It was a lovely letter Loretta Young wrote to her “adopted” daughter, Judy Lewis. A beautifully written missive written by an Oscar-winning mother, Loretta Young, to the daughter she secretly conceived with Oscar-winner Clark Gable while filming Call of the Wild. To the uninitiated, Young’s letter is just that. A loving letter between mother and daughter. But to those who’ve suffered from narcissistic abuse in written form, it reeks of clandestine control and narcissistic trigger words.
Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ about. You’ve gotten them too. Those letters, greeting cards, texts and emails. Anyone else would read them and coo, “Oh, how sweet!” But you and I know better. They’re loaded with narcissistic keywords to trigger our compliance.
It isn’t until Page 412 of her autobiography, Uncommon Knowledge, that Judy Lewis uses the word “narcissistic” about her mother, Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young. And high time too! Nicknamed the Steel Butterfly, Young got her way. All of the time. She may have been little, but oh! was she mighty!
She got her way in the intricate, convoluted way she hid her “mortal sin,” Judy Lewis herself. You see, Clark Gable was married. Very married. And Loretta Young was single and Catholic. Very Catholic. By feigning illness when her pregnancy began to show and placing her baby daughter in a Catholic orphanage, Young was able to later adopt her. The storyline was almost fool-proof, but rumors ran rampant anyway.
No one in Hollywood was fooled by Young’s elegant charade, except one person: Judy Lewis herself . She was a shy girl, a sad girl, a frightened, obedient, trusting girl. The kind of girl a narcissistic parent always tries to raise. In fact, Lewis was in her thirties before she dared to confront her mother on the truth of her parentage.
That conversation did not go well.
A few years later, Judy dared to discuss with her mother the idea of writing her autobiography, claiming Clark Gable as her biological father.
That conversation went even worse.
Isn’t it odd how much of narcissists’ abuse is in written form? When Judy Lewis mentioned her step-father writing her daily notes, I suddenly remembered the daily notes I also received. Narcissists definitely like to govern from a safe, cowardly distance.
In 1984, Judy began working on her autobiography. Her mother sent her a letter, ostensibly to congratulate her on the book deal. But the letter also cautioned her “against revealing ‘the area of my bloodline.’ She indicated that she [Loretta] would be ‘mortally offended’ if I even discussed the truth with any editor…She told me that she would pray that I find some ‘inspired’ way to handle that topic…”
As Judy said, my mother “had an uncanny knack for using just the right word (typically, written, not spoken) like mortally to communicate her subliminal messages to me. I had learned at an early age to be attuned to these words and I knew that it would be the death of our relationship if I wrote the true story…”
To those of us who were raised by narcissists, that letter was just lousy with keywords to trigger Mind Control.
Keywords / Trigger Words
What are the keywords your narcissists use to trigger you into submission and obedience? For Judy Lewis, the word “mortal” was the keyword. Did you catch it? Loretta Young considered Judy herself to be a “mortal sin.” Her conception, her birth, her very person were a “mortal sin.” Huge trigger!
The other trigger was “praying for you.” Wow! I bet that’s a trigger for many of us, especially if our narcissist(s) were religious. It implies that if we don’t do what they want, we’re sinning against God. And you can’t get much more narcissistic than that!
One of my trigger words is “concerned.” It’s not just the word itself, but the extremely “triggery,” shaming, guilt-and-dread-inducing tone of voice that accompanied it. I remember that tone being in the last voicemail my mother left for me in 2013. Usually, our communication was on steroids. Suddenly, I took a three-week sabbatical from all the emailing. I’d just discovered narcissism. It took me three weeks between discovery to decide to officially go “No Contact.” It wasn’t so much what she said, as how she said it. That “concerned” tone always triggered guilt to the point of panic. (Stockholm Syndrome, anyone!?)
Fear of Narcissism Trumps Fear of Death
Several years ago, I suddenly came down with costochondritis. Have you had it? The pain is exquisitely excruciating. It’s the inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage.
You can’t breathe. You can’t move. It feels like a heart attack. I thought I was having a heart attack! Naturally, my husband wanted me to go to the Emergency Room. But I knew I’d have to tell my family I was in the hospital. My family…who shamed me for having head colds, sore throats and headaches! They could be sick and it was okay. I always had to be well.
Despite the excruciating pain, I was paralyzed by the fear of “concerning” my family…and being shamed for it later. I couldn’t move, couldn’t decide, couldn’t put my health first. My terror at “concerning” them trumped my fear of death. So I just sat there, terrified to take care of myself, literally paralyzed by fear of my family’s being “concerned,” refusing to go to ER. That’s how strong narcissistic keywords, trigger words and mind control can be. They trump pain. They trump self-care. They even trump the Will to Live.
So, what trigger words do your narcissists’ use?
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