It’s Narcissist Friday!
It was 1951. Mabel and Ben had two children, with another on the way. They were reasonably happy in their marriage and looked forward to raising their family together. Then Ben had to go and die.
Mabel was, above all else, a practical woman. She knew that Ben’s illness had drained their resources. She would have a hard time working and raising her children. She thought seriously about an abortion but, in the early ‘50s that wasn’t really an option. She might have been able to handle things with just the two older children, but a baby was out of the question. What was she to do without money?
There was an older gentleman in their town who had expressed an interest in Mabel. Geoff was nearly 30 years older than she and not a likeable man. But he was wealthy and never married. With luck, Geoff would change or die and Mabel’s family would be taken care of.
Mabel married Geoff and lived with him for more than 25 difficult years. Her daughter, Priscilla, was her pride and joy—and the cause of her unhappy marriage.
The little girl was the envy of her classmates. Her parents had a big house, a new car, and lots of money. She had the finest clothes and all the new things that adults thought children ought to have. She was the prettiest, the smartest, the most obedient of children—according to the adults. Other kids didn’t really like her, but they had to attend her parties and invite her to theirs because Priscilla wasn’t someone you could ignore.
When she was out in public with Mom, Priscilla had everyone’s attention. All the adults adored her. She was Mabel’s “little doll.” But at home, when no one could hear, Mabel expressed her hatred of Priscilla. She hated the noise she made, the mess she made, the sicknesses she had, and the marriage Priscilla had caused. Often, in anger, Mabel would look at Priscilla and say, “I wish I had aborted you.”
Priscilla learned that she must act like an adult, when she was just a little girl. She must understand adult motives and values. She must use her prettiness and desirability to keep the focus of adults. She could never be a little girl with other little girls, a child among children, because whenever she was a little girl her mom would react in anger. She was only accepted when she was quiet and clean and nice.
So Priscilla found that she was hated when she was herself, the little girl, and loved when she was not herself, the “little doll.” Eventually, Priscilla lost her sense of self and began to believe that she was the “little doll.” Everyone was supposed to adore her, listen to her, do things her way. She couldn’t see anything else.
Priscilla eventually married Jack, a regular sort of guy who worked as a mechanic and thought she was an angel. Their marriage was difficult from the beginning, a combination of rebellion against Mom and affirmation of still being the “little doll” in adulthood. Jack could never measure up, either by Mom’s or Priscilla’s standards. Priscilla had at least one affair during their marriage, threatened suicide several times to manipulate her husband’s actions, and finally obtained a divorce. But by this time she was alone. Mom wouldn’t accept her. She had cut herself off from her husband and children. And there were no men who wanted her. Finally, she attempted suicide one more time to get attention again, but she miscalculated and help did not come fast enough. At barely 30 years old, Priscilla was gone.
This time it seems obvious that Mom is narcissistic, doesn’t it? After all, did she ever really love her family? She used people to get what she wanted. The older children are almost none existent. The husband was only a source of money. And Priscilla was used to show that Mom had made the right choice in life, that Mom was superior in spite of the cruel blow life had brought to her.
Many therapists point out that the children of narcissists often become narcissists. When there is no love, or love is used to manipulate and conquer, then love is not learned. Love is not seen as something from the heart that connects us with others. And others are not real in their own right. Others are to be used to make yourself feel better about yourself.
(BTW – This is a true story. Identifying details are changed, of course.)
Next week: How can a narcissist change?