How does Rapunzel become a victim of Narcissistic abuse?
On the first hand, she is already a victim in her family. Later victims are born and raised in families that carry narcissistic traditions, one but rather more persons are narcissistic (or have strong narcissistic characteristics) over generations. In this case, Gothel is a narcissistic mother, who brings Rapunzel up to be a victim. This is the reason why Rapunzel later ends up with Flynn, another narcissist. She does not notice the many red flags as she is absolutely used to this kind of behavior all through her life. She was socialized to be the victim of narcissistic abuse. This is the common dynamics of narcissism.
People unintentionally, unconsciously look for those traits in their lovers and relationships, where their own learned characteristics and attitude fit the best. If they grew up with a narcissist, they can best act as a victim, so they are likely to find a narcissistic lover. They are ‘at home’, this is their comfort zone, to play the victim, they were socialized to be abused, and they play the role without difficulty. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
Gothel is a true, hardcore narcissist. She is self-centered, absolutely does not care about other people. She uses all the narcissistic artillery to manipulate Rapunzel and keep her in the victimhood.
The very first and most obvious sign of narcissistic abuse is neglecting, when the abuser does not pay any attention to the victim. Gothel is almost never interested in Rapunzel, she listens to her only when she talks about the lights. Then she gives negative attention, negative response. When she talks to Rapunzel, she often does not really look at her, and through her own words basically Gothel is talking to herself, for example in the mirror: “You know what I see? I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady.” When she talks to Rapunzel, she gives positive affirmation to herself but at the same time negative to Rapunzel.
Neglecting children leads to their fading away as persons. If they are not being listened to, they do not see that their parents pay attention to their things, they learn that they are not important. They pull themselves into the shadows and they begin to feel absolutely inferior to others. They become invisible literally, their needs are not fulfilled. They even learn that their needs are not important, so they do not have high needs. They cannot connect to others in a healthy way, they do not learn to be partners, but to be servants. They might accept rules and behavior from others that are not fundamentally acceptable and good, but they cannot stand for themselves. They do not initiate as it is useless, unless it is bad. Bad behavior gets attention faster than good behavior, so some kids use this tactic to get in touch with their parents and surroundings.
Neglected children learn fast that they are unworthy for the love of their parents, and they draw the conclusion fast that they are unworthy for everybody else too. When they get false attention from a narcissist, they quickly become clingy, because finally they believe that someone will see their true values – what they do not see themselves – and love them for who they are. They place their focus on the other, because the other gives them the feeling of belonging to somewhere. They become ‘other-centered’ and this is dangerous because if this significant other is abusive, he or she will use and abuse the victim. And as they were treated emotionally poor in their childhood, in a lot of cases they will regard it as normal behavior in their later lives.
Neglected children do not get the reflection from their parents. In normal cases kids get a smile, for example, when they do something right, or a good, appreciative comment. Their actions and emotions are reflected by their parents. Neglecting parents do not reflect emotions and behavior back, so the development of the child’s identity gets stuck. She is not acknowledged, she cannot build a strong, confident character. She cannot connect to herself, she doesn’t have a strong self-definition. However her parents are self-centered or ‘other-centered’, so they need all her attention. This way the child learns to give attention to those who she feels superior to herself, she becomes ‘other-centered’, another person (or group) stands in the center of her life. And narcissists do need a lot of attention and they receive it from victimized children.
When a child does not come to know about herself at a young age, does not learn to be confident, does not know her strength, does not know what she is capable of, but her identity is regularly weakened by the parents, she becomes an insecure, coward, fearful person with low self-esteem and low self-confidence. She doesn’t learn to love, respect, trust and accept herself (the 4 most important self activities) because she was never properly loved, respected, trusted and accepted by her parents.
Also narcissistic parents give a lot of criticism to their children, this is a common tool for parents. Calling names like stupid, ugly, fat, useless, are extremely harmful. They often ridicule their children also, even in public, putting a lot of shame on them, or ridicule their beliefs and dreams. They also often project a bad, unhappy and fearful future to them, partly because they want to make them insecure about their own capability. This is when they repeatedly say: “you are too weak to handle yourself out there.” Or they directly say statements that project a sort of future, for example: you are so stupid that you will end up living in the streets. It is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, because if the parent says this often to the child, that parent is not helping the child to build strong confidence, and through that a strong life and maybe he ends up in the street for real. When parents systematically shred the identity and confidence of the child down, the child gets more insecure and vulnerable. And the more insecure and vulnerable the child grows to be, the easier she falls as prey of abusive people as an adult.
Narcissistic parents often turn the conversation towards themselves, to be the topic of the conversation, and in return they are less interested in what their kids want to tell them. They basically do not need conversation, but only a nodding audience to listen to their monologues. This is the case when Gothel arrives home and she is not in favor of a conversation with Rapunzel, even if the girls is trying to talk about her birthday, so Gothel tries to turn the conversation away from Rapunzel, towards herself:
“Rapunzel: Okay, so mother, as I was saying, tomorrow–
Gothel: Rapunzel, mother’s feeling a little run-down. Would you sing for me, dear? That’ll do.”
The other reason why they project bad happenings to their kids is to threat them away from doing, trying, initiating things. In this case the kids stay more restful, needing less attention from their parents, who will have, in return, more times for themselves. Besides, if children have more information about life, they might see that life in other families are different. They are strongly isolated from other children and it is easier for the parents to keep them under control. If they don’t see it, they will not want it – they might think. Keeping the kids close, attached to the parents, kids have much less experience from the world, they will stay more submissive. At different ages kids need different stimuli and effects to learn the world, to position themselves in the world and how things go. Some kids have no fathers or mothers, some others have 6 brothers and sisters. Others have sisters with Down-syndrome, some others give a kiss to her mom every morning and evening. Some others are said to be loved by their parents. Some others have a father who always yells. They learn that we are all different and they have an approximate idea about people and the world. Isolated children don’t have a great overview of life, they regard their own world as the only possible way of existence.
Gothel teaches the world to Rapunzel:
“G: Mother knows best
Listen to your mother
G: It’s a scary world out there
Mother knows best
One way or another
Something will go wrong, I swear
Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand
Cannibals and snakes… The plague!
G: Also large bugs
G: Men with pointy teeth, and stop, no more, you’ll just upset me.”
Gothel tries to distract Rapunzel away from going out, by projecting a lot of horrible things to happen. If she succeeds, Rapunzel stays at home as a calm, and submissive person, so Gothel has no more opposition and she is in the center again. Besides, Gothel could be a person who encourages her child to go out, explore the world and learn as much as she can. But that would not be for her favor to build a strong and confident character.
Narcissistic parents need to be in the center, they accept no rivals in this. When Rapunzel says that the exact day was her birthday Gothel replies: ” No, no, no, can’t be. I distinctly remember: your birthday was last year.” A birthday – apart of her own – would mean one day celebration for somebody else! This would mean that she has to celebrate Rapunzel and she tries to sabotage it. Narcissistic parents often let their children know, in advance, what they are about to get for their birthday or for Christmas. They tell it, or even show it to them, this way killing the joy of the child, making it sure that the ovation and the pleasure would not grow over their own pleasure. By this, they take it for granted that they can stay in the center of the special day, even if it’s their children’s birthday. Or they ruin the cake. Or they simply ruin the atmosphere of the party. Or they invite their own friends but not their kid’s friends. They do not care about other people’s feelings as they lack empathy. They need however attention, and they create it by pulling attention away from others or creating drama. A birthday is a very important point in a child’s life. This day defines her, she becomes one year older. All children are deeply connected to their birthdays because that give them special occasion just on their own, being in the spotlight, being celebrated. That’s a special feeling, a special definition for all children. However narcissistic parents can organize it in a different way, making it look less important for the child, but giving more importance to themselves.
Among the lot of criticism, narcissistic parents often say or suggest, or both, that the child is not enough, never enough, or other’s are always better than her. This serves again the breaking down of the confidence of the child and pushing her into a puppet state. If someone is never enough that is equal of never been loved. Children should be loved for who they are, and not for what they have completed. Some parents measure the love they give to their kids by what they have done. Kids have to earn the love of their parents because it is not given randomly, only after some accomplishments. Children of narcissistic parents can rarely earn this love, because they are rarely told to be loved, and definitely not randomly.
Gothel loves Rapunzel for the hair, that’s Rapunzel’s accomplishment. Gothel kisses ans strokes always the hair and only the hair. Rapunzel cannot earn real love from Gothel, however she loves her with real love.
Kids of such parents learn to stay in the background, serve their parents ego and obey at the expense of their own personal development and emotional well-being. So when they end up in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, that would be a ‘coming home’ feeling, as they perfectly know what is expected from them. They were trained to serve others, so they believe that this is what they have to do as adults. And they will already have a lot of experience with abusive people, they will be prepared for a lot of things.
It is very overwhelming to be a child of narcissistic parents, because the purpose of the child can vary very fast. One day the child is treated as the best friend of her mother. The next day she is responsible for her mother’s unsuccessful date, by being accused of screwing up her hair. The next day she serves as the cleaner of the house. The day after she is invited to do a little shopping trip, but finally she ends up with absolutely nothing, however her mother managed to buy plenty for herself. The day after she is the reason that her father left her mother, and so on. It is very hectic, emotionally absolutely exhausting and degrading.
The opposite is when the child is completely left alone to entertain herself, be the company for herself and basically bring herself up. She eats alone, plays alone and watches TV alone. The point is, do not disturb mommy, or daddy, or both. She manages to make imaginary friends and they are the company, for her parents she is as much invisible as her imaginary friend.
Both versions are disturbing, do not meet the requirements and needs of the child. In Rapunzel’s case mainly the second one is observed, however when Gothel is at home, the situation is always hectic and dramatic.
Rapunzel is weak but manages to do everything without fail. How could that be? At one time Gothel brings parsnips to make Rapunzel’s favorite soup to be nice to her but in a few minutes she kicks the girl emotionally by stating: “…I know you’re not strong enough to handle yourself out there.” And a little later she rages at her forbidding to leave the tower ever. Rapunzel adapts to the situations quickly, not to go too far. A calm and friendly mother is better than to have her own needs to be fulfilled, so she drops the needs and cares about the mother. This is how children of narcissistic parents manage their lives. Narcissistic parents are often unpredictable in their behavior, their mood changes in minutes (or seconds) from calmness to total rage. It is very overwhelming for children, they don’t have a predictable routine, an emotional dead center where they can rest and pull themselves out of the situations.
Flynn does the same thing to Rapunzel. He makes the deal and Rapunzel to trust him, then a little later he is already trying to threaten her away from the journey. Again, from the frying pan into the fire. And when Flynn does not reach the target, he rages also.
Narcissistic parents often objectify their children. They regard them as items that serve some kind of reason.
In Rapunzel’s story, the girl is the elixir of eternal life for Gothel, and by using her, Gothel stays young. She is not the daughter of Gothel (literally and figuratively also) she is THE HAIR. Or rather the Flower. This is basically how Gothel calls her many times, ‘my flower’. Rapunzel is not loved for who she is, but loved for what she can give to Gothel. Her whole existence serves Gothel’s purposes.
In real life, narcissistic parents can find as many purposes as they want, it depends on their actual mood. Even they can objectify their child before it is born. If the relationship of the parents are not satisfactorily, they have problems, or they move further away from each other emotionally, they sometimes decide to have a child and that will bring them closer together again. They think that a child can be that bond that solves the problem what they cannot solve. They have expectations towards the unborn child. This child is abused even before he is born, because he needs to serve purposes. And a child is not an emotional plaster, he cannot fix anything, he should be born out of love and not out of task. These parents will further abuse the child as the scapegoat – the reason behind every bad thing – , because he is not able to serve their purposes.
But also parents objectify their children and use them at later ages too. For example if they want to go out to have some fun but their own friends are not available, they go out for example with their daughter and her friends. These parents define the rules, the daughter has to accept it. They do not care if this situation is unhealthy, as they interfere with their daughter’s personal circle of interest, causing rivalry and shame for example. Or the mothers who bring their children to beauty pageants. Children might like the idea to parade in amazing clothes, but the whole act in total seems more like torture to them, as they cannot fully decide if they want it or not. In these cases children are very likely to serve as the extension of their mothers, bring them fame and starlight.
Narcissistic parents use their children as emotional trashcans, projecting all anger, insecurity, anxiety, frustration and shame on them. They get rid of their inner stress by shifting it on their children. When Gothel arrives home after the earlier fight and she says: “Oh Rapunzel, you know I hate leaving you after a fight especially when I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.” Meaning and expressing to Rapunzel: you were the one who did everything wrong, you are responsible for the fight. Gothel projects all blame and anger on Rapunzel (guilt tripping and scapegoating).
Another common tool of the narcissistic parents is the sabotage of the success of their children. Gothel sabotages Rapunzel’s biggest dream to see the lights, however Rapunzel’s whole locked-up life is a sabotage itself. Flynn tries to sabotage Rapunzel’s journey to see the lights also, by emotional manipulation. It is the act of claiming the absolute importance in life, both Gothel and Flynn, because their reason to sabotage is self-serving. Gothel wants Rapunzel never to meet the real world, Flynn just wants to lose the girl to have the crown back fast. In real families sabotaging serves more purposes. On one hand a sabotaged action lowers the self confidence of the children, they stay defeated and submissive. On the other hand it can exaggerate the role of the parent, who can show up as the savior and help in hard times. This might create a bond between the child and the parents that can become unhealthy, when the child cannot separate, disconnect from the parent and live a successful life on his own. But for an insecure parent it is perfect, because he has the feeling of security by having his child always available for his purposes.
Narcissistic parents can cause rivalry, it often shows up in such families. There is a strong rivalry between Gothel and Rapunzel, accelerated absolutely by Gothel and Rapunzel gets involved. Being involved in such a situation in real life makes an enormous crash on the self-confidence and femininity of a young girl. Gothel is jealous of Rapunzel’s beauty and youth, so she systematically and consequently shreds her confidence down. Daughters of such mothers have distorted self-image, they regard themselves ugly even if they are amazingly beautiful. Also such a situation is an always a lose-situation for a daughter, as she respects her mother, accepts her authority so she has limited artillery ‘against’ her. She cannot and should not compete against a parent, but if she gets involved, she has to suffer and bear the defeat. If she is active in the rivalry, she will be punished for acting against the mother, behaving disrespectful. If she is inactive (respecting her mother) she will be defeated. A lose-lose situation. “Rapunzel, look in that mirror. You know what I see? I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh look, you’re here too.”
Narcissistic people are highly controlling. Gothel chooses the ultimate control, she isolates and locks Rapunzel up, this is full control. Rapunzel accepts the situation, giving her trust to Gothel that her mother does everything well, and for her benefit. When she meets Flynn, she puts her trust into him too, giving him also the control over the journey. When in real life people give out the control of their own hands, they might end up in situations and with people that are not for their benefit. This is when young kids choose the wrong company. Rapunzel gives the control to Flynn and she ends up in the Snuggly Duckling.
Children of narcissistic parents have no control over their lives, they have no choices, they do not learn to make decisions. Later they like to be with those people who make decisions for them, as they are not used to decide over their lives. These people are often used and abuse by narcissists. They cannot detach themselves from their parents during the normal and desirable growing and developing stages, their personalities get stuck on certain lower levels of development. Parents often treat their children as their own extension, it is difficult to detach from such a situation. For example in childhood, when the mother is cold, she gives an extra sweater on the child too. If she has to go to the toilet, the child has to go too. Later it might get worse, and the child is deprived of making decisions over his life.
However another, and absolutely opposite behavior can have the same effect too, when the child is neglected and he has to decide over things in his life that should normally be the task of the parent. A child of 10 is not capable of making all decisions regarding his life, but some narcissistic parents are so much self-centered that the child has to act as his own parent. Children of young age are not able to make all decisions over their lives, they are not able to self-parent themselves properly. They can be victims of narcissistic abuse by giving the decision over their lives into other people’s hands.
In Rapunzel’s case this common feature of narcissistic parents shows up too, this is parentification. Rapunzel is responsible for the household, however she has limited tasks because of the locked-up situation. Parentified children learn to take care of others, people or property, this way they are likely to end up in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, who exploits their caring personality.
According to the law of attraction, we attract what we believe in. If we believe in our success (and we also work for it of course) we will achieve it. If we believe in our failure, we will achieve it. If we believe that we are useless, we will be useless, so we become useless after all. Rapunzel was made to believe that the world is bad, the people are cruel, mean, selfish and dangerous. So she attracted Flynn, a narcissistic criminal, who is exactly this person, cruel, mean, selfish and dangerous. What she believed in, she got it. And Gothel is exactly the same, that’s why she lives in a world that is cruel, mean, selfish and dangerous. She attracts what she is inside, she is cruel, mean, selfish and dangerous, the world around her reflects this too. Flynn is a bad guy, a thief, a swindler, disrespectful and opportunist, his world reflects this.
In real life such change, through which Flynn goes, is not likely to happen. Narcissistic people stay self-centered, keep wearing their masks that hide their real personalities by giving them a new, more favorable one. Because of this, they are also much separated from their own True Self, and they are unable and also afraid to reveal their true identity. The Fake Self is designed to be perfect, they cannot believe that anything can be better than their personality, behavior, that’s the reason why they believe themselves to be perfect and infallible. Why would anyone want to change perfection? Narcissists would change possibly if they meet an even bigger narcissist than themselves, and then they would become the victims, just as Gothel stabbed Flynn on the back.
It is very interesting to see Rapunzel without shoes, it has a lot of meanings and suggests a lot of things. On one hand in ancient Egyptians and Samaritans wore shoes only if they could afford it. It can symbolize that Rapunzel is poor, she has basically nothing.
On the other hand in most civilizations, including the era of slavery, the arrested, prisoners and slaves were not given shoes in order to prevent escape and also to humiliate these people by this extremely distinctive look.
In this case it makes Gothel’s purpose clear: she keeps Rapunzel as a slave and humiliates her with not giving her shoes. She has no shoes, probably she never had shoes. This way Gothel humiliates her without Rapunzel even realizing of being humiliated. Rapunzel has no idea if it’s normal as she is isolated. Victims of narcissistic abuse and children of narcissistic parents do not always see how their life would be in a different way, as they have no possibility to have a look at other families or lives of other people.
Such as Rapunzel, they accept their role in the family, as they have no other vision of possibilities. Rapunzel is absolutely fine with having no shoes because she has no idea that this is not usual and also degrading. She relies on the decisions and choices of her mother, the same way as the children of narcissistic parents.
(The song and the pictures from the “Tangled” animated movie used in this analysis are property of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures and are used for educational purposes (fair use and no commercial gain intended).)