No, they can’t. Remember, a narcissist presents a false image of himself to the world. To everyone outside the family he’s kind, caring, generous, lovable, and he might even be one to lend an ear and listen to another’s problems. He’s not the same angry, miserly, unlovable lout that you know.
The differences between the two sides of your parents makes you think you’re insane.
The Narcissist Picks an Image
Narcissists have to pick their public persona—the mask of their false self. They do this carefully. Their goal is for their false self to provide them with the greatest amount of narcissistic supply possible. Narcissistic supply is the attention, adoration, fear, etc. that the narcissist collects from other people.
Narcissistic supply is highly important to the narcissist. It’s what he uses to maintain his false self. Without the supply his false self would crumble. And since the narcissist has no true self, the loss of the false self would evoke a crisis. He would rage and carry on until he could reestablish his false self and regain a source of narcissistic supply.
So they choose a false self that will attract the kind of narcissistic supply they desire. I compare it to a vampire shopping for a specific blood type at a blood bank.
An Example of a Narcissist’s False Self
It took me the longest time to believe my mother is a narcissist. The reason I couldn’t believe it was due to the strength of her false self’s projection. When I read the traits of a narcissist, all I could think of was that this doesn’t sound like Mom.
I ignored all the evidence from my childhood. In my mind there was an excuse for each example of narcissistic behavior I could think of. It took a family conflict where I remained angry for quite some time for me to see her personality disorder. And I might not have seen it then if I hadn’t been in therapy at the time.
My mother’s false self presents a character that easily conceals her dysfunctional side. The persona she portrays to the world is of a self-depreciating, extremely giving person.
Her self-depreciating behavior has two purposes. First, it is a way of drawing narcissistic supply to her. She puts herself down by saying she’s clueless, or couldn’t possibly do something. Then whoever she put herself down in front of says, “Oh, you’re very smart!” or “Of course you could do that! You’re so talented.”
She guzzles that narcissistic supply like an alcoholic chugging beer after being locked in the drunk tank for 24 hours.
The second reason my mother makes self-depreciating remarks is to get people to do things for her. This is especially true with technology. I fell into this trap one day. She came to my house so I could show her how to do something. Three hours later I found myself doing the same task on the twentieth site. Once it hit me what was going on, I had her leave.
She was perfectly capable of doing the task. She had me do it for her because my doing so fed her narcissistic supply. And I try really hard not to feed her false self. To me, it’s a monster. I grew up feeding that beast and withstanding its rage when it couldn’t get its hunger satiated. I want nothing more to do with that monster.
The Other Aspect of Mom’s False Self
My mother has another side to her false self. She’s a skilled narcissist. She recognized that one source of narcissistic supply left her with an inconsistent source of food for her false self. So she developed multiple sources of narcissistic supply.
Since she plays the self-depreciating card so often, it camouflaged her narcissism from me. So did her second false image. My mom presents herself as an extremely generous, giving person.
This lends her the appearance of caring about other people, but it’s just another clever way to obtain narcissistic supply.
Christmas is a perfect example of this. In a way it’s a schizophrenic example. When my siblings and I were growing up, we didn’t get much for Christmas. My brothers and I always received the clothing items that my mother didn’t spend money on during the rest of the year. My sister—the golden child—always got the most presents, the nicest clothes, and some other trinkets.
Things changed when we grew up. Mom donned the mask of a giver.
All four of us kids, our spouses, our children, our aunts, uncles, and cousins, were showered with gifts and bulging stockings. The presents were exquisitely wrapped. Every one told my Mom she was too generous.
“I like to give,” she said. “It’s my greatest pleasure.”
Her “generosity” poured torrents of narcissistic supply into her. And if I had been aware, I probably could have seen her guzzling greedily from the gushing floods.
She’d do the same on our birthdays, father’s days, and mother’s day. Money was no object when it purchased narcissistic supply.
How is the Narcissist in Your Life Hiding?
My mother’s giving behavior didn’t match up with society’s portrayal of a narcissist. In the media we hear that narcissists are very self-centered and so self-absorbed that they only talk about themselves. And sometimes that’s true. But I think the truth is more multi-faceted than what the media feeds us.
Mom hides her narcissism behind her self-depreciating behavior and her giving. She’s not like Kanye West—the media’s example of narcissism—going around declaring herself a god. So of course her friends, and all her family, but me, are blind to her narcissism and how she is using them.
If my mother doesn’t get her narcissistic supply, she’s not so generous. My family doesn’t go to her house for Christmas anymore. My wife and I refuse to participate in her Christmas performance. And we refuse to expose our kids to the game that she is playing. Instead she is invited over to our house before Christmas.
The years that she comes she stays barely for an hour saying she has many preparations to make. This is a little dig at us for not coming over Christmas day. She gives each of our three kids a very small gift.
My wife and I receive nothing. While she thinks she’s punishing me by not giving us gifts, she has no idea how happy that makes me. Now I don’t have to say thanks. She receives not a bit of narcissistic supply from me whatsoever.
It’s interesting how she deprives my kids. Since they rarely see her she, gives them next to nothing. She makes a point of telling me how she has to finish shopping for my three sibling’s kids and fill their stockings. Each of my brothers and sister’s kids give her a Christmas list. My kids aren’t asked for one.
How does the narcissist in your life hide? Does he or she put on such a deceptive false self that no one but you realizes they are a narcissist? Did it take forever for you to see their true colors because of their false self?
Narcissists are addicted to narcissistic supply like junkies hooked on heroin. They need it to stay straight. And they’ll do anything to get it, even betray you, their son or daughter.
Narcissists hide behind their false image knowing that if people knew how the narcissist used them, their relationships would be over. This is why your mother or father will become distressed at your unmasking of them and your erection of boundaries.
They will not like your becoming separate from them. They will say that they love you, but it is the narcissistic supply you provide that props up their false self they love.
Narcissists are very clever. They are master manipulators. Their strongest talent, perhaps, lies in getting other people to give them what they need. Once they figure out that you are not going to give them what they need they have little use for you.
But they are persistent. They will keep trying to wiggle beneath that boundary and convince you to reestablish your relationship on the same terms as before you caught on to them. Remember their thinking is grandiose, so they believe they can fool you.
Your job is to keep the boundaries intact if you have them, or establish some if you don’t. As hard as this is to read, your parents don’t love you. They are incapable of love. They lack empathy too, so they don’t understand if it upsets you to push them away.
Your parents only see you as a source of narcissistic supply. Don’t give into their calls for you to come back to them. Remember all the injustices they inflicted on you. Try to remember a time when you were little that they cuddled with you or played with you.
You can’t remember not because you forgot, but because they didn’t care enough to do these things.
You have a new life ahead of you. One without the chaos that your parents spread throughout your old life. It’s time to focus on healthy relationships. Maybe it’s time for you to pursue your own dreams now. Let the wind carry the anger of your parents away.
It’s time for you to pursue the life of love you deserve. Why not start today?
What false self does your narcissistic parent project? Tell us in the comments below.