A post on Lucky Otter’s Haven, entitled Where does this silly idea that covert narcissism is the most malignant come from?, is spot on, in my opinion, about the differences between covert and overt narcissism. However, I believe there are some exceptions to Lucky’s observations. My mother is a case in point.
It seems to me that my mother’s narcissism is a mixture of overt and covert. When she has plenty of narcissistic supply, she is much more overt. But without supply she becomes covert, very down on herself and deeply depressed.
My mother was the “bad girl” scapegoat in her family of origin, while her only sibling, a gorgeous, smart, “good girl” younger sister, was the golden child. Even when I was very young, although I did not understand it in psychological terms, it was obvious when we visited my grandparents that my mother was an insecure wreck around them. While they openly doted on their vivacious and glamorous younger daughter, my grandparents’ attitude towards my mother was that nothing she did was ever good enough.
But when we were away from my maternal grandparents, which was most of the time, my mother was self-confident to the point of being overbearing. An overt narcissist.
I believe my mother’s overt narcissism was her way of compensating for a deeply rooted feeling of inferiority. I suppose this may be true of all Narcissists. However, the underlying inferiority complex seems much more apparent in my mother than in the “typical” narcissist.
After my mentally ill father tried to kill my mother (because he believed she’d had an affair with his best friend, which I suspect was true), my mother’s self-esteem hit rock bottom. Alienated from their church friends (my dad was a minister, and so was the married man my mother allegedly had an affair with), my mother was left with no one but me to lean on.
During the summer between my sixth and seventh grades in school, our only car was repossessed and our home went into foreclosure. This happened because my dad had been arrested, then put in a psychiatric ward, after almost murdering my mom. (He had come so close to killing her that I had believed, for several terrifying moments, that my mother was dead.)
While my father was in the hospital he was fired from his job, because his boss said my dad had stolen some very expensive equipment. With no income whatsoever, the six of us quickly ran out of money and food. I was twelve when this happened and my much younger siblings ranged from ages one to five. (My dad believed the baby wasn’t his. Again, I believe my dad was probably right.)
With no high school diploma, no viable work experience, no car, and four preschoolers, my deeply depressed and traumatized mother didn’t even attempt to look for a job. I was very naive at the time, with little understanding about how the world worked, so I had no idea that there were charities and government agencies available to help families in our situation. After we ate the last scrap of food, knowing there was no money left, I believed we were all going to die of starvation, just like those heartbreaking ads I had seen of skeletal children with bloated bellies and big sad eyes.
I remember wondering how long it was going to take for my family and me to die.
After about a week with no food, my mother swallowed her pride and called her parents for help. Until she called them, I was so shell-shocked by the nightmare our lives had become, that calling anyone for help hadn’t even occurred to me.
My maternal grandparents immediately came to our rescue. Grammy flew to Missouri from the west coast island where my grandfather was working in a federal prison. She bought my mother a car, signed us up for welfare and food commodities, and within two weeks she had closed on a house in a nearby city that my grandparents would eventually retire to. She helped us pack and paid for a big truck and crew to move us out of the foreclosed house into the new house. My grandparents let us live there, rent free, for the next two years.
Wonderful grandparents, right? BUT… in the process of saving us financially, my grandmother further damaged my mother emotionally by making her eat a ton of crow. My grandparents had never liked my dad. Now that he had failed my mom in the worst way, leaving her stranded with five young children, my grandmother did not spare the “I told you so!” attitude.
I felt no love, no compassion, and no empathy from my grandmother while she was “saving” us. Her attitude was that we were a huge burden she deeply resented, while also patting herself on the back for being so “wonderful” to her undeserving daughter and grandchildren.
This, of course, further wounded my mother’s already decimated self-esteem.
MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER flew back to the west coast and, for the next several months, my mother did very little besides sleep and cry. During this time, I was the one who fixed the meals, cleaned the house, and looked after my four little siblings.
My dad was released from the psychiatric hospital shortly after our move to the city. He came by to visit and told my mother that he had rented an apartment across town.
One night my mother told me that she was going to ask my dad to come back to her. “No man will ever want me, at my age, with five kids and all these stretch marks,” she said. “And I can’t live on welfare and stay in my parents’ house forever!” Then she bathed (for the first time in weeks), fixed her hair and makeup, put on a pair of sexy high heels and her prettiest dress, and drove over to my dad’s apartment…. where she found him with the head nurse of the psychiatric ward. (My dad later married the R.N, right after my parents’ divorce was final. How unethical was that, on the nurse’s part?!)
THIS WAS WHEN my mother’s narcissism flipped into full-blown psychopathy. This was when my mother tried to gas us all to death while my brothers and sisters and I were sleeping in our beds.
It was the ultimate suicide attempt. The ultimate gaslight. And the ultimate “F You” of a painfully insecure, psychopathic narcissist against the people who were supposed to love her, and never did.