Narcissistic Mother Sides With Scapegoating Sister
Ask the Therapist – May 2020
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I am 51 years old and have one sibling, a sister, who is turning 53 in September. For as long as I can remember Carla has hated me. When we were really little it wasn’t too bad. I knew she was not too keen on me but we still played and had a fairly normal relationship.
When I was about twelve she really turned on me and did everything in her power to turn everyone against me. If I invited a friend over she would tell them lies about me and soon they would become her friend. She spread terrible rumors about me in high school and taunted me relentlessly.
As adults living in a very small rural community it continued and it came to the point where I only went to work and came home and never socialized in the community for fear that everyone believed what she said about me. I spent almost nine years living in complete solitude except for one friend whom I spoke to on the phone regularly but never in person.
Thankfully an amazing man managed to find me hiding out in the middle of nowhere and saw the good in me, and eventually convinced me to marry him. We now have a son and are trying our best not to make the same mistakes with him that our parents did with us. This is an extremely long story so I will have to just skip to the end.
My sister rejected me many, many years ago and has never wanted anything to do with me other than to turn everyone else against me.
In all of this time my mother never once told her to stop or tried to defend me or anything to that effect. When I tried to talk to her as a child she ignored my pleas for help. As an adult she pretends she never knew it was happening. When Carla told my mother that she felt so sorry for my son to have me as his mother, she never defended me or told her to stop. When Carla told everyone who would listen that my wedding was “the most loveless wedding she has ever been to” my mother never said a word. These are just a few examples.
I have tried to talk to my mother over the years about it and have told her how much it hurts that she would never defend me but it falls on deaf ears. My mother will go on and on about Carla and my nieces and nephews lives even though I have told her that it hurts me because they want nothing to do with me and say very bad things about me. Finally after years of asking her to respect my feelings I decided I had to go No Contact if I ever wanted to try to heal and stop all of the negative self talk. I wanted to do this for my sake and for my husband and son…so that they could have the healthiest version of me and so I could maybe finally feel good enough to accomplish my ultimate goals in life before it’s too late.
This was not an easy decision as my mother is almost 80 and I really, really don’t want to hurt her but I felt like it was her or me. I asked her multiple times to please respect that hearing about them hurts me, but she just continued to do it. My mother really doesn’t listen well so I decided to do it in writing and it really hasn’t gone well at all…actually that is a big understatement…I don’t know if it could have gone worse.
My mother and I have had many, many emails back and forth. She has now completely turned everything around and claims they are all the victims of me now. There were days where I was so angry with her that I thought the no contact would be easy but now I feel so full of guilt and shame that I feel like I made things harder for myself.
I’ve been reading everything I can find on the subject and trying to help myself, but thought I’d write to you to see if you can give me some advice.
I’m sending you an email that I received from my mother recently. I reread this email when I feel really guilty to help myself feel less guilty! So below is my mother’s email to me telling me what is ‘wrong’ with me.
My Mother’s Email:
Subject: “Emotional Manipulation – A Common Tactic to Fix Your Internal Conflicts”
“Emotional Manipulation is born out of cognitive chaos. IT WILL FIND A GUILTY PARTY WHO MAKES THE MANIPULATOR LOOK LIKE A VICTIM. THE OTHER PERSON WILL ALWAYS BE THE GUILTY ONE.!!!!!
Emotional Manipulation is when someone tries to manage the emotions of another person or exert influence over someone else’s behaviour for self serving purposes. People who emotionally manipulate do so with little or no regard to the well being of others.
You cannot manipulate me anymore, you cannot control me anymore and that is why you do not want to talk to me. Until you face the truth about how you orchestrated the break-up of my family and relentlessly drove them away you will not find peace of mind. Until you acknowledge how you manipulated me when you thought I was getting too close to Carla.
I finally realised the extent of your cruelty when you sent me the email from X after all those years – you knew it would cause me pain and upset. Carla is not responsible for what you have done – you are. Finally take responsibility for yourself, look inside yourself and try and understand yourself and change for the better. Throw away your bad behaviour patterns, forgive yourself, and move on to a better life. I will always love you as I have always loved Carla.”
It is a very long story but basically Carla put her house up for sale and moved away and that is what I am being blamed for. Sorry if this is confusing! Thanks in advance for any advice you may be able to offer. I am trying really hard to stop the very loud voices telling me that I am such an awful, selfish, self absorbed, cruel, heartless human being for stopping contact with my mother, especially during this time of Covid when other families are helping each other.
Thanks very much for your question Ms 51. Your very difficult family situation reads like a playbook of narcissistic family abuse and scapegoating. Although narcissism exists on a continuum, and every narcissistic family is unique, there are common patterns in your story that point to deeper levels of dysfunction in the family dynamic. This is understandably very painful for you.
If your sister has hated you for as long as you can remember, then it seems to me that you have never really had a “normal” relationship. Like many scapegoats, we learn to normalize mistreatment, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for anyone, through no fault of your own.
What I am seeing here is deliberate sabotage on the part of your sister, and early evidence shows her life long propensity to engage in scapegoating smear campaigns against you. It can be a troubling prognosticator of more serious anti-social traits, when this kind of behavior emerges in childhood. Although you mention your problems with your mother in adulthood, I wonder where both your parents were at this time, and if they somehow encouraged or, at best, ignored this kind of aggression from your sister towards you? Children don’t learn this type of behavior out of the blue. It tends to be role modeled and rewarded by significant others early in life.
How incredibly painful for you to have been so intimidated and brow beaten by your sister’s malevolent behavior that you felt the need to go into hiding as an adult. It must have been extremely stressful and demoralizing to be living under these ‘prisoner of war’ conditions. And it sounds like you were both terrified and isolated. What I would call ‘a desert island time’.
Sounds like your partner saw the beauty in you that your sister and mother are unable to appreciate. I deeply respect your commitment to break the chain of intergenerational trauma by focusing on raising your son in a deliberately healthier fashion. It takes insight as well as discipline and commitment to be able to do this without having a healthy ‘blueprint’ from your family of origin to guide you.
Your sister sounds competitive and envious of you, which is likely motivating her to engage in a life long vendetta against you. Most Narcissistic Personality Disordered (NPD) people are very covetous of that which they don’t possess, i.e. character, healthy esteem and a sense of self. As most NPD folks are also raised in narcissistic families, there can also be fierce competition for scarce or non-existent parental approval and love. There is deep inner turmoil in the psyche of the full blown narcissist, which oscillates between grandiosity and repressed shame. When shame rears its head, due to some triggered shortcoming, real or imagined, NPDs project or discard feelings of low self worth onto others. They target and tear down higher functioning family members, and in the process falsely elevate their self esteem, while emotionally injuring their target.
A clearer picture begins to emerge regarding the origins of your sister’s narcissism, when you factor in the role your mother played in creating and sustaining toxic family dynamics, and profoundly betraying you in the process. I get the impression that you mother may have been colluding with your sister against you all along. I suspect your mother’s narcissistic traits go back very far in time, likely well before you or your sister were even born, as NPD is a childhood developmental and attachment disorder that is pretty much in place by the end of the toddler years.
NPD parents tend to see family life as a black and white combat zone of one upmanship, rather than striving for interpersonal harmony, support and security – the hallmarks of healthy family dynamics. As the family scapegoat, you have been consigned to the role of perpetual family ‘loser’ and ‘bad person’. Your mother is aggressing towards you by affiliating with your bully sister and rationalizing the injustice of the situation. Your mother defends her position by pretending there is no family abuse towards you, and in her email accuses you of being the abuser for having the audacity to point out a very real family problem. In this way, she can justify her dismissal of your distress at the hands of your sister. This is not only cruel and irresponsible behavior by a parent of adults, but unconscionable as the parent of young children. How helpless and despairing you must have felt as a young girl when your pleas for maternal protection fell on deaf ears.
So where does this pathological behavior come from? Your mother (and possibly your father) likely appointed your sister to the role of the Golden – Favored – Child, and you to the role of Scapegoat – Problem – Child.1 The unspoken narrative, in these families is that there can only be two types of players: heroes or villains. ‘Heros’ make the parent look good, and are unfairly rewarded. ‘Scapegoats’ make the parent look bad, and must be corrected or ostracized. This is a central feature of narcissistic family dynamics, where the needs of developing children are hijacked to meet the unmet emotional needs of their parents. 2
Your mother callously rubs your face in your sister’s false ‘heroism’, the implication being that you are a failure, and not worthy of the basic civility and human rights you so rightly have advocated for. I completely understand your desire to go No Contact. Under these demoralizing family circumstances, it is likely the most self protective and respectful thing you can do, especially if you want to heal the emotional injuries repeatedly inflicted by your family. I admire your commitment to both your psychological health and your family’s well being. Good for you for demonstrating this foresight.
The fact that you feel concern regarding potentially hurting your mother shows that you have empathy, in spite of her transgressions. Unfortunately, this empathy is not reciprocated. I would encourage you to not carry false guilt towards family members – regardless of advancing age – who make a point of blame shifting and undermining you. NPD parents lack the insight necessary to grasp that they should abide by healthy standards of family civility. They see themselves as rightfully entitled and above the rules. Setting healthy boundaries – such as going No Contact – is usually viewed by NPD folks as a form of unjustified attack, and they almost always falsely perceive themselves as victims. NPD people do not see themselves as accountable for the pain they inflict on others. In fact, they justify their behavior on the grounds that they are correcting or punishing those who do them harm by not acceding to their selfish, infantile demands and expectations. It’s a total fantasy of false victimhood on the part of the NPD individual.
NPD family will continue to claim victimization by family members they have themselves victimized, who try to hold them accountable for their actions. I would encourage you to go No Contact and step away from the toxic fight your mother will likely keep going indefinitely, so you can protect yourself and begin to heal. Your mother is making you feel guilty by projecting her own disowned blame and shame onto you. NPD’s love a good fight. It’s called “right fighting”, and is a form of gathering narcissistic supply, which can be just as energizing to the narcissistic individual as adulation.
To truly help yourself, you will likely need to stop taking the bait from your mother, and stand up to the Inner Critic – aka The Troll . The Troll is the condemning voice of critical family members that you have been programmed to internalize since childhood. You are neither a saint nor the “awful, selfish, self absorbed, cruel, heartless human being” your family tries to convince you that you are when they refuse to be accountable and accuse you of their own behavior.
Wishing you all the best.
Notes / References
- The Golden Child is selected by a narcissistic parent to represent the idealized view the parent has of themself. The Golden Child may not necessarily be talented, virtuous or intelligent. What the Golden Child does however, is align with the narcissistic parent in an abusive pact whereby the Golden Child is favored in return for acting as a Public Relations person for the reputation of the parent and family. The Golden Child is also expected to side with the NPD parent against the Scapegoat Child, to further buoy their fragile ego. In other words, the Golden Child is used by the narcissistc parent for ‘narcissistic supply’.
- The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment, Marisa Mauro Psy.D., Psychology Today, March 21, 2010
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counselor, Registered Clinical Counselor, specializes in recovery from Family Scapegoating, Narcissistic Abuse, Low Self Esteem, Chronic Anxiety, Estrangement Grief and Relationship Addiction.
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