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Narcissistic mothers: toxic motherhood and possible psycho-behavioral damage to children

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ABREU, Liliane Alcântara de [1], MELO, Natalia Sayuri [2]

ABREU, Liliane Alcântara de. MELO, Natalia Sayuri. Narcissistic mothers: toxic motherhood and possible psycho-behavioral damage to children. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year. 07, Ed. 08, Vol. 04, pp. 15-47. August 2022. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link: https://www.nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/psychology/toxic-motherhood

ABSTRACT

This article aimed to generate a theoretical reflection on narcissistic mothers. The theme is a social taboo based on the imagery figure of the sanctified mother, and, therefore, who supposedly does not hurt her children physically, psychologically, emotionally and/or morally on a continuous purpose. In view of the reports collected – from interviews that generate books and scientific articles – in recent years by mental health professionals, it has been possible to provide data that these sick women are mass producing other psychically ill individuals. In this way, the authors had as a guiding question: how and why maternal-narcissistic behaviors can generate children with psycho-behavioral illnesses? Thus, the general objective was based on detecting how narcissistic mothers are constructed and behave, and what are the psychological and behavioral implications on their children as direct victims of this maternal relationship. The hypothesis was based on the assumption that a mother with narcissistic personality disorder can have her behavior potentiated and/or reinforced in the face of the socio-familial non-recognition of her demand. Therefore, as a methodology, the research was based on several supporting authors, with greater emphasis on Silvia Zornig (2010) and Ana Paula Marson (2008), Sigmund Freud (1980; 2004) Melanie Klein (1966; 1991), Donald Winnicott ( 1983), Andrea Ferrari, Cesar Picinini and Rita Lopes (2006), Prado (2004), Karyl McBride (2009; 2011), Fernando González (2015), Liliane Abreu (2021). Furthermore, the analysis of two interviews can help in the practical understanding of these theoretical studies. As a result and conclusions, it was understood that narcissistic mothers and their children need psychological attention to break and discontinue paradigms of destruction and manipulation. It is indeed necessary to reflect and discuss how to protect these affected individuals and equally treat these sick women, in addition to the need to break taboos on the subject, generating education and social discussion. Furthermore, that the public authorities create and encourage new policies, as well as reflect on the process of motherhood for contemporary women, deconstructing the hypothetical sanctity of this status; including reviewing religious dogmas built along with the emergence of patriarchy.

Keywords: Behavior, Motherhood, Narcissism, Psychology, Toxic Relationship.

1. INTRODUCTION

This article aims to reflect on the theme of narcissistic mothers. For that, it was necessary to produce not only an immersion in theorizing research, but the crossing with real reports derived from this demand, because societies as a whole maintain the taboo of the immaculate mother and in a status of almost sanctity, supposedly incapable of destroying their own children, and hence, any more rigid action is standardized and seen only as educational, based even on arguments such as “a mother is a mother and everything is fine”.

In fact, thanks to the studies that have been emerging based on reports of individuals who became ill by these mothers, and through the observation and published works of Psychology professionals in the face of mothers with the pathological narcissistic profile, they are being more visible and likely to have their behaviors mapped.

In this way, the guiding question was: how and why maternal-narcissistic behaviors can generate children with psycho-behavioral illnesses? Thus, the general objective was based on detecting how narcissistic mothers are constructed and behave, and what are the psychological and behavioral implications on their children as direct victims of this maternal relationship. As a consequence, the specific objectives were developed in understanding the differentiation of a common maternal behavior (understood as normal) from the psychopathological one; distinguish how these narcissistic mothers present themselves; reflect on how to protect affected individuals and equally treat these sick women.

The hypothesis was based on the assumption that a mother with narcissistic personality disorder can have her behavior potentiated and/or reinforced in the face of the socio-familial non-recognition of her demand.

Therefore, as a methodology, the research was based on the intersection of bibliographic review surveys for the theoretical discussion. The authors sought the foundation in Silvia Zornig (2010) and Ana Paula Marson (2008), who present the construction of the understanding of motherhood. Liliane Abreu (2021), and, Abreu and Natalia Melo (2022) cite the supposed maternal sanctity conducted through time, while Bosco Oliveira and Ingrid Oliveira (2009) collaborate in the description of the myth of Narciso. Sigmund Freud (1980; 2004) explains how and when the narcissistic disorder appears in the individual. This is equally supported and seen from the perspective of Melanie Klein (1966; 1991) and Hanna Segal (1975), Donald Winnicott (1983) and Alexander Newman (2003), Jacques Lacan by Vladimir Safatle (2007) and Paulo Dalgalarrondo (2019).

Andrea Ferrari, Cesar Picinini and Rita Lopes (2006) detailed the libidinal investment process of some mothers during pregnancy, and Maria do Carmo Prado (2004) spoke about the evolution of the condition that is associated in severity with moral perversity. David Zimerman (2004) reinforced the psychopathological process with the two dispositions of the narcissist in thin skin and thick skin. Thus, Karyl McBride (2009; 2011) contributed strongly by explaining the types of narcissistic mothers, while Fernando González (2015) crossed the dark triad, composed of psychopathic, Machiavellian and narcissistic subjects, and how each one behaves to attract partners who serve as victims. In the case of narcissists, the chosen partners give them the fruits to meet their ongoing needs: children. Furthermore, Zygmunt Bauman (2008a; 2008b; 2009), Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood (2009) were cited in support of González’s (2015) explanation, in order to briefly understand from an anthropological perspective how narcissistic subjects would be absorbed and multiplied in societies contemporaries in the face of the reinforcement of the culture of quick disposal.

In addition, two real reports of victims daughters of narcissistic mothers will be brought for brief case analysis to help in the practical understanding of theoretical studies and referenced authors. Such cases are the content of a two-year research work by one of the authors of this article and are part of full reports that were published in a book (ABREU, 2021). The very brief presentation and discussion of both interviews will be done in an unprecedented way here, and in this way, lead to the potential understanding of how maternal narcissism can present itself and the results in damage to the children.

The ICD-10 (1993/2011) was also used as support in theorizing. The crossing of all the information available in the body of this article made it possible to lead to reflection, and finally, to the final considerations.

2. NARCISIST MOTHERS: EMERGENCY, TYPOLOGIES AND AGGRAVATING

For some authors, such as Zornig (2010), the love between parents and children was only possible thanks to the romantic discourse and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Through the rise of sentimentality, marital arrangements came to be carried out by individual choices. This allowed the couple to choose the best way to raise their children, and thus take responsibility for their emotional, intellectual and social state. The author also explains that the responsibility went far beyond guaranteeing the survival of the child, starting to carry forward the elements of the psychic constitution of the parents to the children.

For the writer, the contemporary family constitutes a space for affective and symbolic transmission and cannot be restricted to the birth of a child. By affectively valuing the child, parents revive issues of their own primary narcissism, and this baby would be a way to satisfy desires and repair narcissistic wounds of their caregivers. Therefore, parenting is an exercise carried out long before the birth of a child. Through desire and imagination, many parents discover themselves in the pregnancy process (which is considered a transitory process). Zornig (2010) indicates that the desire to have a child is linked to biological processes for the maintenance of the species and to the unconscious, mainly on the part of women, in order to fulfill the role of mother and elaborate their femininity.

She cites Golse (2002; apud ZORNIG, 2010) to explain that there are four types of parental fantasies about the child. The first would be the phantasmatic, which rekindles the childhood history of the parents. The second is called imaginary and is connected with the physique imagined for the child. The third is narcissistic, linked to the ideals of the parents. The last one is called mythical and has to do with the social representations that the child will have to supply in that cultural era.

Therefore, as soon as a baby is born, it brings desires and perspectives created to repair flaws in the childhood life of its parents. Zornig (2010) emphasizes that oedipal ghosts also reappear with the aim of reparation, favoring the creation of parental ties and the affective development of the child. Furthermore, parental behavior is not linearly connected with the parents’ past history, but with their narrative fantasies. What is told did not always happen, since reality is stained by the subject’s imagination. This makes the parents recognize the baby not only through their experience, but also through their imagination.

As for maternal psychic work, it is necessary for the mother to go through a reactivation of her past, but to carry out an alterity activity with the baby. In other words, look inside and at your childhood, but don’t forget that the child is an external being that goes beyond your internal representations. Zornig (2010) explains that without this exercise of looking at otherness, many mothers get lost, try at all costs to retain the lost object and are unable to look at the baby as an individual being who deserves to have its own trajectory.

This maternal lack could explain narcissistic motherhood. When the mother cannot share her inner fantasies with this outer baby, she reacts as if the child were an extension of her being and the flaws of her childhood.

The gestational process evokes a series of processes in a woman, whether physical, emotional or psychological. Marson (2008) explains that some persecutory feelings can be triggered during pregnancy in some women. The mother may imagine that, when she becomes pregnant, she is attacking her own mother. This is aggravated by imagining that someone could steal your child to punish him. Faced with an imaginary sequence like this, the pregnant woman feels guilty about the pregnancy and, at the same time, feels attacked. Motherhood is, therefore, something that women construct psychically and socially throughout the bodily changes they experience.

This author also describes that only after childbirth does this child, conceived as a fantasy object during pregnancy, effectively become real. In this way, the encounter with the new and unknown can cause anxieties that generate the feeling of castration and emptying. Another aspect is that when a premature or risky birth occurs, the mother may be frustrated for not experiencing this moment as planned. Therefore, feelings of failure, incapacity and inferiority may arise in this mother who is facing a fantasized pain for supposedly not being able to generate the baby properly. However, for this baby to survive the maternal resonance, it is necessary for frustration to give way to desire. When the real child differs from the fantasy child, there is a narcissistic wound in the parents that can compromise the emotional development between parents and children. Depending on the psychic constitution of the parents, blaming the baby can be mistakenly seen as a solution, however, triggering rejection. As a result, the mother finds it difficult to find her maternal identity in the child, resulting in a relationship that needs to be re-signified. (MARSON, 2008)

Motherhood is a female condition that even today carries the collective imagination that every mother is provided with the feeling of selflessness and unconditional love. Yes, many can be angry and quarrelsome, but they will usually be alert and defending their young like lionesses. Precisely for this reason, the gestational period is surrounded by care and attention aimed specifically at this mother and who rescues values from her own human ancestry that evokes the mythical construction of the divine. Goddesses, queens and heroines are said to be charged with this divine power when they give birth, and in Western culture this potential is seen most strongly in the great mother Mary, who conceived Jesus. (ABREU, 2021)

This cultural understanding that has crossed centuries and cultures is so present that even today people are commonly heard saying in everyday life: “it doesn’t matter what she does; she is her mother!” Or, “a mother is a mother, and she only wants your best”. Another thing that can also be observed – by the common population and even by professionals in the area – in the judicial cases of the family court in which the mother is concretely denounced for effective and forceful violence and mistreatment against the child, and the father or other denouncers try to preserve the integrity of the minor, it is often the appearance of the phrase: “child has to stay with the mother and not with the father”. See that no matter the physical and psychological damage that this woman causes to the child, socially she continues to be placed as untouchable (even though she is not), and this causes other serious problems of a wide spectrum. (ABREU, 2021)

Abreu and Melo (2022) reinforce this understanding of a specific aspect as being part of a social construct built in the patriarchy and strengthened in the fifth century by Saint Augustine that every mother – the supposed highest level of the female figure understood as dignified – should be seen as a symbolism of the Virgin Mary herself, as it is the formatting of the immaculate woman, (almost) perfect and supposedly devoid of any intention or parallel distortion of harm that could hurt or destroy the children. Such conceptions were unified with the laws of Roman law – Corpus Juris Civilis or the code of Justinian I -, imposed by Justinian I in the fifth century, in which the social conduct provided for by law was one of obedience and reproduction on the part of women, understood as mere procreators. This and other added conducts strengthened this conception of an untouchable mother.

But, in order to understand this whole process about narcissism, it is first necessary to delve into the legend of Narcissus itself to end up in the psychological disorder.

Narciso era filho do deus do rio Cefiso e da ninfa Liríope. Rege a lenda que era um jovem belíssimo, mas, extremamente orgulhoso, arrogante, vaidoso e insensível, e que desprezava todos que tentavam aproximar-se dele, inclusive as ninfas (e especificamente Eco, que na época foi castigada e só conseguia repetir as últimas palavras que ouvia de alguém). Assim, elas pediram que os deuses dessem uma lição ao rapaz. Afrodite lançou-lhe o castigo de apaixonar-se por seu próprio reflexo nas águas do lago da ninfa Eco. Narciso passava todo tempo contemplando sua autoimagem e dizia “Você é lindo”, sem perceber a presença de Eco, que repetia “Lindo…lindo…lindo”. Narciso achava que a pessoa nas águas (ele mesmo) estava respondendo. Ele definhou diante de seu amor e acabou cometendo suicídio se jogando no lago e se afogando. Depois de sua morte, Afrodite o transformou na flor narciso. (OLIVEIRA e OLIVEIRA, 2010)

For Freud (1980), the physical and psychic relationship of the newborn with their caregivers can produce understandings of helplessness that reverberate in deep psychic anguish, and impact on the drives. He understood and named this process of primary helplessness, and it was also directly linked to the individual’s primary narcissism. Secondary helplessness would come as a consequence of this anguish, making him relive that feeling, triggering secondary narcissism. Freud (2004, p. 98) stated that it is “no new condition, but, as we know, the amplification and explanation of a state that already existed before”.

This author also differentiates narcissistic and object libido. Known as self-love, narcissistic libido is inversely proportional to object libido. While one increases, the other decreases, therefore, the more object love (the love of the other), the less love in itself. The more self-love, the less object-love. Therefore, the autoerotic state consumes object libido, and thus there is not enough libido left to be invested in the loved object. The opposite also occurs, as object love consumes the libido, causing the narcissistic posture of great love itself to be disregarded.

Dalgalarrondo (2019) expresses that narcissism as a pathology is understood as the individual’s love for himself. This is supported by several theorists such as Freud (1980; 2004), Lacan (SAFATLE, 2007), Klein (1991; 1966; SEGAL, 1975), Winnicott (1983), Zimerman (2004) and Prado (2004). All these authors explain that, in the face of aggravation, the development of narcissistic personality disorder is a type of psychic structure – such as pedophilia, sadism, psychopathy, autism, schizophrenia, and others –, and has very specific profile readings peculiarities that still present levels of gravity. Others, such as M. Mahler (1975; apud ZIMERMAN, 2004), agree with the scholars already mentioned that the disorder would appear in the individual still a baby, in the phase of separation and individuation, which is equivalent to the emergence of the psychic self. (ABREU, 2021)

Klein (1966; 1991; SEGAL, 1975) was one of those researchers who reinforced this understanding of individuation, and was the pioneer psychoanalyst to work specifically with childhood, thereby developing the thought that the psyche originates with the mother’s bond with the baby. She also identified that all points of the second topic (Id, Ego and Superego) by Freud (1980; 2004) would be present in the individual from an early age, and would be responsible for early psychic development.

For the author, the Superego would be formed from the beginning of life, and, therefore, prior to the Freudian Oedipus Complex. Furthermore, the Superego would not only be a censor, but potentially sadistic and cruel. Therefore, according to the author, the paranoid-schizoid position regularizes the first three months of life and would be the demarcator during this period.

In this way, and according to Klein (1966; 1991; SEGAL, 1975), at first, the child has persecutory anguish in relation to the mother, that is, he is afraid of being attacked by his first object of love and how form of retaliation for hypothetically trying to destroy this mother’s body. The child has to deal with the relationship between the good breast and the bad breast. This would be linked to reward systems: when she feeds right, she has the breast to feed her; that would be the good breast. The bad breast is everything that causes anguish and a feeling of persecution. This would occur, for example, when the mother breastfeeds quickly due to some commitment, or any other factor. (ABREU, 2021; ABREU and MELO, 2022)

This issue of breastfeeding is extremely important bilaterally, but for the child it will be fundamental to create the emotional bond, in the same way, how this bond would be interpreted. And when it comes to breastfeeding, it’s not necessarily the mother’s physical breast, but even the bottle. Here it can be understood as that moment of affective exchange in which the caregiver can spend minutes of attention to the child, and she usually reciprocates by looking and running her hand over the face and/or back of that person who is breastfeeding her (by breast or bottle). Another important point in the formation of the baby’s psyche would be linked to the I (ego) protecting itself from anguish with the defense mechanism.

Therefore, for Klein (1991; 1966; SEGAL, 1975), at first, it would be the depressive anguish in which the I would feel guilty for the aggressive drive, that is, that fragment in which the child feels anger against the loved object (the mother) trying to destroy it, which leads to the next moment of regret and feeling the anguish. As a second factor, there would be an increase in integration with the mother in the good and bad aspects, reinforcing the issue of the good and bad breast. This would lead to the third thought that through the defense mechanism, there would be a repair of the pain of aggressive fantasies with loved objects. There would be affective integration here, in which the child would accept the mother and she would become truly real.

Winnicott (1983; NEWMAN, 2003) is another author who brings up the issue of narcissism, but both from the perspective of the mother and the child. In his reflections through the perspective of babies, he states that there is a traumatic rupture of the individual with his self due to the breakdown of his confidence during the care of the mother, which he agrees with Klein (1966; 1991; SEGAL, 1975). The child would be afraid of annihilation, and for that, he would create a defense mechanism turning to himself, therefore, enhancing his Self without recognizing the other and himself as independent individuals, which would trigger narcissism in this child.

When narcissism is presented through the maternal bias, we see that mother who received much more forceful attention during the gestational period and differentiated from other moments of her life. This would make some of these mothers transfer this look to themselves, directly to the child, building the perception that they would be a single individual, despite knowing that they are two beings. (WINNICOTT, 1983; NEWMAN, 2003)

Therefore, personality disorders are disorders that seriously affect behavior, but divided into three blocks of differentiation by the World Health Organization through the description of Personality and Behavioral Disorders (ICD-10, 1993/2011). They present themselves, for example, in Narcissistic Disorder (or Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (or psychopathy and sociopathy, as they are more commonly referred to).

Estes tipos de condição (Transtornos de Personalidade) abrangem padrões de comportamento profundamente arraigados e permanentes, manifestando-se como respostas inflexíveis a uma ampla série de situações pessoais e sociais. Eles representam desvios extremos ou significativos do modo como o indivíduo médio, em uma dada cultura, percebe, pensa, sente e, particularmente, se relaciona com os outros. Tais padrões de comportamento e funcionamento psicológico. Eles estão freqüentemente, mas não sempre, associados a graus variados de angústia subjetiva e a problemas no funcionamento e desempenho sociais. (CID-10, 1993/2011, p. 196. Títulos de F60 a F69)

Being a necessary and common gesture for development, narcissism is necessary for object love to occur; the problem is precisely when it becomes a disorder. Ferrari, Lopes and Picinini (2006) say that when the child is loved by his parents and they fulfill the affective-emotional function of welcoming, he is able to carry out the autoerotic dismemberment. Therefore, to turn the other into a loved object, one must have been a loved object.

A subject who was not taken over by amorous investments throughout his childhood development is unable to carry out autoerotic dismemberment, and therefore may not be able to invest his libido in an objectual way. With that, he is only capable of loving narcissistically. The I becomes a slave to itself as a sexual object.

Ferrari, Lopes and Picinini (2006) explain that during pregnancy there is an overestimated narcissistic investment of the pregnant woman by the fetus. As it is linked to a creation of her own body, this movement makes the pregnant woman project her love onto a fruit that may later become an extension of herself.

After pregnancy, in the first moment of parenting, the libido is seen as object and narcissistic at the same time. Both mechanisms are present because it is an object that is seen as an extension of the parents and at the same time that it is autonomous. Gradually, as the baby develops, the object investment becomes evident and is privileged to the detriment of the parental narcissist. (FERRARI, PICININI, LOPES, 2006)

Here we can rescue the explanations of Zornig (2010) and Marson (2008), since they are analogous to the understanding of Ferrari, Lopes and Picinini (2006). These last authors claim that while the pregnant woman has the baby in her body, it is narcissistically invested. But, after giving birth, some mothers may feel as if they were castrated, since the attention previously dedicated to them is now applied only to the babies. When mothers are not cared for with dedication, the baby may not get the necessary object care because it is not libidinally invested. This can occur due to maternal frustration, which no longer sees the baby as a source of narcissistic and object satisfaction. If this mother already has the marker of Narcissistic Personality Disorder before, everything gets worse.

Therefore, maternal narcissism appears as a pathological condition when the child is used as an object instrument to fulfill personal frustrations. Moreover, at the actual moment of the child’s birth, the attention that the mother previously received exclusively would pass to the baby. Therefore, this woman who develops maternal narcissism would find another motivation to call attention to herself through the child, projecting her own image onto the baby as he grows up. This can again be reinforced in Prado’s text (2004), which explains the evolution of the situation and is associated in severity with moral perversity.

A perversão narcísica se apresenta então como um modo particular de se proteger dos conflitos internos, à custa do meio. Consiste na evitação do impacto promovido por sentimentos de luto, angústia, desilusão e separação, tratando de colocar ativamente sobre alguém as dores, as dificuldades e os conflitos vinculados àqueles sentimentos. O referido autor propõe que as tarefas psíquicas repelidas pelo sujeito e que seu ego não tem condições de assumir, vão cair inevitavelmente sobre os ombros de um outro. Assim, a perversão narcísica é um modo particular de se proteger dos conflitos internos, fazendo-se valer à custa desse outro – ou de muitos outros, como pode ser o caso nas patologias sociais. Racamier (op. Cit.) vai dizer que, para o perverso narcísico, não é que o outro não exista, ele existe, mas lhe é negado qualquer valor. (RACAMIER, 1988; apud PRADO, 2004, p. 16)

This projection of themselves onto the child can be partially visible in mothers who dress their daughters in the exact clothes they are wearing, as if they were two scale prototypes: one large and the other small. Another example, which is much more aggravating, are the Miss Mirim pageants, quite popular in the United States of America, in which children from 4 years old are dressed, made up, adorned and taught to pose and act like adult women, sexualizing girls who should be concerned with just playing around. Girls who at age 8 are receiving anti-wrinkle treatment and are already fixated on having plastic surgery. The behavior of these mothers shows an enormous frustration in the face of what they never were, but who see in their daughters their image being applauded, praised and acclaimed, fulfilling their yearnings and suppressed desires during their lives, even at the expense of these children. There is also the case of mothers who place themselves as unique women in their children’s relationships (young or adult), instilling in these men the broad perception that the choice for the mother to the detriment of their love relationships is by their own decision.

This behavior of narcissists – woman or man, yes, the latter can also behave in the same way as a father, but to a lesser extent – using others as mirrors to satisfy their anguish and frustrations is very present, as they have many rooted fears , including aging and/or abandonment: the perception of majesty is being (always) young and having someone serving you. In pathological grade division, Zimerman (2004) defines them differently as “thick skin” and “thin skin”. However, every “thick-skinned” narcissist was previously “thin-skinned”, which shows an evolution of the picture in the absence of psychotherapeutic care. It should also be emphasized that narcissism reaches the three personality structures (neurosis, psychosis or perversion) and varying levels, but when it is specifically potentiated as a disorder, it is because the subject is specifically within the perversions.

Narciso pele fina e de pele grossa. Rosenfeld (1987) propôs uma classificação das pessoas narcisistas em dois tipos, que ele denomina como sendo os de “pele fina” – que são supersensíveis, altamente melindráveis e com uma extrema vulnerabilidade da sua autoestima, embora seja evidente que o papel de vítima lhes assegure a manutenção do poder por meio do recurso da fraqueza – e os narcisistas de “pele grossa” – que, pelo contrário, são arrogantes, em uma constante atitude defensivo-agressiva, permitindo pouca acessibilidade psicanalítica. Na verdade, a experiência clínica ensina-nos que a pele grossa sempre está encobrindo, dissimulando e protegendo uma, subjacente, pele fina, enquanto, ao mesmo tempo, é justamente a pele fina que, para evitar as dores das velhas feridas narcisistas, constrói uma espessa cicatriz pele grossa. (ZIMERMAN, 2004, p. 256-257)

This utopian perception of oneself through the other is also brought by Bion (1962; apud ZIMERMAN, 2004; apud ABREU, 2021) referencing that the narcissist flees from the truth, and therefore, he projects himself onto his target object, to protect out of denial. Thus, it is even the aggravated profile that most consistently refuses to undergo psychological treatment, and if they do, they simply interrupt it and stop going to the sessions as soon as they start to be confronted about themselves.

An author who brings the issue of the narcissistic mother very punctually is McBride (2009; 2011). She divided narcissistic mothers into six very characteristic profiles, which, like all morbidity, can be unique or unified with other existing psychopathological profiles in the ICD-10 (1993/2011):

  • Extravagant-extrovert (The Flamboyant-Extrovert): is characterized by a theatrical mother and facade. That woman who is always happy and in a good mood, can organize and / or participate in parties and events, and who currently posts photos of her children on social networks saying that she loves her children intensely, creating a facade of being concerned and present. But it’s not like that, because she doesn’t care about her children. She is very similar in behavior to the secret evil profile.
  • The Accomplishment-Oriented: this is the mother framed in the example that was given earlier about the US little girls. They want public results from their children, which can demonstrate their merit as a mother. Titles and medals in sectors such as studies, sports or any other practice of the kind would be the reflection of her maternal effort, since the child’s failure is unacceptable and impacting on reactivity based on anger for the child.
  • Psychosomatic: is the mother who seeks commotion and attention simulating illness and pain all the time, and even if she has something, she will present herself in constant and greater suffering than she actually is. If another person actually appears ill nearby, that mother will come up with some complaint that generates something worse to divert attention to herself.
  • The Addicted: She will be laced with addictive substances and alcohol to demand constant attention from her child (most commonly teenager or adult). And regardless of the child’s age (even a child), her behavior is considered narcissistic, even when sober, as her priority is focused on drugs.
  • Secret Mean: Her profile is very similar to extravagant-extroverted. She has a facade of a loving, pro-child mother and wife, and is generally cheerful and good-natured with outsiders. However, from the door of the house inside, she curses, screams and/or hits the children constantly, her punishments go beyond rationality and she makes the children – even if they are 4-year-olds – clean the house in her place as if they were adults , imputing physical and psychological aggressions of all kinds. She presents herself exactly as someone balanced outside the home, but is unbalanced inside the home (one-off or consecutive, it may vary), diluting this perception to third parties in the behavioral justification of “strict educator”. The children fear her, but her antagonistic behavior leaves the children very confused, including a misperception of what love is.
  • The Emotionally Needy: Here, it is the child (child or adult) who takes care of the mother. She is a woman who goes beyond neediness in relation to other narcissistic profiles. She is the supposed sufferer who puts herself in a posture of never being able to be left alone, demanding a lot of attention and working as her word being law, but she can present a contrary speech stating that she raises her children for the world. It can most commonly be seen in mothers who interfere with unreasonable constancy and/or spoil all of their teenage and adult children’s relationships, regardless of gender, but much more evident with those of the male gender. (MCBRIDE, 2009; 2011)

One can even point to a typology not presented by McBride (2099; 2011), but which may become a mixture and unfolding of these, as this type of aggregation is likely to occur, see other typologies such as antisocial personality disorder. There is in narcissism, for example, those mothers who use the illness, disabilities or misfortunes of their children – in the latter case, as victims of sexual violence – to receive praise from dedicated and strong mothers, and making the exposure of these children a focus of attention for you. However, far from the sight of third parties, this supposedly unconditional and concerned love is actually just a facade, and sometimes using practices of abuse in everyday life. Again, it is reinforced that we are not referring here to mothers who are truly concerned and active in caring for their children, and who may even eventually feel tired or angry, but we are citing a constantly distorted behavior that is precipitated as a marker of narcissistic disorder.

It should be noted that, as mothers, individuals with a narcissistic disorder who have this harmful condition for their children are only detected in the face of brief contact with an external person who somehow has access to the family’s intimacy, or through the coexistence of someone who can witness such actions and behavioral dissimulations. This chaotic situation can last for years without anyone outside the home knowing what is going on; even because, generally, the narcissist’s partner is equally coerced (even subtly) and manipulated into silence, which also, depending on the case, can be configured as mere connivance of that partner.

There is an aggravating factor in temporal extension. These narcissistic mothers can one day become grandmothers, and the process tends to repeat itself with the grandchildren. In the contemporaneity of the internet, it is tangible observation and behavioral analysis, accompanying some of these women in these two generational times, for example, marketing the deliberately sensualized image of daughters or granddaughters, girls under 11 years old, in search of supportive comments and praise from people entered in their personal social network profiles. In this case, here we are not pointing to the publication of common everyday images, but to the notorious marketing of minors as a sexual object, as if they were an adult woman in poses and facial expressions in seduction and inviting sex. The conduct is extremely worrying and uncomfortable, as it is a potential decoy for sexual predators of minors, and not far from the intrafamily sexual abusers and rapists strongly pointed out by Abreu (2021). If, as mothers, these women did not have the opportunity to act in this way, exposing the minors to their care as Lolitas, as the technology of the time did not support an expansion of the self with such spatial repercussions, nowadays and in the position of grandparents, this behavior could be potentiated.

The children themselves sometimes understand this mother’s manipulation when they reach adolescence, but depending on how this matriarch behaves, she makes the child’s detachment reaction unfeasible through maneuvers, blackmail and/or victimization (which, by the way, are constant), but which pass unnoticed as such by the family group. Furthermore, if the narcissist has other comorbidities – such as psychopathy and/or Machiavellianism, for example –, the effect is catastrophic. His defense denials in the face of confrontation in the case of being denounced for mistreatment of minor dependents in legal cases, are presented in previously assembled materials (photos, videos and audios) that his conduct is supposedly perfect, full of love and dedication.

González (2015) brings a reflection on individuals who carry the triad of narcissism, Machiavellianism (or manipulative personality) and psychopathy (together or isolated), also called by him “dark personalities”, and which fits here, even as a parallel of better understanding. His article is a general analysis and distances itself from pathological conditions (at primary and secondary levels, which would be more serious), remaining in the subclinical sphere. According to the author, these more accentuated pictures help in understanding the milder ones and the personalities by themselves at a comparative level. He uses psychopathy itself as an example of these levels of severity: “The primary represents the insensitive aspects of psychopaths’ attitudes, while the secondary constitutes the criminal and antisocial aspects of psychopathy”. (JONASON, LYONS and BETHEL, 2014; apud GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 255)

His article, therefore, reviews evolutionary psychology with foundations in Darwin, and in several authors in the understanding that certain individuals possess these “dark personalities that can thrive as social parasites and that evolutionary theory can predict these subgroups of predators” (FURNHAM; RICHARDS and PAULHUS, 2013; apud GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 255-256). This perception is quite frightening, but when looking through the prism of the people who become targets of these subjects, the comparison can fit perfectly.

The author goes back to the information that the individuals who specifically make up this triad, develop a way of life characterized by a lack of self-control, tending to have brief affective relationships – including their sexual relationships are extremely fast –, and their selfishness is latent. Furthermore, González (2015) also informs that people who carry Machiavellianism and narcissism would end up being absorbed and accepted more unnoticed by current societies, precisely because of the culture of quick disposal from the social and anthropological perspective in the face of the consumer society described by authors such as Zygmunt Bauman (2008a, 2008b, 2009), Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood (2009) and others, who reflect on the contemporary world.

This cluster of behaviors driven by extrapolated consumerism would serve as a protective shield for these two primordial personalities (narcissism and Machiavellianism). However, psychopath personality traits would be more evident in an isolated case, and having more difficulty going unnoticed, which could rule out certain conquests and partners as possible targets. However, each of these three personalities – even independently, and, therefore, one can imagine the results of compiling them all in a single subject – would develop ways of approaching and taking advantage of their potential targets, which equally makes these highly adaptable personalities to environments.

González (2015) also brings the demystification that only very intelligent individuals would tend or present behaviors of manipulation and social exploitation as in this triad. He evokes the research by O’Boyle et al. (2013; apud GONZÁLEZ, 2015) who attested that there would be a compensatory behavior in certain subjects with cognitive disadvantages, and precisely by encouraging these manipulation practices. According to González (2015, p. 257), “(…) there would be a positive association between emotional manipulation, but not related to emotional intelligence”.

The author argues that people with truly high emotional intelligence tend to more commonly present a positive, affectionate, kind and altruistic character of high kindness (GONZÁLEZ, 2015). On the other hand, those subjects who actually have the so-called dark personalities – which add the triad of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism – can use their emotional intelligence skills in simulation to manipulate other people and use it for malicious and derogatory purposes widespread harm, including deceiving and exploiting others.

The author reports that low empathy is a central feature in psychopathy in men (PAULHUS and WILLIAMS, 2002; apud GONZÁLEZ, 2015) and in narcissism in women (JONASON et al. 2013; apud GONZÁLEZ, 2015), and therefore these demands are presented differently in men and women. This information is of paramount importance when intersecting with the phenomenon based on narcissistic mothers. This means that when narcissistic men and women are leveled, these women have lower empathic levels than men with the same disorder.

Giammarco e Vernon (2014) argumentam que o maquiavelismo e a psicopatia são caracterizados pela vingança emocional. O maquiavelismo e a psicopatia também apresentavam baixa compaixão, baixa aceitação de perspectivas e baixa preocupação empática. Ao relacionar a Tríade com a empatia e a alexitimia (Jonason & Krause, 2013) descobriram que a psicopatia estava associada a empatia limitada geral, dificuldade em descrever sentimentos e pensamento voltado para o exterior. O narcisismo foi associado a empatia limitada e dificuldade em identificar sentimentos afetivos, enquanto o maquiavelismo foi associado ao pensamento voltado para o exterior. Em outro estudo (Cairncross, Veselka, Schermer & Vernon, 2013), os resultados revelaram que a alexitimia estava associada positivamente com psicopatia e maquiavelismo, e negativamente associada com narcisismo. Uma análise genética comportamental mostrou que as correlações fenotípicas foram atribuídas principalmente a fatores genéticos comuns e fatores ambientais comuns não compartilhados. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 258. Tradução nossa) [3]

In addition to empathic limitation, narcissism is also associated with functional impulsivity that leads the individual to take more social risks, as opposed to psychopathy, which presents itself as dysfunctional impulsivity due to low-regulation, that is, the subject becomes more reserved. Machiavellianism, on the other hand, is not linked to any type of impulsiveness (JONES and PAULHUS, 2011, 2009; apud GONZÁLEZ, 2015).

Precisely because of this narcissistic impulsiveness of showing oneself socially, there is a tendency for women with this disorder not to reject motherhood – and narcissism is intensified during pregnancy, as previously reported in this article –, not least because it is directly congruent with their desires of having a perpetual subject: husbands are not always for ever; children are. For the author, in the case of narcissistic women who become mothers, the chosen parent and procreation encompass a specific level of calculation of social distinction, as a specific child can also be understood as a trophy of attention directed towards this woman. There is a subtle perceptive dichotomy, because if some want this baby as an object of reward, others do not actually want any child, but even so, they will accept this posture of filial ostentation for some reason that makes sense to them in addition to those that have already been described in this article article. The small subtlety of the motivations of desire can, in hypothesis, also generate the difference in posture in the potentiation of destructive behaviors towards the child.

Black, Woodworth & Porter (2014) afirmam que personalidades sombrias têm maior probabilidade de perceber suas vítimas como desagradáveis, com baixa autoestima, muito neuróticas, deprimidas e ansiosas. Os psicopatas geralmente percebem seus alvos como menos pessoais, altamente neuróticos, deprimidos e ansiosos. Os maquiavélicos percebem seus alvos mais neuróticos, ansiosos e deprimidos. Finalmente, os narcisistas percebem seus objetivos como baixa abertura para novas experiências, conscientes, extrovertidos e altos em depressão. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 259. Tradução nossa) [4]

Agreeing with the other authors already mentioned in this article, González (2015) states that in the face of various studies and research, it is known that individuals who harbor one of these three personalities are provided with moral inhibition, that is, they minimize or do not care about any sense moral. Furthermore, their sense of justice is distorted.

The traits of Machiavellianism, together with psychopathy, would bring the probability of violent behavior to the subject. These two personalities and the narcissist (even when separated) present themselves socially as seductive and attractive individuals, and that is precisely what attracts their sexual targets. According to the researchers, of the three, the one with the greatest power of attraction is the narcissist, and for presenting the psychological profile of need for a subject for longer than the Machiavellian and the psychopath (who discard their sexual conquests more easily). Furthermore, the triad uses the constant elimination of competitors and rivals (especially sexual ones), either by discourteous means (Machiavellians and psychopaths) or by overshadowing superiority (narcissists), and they are commonly surrounded by the habit of lying. They are subjects who will suck as much as they can from third parties (individuals or even companies), but will give little or no return.

Para Baughman, Jonason, Lyons e Vernon (2014), psicopatas e maquiavélicos estão ligados à propensão a mentir em diferentes contextos, incluindo relações sexuais e desonestidade acadêmica. Esses autores argumentam que os psicopatas experimentam mais emoções positivas relacionadas à mentira, e os maquiavélicos têm uma quantidade maior de esforço cognitivo associado ao engano. Jonason, Lyons, Baughman & Vernon (2014) descobriram que psicopatas e maquiavélicos estavam ligados a contar mais mentiras; a psicopatia estava associada a contar mentiras sem motivo, e o maquiavelismo estava associado a contar mentiras inocentes. O narcisismo, por outro lado, estava ligado à mentira para ganho pessoal e à capacidade declarada de mentir. Jonason, Wee, Li & Jackson (2014) estudaram interesses vocacionais em relacionados com as características da Tríade, e encontrou psicopatas estão mais interessados em carreiras realistas e práticas, narcisistas, carreiras artistas, empresários e socialistas, e maquiavélicos estão mais interessados em evitar carreiras do que envolvem cuidar dos outros. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 260. Tradução nossa) [5]

These personalities are still constantly promoted, especially in our contemporary internet times, and that again can be reinforced by Bauman (2008a, 2008b, 2009). He and González (2015) argue that even psychopaths and Machiavellians who previously kept themselves more reserved, now recognize themselves as safe using the screen as a security shield. Precisely for this reason, the three personalities feel motivated to interact with other people through social networks to monitor their targets, creating quick and new interaction relationships, and declaring every kind of thought or hypothetical opinion that may even promote aggressiveness, and also, showing low self-control. However, everything is camouflaged by behavior that is often unfiltered and without limits on what can be done on the internet. González (2015) categorically completes that the triad gained space to improve their practices and intensify their dark personalities: they are evolving, but not from a positive perspective, but from a socially negative and disturbing perspective.

For all these factors, González (2015) brings his concern with the formation of personality since childhood, and that yes, it inevitably falls on this female figure with narcissistic disorder as a parent to which this article focuses. He specifically explains some points raised in research on the origin of these personalities:

Em relação ao cuidado à infância e à Tríade (Jonason, Lyons & Bethell, 2014), verificou-se que a baixa qualidade dos cuidados maternos leva ao maquiavelismo e aos aspectos do narcisismo, como pretensão / exploração e liderança / autoridade quando do apego seguro não ocorre. O cuidado paterno de baixa qualidade leva à psicopatia secundária, e o cuidado paterno de alta qualidade tem sido associado à dimensão de pretensão / exploração do narcisismo. Por outro lado, na relação entre a teoria da mente e o apego (Riquelme, Henríquez & Álvarez, 2003), descobriu-se que o cuidado da infância tem um impacto importante no processo de mentalização. A teoria da mente aparece como conceito na obra de Premack & Woodruff (1978), definida como a capacidade de compreender, prever e explicar o comportamento humano em termos de estados mentais internos. Em estudos que relacionam a teoria da mente à Tríade (Stellwagen & Kerig, 2013), observou-se que nas crianças de sexta e sétima série o narcisismo está positivamente associado à teoria da mente, e que traços de insensibilidade, sem emoção, são negativos associado à teoria da mente. Por outro lado, impulsividade e maquiavelismo não estariam relacionados à teoria da mente. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 257. Tradução nossa) [6]

And complete with a reflection:

(…) ao revisar estudos que investigam o cuidado da infância e a Tríade (Jonason, Lyons & Bethell, 2014), foi sugerido que a qualidade do cuidado parental leva a padrões de apego que podem levar aos diferentes aspectos da Tríade, o que é um indicador importante que no início, o cuidado da infância por figuras significativas influencia o desenvolvimento dos traços da Tríade. As evidências apresentadas, de uma perspectiva evolutiva, fornecem dados que permitem questionar a hipótese evolutiva de que os traços da Tríade seriam expressos ou transmitidos exclusivamente para fins reprodutivos. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 262. Tradução nossa) [7]

The relevance of the article by González (2015) reflects on the understanding of how the narcissistic personality, the focus of this article, behaves to reach its targets in view of an alleged sexual and later family relationship, creating its own mechanisms of strengthening and social survival.

In view of all the content briefly exposed, it is also worth presenting two case studies that bring narcissistic mothers and potentially traumatic results in their children as a consequence of their postures.

3. TWO BRIEF CASES FOR REFLECTION

The following cases are based on full reports of interviews that Abreu (2021) – therefore, it is the content of a (two-year) research work by one of the authors of this article – brings in her book on the universe of intrafamily sexual violence , making it possible to do a very punctual dive into maternal narcissism and damage to children – or a specific one – under their care. The interviewees were informed through the Free and Informed Consent Form (TCLE)[8] that the captured material would be reproduced in a book and later used in analysis for a scientific article (which is happening here), as well as presented in scientific congresses, if that was the case. It should be emphasized that the very brief discussion ahead about the two cases is being done in an unprecedented way here, since the author herself reports in the book that she had no intention of doing that at that moment, but letting readers reflect later on for themselves and after all the content of the work.

Eu decidi, como autora, finalizar esta obra nesta sessão, apenas com uma breve consideração ao final e como fechamento (o que explica minha maior contextualização na sessão anterior). As histórias pessoais que seguem devem falar por si mesmas, para que você, leitor, reflita, pondere, chore, indigne-se e revolte-se, trace possíveis estratégias de combate e socorro, e sinta a dor desses silêncios que só querem ser quebrados e por um grande motivo: não permitir que outras crianças e adolescentes continuem passando por isso. (ABREU, 2021, p. 187)

The researcher tried to understand how intrafamilial sexual aggressors with various disorders would act in general to camouflage their actions. In addition, she tried to understand, in equal potential, why many mothers would behave connivingly with sexual violence against their children and if they – as mothers – would be configured within the narcissistic profile. In this way, her work was divided into a theorizing part so that lay people and victims (and not just professionals) could understand some of the many sociocultural conditions and psychopathological spectrums that surround the theme. In another half, seven full reports of victims were presented through in-depth interviews, which took two years to complete, and this was due to the difficulty in getting the interviewees to talk about their demands and traumas. In this way, the writer hopes that the reader will be able to make correlations between the facts, the actors involved and the underlying theorization itself.

In view of the narrative exposed in this article, it is worth bringing two of these strong reports to a more concrete understanding of the devastating impacts that a narcissistic mother can cause in the life of her child, and in more harmful cases such as the practice of sexual violence.

Abreu (2021) reports one of her work, the story of a woman (who will be identified here as interviewee A) who was 31 years old and has five children. Her mother (over 71 years old) comes from a family of fourteen siblings, she being the eldest. Her father is eleven years younger than her mother. Interviewee A has four siblings in very close sequential birth, two of which are twins, and she and another brother are also twins. She is the only woman.

Her mother was seen with great fear by the children at home, but on the street they saw her as a respected, professionally active and solicitous woman. Her father was seen as a very “nice” man inside and outside the home, being responsible for household chores, including taking care of the children. (ABREU, 2021)

Interviewee A has a memory block before the age of 9, but she remembers taking many baths with her siblings at that time, and given by her father. Her father began to effectively rape her during this period (with penile insertion) and she was coerced not to complain at school or to her mother that she felt pain with the hypothetical affection of her father, as the reminder was that her mother would beat her in the girl because she “did not like children with freshness” (ABREU, 2021). At the age of 10, she was taken to the doctor after a very severe constipation, and there her pregnancy was discovered and confirmed.

Interviewee A did not understand what was happening, and, on the other hand, the father convinced his wife that the pregnancy should have been the result of a cousin of the girl. The mother shared the scandal with the whole family and threw the child out of the house, going to live with uncles who took her in. A few months later, it was discovered that the biological parent of the fetus was the grandfather himself (the biological father of “A”). The case required interference from the Tutelary Council, DNA testing and reached much greater spheres of gravity because it was incest and rape of a vulnerable person. (ABREU, 2021)

Abreu (2021) describes that even with all the evidence of the rape of the minor at that time and the abuses were also directed at the victim’s brothers, the mother of interviewee A forced her to give birth and take care of the baby resulting from incest, and placing -a to live again in his residence. However, she united in chorus with her family to claim that her daughter had stolen her husband, and this is repeated even after more than twenty years of the event. In parallel, the mother paid for her husband’s entire legal process, paying the defense lawyers to prove that he was innocent and the child would supposedly be a seductive liar. Interviewee A’s school education was also completely denied.

After eight years of process – and it took a long time, precisely because of the interference of the mother of interviewee A –, the parent was arrested, but answered only seven years in prison. Upon leaving, he was received unconditionally by his wife. (ABREU, 2021)

During the narrative collected by the author, the son of interviewee A was 21 years old and had spina bifida and spastic paraplegia, results of incest. According to the approach, the boy has the mental age of an 8-year-old. The mother of this sexual abuse victim and her family still claim that she is a “husband stealer”. (ABREU, 2021)

In report two, the author tells the story of a 32-year-old woman who will be called interviewee B. Her mother was 53 years old at the time of the interview and her father was 55, and she also has a brother six years younger. The family owned a house on a large plot of land shared with the rest of the family. Cousins, uncles and grandparents lived, therefore, in several independent houses, but in the same place. (ABREU, 2021)

According to interviewee B, her mother always presented herself socially as a religious woman, concerned with members of the congregation and with individuals in the family. Her posture was always one of proactivity and care for everyone outside the house, and constantly very solicitous. Thus, she is a permanent target of family and social attention as a great matriarch.

At age 5, Interviewee B was playing with a cousin of the same age, and both children were curious to look at each other’s sexual organs. The aunt – sister of interviewee B’s mother and cousin’s mother – saw the scene and instead of curing the children’s curiosity and ending the episode, she left without saying anything and went straight to tell her sister. What happened is that this mother was directed with the imposition of punishment on the girl. This occurred only to her, as the boy did not receive any kind of penalty – and it was not the case for any of the children – or conversation. (ABREU, 2021)

According to interviewee B’s report, the family was making preparations for the June festivities, and there was a cauldron boiling with boiled corn. The aunt suggested and the mother complied: she took one of those eight-inch boiling spikes and forced it into the child’s vagina. There was no regret of any kind on the part of the two adults, not at that moment, not even years later. (ABREU, 2021)

The colossal trauma imposed on the girl did not end there. Less than a year later – already 6 years old – she began to be forcibly raped by another 15-year-old cousin on Christmas Day, which lasted until she was 8 years old. She kept silent and did not ask for help for fear of what her mother might do to her, which was also reinforced by this threatening cousin, in addition to the statement that they would not believe her report. (ABREU, 2021)

The mother behaved with disdain at her daughter’s utterly frightened and depressed behavior during her growing up. As an adult, Interviewee B started to trigger serious emotional outbursts and sought psychological help. During that same period, in the face of yet another Christmas family get-together and seeing her mother surround her abusive cousin with affection and attention, and strengthened by the initial psychotherapeutic process, she decided to tell what had happened twenty-one years earlier. (ABREU, 2021)

Upon learning of the fact, the mother’s reaction was initially to show despair in the face of the confrontation, crying, screaming, struggling and putting herself as the worst mother in the world, and as if she were the great victim. This generated in interviewee B the immediate behavior of stopping talking and confronting the mother, and dichotomously welcoming her. However, in the sequence, the mother told the episode to the whole family, even with the young woman’s appeal that it was just between the two of them. However, the mother did not reveal who the rapist was and strengthened the affections and affection for her nephew, even though she was fully aware of what he had done to her daughter. (ABREU, 2021)

Together with the family, the mother began to reinforce that everything that happened to Interviewee B, as well as her depressive psychological state, was the result of a lack of God (even with the young woman following the religious behaviors she had been taught since forever). At the same time, the mother continued her behavior of being helpful, considerate and proactive towards the entire family and congregation, and with her daughter’s rapist. (ABREU, 2021)

Abreu (2021) records that interviewee A understood over the years the violence she suffered and tries to stay away from her mother and family that still attacks and accuses her. Interviewee B remains close to her mother, as she still suffers from maternal emotional manipulation with the support of religious precepts and dogmas, although she is already making some advances in therapy. Unfortunately, both carry traumas of all kinds that are irreparable from this highly toxic maternal relationship, as well as depressive processes, high anxiety and other aggravating factors, but they believe in a future that they will be able to re-elaborate all the issues involved, and, after much understanding, build the decision-making self knowledge.

4. BRIEF THEORETICAL DISCUSSION

These two more dramatic cases, succinctly brought from Abreu’s book (2021), briefly reflect the profile of this narcissistic mother and toxic motherhood, which is nothing unusual, and is far from being a myth. It should be noted that the psychological damage to the children is severe, but varied and appearing in levels, even if the actions of the narcissistic mother do not go beyond physical torture. The social indifference with the theme is so blatant that there are very few materials focused on the issue. The popular proverb “God in heaven and mother on earth” defines very well the place of the sanctified, insurmountable and irreproachable mother, but which only really exists as a belief.

It is not enough for professionals to strive for excellence if the population does not have access to tools that can promote referral to reception and re-education. Public policies also need to be restructured, applied and encouraged so that more people can be assisted, and this continuous cycle of psychic illnesses can be interrupted, and even monitored more closely.

In fact, there is a huge need to promote the in-depth study of this demand among Psychology students and professionals, as well as to include other professionals in a multidisciplinary scope, such as social workers who deal with family issues more directly. Not only that: the government should invest more in supporting a broad spectrum discussion on the subject with community groups, helping to understand the existence of the demand and in the re-education of families at all social levels, since mental illnesses affect everyone, but the poorest population is the most affected by the lack of support. This attentional process can generate the intensification of self-knowledge and greater detection of psychic conflicts. This would lead to social understanding of the severity of certain maternal behaviors – and more generally parental ones – that lead children and adolescents to a traumatic and harmful development. In addition, to make viable the knowledge that maternal narcissistic disorder at the pathological level is something serious and that it can no longer be ignored, naturalized or romanticized.

Narcissism, even though it is a natural process that every human being goes through in their development, can be extremely harmful to the subject without proper care and become pathological, and, consequently, generate suffering to those close to him and to the subject himself. This became very tangible in the theorizing brought mainly through the classic studies of Freud (1980; 2004), Klein (1966; 1991) and Winnicott (1983), and through the most up-to-date prism of rereadings through Zimerman (2004), Zornig (2010) , Marson (2008), and, Ferrari, Picinini and Lopes (2006).

The figure of the mother as someone idolized by the symbolism of unconditional love ends up hiding the narcissistic matriarch, who, in her most potent structure, can be extremely aggressive, manipulative and/or effectively destructive. This detail on the various facets of this narcissistic parent brought by McBride (2009; 2011), reveals how complex her behavior can be. She will wear the facade of someone who is very proactive externally and presents herself as a great and loving mother – and in a way, some even believe that –, but hiding neglect, imposition of fear and/or violence at a physical, emotional, psychological and/or physical level or moral, as justifications of zeal, or even under the argument of educating the children. These, in turn, can become insecure, anguished, anxious, confused individuals, without self-expression and/or prone to triggering a series of psychic illnesses, including difficulty in apprehending reality and extreme submission. Other damages, even of a psychophysical nature, can also be triggered, such as, for example, stuttering. On the other hand, other individuals may develop aggressiveness, impatience, have great difficulty maintaining stable relationships and/or even be new subjects with the narcissistic disorder (or other disorders), since, as seen, they are the result of the self-perception of the lack of love of the caregiver even in the first years of life.

It is also worth remembering the contribution of González (2015), since his studies on the comparison between the dark triad, as he names it, made it possible to understand more thoroughly how psychopathic, Machiavellian and narcissistic individuals act. Each one has a particularity independently, but which can also be unified in comorbidity and become more complex. Furthermore, there is a whole drive in the search for a sexual partner so that the narcissist, specifically, can continue to maintain his status as a personal reign. Exactly for this reason, each individual will manifest a very peculiar subjectivity and different from the other. This could also be seen in the two real cases brought by Abreu (2021), and how the narcissism of each mother was different.

In interviewee A’s report, the mother promoted all kinds of family and public humiliation to her daughter, creating a persona of a woman betrayed and wronged over the years, but later excusing herself from guilt in the socially edified role of a good mother and allowing others to take the course of moral and psychological destruction of the young woman. The narrative also makes it possible to identify the matriarch, initially fitting McBride’s (2009; 2011) typologies in terms of the extravagant-extroverted and the secretly evil, but over the years until the present time, this mother intensified the behavior of the narcissistic mother psychosomatic in an attempt to demand her daughter’s presence when she realized that she was somehow getting stronger and distancing herself more punctually. The behavior of a psychosomatic narcissist had already presented itself years before to third parties, but pointing to the daughter as the culprit for her ills.

The interviewee was able to openly verbalize her conflicts to the mother, but she reacted by attacking or not letting her express herself, a behavior reproduced by the whole family against the victim. At the time of the interviews, “A” was not undergoing any type of therapy (this was only carried out during her gestational process as rape of a vulnerable person and a few months after the birth of the child). The mother also undermined any kind of support that the daughter could access and help her in the slightest. Anyway, faced with the opportunity to express himself freely and non-judgmentally for the first time with the author for the book generation, “A” was thinking about planning to seek psychological help and strengthen his Self.

In the report of interviewee B, at first, her mother was responsible for inflicting physical torture. However, she later generated tools for third parties to help her in the process of moral and psychological destruction of “B”, and even so, publicly remaining as a valued mother and in need of family and congregational attention for having a daughter in emotional imbalance and supposedly without God.

Here, the matriarch could be fitted into McBride’s (2009; 2011) typologies with the profile of a secret and psychosomatic wicked woman. Even in the latter type, keeping the daughter in a constant process of feeling guilty so as not to confront her, because, if that happens, Interviewee B understands that she may be responsible for a sudden illness in the mother that leads to her death. The interviewee at the time of the interlocution, even though she was in therapy, also claimed not to understand why the matriarch still acted in such an ambiguous way, but stated that she loved her mother and, in order not to make her sick, would prefer not to try to understand. Such a posture could lead the interviewee not to resolve her deep wounds with the mother, and leading her to other sufferings for not closing such issues, even having possibilities to do so.

Finally, both mothers maintained the behavior of sufferers, inverting the condition of victims for themselves, and maintaining the intention of perpetuating the condemnation of the real victims. Thus, it is not enough for the sufferers to have gone through a process of torture and humiliation for years, they continue to be led to the same chain of psychological, emotional and moral deterioration, but constantly relegated to the priority of not opposing the mother figure.

Therefore, and far from these two examples of real cases, the situations are different with regard to the behavior of narcissistic mothers, but with equally heterogeneous and multifaceted effective damage to their children. Mothers and children remain in a chain of continuous illness, as they are very strong emotional bonds that connect them. However, even if the children seek the proper psychological help, these mothers avoid such support, and not only because of their pre-existing resistance that is part of their personality disorder, but also due to reinforcement and social ignorance fomented in mistaken taboo of the immaculate mother and who supposedly does not make mistakes, much less can be blamed for it. However, mothers also get sick and hurt, and need care and treatment.

Increasingly, it is possible to become aware of reports of individuals, already in their adult life, who describe their traumatic upbringings with narcissistic mothers, and even allowing harm to their daughter through third parties, as in the case of abuse and intra-family rapes in the two specific reports brought by Abreu (2021), which also extend to allowing third parties to humiliate the victims. Other mothers with a narcissistic disorder profile also present themselves in relationships that are not as traumatic and a little distant from the cases of interviewees A and B, but no less harmful.

It is possible to distinguish these narcissistic mothers from mothers without this disorder. This is brought out in the aspects listed by McBride (2009; 2011) and other authors who point out the structure of how these mothers present themselves and the generalized harm to their children. The aggravating factors will only be a situational issue for all the actors involved. Narcissistic mothers exist and so do their children, and both need psychological attention to break down and discontinue paradigms of destruction and manipulation.

5. FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

The guiding question of this article – how and why maternal-narcissistic behaviors can generate children with psycho-behavioral illnesses? – was answered together with the hypothesis and was based on the assumption that a mother with narcissistic personality disorder can have her behavior potentiated and/or reinforced in the face of the socio-familial non-recognition of her demand. Due to lack of knowledge of the situation, and considering that it is just a stereotype based on “this is your mother”, family members and children spend years submitting to the conduct generated by this mother, and feeding a gear that can trigger serious illnesses in the subjects as minors, and evolving in amplitude in adults.

In addition, the general objective of the article was based on detecting how narcissistic mothers are constructed and behave and what are the psychological and behavioral implications for their children as direct victims of this maternal relationship, also brought the reflection that the woman’s role as generator of life is beautiful, and it is the first and strongest expression of love for the human being who generates and/or creates – thinking here also of adoptive mothers, and who also find narcissistic women –, and of the initial connection of a person with the world. However, not all women develop this originally altruistic maternal process of loving the other as a child, even because, in their own development, there may have been a failure in this aspect, so they are unaware of what this is and only recognize love for themselves same.

In this path of study, the specific objectives were developed in understanding the differentiation of a common maternal behavior (understood as normal) from the psychopathological one; distinguish how these narcissistic mothers present themselves; reflect on how to protect affected individuals and equally treat these sick women. In this regard, strengthening the joint work of institutions/professionals/society, based on strong public policies, is what can actually reach these sick women and their families, and breaking the continuous destructive framework of maternal narcissism. This brought the understanding that it would be interesting to restructure social understanding about breaking certain myths, such as the sanctified mother in its entirety.

There is a huge behavioral differentiation of motherhood understood as normal – that is, without the demarcation of narcissistic disorder –, which yes, can sometimes be exaggerated and exalted in the sense of proudly showing their offspring and their accomplishments, and even with occasional rudeness for loss of patience and momentary lack of control, but this in fact does not harm these children. On the other hand, psychopathological maternal behavior based on narcissistic disorders leads to numerous losses.

It is indeed necessary to reflect and discuss how to protect these affected individuals and equally treat these sick women. If the reports are present and these narcissistic mothers are also more detectable in their behavior – and, therefore, they have always existed, but their actions are more noticeable in contemporary times –, this brings a reflection not only on the traumas themselves of many individuals.

It is also worth considering the social and historical behavior of forcing women who do not want to be mothers to be mothers, thus generating mothers with no intimacy with the construction of the maternal process – and effectively cannot or have great difficulty in developing it, even if they do not suffer from narcissistic disorder – and hence, understand that they can also potentially generate narcissists, or any other type of illness that is so harmful to the subject and third parties.

Therefore, it is necessary to think about this process of motherhood for contemporary women, deconstructing the hypothetical sanctity of this status; including reviewing religious dogmas built along with the emergence of patriarchy; understanding that the understanding of motherhood is something built during pregnancy (and after childbirth), and even by someone who previously would like to be a mother, but who will have to face conflicts about herself and this other being that arises from there. Being a mother is effectively not easy, and hence the great responsibility of this woman, but, above all, of the society that surrounds her and often ignores her, enhancing illnesses that are simply ignored. It is attributed to this real woman, but configured in the symbology of mother goddess, the romanticized assumption that she can endure everything and does not need to be helped, because she does not fail and only generates life, therefore, she is incapable of destroying it. Therefore, if someone who has a psychic predisposition to motherhood (or develops it positively) is already difficult to deal with certain confrontations, let alone those who do not want it.

Support is necessary, as these mother-child relationships are so powerful that, even with the understanding of the damage, the children of these women tend to maintain proximity and bonds with their toxic mothers, no matter how bad the situation may have been. The social demand is immeasurable for such children to continue to support and support these mothers, regardless of what happens to them, keeping them in a constant process of manipulation and illness by this untreated matriarch.

There is a need for the government to create and encourage policies with a psychological reach to families and individuals, and society as a whole, in addition to the attention of mental health professionals in the search for an understanding of this demand. The more people who can be recognized, welcomed and treated so that they reach self-knowledge and their processes, leading them above all to psycho-behavioral re-education, the lesser will be the impact of social devastation in the face of the shattering of the subject under the tutelage of the narcissistic mother, and herself manage to find something closer to the happiness and real love she wants, but doesn’t know.

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APPENDIX – REFERENCE FOOTNOTE

3.  Giammarco & Vernon (2014) plantean que el maquiavelismo y la psicopatía se caracterizan por presentar venganza emocional. El maquiavelismo y la psicopatía también presentaron baja compasión, baja toma de perspectiva y baja preocupación empática. Al relacionar la Tríada con empatía y alexitimia (Jonason & Krause, 2013) se encontró que la psicopatía se asoció con la empatía limitada general, dificultad para describir los sentimientos y el pensamiento orientado hacia el exterior. El narcisismo se relacionó con la empatía limitada y la dificultad para identificar los sentimientos afectivos, mientras que el maquiavelismo se asoció con el pensamiento orientado hacia el exterior. En otro estudio (Cairncross, Veselka, Schermer & Vernon, 2013) los resultados revelaron que la alexitimia se asoció en forma positiva con la psicopatía y el maquiavelismo, y de manera negativa con el narcisismo. Un análisis genético del comportamiento demostró que las correlaciones fenotípicas fueron principalmente atribuibles a factores genéticos comunes y a factores ambientales comunes no compartidos. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 258)

4. Black, Woodworth & Porter (2014) plantean que las personalidades oscuras son más propensas a percibir a sus víctimas como desagradables, con baja autoestima, muy neuróticas, deprimidas y ansiosas. Los psicópatas generalmente perciben sus objetivos como menos afables, muy neuróticos, deprimidos y ansiosos. Los maquiavélicos perciben sus objetivos más neuróticos, ansiosos y deprimidos. Por último, los narcisistas perciben sus objetivos como bajos en la apertura a nuevas experiencias, conscientes, extrovertidos y altos en depresión. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 259)

5. Para Baughman, Jonason, Lyons & Vernon (2014), los psicópatas y maquiavélicos se vinculan a la propensión a mentir en diferentes contextos, incluyendo el coito y la deshonestidad académica. Estos autores plantean que los psicópatas experimentan más emociones positivas relacionadas con la mentira, y los maquiavélicos presentan una mayor cantidad de esfuerzo cognitivo asociado al engaño. Jonason, Lyons, Baughman & Vernon (2014) encontraron que los psicópatas y los maquiavélicos estaban vinculados a decir más mentiras; la psicopatía se asoció a decir mentiras sin razón, y el maquiavelismo estaba relacionado con decir mentiras blancas. El narcisismo, en cambio, estaba vinculado a la mentira para beneficio propio y la habilidad de autorreporte para mentir. Jonason, Wee, Li & Jackson (2014) estudiaron los intereses vocacionales en relación con los rasgos de la Tríada, y encontraron que los psicópatas están más interesados en carreras realistas y prácticas, los narcisistas, en las carreras artísticas, emprendedoras y sociales, y los maquiavélicos tienen más interés en evitar las carreras que involucran cuidar a los demás. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 260)

6. En relación con los cuidados en la infancia y la Tríada (Jonason, Lyons & Bethell, 2014), se ha encontrado que la baja calidad de los cuidados maternales lleva al maquiavelismo y aspectos del narcisismo, como pretensión/exploración y liderazgo/autoridad cuando el apego seguro no se produce. El cuidado paternal de baja calidad lleva a la psicopatía secundaria, y el cuidado paterno de alta calidad se ha asociado con la dimensión de pretensión/explotación del narcisismo. Por otra parte, en la relación entre la teoría de la mente y el apego (Riquelme, Henríquez & Álvarez, 2003), se ha descubierto que los cuidados en la infancia tienen un importante impacto en el proceso de mentalización. La teoría de la mente aparece como concepto en el trabajo de Premack & Woodruff (1978), definida como la capacidad de comprender, predecir y explicar el comportamiento humano en términos de estados mentales internos. En estudios que relacionan la teoría de la mente con la Tríada (Stellwagen & Kerig, 2013) se ha observado que en niños de sexto y séptimo grado el narcisismo está asociado de manera positiva con la teoría de la mente, y que los rasgos insensibles, sin emoción, se asocian negativamente con la teoría de la mente. Por otra parte, la impulsividad y el maquiavelismo no estarían relacionados con la teoría de la mente. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 257)

7.  (…) al revisar estudios que investigan los cuidados en la infancia y la Tríada (Jonason, Lyons & Bethell, 2014), se ha sugerido que la calidad del cuidado parental lleva a patrones de apego que pueden conducir a diferentes aspectos de la Tríada, lo cual es un importante indicador de que los cuidados tempranos en la infancia por parte de figuras significativas influyen en el desarrollo de los rasgos de la Tríada. La evidencia presentada, a partir de la mirada evolutiva, provee datos que permiten cuestionar la hipótesis evolucionista referida a que los rasgos de la Tríada se expresarían o se transmitirían exclusivamente con un fin reproductivo. (GONZÁLEZ, 2015, p. 262)

8. Termo de Consentimento Livre e Esclarecido (TCLE).

[1] Specialist in Pedagogical Neuroscience by AVM Educacional/UCAM/RJ; specialist in Art Therapy in Education and Health by AVM Educacional/UCAM/RJ; specialist in Research of Behavior and Consumption by Faculdade SENAI CETIQT RJ; specialist in Visual Arts by UNESA/RJ; BA in Design from Faculdade SENAI CETIQT RJ. Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at UNIP/SP and postgraduate student in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at PUC/PR.

[2] Bachelor in Social Communication from Faculdade Casper Libero/SP. Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.

Submitted: March, 2022.

Approved: August, 2022.

5/5 - (10 votes)
Liliane Alcântara de Abreu

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