/or punishment for doing well and a “reward” of a little less overt abuse or even occasional expressions of support if she fails to thrive and accepts her role. Many Scapegoats have reported that the only time they felt their mother supported them (if at all) was when the supportive act fostered and reinforced the scapegoats’ inferiority, dysfunction or weakness. In an effort to alleviate to some degree the distress of her narcissistic mother’s wrath, the Scapegoat eventually gives in and agrees with the family’s assessment of her as inferior and worthy of blame. She internalizes the belief that she is inherently bad, worthless, and defective, and believes that everyone she contacts can clearly see this and will reject her as completely her family does. She will bring the telltale signs of deep inferiority with her to the playground, to school, to the workplace, and into her community and relationships.
Despite some variations in the way role manifests, the Scapegoat never fits in comfortably, and is largely looked down upon or rejected, no matter the vehicle or reasons given (real or imagined) for such marginalization.
The author gratefully acknowledges the source of these snippets regarding narcissistic scapegoating: Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Without this resource, I could not see it much less say it.