Why was Precious’ Mother so Abusive?

March 10, 2010

I had several women approach me after they had seen the movie.  Many were quite upset about the abusive mother and wanted to know what would cause someone to engage in such monstrous acts.   The mother’s explanation at the end of the movie about needing “love” was not enough for the women who approached me.  They were right.  That wasn’t enough of an explanation.  Most people wish to have love but they do not necessarily become abusers when they do not receive it. 

Precious’ mother probably suffered from deprivation of love and trauma early in her life that was more than likely extreme.  The mother experienced, most likely, a chronic lack of empathy.  The result is that she did not gain the ability to empathize with others.  So there is usually a cycle of abuse.

These personality types may be so damaged that they are unable to even see their children as real people with feelings and needs.  They have such a hole to be filled themselves that they can only think about their own needs.  I would diagnose this person with severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  I think many parents who physically abuse severely, and engage in sexual abuse fall into this category.   http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder

For the abused children, they do stand a chance at recovery if they find people who are able to offer them empathy.  For Precious this was Blu Rain.   The teacher helped Precious feel present (to “break through” ) and find her voice, to feel human.  

As for the narcissist, most people who have had relationships with them by choice or by kinship will tell you there is no hope because they are damaged too greatly, and the best thing for you to do is distance yourself from them lest they destroy you.  Usually, they are not willing to participate in therapy because they may lack control of the situation.  They have issues of grandiosity often, and may believe (openly or secretly) that the therapist is beneath them.  Milder forms of the disorder may be treated but it may take at least a decade.

**For the record, I do understand that this movie unfortunately falls into the class of disproportionate negative portrayals of African Americans in the media.  While this needs acknowledgment, I believe there is a great deal to be learned from the movie.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not limited to or more prevalent in the Black community.  If you want to understand more about narcissism but need a different portrayal, there was a movie called “Savage Grace” with Julianne Moore, which is a few years old and came and went with little fanfare.  This movie is not nearly as violent but I found it to be equally disturbing.  It is about a white middle to upper middle class family where sexual abuse takes place.  The mother/narcissist in the movie is out of a textbook in terms of the disorder. 

If you find that you need a stronger dosage of positive images of African Americans images I hope you have access to TV One.   They have some limitations but I find they excellently represent a variety of African American characters and issues.

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