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Tactics of a Narcissistic Mother

Updated on April 27, 2018
Gail Meyers profile image

Gail is a mother, grandmother, JD and advocate in Kansas City.

The Mask Slipped...

Used for several years with written permission by Deviant Artist Sherita Ra. Photo is now displaying under a different artist.
Used for several years with written permission by Deviant Artist Sherita Ra. Photo is now displaying under a different artist. | Source

Tactics of a Narcissistic Mother

This insight into narcissistic personality disorder is offered from the perspective of more than 40 years spent as the daughter of a narcissistic personality disordered mother, as well as years of recovery, reading and raising awareness. Reading a list of diagnostic traits of narcissistic personality disorder may be a helpful guide, but this is how some of those traits played out in my personal experience in everyday life.


Eleanor D. Payson, MSW Quote
Eleanor D. Payson, MSW Quote | Source

In the words of Eleanor D. Payson, MSW and author of The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, "The word narcissism in its most fundamental sense means a tendency to self-worship."

However, narcissistic personality disorder is a serious condition that can be especially damaging to the children. It is not just a shallow or self-centered person, but a fixed personality disorder that does not change. It can take decades for the children of a narcissistic personality disordered mother to recognize narcissism as an issue - many never do.

One goals is to educate the sons and daughters of narcissists about narcissistic tactics in order to facilitate the ability to recognize, name, and articulate their experiences. This article is an overview of several narcissistic tactics, but the more in-depth articles on each topic can be referred to for fuller and more in-depth reading as they are published.

This article discusses gaslighting, poisoning the well or smear campaigns, playing the victim while vilifying true victims, scapegoating, and the silent treatment.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria

Narcissistic Personality Disorder DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria
Narcissistic Personality Disorder DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria | Source

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B Personality Disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5, which is used by mental health professionals for diagnosis purposes and billing. Narcissistic personality disorder is an Axis II disorder, which are sometimes referred to as the "untreatables." These are personality disorders that are generally fixed conditions that do not change. Cluster B is called the dramatic, emotional, and erratic cluster. Cluster B personality disorders include:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) released the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) in May of 2013. Criteria for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder includes:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy and behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  7. Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Show arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

The traits are persistent and enduring, not just an individual going through a difficult period in their life. Additionally, the diagnosis is generally not made prior to 18 years of age because some of the traits are a normal part of development at certain ages. It is also important to note that none of the above are due to drugs, alcoholism, or brain injury. It is also not uncommon for an individual to be diagnosed with more than one personality disorder.

A licensed professional should make the diagnosis, but as a practical matter the initial priority is to protect yourself and your loved ones if there is someone in your life abusing and manipulating you. Then, at a safer distance and with the help of a qualified professional, you can concern yourself with a precise diagnosis.

Emotional Manipulation

Emotional Manipulation by Gail Meyers
Emotional Manipulation by Gail Meyers | Source

Emotional Manipulators

Emotional manipulators want to pull you into emotional responses to bypass your logic and reason, and get you to do something you likely would not do under normal conditions. Ross Rosenberg defines an "emotional manipulator" as one with "pathological narcissism, including:

  • Narcissistic personality disorder,
  • Borderline personality disorder,
  • Antisocial personality disorder,
  • Or someone suffering from a chemical or behavioral addiction."

There may be other groups who can be especially manipulative, or even study manipulation and deception, but this is a good working definition.

Flying Monkey Attack Video

What Are Flying Monkeys?

Flying monkeys is a term taken from the movie The Wizard of Oz, in which the Wicked Witch sent her flying monkeys after Dorothy. It is abuse by proxy that results from emotional manipulation, deception, fear, or engaging other narcissists or abusive personalities to also abuse the scapegoat.

Even though my narcissistic personality disordered mother is deceased, the flying monkeys continue to rewrite history and gaslight about the past. Flying monkeys do not appreciate it when the scapegoat child refuses to play along. However, the pretend world of the narcissist, the rabbit hole, where up is down and night is day, is intolerable.

The Narcissist's Rabbit Hole

"Down the rabbit hole," a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting or mentally deranging, from its use in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  - Wikipedia
"Down the rabbit hole," a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting or mentally deranging, from its use in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. - Wikipedia | Source

The Narcissist's Rabbit Hole

The narcissist's rabbit hole is about like standing on the lawn with someone who has their sunglasses on at high noon on a sunny day. The person not only insists it is dark outside and those are not sunglasses, but that you agree with them that it is dark outside and those are not sunglasses. If you refuse to play along or state the obvious, you are clearly a troublemaker. Now imagine growing up in narcissistic mother's rabbit hole surrounded by flying monkeys as the scapegoat!

Gaslighting Defined by Martha Stout, Ph.D

Gaslighting definition by Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door
Gaslighting definition by Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door | Source

Narcissistic Mother's Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a favorite for narcissistic abusers. The term was taken from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which a psychopathic Don Juan perpetrator intentionally tries to drive his wife to insanity. Unbeknownst to his wife, he had previously murdered her aunt who raised her, but he did not get away with the jewels he wanted. Years later he romances the wife, they marry and he talks her into moving back into the house where he thinks the jewels are hidden, and immediately begins isolating her.

While searching for the jewels in the attic, where he believes the jewels are hidden, he uses a gaslight. When he uses that gaslight it causes the other gaslights in the home to dim. When his wife notices the dimming, he tells her she is imagining things. He moves things and when she can not find them he gives responses designed to cause her to doubt her perceptions of reality. Then, as if that was not enough, he gets the housemaid (none other than a young Angela Lansbury's movie debut) to join in. So no one validates his wife's perceptions, which are 100% accurate by the way. I do not want to ruin the movie for you, but you get the point.

Gaslighting can take many forms, but can have the same result. It often causes the target to doubt their own sense of reality. It's what many abusers do when they abuse you, then the next day deny it happened. This can happen to the extent that we question our own perceptions and memories on an increasingly grander scale. (Note: According the experts it does not take much gaslighting to potentially do damage to the gaslighting victim).

It's psychological abuse. It can dismantle our self-confidence as we begin to question ourselves instead of the abuser. I have experienced gaslighting to be even more crazymaking the more people who join in, as the maid did in the movie. In my experience, this can be siblings when you are young and still in the home, who are going along with the well-known toxic dysfunctional family rules, or it can be coworkers during a workplace mobbings. What is wrong with me? Am I losing my mind? Or, are you being abused with an insidious form of abuse called gaslighting.

In the movie, he intentionally moved her brooch then pretended he had not when she was looking for it. We would likely say something like, "I could swear I put that in my purse!" Soon you begin to doubt your memory. This is also a variation of the gaslighting the Manson family used breaking into a home, not stealing anything, just rearranging a few things enough to cause psychological distress.

Gaslight Promotional Trailer

Think about that for a minute. It would be very upsetting to come home and find your home had been burglarized, but you can at least tell yourself it was thieves looking for fast cash. If you come home to find your things moved around, but nothing stolen, there are only a couple of possible conclusions.

You can not comfort yourself with the idea that perhaps it was just a petty theft, someone who violated your home for fast cash, because nothing is actually missing. Your personal belongings have just been moved. Do you doubt your own recollection of how you left things? Do you conclude it is something more sinister and directed personally at you, than thieves just wanting fast cash? It would be very disturbing. What if you try to report this to police?

Gaslighting by Police?

Gaslighting Quote by Christine Louis de Canonville
Gaslighting Quote by Christine Louis de Canonville | Source

Narcissistic Mother's Smear Campaigns and Poisoning the Well

Ideally, if someone has a problem with another person, they go directly to that person to discuss it. However, that's just often not the case in a dysfunctional family. Some people do this without bad intentions because they have not recognized the habit or if they believe the person will become angry or violent if they communicate directly.

Let's use Daughter, Mother and Aunt as an example. Daughter has done something Mother does not like, but instead of going to Daughter about it, Mother tells Aunt about it. Aunt listens to the gossip, then involves herself in the situation, creating the triangulation. The Mother's intentions may or may not be bad. It could be an old habit and she may not realize the damage she is doing unless it is pointed out to her. Daughter then does not have the opportunity to address the issue with Mother, as well as potentially having her reputation harmed with Aunt.

However, narcissists are liars, so do not be surprised if narcissistic mother lies about you. A narcissist uses the smear campaign for the same reason any scapegoater does. It would be rather difficult to scapegoat someone without lying. Add to that the idea that a narcissist does not have any real desire to actually be good, but intensely wants to reflect an image of goodness or even perfection. Narcissistic mother in particular generally also wants to control the flow of information, spin it to cast herself in a positive light, but also to cast whomever she is targeting or scapegoating in a negative light. She wants it all and to leave you with nothing and no one. So, her smear campaign is designed to discredit, disparage, isolate and punish you.

Narcissistic Mother's Smear Campaigns

Smear Campaign Quote
Smear Campaign Quote | Source

Flipped Tales: Narcissistic Mother Plays the Victim and You Become the Bad Guy

On the other hand, Narcissistic Mother does this with evil intent and it goes something like this. Narcissistic Mother just verbally assaulted Daughter because Daughter confronted Narcissistic Mother about her lying about Daughter. However, when Narcissistic Mother calls Aunt, she tells Aunt that Daughter just verbally assaulted her because she confronted Daughter about her lying (notice the flip, the projection of the bad behavior onto the true victim).

It appears to strip Narcissistic Mother of her wrong and true victim Daughter of her virtue, killing two birds with one stone by playing the victim while vilifying the true victim. Narcissistic personality disordered Mother then appears innocent of the abuse, damages Daughter's reputation with Aunt and an alliance is formed against the true victim. Aunt may very well believe she is doing the right thing and standing up for the innocent person even though she may be unknowingly being deceived, used and manipulated.

However, in my experience flying monkeys are usually abusive, manipulative and/or weak-willed (unable to stand against a crowd) personalities themselves. Aunt becomes Narcissistic Mother's flying monkey to do her dirty work and heap more abuse on Daughter for daring to confront Narcissistic Mother about her lying. If you choose to confront a narcissist, be prepared for the rage and revenge.

Narcissistic Mother Playing the Victim While Vilifying True Victims by Gail Meyers
Narcissistic Mother Playing the Victim While Vilifying True Victims by Gail Meyers | Source

Narcissistic Mother Playing Concerned Parent While Destroying Relationships

The gossip may also be thinly veiled as fake "concern" for Daughter, who the Narcissistic Mother just attacked after Daughter confronted Mother about her lying. In this scenario, the Narcissistic Mother may lie by saying something (usually dripping with martyrdom), followed by fake concern. "I tried to be a good mother, but I am so worried about her irrational emotional state."

This sounds like a caring mother expressing concern about her daughter. It is gossip just the same, directed toward casting doubt on Daughter's stability. If we stand back and look at it, it is classic narcissistic behavior. The Narcissistic Mother held herself out as the innocent victim who must endure this irrational child (who is not being irrational at all, but responding normally to the abnormal conditions of the verbal attack and abuse) and tarnished the reputation of true victim Daughter in the mind of Flying Monkey Aunt.

Narcissistic Mother has also "explained" any upset Daughter might display, so that Aunt will automatically attribute it to "irrational behavior" should she see Daughter. If Aunt is a well trained Flying Monkey Aunt, she will often turn around and give true victim Daughter a talk about treating her mother better! (Remember, the reality of what actually happened was Daughter confronted NPD Mother about lying about her in the first place!)

Do not underestimate the cumulative damage this can cause to your reputation and other relationships, including sibling relationships, when a slanderous narcissistic mother repeats this stunt over a span of years. A lying, manipulative narcissist can completely destroy your relationships before you even realize what is going on.

What is Narcissism? A practical guide to protecting yourself

What Is Narcissism? A practical guide to protecting yourself
What Is Narcissism? A practical guide to protecting yourself

Dr. David McDermott displays his informative and insightful information on his blog, Decision Making Confidence. Dr. McDermott's comfortable and easily digestible writing style is a welcome addition to the online topic.


Narcissistic Mother's Scapegoating

Narcissistic Mother Scapegoat Quote
Narcissistic Mother Scapegoat Quote | Source

Narcissistic Mother's Scapegoating

A scapegoat allows someone or an entire family to project everything that is negative onto the scapegoat in order for them to continue to appear normal. It is a distraction, a red herring. The whole family can then point at the scapegoat as the problem and focus the attention away from the true core issue. This can be reinforced in many overt and covert ways. It may be verbally hearing your family wants the best for you, but their actions do not match their words. For example, telling you they support you getting an education, but then actively sabotaging or undermining your attempts to do so.

There is a heavy investment in keeping you in your assigned role as the "bad" scapegoat. So you might think you will become an overachiever to prove to your family and the world you are not "bad." However, narcissistic mother needs a "bad" scapegoat in order to support the denial and facade. So when you start to excel it actually makes narcissistic mother uncomfortable because it threatens her assessment of you.

She may very well also become jealous of any success you have. So, narcissist mother may actually reward her scapegoats for floundering, failing or getting in a mess. This can be done in very subtle ways so as to remain deniable and undetected, while she also actively undermines any success in every way she is able to.

Narcissistic Mother's Silent Treatment

Narcissistic Mother's Silent Treatment
Narcissistic Mother's Silent Treatment | Source

Narcissistic Mother's Silent Treatment

To continue in developing the habit of defining our terms accurately, the silent treatment is:

"the act of ignoring and excluding a person or group by another person or group."

It is a passive-aggressive form of communication that conveys contempt, disapproval and displeasure when you inflict the silent treatment. It can be used in virtually any relationship for a variety of reasons, but control is the core issue in the silent treatment. Narcissistic Mother often uses the silent treatment to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid issues and responsibilities.


Emotional manipulation by narcissistic mothers and flying monkeys may include gaslighting, smear campaigns, playing the victim while vilifying true victims, scapegoating, and the silent treatment. Learn to recognize, name, and articulate these narcissistic manipulative and often abusive tactics.

Word Count: 2990

© 2018 Gail Meyers

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