Most of us can relate, on some level, to scenes such as these – to ways our parents over-connected or lived through us, as a reflection of them. But when dealing with a narcissistic parent day in and day out throughout one’s childhood, the impact can be devastating. For example, in “The Joy Luck Club,” the little girl quits playing chess in retaliation to her mother’s intrusiveness. Her mother responds by giving her the silent treatment. After weeks, the young girl makes an effort to regain her mother’s approval and announces that she’s decided to play chess again. Without so much as a glance, her mother coldly replies that it won’t be so easy for her anymore. This cutting remark shatters the girl’s confidence, and, as her mother predicted, she can no longer win. Her voiceover concludes the story with, “This power I had, this belief in myself… I could actually feel it draining away… All the secrets I once saw… I couldn’t see them anymore. All I could see was–were my mistakes, my weaknesses.”
The problem with narcissistic parents is that, although the focus seems to be on the child, there is actually very little regard for the child in their parenting style. When her daughter insulted her own ego, the mother in the film no longer saw use for her the young girl’s talent. She didn’t support her daughter playing chess, because it made her daughter feel good or gave her confidence. She supported it, because it gave her the chance to feel like a winner, to bask in her child’s accomplishments and take credit for skills that were not her own.