Have you noticed that so many narcissists exhibit disturbing behaviors around food? I mean, many of them hoard it, and diligently keep track of every item in the refrigerator, and pantry. Many don’t like to share it, not even with their own children. They often will make you feel bad for eating it. And at other times, they will make you feel bad for not eating it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this behavior is a characteristic of all narcissists. But, it’s not surprising, that so many partners and family members have a lot to say about their experiences with narcissists in the kitchen. When the narcissist’s combination of pathological selfishness, and the need for control, and dominance rear their ugly heads, it all too often can be seen in their behaviors concerning one of our most precious resources –food.
Narcissists are control freaks, and their need for control often extends into the bellies of those around them. Living with the self-appointed food patrol is nothing short of grueling. The refrigerator can feel more like a battlefield when you open the door, and cautiously attempt to navigate the contents on the shelves, trying to recall the limits of the narcissist’s Mine and Not Yours boundary system. Even children, are expected not to cross enemy lines and are severely penalized for any attempts at trespassing. For many people who have lived with a narcissist, the experiences of love, nurturing, and sharing are unfamiliar, especially in relation to food.
Food, as A Method of Dominance And Control
Eating is essential to our very survival. When we eat, we are ensuring our continued existence. We are making ourselves a priority by engaging in the act of self-love and care. Narcissists don’t want their partners, and family members, to act with self-love. Self-love promotes feelings of importance, and independence, which threatens the narcissist’s need to be the reigning superior.
Controlling, and scrupulously accounting for the resources essential to our very survival, is one of the ways narcissists establish dominance, and control, in their relationships. It’s similar to the behavior of animals in the wild, where there are strict rules in place, that maintain the hierarchy. For instance, the alpha lion in the pride is always the first to dine after a successful hunt, and the canine pack leader is always the first to enjoy the feast. It boils down to maintaining their position as Numero Uno, by reminding the other members of their clan exactly where they stand in the pecking order, and whose survival is most important.
Many narcissists diligently take inventory of every consumed item, that resides under the roofs of their homes, and they are quick to point out violations of portion equality. Your violations, not theirs, of course.
Even when they’re not hungry, and aren’t planning to eat, they’ll become annoyed, and sometimes enraged at any suggestion that they should just share, and not worry about who ate how much of what. They would rather see their serving spoil than relinquish their claim to a piece of cake, or slice of something.
And, if you unwittingly serve them the smaller piece, they will insist, with all the immaturity of a 5-year-old child, that their slice must be equal to, or larger than yours. To receive a smaller helping is absolutely offensive to the narcissist, because it doesn’t support their inflated view of themselves, or uphold their place as Top Dog.
But, here’s the real twist. When you innocently serve the narcissist a smaller portion, they will seize the opportunity to accuse you of being selfish. No one wants to be blamed for acting selfishly, especially when they’re not, so the next time and every time after that, you’ll be absolutely certain to prove your unselfishness by giving the narcissist the bigger portion.
Through this gesture, you begin to symbolically (through food), agree with, and support the narcissist’s need for dominance, and your status of lesser importance by default.
Food, as A Method To Manipulate And Impede Bonding
In most cultures, sharing a meal is a bonding and nurturing experience. It is even built into our evolution. Starting from day one, while new mothers nurse their babies, their brains release the cuddle chemical, oxytocin, that forges the bond between mother and child.
In addition to the evolutionary influence, that nourishment provided by nursing mothers has on bonding, every important event or celebration in our lives is organized around food. Sharing a meal, or as the popular idiom suggests, “breaking bread” together is an intimate, bond-building experience.
Feeding another, or sharing a meal, is considered, and experienced by many, as an act of caring and nurturing. It requires giving of yourself, and your resources. But narcissists are too pathologically selfish to participate in any act that requires them to give if they’re not going to get something out of it in return. And they’re not interested in the mutuality of bonding; they’re interested in control, and only nourishing their own egos.
And, here’s another example of how narcissists will seize an opportunity to make you feel bad when it comes to meal time. They enjoy creating no-win situations, and cooking for you gives them the perfect opportunity to put you between a rock and a hard place. They’ll cook for you, and then find something to complain about. Either they’ll attempt to make you feel guilty for not eating enough (it doesn’t matter that you weren’t all that hungry), or they’ll chastise you for eating too much. No matter what you do, you will always be at fault for something.
Some narcissists will prepare a meal for you only to pick a fight because you didn’t make a sufficient fuss about how tasty it was, or provide them with an adequate amount of praise. Their seemingly loving gesture of planning, and preparing a meal for you, was never about providing love, nurture, or caring; it was all about their need to siphon supply in the form of props, for their culinary skills, and effort. It’s never about you. It is always about them, and always will be.
Perhaps, the most disturbing examples of food used as a weapon to manipulate and control, come from the children of narcissistic parents, and caretakers. It’s not uncommon for a narcissistic parent to restrict, or withhold food, as a form of punishment, to garner compliance, or just because they can. Many narcissistic parents invent arbitrary rules, that govern when their child can, and can’t eat, without any regard for, or concern about the child’s internal hunger cues. A narcissistic parent feels entitled, and will have no problem eating something off their child’s plate without asking, and if the child protests, the parent will say something like, “I thought you were finished.” But, if the same child tries to eat something from their parent’s plate, they will be subjected to the worst kind of narcissistic wrath.
Narcissists of the engulfing type, expect their children to like and enjoy the same kind food as they do, and dismiss the child’s wants and preferences, causing severe psychological invalidation. The list of ways narcissists tighten their grip of control through the use of food is endless.
I’ve found that if you’re having major adversarial conversations about the purchase of, storage of, a division of, or anything else concerning food, you’re most likely dealing with a narcissist. And a word of caution, don’t ever mention you’re on a diet to a narcissist and expect support in any shape, or form. Sharing information of this type is like giving them an open invitation to set you up for failure. They will suddenly develop cravings for your favorite off limit food, and mercilessly tempt you with it, only to then turn around and criticize you, for any breaches of your willpower.
Copyright © 2016 Bree Bonchay. All Rights Reserved.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.
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