I can’t spend a penny without feeling guilty. Not even for food! Who’s with me? Yeah, I’m not the only one!
If you were raised by a narcissist, dated a narcissist, lived with a narcissist, rented from a narcissist, married a narcissist, then you were overtly and/or covertly made to feel terribly guilty for spending money. I don’t mean frivolous or extravagant spending either.
I’m talking about spending money on day-to-day needs. Survival. It doesn’t matter if we’re actually earning the money to meet for our own needs or not. What is that old saying? “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours if mine.” I heard a narcissist say that, laughingly, on many occasions.
It reminds me of the man Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned in her book. “He’s so cheap,” she wrote, “that he’d skin a fly for its hide and tallow.” That’s cheap for ya! That’s a narcissit for ya! They’re like Tolkien’s Smaug the Dragon protecting the mounds of gold in his lair.
Rubbing It In
I got off lucky, in a way. While most children of narcissists are made to feel guilty for the “great expense” of every piece of clothing they don and every crust of bread they eat, I wasn’t.
However, I was made very aware of the money or “liquid life,” as my mom called my Dad’s income, that was being invested in my school tuition. It was incumbent on me not to waste any of my education so Dad’s very life-blood would not be wasted either. What a burden! What guilt I, as a codependent child, felt over this.
It took a quarter of a century before I realized, “Dad would’ve gone to work no matter what. He would’ve worked forty hours whether I existed or not. I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t ask to attend this school. It was all his decision.” That eased the guilt…a little.
But most kids of narcs don’t get off so easily. I’ve heard your horror stories, especially from those raised by comfortably positioned or even wealthy parents. Getting nothing for Christmas or receiving basic necessities, socks and underwear, as birthday “gifts.” Being dressed in ill-fitting, ragged clothes…and begrudged even those. No medical care. Barely any toys. The cheapest of un-nutritous food. The list goes on and on.
Narcissists shame and guilt-trip their children, especially the scapegoats, for the bare necessities to keep body and soul together. Forget anything extra for enjoying of life! Toys. A musical instrument. Extra-curricular activities. A second-hand bicycle.
No wonder we feel guilt for spending money on ourselves now!
There’s Thriftiness and then there’s Bat-Crap Crazy
Narcissists tend to be extremely thrifty in some ways and extremely spend-thrift in others. It’s really very odd!
With one hand they’ll fling cash out the window for expensive toys, designer clothes, hot cars, exercise equipment, gambling, scams, whatever they want…while begrudging us toilet paper. Yep, you’ve been there too!
In February 2016, I published False Guilt: #SorryNotSorry. It was written from a place of deep anger and hurt, listing all the shame and guilt I absorbed, overtly and covertly. Quoting from that article, these are the things-that-cost-money I was begrudged or regularly shamed for, supposedly, using too much of.
- I’m sorry I used too much toilet paper.
- I’m sorry for the hot water I used.
- I’m sorry for the liquid soap I used.
- I’m sorry for the shampoo I used.
- I’m sorry for all the washcloths I used.
- I’m sorry for causing you laundry by only wearing outfits twice.
- I’m sorry for “showering” (bucket bath in a cold, dry tub) daily.
- I’m sorry for the power my food took to cook.
It was always Mom doing the interrogation, the shaming. It was always Mom asking if I was saving money. It was always Mom asking if I still had the money her mother gifted (to avoid paying taxes), ready to be returned if necessary. As with the lack-of-boundaries systemic to our relationship, there was zero privacy in my finances also.
Perhaps it’s not so odd that I developed a paranoia about spending money without maternal approval. When Mom and I went shopping, I’d check every item I wanted to purchase with her before actually buying it. Or show it to her when I got home from shopping. I know, I know. Pathetic!
This played out when I went shopping to outfit my new townhome with kitchen tools and small appliances. I invited her along, although I actually wanted to shop alone. You see, I was terrified to make the purchases myself, without the maternal blessing and approval. Again, how pathetic!
“Why do you use so much shampoo,” mother once quizzed me.
“I guess it makes me feel well off not to have to struggle to work up a full head of lather,” I mumbled under the headful of suds, triggering a maternal lecture on money handling. But to me it’s less wasteful to use enough shampoo the first time, so I can lather once instead of twice!
But the word “extravagance” is a trigger for us, isn’t it? If we use more than a quarter-sized dollop of shampoo, we were accused of being “extravagant.” Why oh why did we shower daily, we were quizzed. Using more than one lightbulb to illuminate a room — how wasteful! Salon haircut and style — why not snip, snip, snip at our hair in our bathroom like they do! The list goes on and on.
In the final analysis, it all boils down to narcissists’ true love. Their true “god”: MONEY.
Even when we pay our own way, contribute to the family coffers, we arestill begrudged water, heat, light, comfort. Why? Narcissist’s true love: money. Money! The less we spend on ourselves, the more for tttthhheeeemmmm! (Read that in Smeagol/Gollum’s voice so it makes sense.)
It took me many years to figure out why I felt so begrudged TP, light and warmth at home because, well, common sense isn’t exactly my strong suit. Eventually a theory emerged: If I was paying $440/month in rent (utilities, food, etc.) and barely any of it went for my own human needs and comfort, that means most of it went directly to line their pockets! It’s merely a theory, but it sure explains a lot.
To their surprise, after I moved out their food bill went up (because I’d been paying extra for food, partly buying their food each week, so great was my guilt and empathy for them!) and the water bill did not go down. In other words, it didn’t cost shit for me to live there and cost them more when I was gone. Sometimes I love karma!
The guilt over spending money: just another example of the evil legion of False Guilt we struggle with and suffer with all day, every day.
Money is merely a means to end. I like how Clem (played by Walter Pidgeon) phrased it in Mrs. Miniver:
“After all, what is money?
It’s a token.
It’s the power to buy ourselves something
that will make us a little happier.”
So go ahead and splurge just a little bit. I do! Last “frivolous” purchase: A $10 Oriole Feeder. Did I feel guilty? Yes! Should I have? No! But I made myself wait three years to buy a $10 oriole feeder. That’s three years of lost joy in watching orange and yellow orioles fight, feed and make love by the feeder. I can never get that lost joy back.
So go head and spend a little on yourself…and the birdies.