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 PiperI 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.
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.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....
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
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).
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