Saturday, 3 November 2012

Ignored, then Engulfed, then Ignored, then Engulfed

by Quercus

Here's another fantastic article by Michelle Piper at "Narcissistic Mother". She compares and contrasts the two major divisions of narcissistic mothers - ignoring and engulfing.

If you asked me today what sort of NM I had, I could confidently say that she is of the engulfing variety.

If you asked me when I was 11 what sort of NM I had, or even at 17, or at 25, I would say 'ignoring'.

It's this bit in Michelle's article that made me stand up and take notice (my emphasis):
"When you are engulfed, you are often put in the golden child role or the scapegoated role.  When you are ignored you may be in the lost child role or, again, the scapegoated role.  Sometimes, the narcissistic mom will switch between the styles." -Michelle Piper
I can actually pinpoint the days in which she switched between the styles. The first time was at menarche when I started my first period (it had happened at school, and I remember wrapping a fistful of toilet paper around the crotch of my undies! Very bunchy and awkward - I felt as though I was involved in a 'first-aid' exercise, and this was my best approximation of a bandage with unconventional materials).

For some reason, one which I believe I have now figured out, the beginning of my menses caused great excitement in my NM. It wasn't positive, though she masqueraded it as such, and it wasn't patently negative because it felt different than that - I believe it was fear-driven. As I've read elsewhere, the 'blossoming' of a daughter into a sexually mature female can be incredibly threatening to an insecure mother. I can tell you that this was the case in my life.

The second time I clearly remember seeing a switch from one extreme style to the other in my NM I have discussed before - you can read the summary here, also on "Narcissistic Mother". If you read the article, you'll note that I started with describing my relationship with my NM as 'enmeshed', but I think that's a little misleading. I was summarily ignored right up until the game-changing words of, "I'll admit it! I resented you!". It was at this point that she decided, I'm certain, "If you can't ignore her, join her!".

And so my NM switched to her current phase of 'engulfment', which has lasted for years. She does seem to prefer the 'ignoring' style, and she'll transiently revert back to it frequently. It just doesn't seem to last, though - I believe something about me or my life has become too big for her to ignore, and so she's forced to try to consume me. Like in "The Blob".


I've also been reading Pronoia Agape's blog, "Writing the Wrongs of Narcissistic Parenting", and her recent post is very enlightening. She writes so honestly and transparently, and I think being able to share like this is incredibly beneficial to other ACoNs. I think the last paragraph really details how differently the narcissistic parent in our lives can behave - to me, her NF is definitely of the 'ignoring' variety.

I have a hunch about Low-Contact and No-Contact, and I've been loathe to really spell it out in case it puts a bias on the Quiz (Survey) I've set up. This is my hypothesis (please don't let it colour your judgment on this issue if you haven't had a chance to do the quiz yet!):
  • Engulfing Parents require "No Contact". There is really no other way, and the longer you dally on this, the more you'll regret it. Ask an ACoN who has gone "No Contact" for good - they'll tell you!
  • Ignoring Parents don't require "No Contact". You can do "Low Contact" with little or no effort, because you're typically 'there' already. Going "No Contact" would be overkill, and it would take a lot of effort and emotional investment to 'cut them out of your life' when, functionally, they're hardly there to begin with. "Low Contact" makes logical sense here.
This is also why, given a changeable NM like mine, you can take forever to decide whether or not you want to enforce "No Contact". I think in my situation I'm going to have to - but we'll see. If things change dramatically in the "golden child"'s life (i.e. he gives NM grandbabies), I will safely bet that she'll revert to 'ignoring' with me again, and I might be able to slip out the backdoor unscathed. If she doesn't, or GC doesn't produce offspring to placate the Momster with, then I'll probably have to do the more challenging but necessary step of "No Contact - forever!". If I were a betting person, I'd put a hundred fat ones on me having to go "No Contact". I have a feeling it's what I want to do, just to be sure of my continued, precious autonomy!

Having an NM that waffled between ignoring and engulfing was difficult, but it had its perks. The ignoring aspect was the most hurtful when I was very young and needed reassurance, support, guidance... Michelle says it best:
"You were forced to care for yourself and were in charge of your own grooming, bathing, eating, and clothing habits. As a child, that is a lot to handle, especially if you were never taught how to properly care for yourself.
She may not have payed attention to what was going on in your life. If you got good grades, it went unnoticed. If you won the spelling bee, scored the game winning goal in your soccer game, or sold the most cookies in girl scouts, she didn’t even blink in your direction.
If those accomplishments did not benefit her, she didn’t care. If it was not all about her, then forget about it.
It can be seen as both a blessing and a curse to have an ignoring narcissistic mother.
Though you are hurt by her inattention, her emotional or physical absence can feel like a welcome respite in contrast to the engulfing narcissistic mother who is demanding of you and always in your business." - Michelle Piper
The worst aspect for me was the engulfment. All of a sudden, here was someone trying to take away the hard-earned 'self' that I had fought for. The self that was never taught to shave her legs, the self whose mother wouldn't buy her menstrual pads or deodorant (thank you, EF, for letting me add those to the shopping list all those years!), the self who had to buy her own clothes....

I have to rant about this, so forgive me the following anecdote: she never did my laundry. Ever. I did, even at a young age. Again, this wasn't a problem, because it wasn't the hardest thing in the world to do, thanks to modern technology. Then years later, when I was maybe 16 or so, she once 'did my laundry for me'. She didn't ask, she just decided to wash my clothes waiting their turn in my hamper in the laundry room. Again, this never happened. Now you'd think I wouldn't complain about this, this one 'altruistic act' of hers, but here's the thing - I lost several articles of favourite new clothing that day. She put all the hand-wash and dry-clean-only garments through the washer AND the dryer. She completely destroyed a bunch of my favourite clothes. Clothes I had had to buy myself (my friend's parents always purchased clothes for them).

As usual, being a naive moron, I thought this was a terrible accident. She screamed and cried and accused me of being a bad and ungrateful daughter when I began to cry at the sight of my ruined clothing. Pretty sure EF gave me the works for this, too. Her nice and thoughtful act of service was completely overlooked by me, the spoiled brat, who had the audacity to chastise her (by crying) for trying to do 'something nice'! There was "no loving (me)"! What a b*tch I was!

In retrospect, I know exactly what she was doing and why. I looked good in those clothes, better than she did (which wasn't hard - she had really let herself go and wasn't even trying to look good). I was getting attention from boys, exactly what she'd always tried to prevent from happening. So she ruined my clothes. She knew how to do laundry, and so it was ridiculous to think this sincerely was an accident (why the heck did she do my laundry?! I'm sorry, my NM has never done a truly altruistic thing as long as I've known her unless a thousand people saw and heard about it!). $100 says she put the washer on hot and high agitation, and the dryer at max heat and time. She really, really wrecked my clothes - they were completely in-salvageable, even in the 90s grunge era!

(Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!).

The waffling between ignored and engulfed was confusing and upsetting. I did not form friendships with my siblings - we were all floating untethered in the changeable ocean of NM's capriciousness, prevented from rafting together to ride out the storms. I grew up the hardest way I knew how, alone and unsupported emotionally. I had to fight to survive psychologically. As soon as I grew strong enough to start to stand tall on firm ground and take in a deep breath, she engulfed me. Like the Blob. She's trying to drown me, or eat me - she wants to kill me off and take what I 'have' for herself.

It's like putting an animal in captivity, giving it minimal food and space, then in an emergency throwing open the cage doors, and jumping heavily on its back, expecting it to carry you to freedom. (Me, the poor animal, can barely walk under the weight of NM, and is getting prodded and whipped but can barely put one foot in front of the other, let alone go bounding into the great, wide open).


Have your say - take The ACoN Society's online survey!


  1. What a brilliant insight! Ignoring NPs don't require NC, engulfing NPs do!

    My NF seemed to do the exact opposite of what your NM did - he was engulfing when I was a little girl he could control and take credit for, and became ignoring right around the time I hit puberty and wasn't Daddy's Little Girl any more.

    1. Oooh, I've actually heard that before - I think that's fairly common. That really sucks, PA. I'll bet you felt humiliated in becoming a woman (something you couldn't help), ashamed of your body (again, nothing you could change), and probably ended up with a lot of self-loathing? That's really sh*tty of your father to do. I can only imagine how soul-wrecking that would be! I'm sorry to hear it. >:-p

      Ha ha, thanks for the compliment, but it's an unfounded assertion as yet! I can't wait to get the survey results and see what statistical analysis can tell us! Hooray for SCIENCE! :-D

    2. Wow. Didn't quite realize it. What an insight. I still feel kind of icky just BEING a grown woman with a female and potentially attractive body. I tend to dress and act like HIM - one of the boys in old, baggy clothes, drinking beer.

      Ugh. There's another post I have to write now, thanks to you ;)

    3. I just finished writing a doozie of a post on sexuality - I'll post it later today or tomorrow! I wonder if I'm the only person who has the 'issue' I have... ;-) Starting to think I might not be!

    4. Yuck, PA. And it also reminded me that my dad got really hands-y with me after puberty. He would say shit like, "If I tell you that you have a nice body, would you hold it against me?" From my fucking FATHER.

      Bleck. I need a shower. And I felt guilty, like I was intentionally trying to steal his attention from my mother.

    5. Man, I'm sorry guys. How icky to have parents treat you going through normal changes as fodder for entertainment. I think it speaks a lot to what I wrote in my emotional puberty post: maybe I wasn't "allowed" to become a grown woman. She wanted me to remain a child forever.

      My NM is both engulfing and ignoring. It depends on her mood, or what she needs from me at the moment. Or what other "entertainment" there is in her life. Maybe that's why I waffle between NC and LC. Right now, I know she's seething with anger that I'm ignoring her (not really, but in her mind I am) but she's waiting to make her move. In the mean time, she's ignoring me by hardly getting in touch with me.
      I do think engulfing is harder. It's harder when she's on me all the time like a duck on a bug. I guess, one day at a time.

      Hey, QG, the laundry story? Yeah, I have the same type of story.

    6. VR - Eeew. There's not enough Borax in the world to scrub that feeling away, eh? Sick.

      Jessie - Seriously? It's annoying, isn't it? I've got a few others along the same 'theme'. Wearing her clothes (with permission) drove her to a rabid frenzy as soon as she saw me in them. She'd also 'claim' my 'unwanted' clothes (unwanted meaning unguarded!!!) and belongings. She'd buy me something, and then reclaim it for herself claiming that it was never mine, or that I had told her she could have it! Only I didn't remember ever having that conversation....! ;-) Insanity.

  2. "Ignoring Parents don't require "No Contact". You can do "Low Contact" with little or no effort, because you're typically 'there' already. Going "No Contact" would be overkill, and it would take a lot of effort and emotional investment to 'cut them out of your life' when, functionally, they're hardly there to begin with. "Low Contact" makes logical sense here."

    I disagree.

    I tried to kid myself that I could stay in a superficial relationship with the woman whom I'd always wanted to be a real mother to me, the one who should have been. It was the last vestige of my delusion. Turns out, I could NOT do Low Contact with little or no effort. Every bit of energy I had was sapped with every interaction with NM. I could no longer stay in that false relationship; the dissonance was too great, the lie was cheapening my life. It was an overwhelmingly sad, lonely farce and fraud, and being without her completely was the more healthful choice for me.

    The psychological devastation of a completely ignoring mother, in my case, was more than enough requirement to 'cut her out of my life'. I am worth the effort and emotional investment, NOT my narcissistic parent to whom I had always given it, and it was high time I reversed that order.

    1. Good for you, SCW! I could see how you'd like to have an honest relationship or none at all. Thank you very, very much for sharing your perspective on this (I figured my little hypothesis was too simple, or someone else would have figured it out by now already!). ;-)

      I wouldn't want to hang onto an emotionally absent mother either. It would be like keeping an empty breadbox in a time of starvation - a futile thing to do, and a painful reminder that, no matter how long you hang onto it, it's not going to magically spawn sustenance.

    2. (Sorry for the late response; I've been away from reading blogs for a while.)

      You're welcome.. and I love how I just knew that this was a calm, safe place to share that different perspective. Fellow ACoNs are SO UNLIKE my FOO, where I dared not have my own say lest they released the Kraken.

      So, thank YOU for giving me the opportunity to share my experience.

      I know that I'm an oddball among online ACoNs (so far, anyway, but I wait patiently to see if another "Total Ignoree" surfaces, but then again, no, I don't really want to see that because, well, you know, it's awful). That's okay, because, I feel that you full or part-time engulfees understand what the cold pit of abandonment feels like, too. You guys DO know what it means to NOT really mean anything to your NPs. (The engulfing you endured was all poisonous lies and performances to serve their own selfish agenda. I get that.) So, sadly, that is how we relate.

      I am SO thankful for this community. It doesn't matter whether our NPs were completely engulfing or completely ignoring, or any mixture or cycle of the two-- they are all cut from the same foul cloth.

      We, ACoNs, through talking and sharing and making personal discoveries, changes, and differences, are seeking to improve our own lives and relationships and give our children's lives a real chance to break free from the narcissistic cycle. That's what this coffee klatch is all about! :)

    3. (I thought I had left a reply a few nights ago, but maybe I clicked something wrong!)
      Well, here's the short version:
      You're welcome, but.. THANK YOU for LETTING me share my perspective. I feel a good, calm vibe here. We can talk, unlike how it was with my FOO, where I was flambéed for having a differing opinion.

    4. Well said, SCW! (No worries - I was also away from reading blogs and moderating comments! Your comments came in, I just didn't get around to posting any 'til now!). ;-)

      I *think* I can relate to the 'ignored' stance of ACoNism, but I don't want to profess to know your situation because it really is different to mine in many ways.

      But recently I got another message from my FOO saying that they understand that I don't want a "close relationship" with them. I laughed sarcastically when I read it - there is nothing I wanted more than to be CLOSE to my parents! But they NEVER gave me the opportunity! They've ignored me, me the person, me with the feelings and thoughts and hopes and dreams, ASSIDUOUSLY for DECADES!

      They want to be CLOSE (as in proximity), but as for a real, true, loving relationship? They either don't have that capacity, or they're not interested in investing in it.

      So yeah - they're right in that I DO NOT want to be 'close' by their definition. There was nothing so painful as to be completely engulfed by my NM and utterly, utterly invisible at the same time. That was the worst part for me. That's when the tide started to turn and I started to really, seriously dislike her. The ultimate betrayal - she'll take everything, she'll invade every where, and she'll still look right past you and start her own conversation when you're in the midst of baring your soul to her!

    5. Yup, like I said.. you know the deal.
      Different circumstances, sure, but we both know how painful it is to be "utterly, utterly invisibe".

      Sending my love! ♥♥♥♥♥♥

      You said, "That's when the tide started to turn and I started to really, seriously dislike her."

      Hey, did you know that it is completely NORMAL to have contempt for the one who is abusing you? Yeah. I double-whammied myself psychologically for the longest time thinking that I was some kind of 'bad daughter' for being irritable around NM and hating all those little things about her. Turns out that it was only natural.. after all, this was the monster in my life.

    6. That's a really important point, SCW! :-) Thanks for stating it. I hope someone reading that for the first time really has it sink it - contempt isn't something worth feeling badly for. It's an emotion/state of mind to indicate to you that "something isn't right". Rather than feeling guilty about it, ask yourself why it's present! :-)

      I like the ACoN Love-Ins that happen here and there in cyberspace. :-) They are much needed! Love right back! I don't know how to get my <3 's to look like yours, but they're here in spirit all the same!

  3. This helps me make more sense of my mother's behavior she would switch back and forth. I also discovered how much what I did influenced the situation. I also learned that sometimes it wasn't about me at all but what ever was happening in her life. My life became much easier when I viewed everything she did as to how it benefited her. Every situation was really all about her. I was just a bit player that happened to be on the scene sometimes therefor to be used as she needed in the moment then ignored when not needed. I am able to be low contact but emotionally I am no contact. She is not safe.

    1. Ruth, this bit:

      "My life became much easier when I viewed everything she did as to how it benefited her. Every situation was really all about her."

      is brilliant! I think I've read this a million times before, but it never really sinks in fully. It's so good to be reminded of this.

      And your perspective on how viewing life this way made things easier for you - that's important to remember! :-) Thanks for the reminder; stop taking things personally and just look at it from this perspective and it'll make more sense.

      Going "No Contact" emotionally is VERY important. Thanks for making that distinction, too!

  4. "Wearing her clothes (with permission) drove her to a rabid frenzy as soon as she saw me in them. She'd also 'claim' my 'unwanted' clothes (unwanted meaning unguarded!!!) and belongings. She'd buy me something, and then reclaim it for herself claiming that it was never mine, or that I had told her she could have it! Only I didn't remember ever having that conversation....! ;-) Insanity."

    My mother did this too. Except she picked out and bought all of my clothes for me. When I was younger it was about being her little dress-up doll. (This was a period of extreme engulfment) Once I hit puberty at 10 it was about putting me in the most unflattering colors and shapes of clothing to hide my curves as I developed... I suspect because she was insecure about her own looks at this point. She had put on a significant amount of weight by the time I was 10, and no longer had the figure she bragged about having. Throughout my teens she bobbled back and forth from engulfing to ignoring, but really, I think the truth is that engulfing parents all do some amount of ignoring (certainly in the act of ignoring the emotional needs and thoughts of their children.)

    I was always told I had 'boy hips', 'no shape', and that I was 'big-boned'. The truth is that I am small-boned and have an hourglass shape (proven by actual measurements no less). Amazing to think that she blatantly lied to me for years. She was in the medical field for years, then became a personal trainer, and knew exactly what my measurements were. I had an eating disorder throughout my teens and had horrible self-image all the way into my mid 20's until I started getting in shape again. I'm now the same weight I was when I was 14 and I see the truth of what my body actually looked like at that time.

    1. Hey HD,

      Oh, what a rough ride! I'm so sorry to hear about your eating disorder and struggles on the body image front. It's so WRONG to put that sort of doubt and self-hatred into young girls!!! If I could change one thing about society, I'd implement a HUGE public education campaign promoting positive body-image, and also make it a punishable offense to tell your daughter she's unshapely or what have you (unfortunately it's true in my case - no hourglass here!). :-(

      Interesting that your NM became a personal trainer later. Just out of curiosity, was it AFTER you became a shapely young lady? And did she drop a ton of weight, too? Because my NM completely changed careers when I was 'doing well' in life (much later on in life, though - twenties). I'm convinced it was to 'stay competitive' with me. She started dressing like me and everything, and for the first time in her life started to get in shape. Which is fantastic (much healthier!), but also very telling about her motives, methinks! ;-)

    2. She did become a personal trainer after that, but she never was able to drop the weight. She still buys into every weirdo diet under the sun. When she saw me dropping weight, her jealousy kicked into overdrive and she actually tried to make a competition out of it. When I dropped below her weight and kept losing, (I was about 20 lbs below her weight when I finally went NC), she became foul, badmouthing even more, and took every moment to guilt-trip me for losing more weight than she. I was busting my behind in boot camp 3 days a week and running 2-3 days a week while she was only working out a grand total of 2 days a week. Yet she complained when I acted happy and proud of my accomplishment. We even had a deal for every 10 lbs lost the one who reached it, the loser would pay a dollar per lb to the 'winner'. She backed out of the deal once I was 20 lbs ahead of her and she'd only lost 5. She still claimed to be stronger than me, despite the fact that I was running 5 miles and she couldn't run a quarter mile. I ran a 5k and she managed to insult me at the finish line, saying she didn't get a picture of me coming in because she thought she wouldn't see me after the 40 minute mark. LOL (I came in at 34 mins- not fantastic, but not bad for a beginning runner). I will say, just to clarify, I'm still overweight and still losing weight... I have about 25 lbs left to lose (compared to the 85 to lose that I started with 2 years ago), so I'm still a little pudgy around the edges and certainly not a knockout yet, but I'm able to see myself truly for what I am, not through the distorted lense of my mother's opinion. I know I'm fit and healthy, and I'm much happier... and that's what matters.

      Be gentle with yourself... you're healthy, attractive, and it sounds like you have a good life, and an awesome husband. We all have shape, we may just be shaped differently, but that doesn't mean it's not attractive or healthy! I'm certain you're as beautiful in person as you are on here. I will say it takes years to correct your mother's voice, and even now, 13 months later I can still hear my mother's voice sometimes clear as day, but the difference is slapping those critical remarks down. I think you'll find the truth of yourself the further you distance yourself from her.

    3. Thanks, Healing Daughter! You too sound like a beautiful soul (and person - inside and out!). Congrats on your level of physical activity! Ha ha ha, I'm like your NM - I get 2 days a week at best these days (though I really ought to change that!). You've inspired me to crank it up - life is short, might as well be fit and healthy, right?! ;-)

      Oh my goodness, as always, there is SO MUCH OVERLAP with NM's, isn't there? Your NM could substitute for my NM and it would take me awhile to notice the change! ;-) They really are freakishly similar.

      I was having a conversation with a friend who was raised in a household where English was not the first language. Despite this, the PHRASING the mother used was nearly identical to the phrasing and colloquialisms my English-speaking mother used!

      I think this is very interesting; there are some phrases that just won't translate into another language (we can all think of a few - "It's raining cats and dogs" is a good one! Where did that come from? Cockney English, no doubt!). But the ones NMs choose, the world over, are universal. I think it's because the motivation is identical - DESTROY THE DAUGHTER'S SELF-ESTEEM!

      Well, again - good for you for the 5k time! That's quick! :-) And thanks for the encouragement. I'm going to have to write a quick post on the "slapping those critical remarks down" front - I had an interesting visit with my shrink that I'd like to share! ;-)