Bad Mother, Good Mother: Offspring of Narcissists
By Sam Vaknin
Author of "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
In adulthood, sensitized offspring are able to rapidly discern the presence of narcissists by reading their body language and by resonating with subtle cues emitted by the narcissist even when he is on his best behavior and when he puts on a show and embarks on his charm offensives. They experience repulsion, resentment, and rage and react by distancing themselves from the narcissistic source and, when this fails, by aggressively containing the narcissist, or trying to “fix”, educate, or enlighten him. This “allergic” reaction remains potent even with repeated exposures to the same source.
Desensitized individuals – a small minority - seek to recreate the experiences they have had with the narcissistic parent by becoming an Inverted Narcissist.
Both types of children of narcissists – the sensitized and the desensitized – conduct a lifelong dialog with the Good Mother and Bad Mother inner representations and introjects. It consists of the Bad (narcissistic) Mother disparaging the qualities of a Good (mentally healthy) Mother and forcing her Good (read: codependent) Son/Daughter to justify and defend her destructive misbehaviour and pernicious, insidious traits.
Good Mother (Bad Mother voice=BM)
The Good Mother (as seen by her children) ...
Is angelic, pure
BM: An angelic and pure being is not human, it is idealized and, therefore, dehumanized. It exists only in your imagination.
Is always present
BM: She is merely taken for granted. You don’t even pay enough attention to her to notice if she is actually there. She is like a fixture.
Is predictable, reliable, consistent
BM: Polite terms for boring.
Is emotionally safe
BM: Euphemism for not exciting or adventurous.
Is considerate and empathic
BM: You expect her to be prescient and predict your needs and wishes even before you become aware of them. This will never happen. So, you either deceive yourself – or end up being mighty disappointed.
Is concerned, involved, compassionate, caring
BM: She is probably vigilant or paranoid which drives her to spy on you and to try to control your every move.
Provides unconditional love: she loves the child regardless of his/her “performance” in fulfilling her expectations
BM: This amounts to spoiling the child: pleasant in the short-term, deleterious later on in life. Love should be conditioned on good behavior and performance – it’s the only way to face the hostile, merciless world out there.
Bad Mother (Good Son/Daughter voice=GSD)
The Bad Mother (as seen by her children) ...
Provides transactional love, conditioned on the child’s performance in meeting her expectations and fulfilling her wishes and needs
GSD: She has my welfare in mind. She is merely training me to survive ("tough love"). The world is hostile or indifferent and people are measured solely by whether and how they perform. Transactional love is a good preparation for life.
Is emotionally and/or physically absent
GSD: She is not smothering or doting, she is giving me space to encourage and foster my personal growth. She is not a control freak and she trusts me to get on with my life.
Is capricious, arbitrary, inconsistent
GSD: She is exciting to be around, adventurous, and colourful.
Engages in emotional blackmail, is withholding and punitive
GSD: These are the just deserts for having disappointed her and for having misbehaved. I deserve what’s coming to me. She is fair and blameless. I am to blame.
Offers bribes and rewards for behaviours and accomplishments that conform to her wishes, fantasies, and expectations
GSD: Her giving is proof of her love and how much she notices and appreciates my achievements. We had a common goal which we set to achieve together.
Engenders with the child a cult-like shared psychosis (shared fantasies)
GSD: She shielded me from painful and harmful reality with her wonderful capacity for storytelling and weaving narratives.
Suggests to the child that they are faced with common "enemies" and that s/he is her true husband, romantic/intimate partner, or friend (emotional incest)
GSD: My mother has always been my best friend and made me feel unique. She could rely on and trust no one but me. We had a special bond. We were united against the whole world, or at least against my monstrous, or no-good father. She made me feel that I am her one and only true love and passion.
Makes the child parent her and displays neediness and clinging
GSD: She sacrificed her life for me; she needs me; she cannot cope without me.