Unpacking Gaslighters to Make Space for Empowerment

  I could hear Victoria speaking about me in another room with Rocelyn, her tone was just loud enough for me to hear what she was saying but low enough for her to deny saying it. She had just gotten done being passive aggressively critical in conversation with me about characteristics she also possessed. I didn’t respond but I knew she was projecting and this wasn’t the first time. I became frustrated because she was already in a position to have some influence over my access to certain resources, so while I wasn’t intimidated by her, I was fearful of retaliation and restrictions of my access to the things I needed for my safety and well being…despite not feeling as safe as I deserve, I knew things could become dramatically worse and I didn’t want that to happen. I was bargaining between enduring projections of her internalized racism, colorism and feelings of inadequacy with access to my basic needs. I’d been here before and I was tired of the abuse, but due to systemic marginalization I couldn’t afford the luxury of victimhood. I needed to suck it up, stay political, lay low and finish what I was there to accomplish.

  Weeks later I brought the incident up with the two of them in a group setting and was met with expressions of forgetfulness and complete denial despite us all knowing what truly occurred. Victoria’s response was “I don’t want to go back and forth with a ‘he said - she said’ but if I did those things, I apologize….I just can’t remember.”

  I didn’t want to argue either, what I wanted was accountability and a sincere apology, what I received was a verbalized manipulation from a person lacking accountability and seeking control. Her faux apology was positioned in a way that left me dis-empowered and I couldn’t refute their harmful behavior because then I’d be perceived as argumentative and confrontational which is a typical accusation for passive aggressive gaslighters to make. Behavior like hers isn’t considered abusive because in a repressive society, healthy expressions of anger, disappointment, sadness or confronting issues directly is treated as negativity despite the act of abuse being negative in and of itself.  Past interactions with people like her showed me that I was dealing with someone who had little respect for others they couldn’t leverage for personal gain, so I’d waited to address this issue with Rocelyn present hoping that instead of lying, they’d have to show some sort of remorse and my concerns could be noted in a more neutral space. My doing this also made it clear that I’m not afraid to stand up for myself when needed, but that didn’t inhibit dishonesty from both of them.

  Situations arose where we all needed to work together and honest communication was necessary but Victoria continued to play clueless. Any time there was an issue her response was “I have no idea,” which left me in the position of picking up her slack in the relationship publicly, meanwhile in private conversation she’d admit to noticing the things she previously claimed were “off her radar” and when I’d point out what she was doing the look in her eyes made a strong but familiar statement that said, “you and I both know that I’m lying, but I’m not going to be accountable by saying it,” she wanted me to do the heavy lifting while taking all of the responsibility. This told me that not only did these social conflicts and unresolved issues occur long before I was present but there was a clear disingenuous nature between them that left me feeling confused, questioning myself and like I couldn’t stay above water.

  As time continued I noticed that when I’d try to discuss concerns directly she would retreat and respond via text or not at all. Her speaking up was reserved for times when responsibility was absolutely evident and even then she’d get ahead of it to divert some of the blame or deny her contribution entirely. Rocelyn was different, she would confront concerns directly but in ways that were detached, lofty and esoteric so she wouldn’t necessarily have to look at self or share her own feelings in a way that wasn’t objective.  I began to realize that I was the catalyst used to clean up and hold tension that existed between these two people and they refused to confront it for fear of being put in an inconvenient, uncomfortable and even damaging position. If they could take whatever existing problems they had and divert them to me as a messenger, any resulting negativity could be blamed on the person carrying the message and not either party that’d sent it. The two folks in this scenario were roommates and I was a subletter, they’d relied on each other for stability and familiarity in an external environment that can be shocking and difficult to cope. I was objectified as a disposable means for them to wield subtle power toward getting what they wanted from each other. When I first moved in I asked why the last subletter, a PhD student, hadn’t stayed longer and Rocelyn said there were some “communication issues.” I pressed her to tell me what they were but she refused to divulge the details, it became clear to me that this information was withheld intentionally so if the issue recurred I wouldn’t have access to a frame of reference that could possibly identify them as the source of the problem instead. These were two individuals who were middle aged or close to it and they were using tactics to manipulate me into getting what they wanted from each other and I could identify this behavior clearly because I’d encountered it in numerous scenarios.

  I’d experienced it while growing up witnessing abusive family relationships at home, particularly between my mother and her husband, a man who insisted I call him father despite never truly viewing our relationship as such. They’d fight physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally as they’d both done in previous relationships to other partners. During each fight they would stonewall to grasp for power in their relationship. When my mother couldn’t get what she wanted from her now ex-husband she’d ignore him and spend more time with me, knowing that he would be jealous of our time together, knowing that even at a young age I’d use encouraging words as an attempt to empower her to leave him despite her having no intentions of doing so. She’d take me out, laugh and joke with me, spend quality time with me in ways that we did before she met him and she knew that I yearned her connection and would fall easily in line. She’d do this until he’d apologize, they’d engage in overt displays of affection in front of me and I’d quickly return to a third class citizen in the home. She even went as far as falsely  presenting me as a problem child to him and others, ascribing his behaviors to me as a cry for help, hoping that someone would somehow realize that she was coding her issues experienced with him and not me. 

   On one occurrence she used me to get him into counseling, she gaslighted me into thinking that I had mental health issues and that her husband needed to be there to talk about his concerns in order to  “fix” me, when really she just wanted to get him in to see a therapist for his abuse, despite them both being incredibly abusive toward me and each other. After the first session the therapist said that she didn’t notice anything about my behavior to be concerned about, but my mother was so disengaged from accountability that somewhere deep down she believed that I was the source of her domestically violent relationship so surely we’d have more to talk about and eventually we’d get to her husband in a session. Perhaps she was hoping that I’d say something in front of the therapist and they’d be forced to talk about it. I was 12 years old. Once the therapist said she didn’t see a need for additional children’s counseling we didn’t book another session and my mother never summoned the courage to tell her husband that she wanted to go to couples therapy, instead she spent weeks mocking the therapist in private with me as a way to convince me that I wasn’t healthy at all…years later she finally shared her true intentions from that time but I’d already spent countless days being broken down by her actions, questioning myself and becoming dis-empowered. It was just one of the many ways that I endured family violence from beatings with belts and fists without reason, beatings for things my other siblings had done, withholding food or clothing and locking me in my room for 6 months at a time as punishment for things I didn’t do because they didn’t want me around. When I tried to speak to my mother about it she’d say “you weren’t always innocent” or “I’m sorry you feel, that way.” As if my feelings were the issue and not her abusive actions. Witnesses would also gaslight, claiming they didn’t notice what was happening in our home and how myself and siblings were being abused before their eventual divorce despite them being fully aware and just not wanting to get involved.

I’d ask myself, why can’t some people just tell the fucking truth? Why couldn’t these adults be accountable and where does society’s culture of accountability avoidance come from? Is it rooted in fear and ego?

  I’d experienced this with bullies, people who were relatives, peers, coworkers and friends who’d say and do offensive and abusive acts in private or about me with others while I witnessed as a third party. I’d bring it up and they would claim they didn’t know what I was talking about and had no problem with me causing me to second guess my perceptions and self trust.

  Most relatably I’d witnessed it in romantic relationships with cis-gender men who claimed that their harm was dreamt up by my “insecurity and imagination.” Men who tried to convince me that they only did hurtful things to retaliate against my efforts to hold them accountable and my seeking reciprocal care and responsibility within the relationship was the true issue and not their harmful actions.

  Gaslighters use persistent dishonesty, projection, confusion, withholding, manipulative affection and even turning your allies against you (and you against them) to gain power and brainwash others to bend toward their will and ego. These abusers use these tactics to cause others to believe that they are unstable and unreasonable which causes victims to begin to distrust themselves. The primary motive of a gaslighter is to make life easier and more accessible to their needs alone so they don’t have to feel uncomfortable, compromise or be accountable and they create environments where victims can’t defend themselves against their actions. As a family violence survivor, past trauma made gaslighters feel that it would be easier for them to perpetuate this behavior and victim blame by claiming my “perceptions” of their abusive actions were somehow connected to my past. But I’d already done the work to accept, clear out and navigate those past hurts and now I know how to quickly identify this common form of manipulation and use my past to help others empower themselves to leave relationships where they are being abused. The truth is that everyone is dealing with some form of trauma which is the reason why gaslighters act the way they do and continue with this mental, emotional and social violence.

  This year I’ve been doing the mental and emotional labor required to unpack this issue and identify the people in my life who do this so that I can clear out those relationships and make space for interactions that are mutually respectful, fun and healing all while stopping incoming abusers at the door. As I get closer to establishing impenetrable boundaries in this area I am forced to have uncomfortable conversations, prioritize my needs, speak up and distance myself from a lot of folks, including relatives who have wavered between support and disrespect to maintain access and power. These people may retaliate, withhold resources and gossip about me but I choose to keep my boundaries and standards firm, being ruled by self love and empowerment, not fear. I’m realizing that my old ways of responding to gaslighters with increased love, access and vulnerability cannot cultivate my safety because ultimately these people do not love me in a way that is pure and respectful of my humanity and worth. As I clear out the baggage, diversion and blame left behind by these people (many who are beloved by others because of their expertise in the oppression of power, influence and ego,) I begin to make space for compatible, empowering, independent and healthy relationships with others who are doing the work to sort out their shit, are secure in themselves and of like mind and frequency.

You can follow/support/read more on my blog at kendrianaspeaks.tumblr.com.

(Kindly cite, credit and link if referencing or reblogging my intellectual labor)

Something people don’t understand about child abuse

One of the things that I really hate is that people don’t understand that survivors act differently and respond to their traumas in different ways.

I’m a survivor of csa and so is my friend. Her trauma made her extremely hypersexual while I could literally cry if someone even touched me.

My bf is a survivor of csa, I can talk for hours about my trauma if I felt safe enough while he NEVER brings it up.

A friend of mine is a survivor of emotional abuse and so am I. Her trauma made her angry while mine made me soft and defenseless.

My bf remembers every little detail about his trauma, while I repressed most of my childhood and traumas.

There’s no special “criteria” that you should fill in order to be a “valid” survivor, and there’s no specific way you should act if you were abused.

People respond to their traumas differently and it’s okay, your abuse is STILL valid no matter how you respond to it.

If parents teach a child with any method available that the child must be

  • submissive
  • extremely obedient
  • silent about their needs
  • always content with what they get, even if it’s much less than they need
  • pleasing to everyone around them
  • giving others what they want even when it’s harmful and painful to do so
  • expecting punishment at merely displeasuring someone
  • expecting pain as soon as they don’t meet someone’s expectations
  • not good enough unless they make everyone else happy
  • putting their needs last, or not having needs at all
  • extremely grateful for every little bit of human decency they get
  • best in the world in everything, or else they’re worthless
  • recognizing that people who hurt them most likely do it unintentionally or even worse, out of love
  • accepting hurtful behaviour without calling it out, complaining about it, or even letting the perpetrator know how much they got hurt
  • extremely forgiving, to the point where they forgive without even getting an apology, or with the hurtful offense still going on
  • tolerating insults, humiliation, slurs, and hatred being directed at them
  • never showing outright anger, rage, resentment, or hold a grudge
  • never fighting for their rights
  • never refusing to do what’s asked of them
  • accepting that they might be unlovable and that nobody will ever want them

then the child is being abused. It doesn’t matter if they use violence, guilt, terror, emotional abuse, brainwashing, threats, psychological abuse, punishment, discipline, harsh language, or if they teach it all to the child politely and with explanations to why they have to be like this if they don’t wish to be a burden on society. To shape a person this way out of convenience and send them off into a world that will abuse, exploit, take advantage and destroy a person like this, is abuse. Nobody needs to be any of these things. And people who aren’t any of these things still aren’t a burden on society. Abusive parents are a burden on society, and on their own children. Children aren’t there to be controlled or used by adults. Children are humans in development. Their boundaries should not be crushed before they even have a chance to develop any.

If you've been abused, remember:

•It was not your fault, it’s never your fault.
•No one deserves abuse, nothing justifies it.
•When people/abusers say you could’ve acted differently so they wouldn’t “have to do that”– that is wrong. You didn’t push them to do that.
•They’re projecting their issues and anger onto you.
•It’s okay to feel weak, and defeated. You don’t always have to be strong.
•People may stigmatize your situation– refuse to believe you, downplay it, call you overly sensitive. They don’t know the reality, you do.
•If it hurts you, it hurts you. It’s valid. People should respect that, and good people do.
•Trust your gut. If things feel fishy and someone seems to be toxic, you’re probably right.
•You’re worth so much more than you know.

It’s weird to think that there’s people who are constantly, at-all-times, 100% comforted by/trusting of their parents,, like Who are you? Why aren’t you scared they’ll hurt you?

Stop blaming yourself for other people’s shitty doings to you.

They fucked up, not you.

signs that your family is abusive:

  • you feel the urge to hide from them whenever you’re vulnerable
  • you cannot bear the idea of them seeing you cry
  • when you’re hurt or in pain, you don’t go to them because you feel they’ll tell you that you deserved it or that it was your fault
  • you don’t feel like you can confide in them, either because they don’t seem to care, or try to control how you act, or yell at you and punish you, or use the information against you
  • you feel very self-conscious around them and keep expecting criticism and insults
  • you can’t tell them about your struggles because you already know they’ll side against you
  • you keep things in your life secret from them because you have a feeling they would ridicule, humiliate, and judge you if they knew, or take everything away from you
  • you feel scared of letting them know when they hurt you
  • you feel scared and guilty when you so much as think about them in a bad way
  • you feel the urge to remind yourself of all the things they did for you, whenever something bad comes up, to be sure that you’re seeing them the way they want to be seen by you
  • you’re scared of being accused of being a burden to them
  • you’re scared to hold them responsible for things they did to you, because you know they would argue otherwise, and insist they had full right to do what they did, or that you made it up
  • you have the inner sense of dread that nothing you ever do or say will be taken seriously by them, and your life will always look like a joke to them
  • you dream of living far away from them and feel guilty for wanting to cut them from your life
  • you don’t feel like you’re really important in comparison to them, it feels like it’s better to just step aside and let them be important, your life doesn’t matter as much anyway
  • you’re worried about how your every action might affect their life, their reputation and social standing
  • you feel that they’re ashamed of you and you’re trying your best not to bring further shame on the family
  • you feel like you’ll owe them for the rest of your life and nothing you ever do will be enough to erase the debt, and this fills you with dread and feeling of being trapped
  • you don’t count on their help when you’re in trouble, you’re scared of them finding out and punishing you for being in trouble in the first place
  • you don’t count on them sharing their resources with you, you know you have to be grateful for how much they’ve given you already and feel like you have no right to ask for anything more, even if you need it
  • you can’t feel warmth or safety when surrounded by family, instead you wish you didn’t have to be there, and seek a place to hide and protect yourself
  • holidays spent with family are just painful and something you try to endure instead of enjoy
  • you can’t imagine a world where you’re free and not defined by these people

DONT FUCKING HAVE CHILDREN IF YOU CANT TOLERATE THEM ‘ANNOYING’ YOU OR MAKING YOU ANGRY
DONT TREAT THEM LIKE FUCKING VENTING BAGS AND EXPECT THEM TO LOVE YOUR FUCKING MANIPULATIVE ASS
THEYRE HUMANS. JUST LIKE YOUR COLLEAGUES FRIENDS OR RELATIVES
START TREATING THEM LIKE YOU WOULD TO THOSE SAID PERSONS

Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers

** I decided to just post this directly on the blog because I believe every person who has an abusive mother should read this.

1. Everything she does is deniable.

There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help you.

She rarely says right out that she thinks you’re inadequate. Instead, any time that you tell her you’ve done something good, she counters with something your sibling did that was better or she simply ignores you or she hears you out without saying anything, then in a short time does something cruel to you so you understand not to get above yourself. She will carefully separate cause (your joy in your accomplishment) from effect (refusing to let you borrow the car to go to the awards ceremony) by enough time that someone who didn’t live through her abuse would never believe the connection.

Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She’ll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you’ve also done or how highly she thinks of them. The contrast is left up to you. She has let you know that you’re no good without saying a word. She’ll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is, again, completely deniably. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or the way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. As a result, you’re always afraid, always in the wrong, and can never exactly put your finger on why.

Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her. She’s also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She’s very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don’t wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done. The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that no one who might intervene will hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public. She’ll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!). Unfortunately therapists, given the deniable actions of the narcissist and eager to defend a fellow parent, will often jump to the narcissist’s defense as well, reinforcing your sense of isolation and helplessness ("I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that!”)


2. She violates your boundaries.

You feel like an extension of her. Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you. Your food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate. Your property may be repossessed and no reason given other than that it was never yours. Your time is committed without consulting you, and opinions purported to be yours are expressed for you. (She LOVES going to the fair! He would never want anything like that. She wouldn’t like kumquats.) You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there. She keeps tabs on your bodily functions and humiliates you by divulging the information she gleans, especially when it can be used to demonstrate her devotion and highlight her martyrdom to your needs (“Mike had that problem with frequent urination too, only his was much worse. I was so worried about him!”) You have never known what it is like to have privacy in the bathroom or in your bedroom, and she goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, snoops into your email/letters/diary/conversations. She will want to dig into your feelings, particularly painful ones and is always looking for negative information on you which can be used against you. She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.

Any attempt at autonomy on your part is strongly resisted. Normal rites of passage (learning to shave, wearing makeup, dating) are grudgingly allowed only if you insist, and you’re punished for your insistence (“Since you’re old enough to date, I think you’re old enough to pay for your own clothes!”) If you demand age-appropriate clothing, grooming, control over your own life, or rights, you are difficult and she ridicules your “independence.”


3. She favoritizes.

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


4. She undermines.

Your accomplishments are acknowledged only to the extent that she can take credit for them. Any success or accomplishment for which she cannot take credit is ignored or diminished. Any time you are to be center stage and there is no opportunity for her to be the center of attention, she will try to prevent the occasion altogether, or she doesn’t come, or she leaves early, or she acts like it’s no big deal, or she steals the spotlight or she slips in little wounding comments about how much better someone else did or how what you did wasn’t as much as you could have done or as you think it is. She undermines you by picking fights with you or being especially unpleasant just before you have to make a major effort. She acts put out if she has to do anything to support your opportunities or will outright refuse to do even small things in support of you. She will be nasty to you about things that are peripherally connected with your successes so that you find your joy in what you’ve done is tarnished, without her ever saying anything directly about it. No matter what your success, she has to take you down a peg about it.


5. She demeans, criticizes and denigrates.

She lets you know in all sorts of little ways that she thinks less of you than she does of your siblings or of other people in general. If you complain about mistreatment by someone else, she will take that person’s side even if she doesn’t know them at all. She doesn’t care about those people or the justice of your complaints. She just wants to let you know that you’re never right.

She will deliver generalized barbs that are almost impossible to rebut (always in a loving, caring tone): “You were always difficult” “You can be very difficult to love” “You never seemed to be able to finish anything” “You were very hard to live with” “You’re always causing trouble” “No one could put up with the things you do.” She will deliver slams in a sidelong way - for example she’ll complain about how “no one” loves her, does anything for her, or cares about her, or she’ll complain that “everyone” is so selfish, when you’re the only person in the room. As always, this combines criticism with deniability.

She will slip little comments into conversation that she really enjoyed something she did with someone else - something she did with you too, but didn’t like as much. She’ll let you know that her relationship with some other person you both know is wonderful in a way your relationship with her isn’t - the carefully unspoken message being that you don’t matter much to her.

She minimizes, discounts or ignores your opinions and experiences. Your insights are met with condescension, denials and accusations (“I think you read too much!”) and she will brush off your information even on subjects on which you are an acknowledged expert. Whatever you say is met with smirks and amused sounding or exaggerated exclamations (“Uh hunh!” “You don’t say!” “Really!”). She’ll then make it clear that she didn’t listen to a word you said.


6. She makes you look crazy.

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

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

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

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


7. She’s envious.

Any time you get something nice she’s angry and envious and her envy will be apparent when she admires whatever it is. She’ll try to get it from you, spoil it for you, or get the same or better for herself. She’s always working on ways to get what other people have. The envy of narcissistic mothers often includes competing sexually with their daughters or daughters-in-law. They’ll attempt to forbid their daughters to wear makeup, to groom themselves in an age-appropriate way or to date. They will criticize the appearance of their daughters and daughters-in-law. This envy extends to relationships. Narcissistic mothers infamously attempt to damage their children’s marriages and interfere in the upbringing of their grandchildren.


8. She’s a liar in too many ways to count.

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

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

To you, she’ll lie blatantly. She will claim to be unable to remember bad things she has done, even if she did one of them recently and even if it was something very memorable. Of course, if you try to jog her memory by recounting the circumstances “You have a very vivid imagination” or “That was so long ago. Why do you have to dredge up your old grudges?” Your conversations with her are full of casual brush-offs and diversionary lies and she doesn’t respect you enough to bother making it sound good. For example she’ll start with a self-serving lie: “If I don’t take you as a dependent on my taxes I’ll lose three thousand dollars!” You refute her lie with an obvious truth: “No, three thousand dollars is the amount of the dependent exemption. You’ll only lose about eight hundred dollars.” Her response: “Isn’t that what I said?” You are now in a game with only one rule: You can’t win.

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


9. She has to be the center of attention all the time.

This need is a defining trait of narcissists and particularly of narcissistic mothers for whom their children exist to be sources of attention and adoration. Narcissistic mothers love to be waited on and often pepper their children with little requests. “While you’re up…” or its equivalent is one of their favorite phrases. You couldn’t just be assigned a chore at the beginning of the week or of the day, instead, you had to do it on demand, preferably at a time that was inconvenient for you, or you had to “help” her do it, fetching and carrying for her while she made up to herself for the menial work she had to do as your mother by glorying in your attentions.

A narcissistic mother may create odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as memorials for someone close to her who died long ago, or major celebrations of small personal milestones. She may love to entertain so she can be the life of her own party. She will try to steal the spotlight or will try to spoil any occasion where someone else is the center of attention, particularly the child she has cast as the scapegoat. She often invites herself along where she isn’t welcome. If she visits you or you visit her, you are required to spend all your time with her. Entertaining herself is unthinkable. She has always pouted, manipulated or raged if you tried to do anything without her, didn’t want to entertain her, refused to wait on her, stymied her plans for a drama or otherwise deprived her of attention.

Older narcissistic mothers often use the natural limitations of aging to manipulate dramas, often by neglecting their health or by doing things they know will make them ill. This gives them the opportunity to cash in on the investment they made when they trained you to wait on them as a child. Then they call you (or better still, get the neighbor or the nursing home administrator to call you) demanding your immediate attendance. You are to rush to her side, pat her hand, weep over her pain and listen sympathetically to her unending complaints about how hard and awful it is. (“Never get old!”) It’s almost never the case that you can actually do anything useful, and the causes of her disability may have been completely avoidable, but you’ve been put in an extremely difficult position. If you don’t provide the audience and attention she’s manipulating to get, you look extremely bad to everyone else and may even have legal culpability. (Narcissistic behaviors commonly accompany Alzheimer’s disease, so this behavior may also occur in perfectly normal mothers as they age.)


10. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain.

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

A peculiar form of this emotional vampirism combines attention-seeking behavior with a demand that the audience suffer. Since narcissistic mothers often play the martyr this may take the form of wrenching, self-pitying dramas which she carefully produces, and in which she is the star performer. She sobs and wails that no one loves her and everyone is so selfish, and she doesn’t want to live, she wants to die! She wants to die! She will not seem to care how much the manipulation of their emotions and the self-pity repels other people. One weird behavior that is very common to narcissists: her dramas may also center around the tragedies of other people, often relating how much she suffered by association and trying to distress her listeners, as she cries over the horrible murder of someone she wouldn’t recognize if they had passed her on the street.


11. She’s selfish and willful.

She always makes sure she has the best of everything. She insists on having her own way all the time and she will ruthlessly, manipulatively pursue it, even if what she wants isn’t worth all the effort she’s putting into it and even if that effort goes far beyond normal behavior. She will make a huge effort to get something you denied her, even if it was entirely your right to do so and even if her demand was selfish and unreasonable. If you tell her she cannot bring her friends to your party she will show up with them anyway, and she will have told them that they were invited so that you either have to give in, or be the bad guy to these poor dupes on your doorstep. If you tell her she can’t come over to your house tonight she’ll call your spouse and try get him or her to agree that she can, and to not say anything to you about it because it’s a “surprise.” She has to show you that you can’t tell her “no.”

One near-universal characteristic of narcissists: because they are so selfish and self-centered, they are very bad gift givers. They’ll give you hand-me-downs or market things for themselves as gifts for you (“I thought I’d give you my old bicycle and buy myself a new one!” “I know how much you love Italian food, so I’m going to take you to my favorite restaurant for your birthday!”) New gifts are often obviously cheap and are usually things that don’t suit you or that you can’t use or are a quid pro quo: if you buy her the gift she wants, she will buy you an item of your choice. She’ll make it clear that it pains her to give you anything. She may buy you a gift and get the identical item for herself, or take you shopping for a gift and get herself something nice at the same time to make herself feel better.


12. She’s self-absorbed.

Her feelings, needs and wants are very important; yours are insignificant to the point that her least whim takes precedence over your most basic needs. Her problems deserve your immediate and full attention; yours are brushed aside. Her wishes always take precedence; if she does something for you, she reminds you constantly of her munificence in doing so and will often try to extract some sort of payment. She will complain constantly, even though your situation may be much worse than hers. If you point that out, she will effortlessly, thoughtlessly brush it aside as of no importance (It’s easy for you… / It’s different for you…).


13. She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism.

If you criticize her or defy her she will explode with fury, threaten, storm, rage, destroy and may become violent, beating, confining, putting her child outdoors in bad weather or otherwise engaging in classic physical abuse.


14. She terrorizes.

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

Not all narcissists abuse physically, but most do, often in subtle, deniable ways. It allows them to vent their rage at your failure to be the solution to their internal havoc and simultaneously to teach you to fear them. You may not have been beaten, but you were almost certainly left to endure physical pain when a normal mother would have made an effort to relieve your misery. This deniable form of battery allows her to store up her rage and dole out the punishment at a later time when she’s worked out an airtight rationale for her abuse, so she never risks exposure. You were left hungry because “you eat too much.” (Someone asked her if she was pregnant. She isn’t). You always went to school with stomach flu because “you don’t have a fever. You’re just trying to get out of school.” (She resents having to take care of you. You have a lot of nerve getting sick and adding to her burdens.) She refuses to look at your bloody heels and instead the shoes that wore those blisters on your heels are put back on your feet and you’re sent to the store in them because “You wanted those shoes. Now you can wear them.” (You said the ones she wanted to get you were ugly. She liked them because they were just like what she wore 30 years ago). The dentist was told not to give you Novocain when he drilled your tooth because “he has to learn to take better care of his teeth.” (She has to pay for a filling and she’s furious at having to spend money on you.)

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


15. She’s infantile and petty.

Narcissistic mothers are often simply childish. If you refuse to let her manipulate you into doing something, she will cry that you don’t love her because if you loved her you would do as she wanted. If you hurt her feelings she will aggressively whine to you that you’ll be sorry when she’s dead that you didn’t treat her better. These babyish complaints and responses may sound laughable, but the narcissist is dead serious about them. When you were a child, if you ask her to stop some bad behavior, she would justify it by pointing out something that you did that she feels is comparable, as though the childish behavior of a child is justification for the childish behavior of an adult. “Getting even” is a large part of her dealings with you. Anytime you fail to give her the deference, attention or service she feels she deserves, or you thwart her wishes, she has to show you.


16. She’s aggressive and shameless.

She doesn’t ask. She demands. She makes outrageous requests and she’ll take anything she wants if she thinks she can get away with it. Her demands of her children are posed in a very aggressive way, as are her criticisms. She won’t take no for an answer, pushing and arm-twisting and manipulating to get you to give in.


17. She “parentifies.”

She shed her responsibilities to you as soon as she was able, leaving you to take care of yourself as best you could. She denied you medical care, adequate clothing, necessary transportation or basic comforts that she would never have considered giving up for herself. She never gave you a birthday party or let you have sleepovers. Your friends were never welcome in her house. She didn’t like to drive you anywhere, so you turned down invitations because you had no way to get there. She wouldn’t buy your school pictures even if she could easily have afforded it. You had a niggardly clothing allowance or she bought you the cheapest clothing she could without embarrassing herself. As soon as you got a job, every request for school supplies, clothing or toiletries was met with “Now that you’re making money, why don’t you pay for that yourself?” You studied up on colleges on your own and choose a cheap one without visiting it. You signed yourself up for the SATs, earned the money to pay for them and talked someone into driving you to the test site. You worked three jobs to pay for that cheap college and when you finally got mononucleosis she chirped at you that she was “so happy you could take care of yourself.”

She also gave you tasks that were rightfully hers and should not have been placed on a child. You may have been a primary caregiver for young siblings or an incapacitated parent. You may have had responsibility for excessive household tasks. Above all, you were always her emotional caregiver which is one reason any defection from that role caused such enormous eruptions of rage. You were never allowed to be needy or have bad feelings or problems. Those experiences were only for her, and you were responsible for making it right for her. From the time you were very young she would randomly lash out at you any time she was stressed or angry with your father or felt that life was unfair to her, because it made her feel better to hurt you. You were often punished out of the blue, for manufactured offenses. As you got older she directly placed responsibility for her welfare and her emotions on you, weeping on your shoulder and unloading on you any time something went awry for her.


18. She’s exploitative.

She will manipulate to get work, money, or objects she envies out of other people for nothing. This includes her children, of course. If she set up a bank account for you, she was trustee on the account with the right to withdraw money. As you put money into it, she took it out. She may have stolen your identity. She took you as a dependent on her income taxes so you couldn’t file independently without exposing her to criminal penalties. If she made an agreement with you, it was violated the minute it no longer served her needs. If you brought it up demanding she adhere to the agreement, she brushed you off and later punished you so you would know not to defy her again.

Sometimes the narcissist will exploit a child to absorb punishment that would have been hers from an abusive partner. The husband comes home in a drunken rage, and the mother immediately complains about the child’s bad behavior so the rage is vented on to the child. Sometimes the narcissistic mother simply uses the child to keep a sick marriage intact because the alternative is being divorced or having to go to work. The child is sexually molested but the mother never notices, or worse, calls the child a liar when she tells the mother about the molestation.


19. She projects.

This sounds a little like psycho-babble, but it is something that narcissists all do. Projection means that she will put her own bad behavior, character and traits on you so she can deny them in herself and punish you. This can be very difficult to see if you have traits that she can project on to. An eating-disordered woman who obsesses over her daughter’s weight is projecting. The daughter may not realize it because she has probably internalized an absurdly thin vision of women’s weight and so accepts her mother’s projection. When the narcissist tells the daughter that she eats too much, needs to exercise more, or has to wear extra-large size clothes, the daughter believes it, even if it isn’t true. However, she will sometimes project even though it makes no sense at all. This happens when she feels shamed and needs to put it on her scapegoat child and the projection therefore comes across as being an attack out of the blue. For example: She makes an outrageous request, and you casually refuse to let her have her way. She’s enraged by your refusal and snarls at you that you’ll talk about it when you’ve calmed down and are no longer hysterical.

You aren’t hysterical at all; she is, but your refusal has made her feel the shame that should have stopped her from making shameless demands in the first place. That’s intolerable. She can transfer that shame to you and rationalize away your response: you only refused her because you’re so unreasonable. Having done that she can reassert her shamelessness and indulge her childish willfulness by turning an unequivocal refusal into a subject for further discussion. You’ll talk about it again “later” - probably when she’s worn you down with histrionics, pouting and the silent treatment so you’re more inclined to do what she wants.


20. She is never wrong about anything.

No matter what she’s done, she won’t ever genuinely apologize for anything. Instead, any time she feels she is being made to apologize she will sulk and pout, issue an insulting apology or negate the apology she has just made with justifications, qualifications or self pity: “I’m sorry you felt that I humiliated you” “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad” “If I did that it was wrong” “I’m sorry, but I there’s nothing I can do about it” “I’m sorry I made you feel clumsy, stupid and disgusting” “I’m sorry but it was just a joke. You’re so over-sensitive” “I’m sorry that my own child feels she has to upset me and make me feel bad.” The last insulting apology is also an example of projection.


21. She seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings.

She’ll occasionally slip and say something jaw-droppingly callous because of this lack of empathy. It isn’t that she doesn’t care at all about other people’s feelings, though she doesn’t. It would simply never occur to her to think about their feelings. An absence of empathy is the defining trait of a narcissist and underlies most of the other traits I have described. Unlike psychopaths, narcissists do understand right, wrong, and consequences, so they are not ordinarily criminal. She beat you, but not to the point where you went to the hospital. She left you standing out in the cold until you were miserable, but not until you had hypothermia. She put you in the basement in the dark with no clothes on, but she only left you there for two hours.


22. She blames.

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

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


23. She destroys your relationships.

Narcissistic mothers are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted. Unless the father has control over the narcissist and holds the family together, adult siblings in families with narcissistic mothers characteristically have painful relationships. Typically all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all. In part, these women foster dissension between their children because they enjoy the control it gives them. If those children don’t communicate except through the mother, she can decide what everyone hears. Narcissists also love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in their children’s lives. Watching people’s lives explode is better than soap operas, especially when you don’t have any empathy for their misery.

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

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

Having been raised by a narcissist, her children are predisposed to be envious, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity that presents. While she may never praise you to your face, she will likely crow about your victories to the very sibling who is not doing well. She’ll tell you about the generosity she displayed towards that child, leaving you wondering why you got left out and irrationally angry at the favored child rather than at the narcissist who told you about it.

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


24. As a last resort she goes pathetic.

When she’s confronted with unavoidable consequences for her own bad behavior, including your anger, she will melt into a soggy puddle of weepy helplessness. It’s all her fault. She can’t do anything right. She feels so bad. What she doesn’t do: own the responsibility for her bad conduct and make it right. Instead, as always, it’s all about her, and her helpless self-pitying weepiness dumps the responsibility for her consequences AND for her unhappiness about it on you. As so often with narcissists, it is also a manipulative behavior. If you fail to excuse her bad behavior and make her feel better, YOU are the bad person for being cold, heartless and unfeeling when your poor mother feels so awful.

Abusive relationships aren't abusive 100% of the time.

Just because they’ve got good moments doesn’t mean that the abuse is any less real.

Edit: I would also like to clarify that this is about any kind of relationship. This applies to anyone in an abusive situation with any person whether it be friendship, sexual relations, family relations, co-worker relations, peers, neighbors, acquaintances, teachers, students, etc… Abuse comes in many forms, but organized into three categories. Mental, Emotional, and Physical abuse are all very real, and it’s very important to understand the warning signs and even more important to get out of the situation as safely and quickly as possible. Things to Remember: - Don’t be afraid to tell someone what you’re going through. Find someone to act as a safety net of sorts. Make sure it’s someone you trust, and someone you know can and will help you. - Have somewhere to go if you need to get away. Make sure to tell your ‘safety net’ what happened, and where you’re going. - If you’re financially dependent upon your abuser then start saving money up as soon as possible. If you’re planning on leaving you will need some funding to do so. (The easiest way to save money is to stop eating out. Sandwiches are simple enough to not need cooking skills, and the price of ingredients will fit nicely in your budget. Trust me I’ve done this myself.) - Most importantly, don’t go back. I know they’ll say they can change, but the terrifying reality is that abusers rarely change. I’m not saying they’re not capable of change, but please be cautious of reentering a toxic situation.

They’re not your family.

If they abuse you they’re not your family.

If they neglect your needs they’re not your family.

If they make you feel worthless they’re not your family.

If they hit you they’re not your family.

If they don’t show you love, care and affection they’re not your family.

If they hurt you in anyway they’re not your family.

Don’t let anyone tell you “but they’re your family!”

You have the right to be angry and cut them off, to hate them and to never forgive them. You have the right to fight them. You have the right to defend yourself.

You aren’t obligated to love someone you never chose to be a part of your life.

do not listen to ppl who try to guilt you into maintaining toxic relationships with relatives by saying “family is the most important thing” bc that is false 

the most important thing is whatever the hell you want it to be and if you have an abusive family member you need to cut them the fuck out of your life 

this is the most important thing i learned in 2014. and it is one of the hardest, but you will be better for it, and you deserve more.