She’s cute, sweet and has wrinkles in all the right places. She’s always weeping into her instant decaf, wondering why the shards of her broken family lie in ruins around her. She’s your quintessential granny — with a catch. She’s also a narcissist.
That’s my grandma.
But first, the backstory. There’s always a backstory because narcissism is a multi-generational “thang.”
Let’s just say the family has never been “healthy.” If my Victorian great-great-grandpa wasn’t actually guilty of incest, he certainly was guilty of horsewhipping his children. His daughter, my great-grandma, bore the lash scars across her back for ninety-eight-and-a-half years.
Luckily, he died from appendicitis. Not long thereafter, great-grandma’s boyfriend ditched his first wife and daughter to fly back to the arms of his true love. They married and together had four lovely children.
Back in the 1920’s, divorce and remarriage were considered quite scandalous. Unfortunately, the children from this happy second marriage, though innocent, were “tainted.” Even close family members treated my grandma and her three siblings “differently.” The very existence of their older half-sister was a (badly) kept secret.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when they were faced with her existence. Unfortunately, Grandma chose denial, refusing to face the truth that her beloved father had another family. But the unspoken stigma surrounding this situation may have been the first “invisible” wound to Grandma’s self-esteem. It wasn’t fair to her, but it happened.
Grandma was also tall for her age. So her family sent her to school one year early, assuming her mental maturity matched her physical size. Big mistake. What vestiges of self-esteem Grandma had were ravaged by her struggles in school compounded by being bullied for her size, her weight, her poor clothes, being a country girl…you name it, she got bullied for it.
Nor did her parents lift a finger to protect her from the bullying…nor molestation. When a gentleman she worked for as a maid during his wife’s maternity confinement chased her around the house, trying to pin her to the wall, no one had any empathy. In fact, her mother ordered her to return to her maid job.
The final straw came when a long-time romance ended in a break-up.
Shortly after this event, she met and eloped with Grandpa. A quiet man. Not physically affectionate. Kinda’ cranky. A hater of lies and gossip. A tinkerer and inventor. A World War II Marine veteran who always stood at attention and solemnly saluted when he heard The Marine’s Hymn. A man with unstinting pride and unconditional love for his four granddaughters.
Grandma and Grandpa quietly loved and loudly bickered for forty-five long, faithful years. But it wasn’t a happy marriage.
If I were brutally honest, I’d say Grandma bore at least 50% of responsibility for the angst in the relationship. She was always one-upping her husband. Gleefully pouncing on the tiniest error in his speech, his memories, his story-telling. If she’d left the poor man alone, the marriage would have been so much happier. If she’d abided by his thrifty budget, it would have been happier. If she hadn’t made enough food for a frickin’ army each holiday, it would have been happier.
But no! By pissing him off, she got to play the delightful role of the persecuted victim. By embarrassing him and gossiping about him she could feed, vampire like, on her main source of narcissistic supply: a pissed off “mean” husband.
The daughter was sweet, loving, quiet, acutely sensitive and painfully shy like her father.
The son was outgoing and gregarious, like his mother. Naturally, the roles of Scapegoat and Golden Child fell to them, respectively.
They didn’t earn those roles. They didn’t deserve them. They were assigned them by their Mama.
To my shy, sensitive mother fell the role of being her mother’s emotional rock. From her infancy, she was trained in the fine art of codependence.
She was the shoulder Grandma cried on, bewailing her husband’s meanness. Oh how Grandma revels in playing the victim. She has honed victimhood to a high art. A veritable Michelangelo among Victims.
For years, before she wised up and realized she was being shamelessly used, brainwashed and manipulated, Mother believed it was her ministry to be Grandma’s emotional bedrock. “Without me,” Mother yelled, “that woman wouldn’t be able to cope with her husband’s meanness.” From baby on, Mother became responsible for providing everything her Mother was “missing in her emotional diet.” It’s called covert incest and it stinks. Reeks!
For six decades, Mother has listened, comforted, cried with, laughed with and gossiped with a woman who never stood on her own two feet, emotionally speaking. And Grandma has Mom by the “balls,” so to speak.
Like all good engulfing narcissists, she owns her childrens’ self-esteem. If Mother set a boundary, spoke her mind, did anything differently than Grandma does it, had a unique point of view or otherwise stepped out-of-line by even hair’s breadth, Grandma crushed her. Gave her the cold shoulder. The silent treatment.
She did it when was Mom as a sweet little girl, refusing in terror to go to the doctor. She did it when Mom was in her fourties and raised her voice to her Mamma for the very first time.
It just never stopped…the self-esteem crushing, the iron-fisted attempts to control, the silent treatment. Mom was “Never 21” as far as Grandma was concerned. It set-up my mom for a lifetime struggle with false guilt, Stockholm Syndrome, paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks and set her up to marry another victim-playing narcissist.
The Golden Child
With her son, the covert incest played out in a different way. He was her pride and joy. Unlike his sister who had inherited the “mean” husband’s shy personality, he had his mother’s gregarious, outgoing personality. Everyone loved him. His Mama was so proud!
As a little boy, he was more than welcome to watch his Momma bathe supposedly because, “I don’t want him being curious about women’s bodies.” Uh-huh. To this day he still kisses his Mama on the lips. Cute if a baby boy does it. Not so cute when an adult man (now a grandfather in his own right!) does it.
Narcissistic parents hate their children growing up. They are the adult. Their children will never be recognized as equal adults. It’s threatening!
It’s called Infantalization or “Never 21.” And it stinks!
Nothing is more “adult” than children meeting the love-of-their life, falling in love and getting married. It removes them from the sphere of of the narcissists’ power.
Shortly after my parents met, she tried to get my mom to dump dad because of his previous marriage. For perhaps the first time in her life, mother “grew a pair” and disobeyed.
On her wedding morning, Grandma tried again to break them up by claiming, “It’s a sin to marry a divorced man.” Again, Mother “grew a pair,” refusing to leave her groom at the altar. Undoubtedly, this cast a pall over what should have been the happiest day of Mom’s life. Score 1 to the narcissist.
Decades later, Grandma would wail that her children married too young. “I wasn’t done being a mother,” she always sniffled.
My sweet patootie!
Mother-in-Law From You-Know-Where
Click here to read my newest article, Parents Who Are Jealous of Their Kids.
In 1984, Grandma’s worst fears were realized when her son married a lovely woman. Grandma doesn’t like her daughter-in-law. She wouldn’t like any daughter-in-law. Any woman who takes an incestuous, narcissistic mother’s little boy away from her is on her shit-list…permanently.
Behind the scenes, Grandma has maliciously gossiped about and slandered her long-suffering daughter-in-law since the wedding. Innocent things likes her spending habits. Her penchant for shopping and going places. All of it was fair game for Grandma’s barbed tongue. She even went so far as to accuse her daughter-in-law of being a “liar” because she complained about the house she had previously said was “fine” thirty years before. (Who doesn’t complain about their house!?!)
Her son may be the beloved Golden Child, but he hasn’t escaped his mother’s gossip, abuse and scads of covert incest…and it really, really stinks.
Fiber optics has nothing on Grandma. She’s the original Gossip Information Superhighway. Her narcissism feeds on gossip. The slightest thing she disapproves of, the merest variance from how she does it better (i.e. not recycling tomato paste cans or having a speck of dust anywhere) gives her fodder for her non-existent self-esteem. But more about that in Part 2!
Unfortunately, gossiping about her son to her daughter and about her daughter to her son destroyed the family. Oh, there were other dynamics at play, but the tale-carrying played a huge role in the Golden Child suddenly going “No Contact” with the Scapegoat.
Weeping Into her Decaf
And that, in itself, is another source of narcissistic supply! How she sobs into her decaf, bewailing her broken family. Loudly demanding that the Scapegoat make it right with the Golden Child…especially around the Holidays so Christmas is ruined, year after year. Score 2,438,962 to the narcissist.
It gets better, but alas, I’m out of room. Please subscribe to receive instant notification as soon as Parts 2 and 3 of this jolly little tale are published!
Click here to read Part 2: Narcissistic Granny: How We Learned the Granny Two-Step (Pt. 2 of 3)
Click here to read Part 3: Narcissistic Granny: Faking A Heart Attack & Manipulating Police (Pt. 3 of 3)
Did you like what you read here? If so, I’d be happy to contribute an original story about narcissistic abuse (and its many rotten bedfellows) to your website, too. For details on the “whole package” deal I offer, please visit www.lenorathompsonwriter.com. I promise…you won’t be disappointed!
Recommended Reading: Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig buck. Life-changing book!