The Effects Of A Narcissistic Mother, As Seen In 'The Manchurian Candidate'

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photo from the Manchurian Candidate
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A narcissistic mother uses her children. She controls them, starves them of love. In The Manchurian Candidate (1962), that’s Eleanor Shaw Iselin, mother of Raymond Shaw. Raymond is deeply convinced he's unlovable.

No wonder he has enough hate to be brainwashed to kill. “Yes, Mother,” “Yes, ma’am," and “Yes, sir,” govern his responses.

For many people suffering narcissistic abuse from a parent, the idea of being so controlled by a parent isn't even that unreal.

RELATED: 10 Ways To Heal (And Move On) From Your Narcissist Mother

A narcissistic mother is controlling, power-hungry, and self-centered.

And so, he becomes his power-hungry mother’s Russian pawn.

We know foreign powers infiltrate elections. We might even say Trump was the Manchurian Candidate in 2016. But how does a power-hungry mother infiltrate a love-starved child’s mind?

If the child does anything else but listen and follow, he’s lost her. That’s dangerous when they have no one else.

What The Manchurian Candidate can teach us about narcisstic abuse.

The Manchurian Candidate begins in the middle of the Korean War. America’s in a Cold War with Russia. And Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) has been in a cold war with his heartless mother, Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) his entire life.

She takes control of the minds of her son and husband, Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), and consorts with foreign infiltrators. Along the way, she destroys every chance Raymond has at loving Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish).

Plus, Eleanor Iselin is cruelly shrewd. She’s made quite sure Raymond is without friends. That’s part of her power over him; to be sure he listens, she has him alone in her hold.

We see it with his Korean War unit, they call him “St. Raymond.” It’s not that he thinks he’s better; he just doesn’t know how to relate.

He keeps himself a loner because he doesn’t really trust anyone. Why should he? He can’t trust his own mother.

She programs her husband and son not to think without her say so, and they lack the ability to break this cycle.

A narcissistic mother’s mind control is insidiously hypnotic.

Because Raymond needs her, he’s been her puppet for a long time. That’s why he’s also the Russians' prime target. It isn’t hard to program him. Eleanor has already done the job.

Raymond’s unit is kidnapped and hypnotized by Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) of Moscow’s Pavlov Institute. He becomes “a war hero,” loved by all who didn’t love him before: “He’s the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve met in my whole life.”

That’s what his platoon is programmed to say after he wins the Congressional Medal of Honor for “saving them all.” None of it is true, of course. He didn’t save them, and he doesn't have even one of those attributes. Raymond is locked inside a cold, lonely wall of hate.

Can he save himself? He tries. Walking off the plane into the war hero celebration his mother arranged, he says, “You organized this disgusting three-ring circus, Mother?”

She replies, “How could you, Raymond? You know my whole life is dedicated to helping you and Johnny. My boys, my two little boys…”

These are the demeaning, infantilizing lies of a narcissistic mother. Professions of love, dedication, self-sacrifice. Her real intent is to get rid of any weakness, helplessness, or fear in her. That’s much too much for a child to carry.

Raymond takes a job in New York City, as a research assistant for Holborn Gaines (Lloyd Corrigan), a newspaper columnist his mother despises. But the distance doesn’t matter; his mother lives inside him. And she’s made him angry and lonely enough to kill.

The game solitaire is the trigger to activate Dr. Yen Lo’s programming. It’s no surprise, really, because solitaire is a friendless activity and Raymond has been a lonely boy his entire life.

Later, Raymond gets a phone call at Holborn Gaines’s office where he works. A hypnotic voice gives him the command, “Why don’t you pass the time playing a little solitaire?”

Soon, men arrive to take him for a “checkup.” He goes without incident to a sanitarium, where Dr. Yen Lo confirms the brainwashing has taken hold.

Raymond is instructed to kill Mr. Gaines and take over his influential job. Raymond listens and follows. They have him. He shows no feeling at all.

But Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Raymond’s superior officer in Korea, is doing intelligence on the strange nightmares he and other soldiers are having. He’s looking for clues to what happened to them, from images in his dreams. He recalls Raymond playing solitaire.

Ben Marco has horrible nightmares and wakes up screaming and recalls some of the truth his brainwashing has hidden: Raymond Shaw murdered a man at Dr. Yen Lo's order.

He and another soldier are able to identify the same two people from Korea. He decides to go undercover to get intelligence on Raymond.

RELATED: 7 Traits Of The Golden Child (And How They're Influenced By Narcissistic Parents)

Yet, Ben learns it’s the damage Raymond's mother has done that makes Raymond most vulnerable. His need for love, and her destruction of it is a major trigger. He hates Mother for making him feel so unlovable. And he needs her love all the more.

Narcissistic mothers can leave children feeling vulnerable and unlovable well into their adult years.

Yes, Ben finds more than he expected. Befriending Raymond, he begins to understand what makes Raymond tick:

“My mother is a terrible woman, Ben. … it’s a terrible thing to hate your mother. I didn’t always hate her. As a child, I only kind of disliked her. But after what she did to Jocie and me, that’s when I began to hate her.”

He shows Ben Jocelyn Jordan’s photo.

“I realized I’m not lovable. Don’t contradict me. I’m not lovable. Some people are lovable. I am not lovable. But I was very lovable with Jocie. You cannot believe how lovable I was. My mother fixed all that, and I’ve been even less lovable than I was — since.”

You see, Mother couldn’t stand that he was in love with her. It would weaken her control over him.

A child's spirit can be utterly destroyed by narcissistic parents.

No, Raymond can’t beat Mother, and he never does, even at the end of The Manchurian Candidate. This happens to traumatized children. In their minds, their mother’s voice controls what they do, and they must listen to get any kind of love.

Mother decides Raymond will marry Jocelyn Jordan after all, because it suits her political purposes, and Raymond has no idea what she intends. But when Raymond returns from his honeymoon, he finds his stepfather accusing his father-in-law of treason.

He's ready to beat his stepfather to a pulp, but before he can act, his mother stops him and triggers his brainwashing code word and tells him to go play solitaire.

Mother and Dr. Yen Lo are the same; trading power for power. Her husband will be president and the Russians will infiltrate the United States.

Raymond is their killing machine. He’s his mother’s robot; always has been because he strove so hard for her love and approval.

At his in-law's house, he kills his father-in-law and his own beloved wife Jocie, just as he was told.

Raymond can't be saved in The Manchurian Candidate. His friend Ben Marco helps him unlock some of his memories, but unlocking doors in a child traumatized by an unfeeling narcissistic mother is no simple thing.

Having to face what he’s been made to do and all the feelings he’s never felt can be formidable. Certainly, it is, without more therapeutic help than Ben can offer.

Ben works fast to deprogram Raymond, to give him power over Mother and solitaire: "You don’t work anymore. That’s an order. Anyone invites you to a game of solitaire, you’ll tell them, ‘Sorry buster, game is over.'”

If only it were that easy to get power over the damage a narcissistic mother does. The phone rings, and Raymond can’t refuse his American operator. “Yes. I understand, Mother.”

Will those links put into place from the time he was born, hold? Or not?

Raymond does foil her plan for him to shoot the presidential nominee so his stepfather can take over. Instead, he turns the gun on Mother her husband.

He may have saved the country, but can he save himself? Such a vicious, power-hungry mother can bust a child up so badly it’s hard to put the pieces back together again.

But killing his mother doesn't end the pain that still lives on inside him. She’s left him with the mess she made of his life. Turns out, Raymond’s capable of feeling and love. There’s too much horror to face.

This is the true lasting effect of narcissistic abuse. When a narcissistic mother plants the seeds of unlovability and uncertainty, it blooms in a child for the rest of their life.

While The Manchurian Candidate is a work of fiction, there are many people suffering from the torment of a narcissist's painful life-lessons. The damage can last a lifetime, and many people never overcome the pain, just like Raymond couldn't.

When you recognize the signs of a narcissistic mother, you'll be able to start to unwind some of the "programming" she may have done to you.

No one is unlovable, and anyone can get rid of the brainwashing they received as a child with professional help and opening themselves to love.

RELATED: 8 Scary, Long-Lasting Effects Of Having Narcissistic Parents

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. Contact her if you have any questions.

This article was originally published at Characters on the Couch. Reprinted with permission from the author.