This has got to be one of the hardest articles for me to write.
The simple reason being that in Asian cultures, you don’t talk about your parents negatively. That’s just seen as unfilial. It almost sounds like you’re betraying your parents.
But this is one of those things I really need to discuss. I’m quite sure I’m not alone in having these experiences.
For the longest time, I didn’t have a name for it. But in my late 20s, I wanted so much to find an explanation for my poor relationship with my late mum.
She was sick with cancer, and through it all, my relationship with her went from bad to worse. After a particularly bad episode of being screamed at by her over the phone, I started Googling for an explanation. I stumbled on a blog which described my mother’s attitude to a T.
It’s called Narcissism.
And here’s how you know you’re in a relationship with someone narcissistic. They could be your parents, your partner or your spouse – anyone, really.
1. You ‘re made to never believe yourself
Narcissists often behave like bullies, and the first thing they do is make you feel isolated. They’ll be nice to everyone else, and only nasty to you. This way, nobody will believe it if you say you were abused.
Up until today I never told anyone how I was physically abused all the way up to my 20s. I was made to feel (and still feel) like the abuse was trivial.
I’ve never told anyone, for instance, that when I was 23, she whacked a back-scratcher across my face, which left a cut. I’ve never mentioned that she trashed my room and beat me with a stick when I was 19, until my thighs and arms were covered in plate sized bruises.
I’ve never told anyone because I didn’t think that anyone would believe me. I’m afraid of being told that I’m being too soft or sensitive.
2. You’re made into an enemy
You may not believe this, but narcissistic people treat you as a threat, even if you’re their child. Every mistake you make is an attempt to hurt their feelings. If you don’t share their opinion or don’t live up to a certain standard, it’s because you’re ‘out to make them look bad’.
In my mother’s mind, there was no such thing as an accident. In her mind, I was a calculative witch that needed to be put in place. I remember one time when the computer malfunctioned. This was during the 90s when everything was big and bulky. It refused to turn on one day, and the IT repair guy had to be called. As usual it was my fault even though it was a shared computer in an open space, and I was told off for spoiling it on purpose, hurting the family finances. Needless to say, I lost my PC rights after that for a long time.
Narcissistic parents constantly need to be the centre of the family, so do this thing called triangulation.
Triangulation is when all the children in the house are given a certain role. There’s the favourite child, the hated child, and the distant child who doesn’t want to get involved.
While all parents have favorites, narcissistic parents take this to the next level and purposely pit their children against each other. They favor one child, while completely leaving out another. The resulting insecurity breeds tension.
I remember the times during my teenage life when I’d come out of my room and no one was home. The whole family had left for dinner, or shopping, or whatnot.
This was the era before smart phones, and I’d never know when they’d be back. I remember one time I fell asleep waiting. I was woken up with a big kick in the guts, telling me to go out and help them bring the groceries in.
4. Overly Sensitive and Easily Triggered
Narcissistic people enjoy control and they find any and all reasons to be irate. Most times, the anger is unwarranted.
Growing up, there were rigid rules in the house for everything. There were strict rules even for the order in which the family bath towels were hung.
In my case, I’d get into trouble for walking past a curtain and making it fall from its side binders. Once I got a big pinch which later bruised, just for putting my school bag on my mother’s car. She claimed it would leave a scratch.
5. Lack of Empathy
Growing up, I was made to believe that any punishment I received was for my own good. And maybe it was, to a certain extent.
But I’d say that moment when you start bleeding, and you plead with your parent to stop, but they still hit you – maybe that’s a step too far.
This happened the day I got my BCG jab in standard six. I can’t remember what I did wrong, but it set her off. On cue, out came the Rotan.
You might think that sounds like a normal disciplining behaviour, but I can assure you, it wasn’t.
She caned me. Right on the fresh jab, which was still a bubble.
The bubble burst and out came puss and blood. It was painful, and it set back the healing process by several weeks.
6. You are nothing without achievements
Narcissistic parents need to show off, and as their child, you’re their best tool.
They’re obsessed with what others think about them, so you need to be perfect. Your grades have to be the best, or else there’d be no TV for the rest of the year. You need to learn piano and ace the exams or else you’re not as good as her colleague’s kid.
I remember the time I came to school to collect my SPM results. I wore a T-shirt and Jeans. My results were fine by her standards, but my dressing was not. So although it was a good day, I still got chewed out for wearing a T-shirt instead of something ‘nicer’.
There are many other signs that you’re living with a narcissistic parent. My advice is, trust your guts. You’ll know when a parent is being difficult because they love you, as compared to just being toxic and abusive just to satiate their own ego.
If you do have narcissistic or toxic parents, my advice is to minimize contact with them or even cut them out completely. It’s difficult to hear, I know, but trust me – your mental health will be the better for it.
As for me, I really did love my mom. I believe with all my heart she loved me too, but she had serious issues. I just wished that she had gotten the help she needed dealing with them while she was still alive.
For a more positive story, read about Things Our Moms Used To Do That We Now Love.