The Sins of the Parents

When I was researching the phrase “The sins of the father are the sins of the sons” for this blog, I found two possible origins: the Bible, or William Shakespeare (depending on whether or not you believe in either).  Regardless of where it stemmed from, I’ve never liked the phrase.  When I first heard it, I interpreted it to mean that whatever “wrongs” a parent does, the child will have to pay for.  And later in life, I found that it could also mean the habits and idiosyncrasies of a parent will likely pass down to the child.  Neither interpretation is happy: with the former, the offspring would have to “pay” for their parents’ choices . . . and with the latter the offspring doesn’t have the free will to be his/her own person.

But some things have come up in my life recently that tell me the second meaning is probably more true than I wanted to believe . . .

In doing the research on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I learned that quite often children from parents with NPD can develop NPD traits as well.  This happens because those children grow up feeling neglected and insecure and those two things often transform into narcissism.  It’s a vicious cycle that began with some ancestor several generations back and keeps moving forward until someone breaks the cycle.

Ever since this discovery, I’ve been on the lookout for narcissistic behavior in myself and have been trying to change my reactions to people or circumstances accordingly.  But I’ve recently discovered that I exhibit one of my mother’s behaviors more than I was aware of . . . jumping to the wrong (often bad) conclusions.  This happens especially in conjunction with trying to be in contact with certain people, namely my brother and Athena (my step-daughter).  Both of them tend to be not as responsive as I would like.  If I text or call one of them, I might not hear back from them for hours or even a day or two.  This then feeds into an insecurity that maybe I’ve done or said something recently that upset them and they’re “punishing” me for it.

This sort of a reaction is bad on a couple of counts.  First, it implies that these people have nothing better to do than wait around for a call or text from me.  Second, it’s my ego inserting itself saying that I’m somehow important enough to said person that they would take time out of their day to be so bothered by some random thing I might say or do that they would deliberately ignore me.

My own life is incredibly busy right now and I don’t have time to speak with my own friends as often as I would like to.  So, I’m probably not as communicative as they might like right now either.  But hopefully they don’t jump to a conclusion that I’m upset with them.  And I need to remind myself of the same thing with regards to other people who don’t get back to me right away.

Another trait from my mother that I apparently (unfortunately) picked up is correcting people’s thoughts or words.  This one bothers me the most right now, because I used to HATE when she did it to me when I was younger . . .

Often, when I would say a word that my mother didn’t like, she would “correct” the word when she responded to me.  For instance, if I talked about how “weird” it was that someone didn’t like mushrooms, she would correct me and say “It’s certainly ‘different.'”  She did this because she thought the word “weird” meant “bad.”  To me, it was simply another way to say “different,” but because it made her uncomfortable, she wouldn’t say the word.  She has lots of euphemisms that she did this with, and each time she did it, I felt like I was getting a subtle message that the words I used were “wrong,” or “bad,” or that there was something wrong with me for using them.

Well unfortunately I’ve apparently started that myself (grrr).  In trying to better my life, I follow things like The Secret that talk about how your outlook on things will change your perception.  It’s like the proverbial glass . . . some people see it as half-full, while others see it as half-empty.  And the thought is that those who see the positive in a situation will continue to see positive things in their lives.

Anyway, Craig will sometimes say things that sound more like a negative spin than a positive one, and I’ve apparently started correcting him to put a positive spin on it.  He recently brought it to my attention and–knowing how badly it made me feel when my mom did it to me–I apologized profusely to him.  Analyzing myself, I understand that I was doing so because I want to make sure I continue to see things in a positive light, but it doesn’t excuse my behavior.  He’s not wrong for phrasing things the way he does, and I need to stop doing things that make him feel like he is wrong (inadvertent though they might be).

I suppose seeing these things in myself can help me to understand my own mother’s behavior a little better, and not be so mad about it, but right now I’m still in the “I can’t believe I’m turning into my mother” phase of acceptance.

Let the Healing Begin

Since this will be my last blog on the topic on being a daughter of a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I thought I’d go back to the once a month blog, especially since it’s an uplifting ending to the series.

I’ve discussed several of the struggles from being a daughter of a narcissistic mother, but it’s time to focus on the healing process, which is something I’m currently going through myself.  And, I want to point out that these healing steps work not only if you have a parent with NPD, but they also work well when dealing with outside people, too.  Though–as my therapist told me–once you deal with the underlying issues that stemmed from your relationship with your parent(s), it will be easier to work through the issues you face with others.

Anyway . . . the first step in my opinion is realizing you were a child of a parent with NPD.  This one was the longest step for me, because my mom wasn’t/isn’t a horrible person.  I have some very fond memories of her from my childhood, and in many ways she was there for me.  But the more I read up on it, the more I realized that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all mask for people with NPD, which made it easier for me to see my mother in this light.

This article found on Goop (I think it’s by Dr. Robin Berman), says that one of the major steps is to:

“. . . grieve the loss of the parent you never had. Really grieve the fact that you didn’t get the parent you needed, the one who put you and your needs first.”

I had several cries over that knowledge and understanding, but with each one, I began to feel better, because I finally accepted it wasn’t my fault.  There was nothing I’d done wrong or could’ve done differently to make her put my needs first, like any child deserves.  That led to anger, which is another step in the healing process.  Several articles I found talk about allowing yourself that anger.  This article recommends that you:

“Release some of that anger. Smash some plates. Scream. Hit a pillow. Anything to let the anger of being an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parent out.”

The next big step is to realize that a person with NPD won’t change . . . no matter what you say or do.  I used to do mock conversations with my mother ALL  the time, to try to find the perfect way to say how I felt so that 1) she wouldn’t get hurt or offended by it; and 2) she would be able to understand my side of the story (why her actions hurt me).  But no matter how calmly I said it, or how many nice words I used, she usually took offense and turned it around so that she was still the victim.  The moment I stopped caring about how she would react to something I might say, the calmer things became in my head.

One of the other steps I found very useful was to cut off contact with her.  Several articles that I found on the subject suggested that either partial or full estrangement might help with the healing process . . . and it’s certainly helped me.  Yes, I felt guilty for doing so for the first couple of months, but the longer the separation went on, the clearer my mind became.  I was no longer feeling like I was going crazy because I was worrying whether or not I was talking with my mother enough, or if she was going to get upset at something I might say (or not say).  All of that crazy-making inner dialogue eventually dissipated, and it felt WONDERFUL!  I don’t know how long I’ll keep the separation, but any time I even think of talking with her again, I start to get angry, so it’s best for all involved to maintain the distance for now.

Another big step that is discussed in the article on Goop is to learn to set boundaries.  Until I started reading up about this disorder, I didn’t even realize that was a big part of my problem.  I’d been taught to be so available to my mother and her wants or needs, that it never occurred to me that setting boundaries was a necessary and healthy thing to do to maintain my own sanity.  So this one is HUGE for me.  I’m still working through it, but each time I set a boundary, I feel calmer inside of myself.  And I’ve begun to see the instances where I need to set boundaries quicker than I had before.  YAY!

There’s a great book by Dr. Karyl McBride (who wrote the survey Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?, that I based this blog series on) called Will I Ever Be Good Enough? that I’ve been reading through, and it’s not only helped me identify other key pains I’d felt through my childhood, but there’s an entire section on healing these wounds (I’m currently working through that section now).

Here are some other articles on how to heal:

How to Survive With a Narcissistic Mother

Check out the “I’m the Adult Child of a Narcissistic Parent . . . What Now?” section of this article (about 3/4 of the way down the site)

This great site for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

This brief article from a site called The Narcissist in Your Life

And this good site by Bethany Webster about healing the mother wound (which I’m starting to look into)

So if you (or someone you know) was raised by a narcissist, or are/is currently in a relationship with a narcissist, I hope this series–and especially this particular blog–will help you to see that there is hope.  It’s a long and sometimes painful road, but on the other side of the journey is a much stronger sense of self-worth, and a much better relationship with yourself.

Wrapping It Up

Over the last five months, I’ve discussed my relationship with my mother, who I believe has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) (if you’re just tuning in, feel free to read the past blogs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 to catch up).  I’ve given examples of her behaviors and how they relate to various points on Dr. Karyl McBride’s survey “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?“, and I’ve discussed briefly how those behaviors affected me growing up.  But today I’m going to delve a little deeper in how my mother’s behaviors helped shape my own behaviors and idiosyncrasies.

As most people know, what a child learns from his/her parents helps shape who s/he turns out to be.  Anything from a sense of humor to beliefs to even the people the child surrounds him/herself with; and even sometimes who they date or marry.  When a child has a parent with NPD, that can negatively skew some choices in their adult life.  As Dr. Seth Meyers says in his article:

“. . . as adults [they] tend to gravitate toward drama-laden, roller-coaster relationships . . .”

This can happen not only in romantic relationships, but friendships, and working relationships as well.  A few years ago–even before I’d heard of NPD–I began to see patterns in the people I’d become friends with throughout my school life, and even up into my 30s . . .

There was one friend of mine who was so demanding that–when she found that she had to be gluten-free–she actually expected me to make something specifically for her, so that she wouldn’t feel left out of the celebrations (since she couldn’t eat any of the cookies I normally baked for Christmas gifts).  Having recently been told I had to become gluten-free myself, I can understand the frustration at not being able to enjoy the same treats as before, but it would never occur to me to expect someone to make an entire batch of cookies or treats just for me.  This same friend would also call to talk and–after a perfunctory inquiry as to how I was doing–would proceed to spend the next 2-3 hours talking about her life and woes (which were usually the same ones for at least a year or two).  It got to the point where I would avoid her phone calls for days until I felt I had enough energy to deal with her drama.  I finally ended the friendship, but two years later, she contacted me out of the blue demanding some money that she imagined I still owed her.  I didn’t actually owe her anything, but I agreed to pay half of her requested amount just to get her off my back, and demanded that she not contact me ever again.

I’ve also had co-workers who are passive-aggressive (a couple of whom were bosses, which made for a VERY difficult working relationship), and I was always getting into romantic relationships where I took more care of the man than he did me.  I even used to say (when I was dreaming about my “perfect guy”) that I didn’t care if he made as much money as I did; as long as he loved me.  I was willing to support him financially, just as long as he would love me.  I see now how sad that is, but I also see that it was a result of the things I learned by being raised by someone with NPD; I’d become accustomed to putting someone else before my needs and wants.

I also believe that it’s the main reason I went into being an Administrative Assistant. It’s a role I’ve disliked almost from my very first job as one, but I was raised to take care of my mother’s needs and pay attention to her moods, and I’ve come to see that that’s exactly what an Admin does.  We take care of people’s needs, and many times are asked to even anticipate those needs.  But if we anticipate incorrectly, we risk getting punished (depending on the boss).  I get people at work all the time saying how they always come to me because “Alyx knows everything.”  That’s an exhausting standard to have to live up to; not only knowing “everything,” but also being “needed” by so many people (I could go on and on about this topic, but I’ll save it for another blog).

But it’s not just our external relationships that get damaged.  Children of parents with NPD also have unhealthy relationships with themselves.  As it says in this article from the site “Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers,” we often:

  • “. . . suffer from low self-esteem, often to the level of self-loathing . . .”
  • “. . . feel that we’re never good enough, that we’re not acceptable; that at some deep down level we’re inherently flawed . . .”
  • “. . . have difficulty setting boundaries . . .”
  • “. . . [are] overly fearful of authority figures, or people being angry with us . . .”
  • “. . . have body issues – either being overweight, or terrified of gaining weight . . .”

There are many other issues that daughters of mothers with NPD might have, but those above resonated the strongest with me; especially the setting of boundaries (which again ties into being an Admin . . . we practically have none).

One major thing that most of my research has discussed is the possibility of a person who was raised by a parent with NPD becoming narcissistic him/herself; which makes sense.  Think about it . . . if someone is raised to think his/her needs or emotions aren’t important, there’s going to be this huge empty hole inside.  So, many times, s/he becomes so needy that s/he has kids with the hopes of having someone love him/her unconditionally, and so on, and so on.  Unless someone, somewhere gets some psychological help, a vicious cycle gets created and perpetuated.

That leads me to one of my favorite lines from a movie about a daughter of a narcissistic mother.  In the movie Postcards From the Edge, Suzanne is talking with her director Lowell about some issues she’s having with her mother.  Lowell then says:

“She did it to you and her mother did it to her and back and back and back all the way to Eve.  At some point you just gotta say, ‘Fuck it, I start with me.'”

I LOVE that line!  It offers hope for healing.  Which is what I will discuss in next month’s post.  I had planned on this being the last blog about NPD, but there was so much to wrap up here (and I’m sure I’ve missed some of it), that I haven’t gotten to the good part.  That there ARE ways to heal, and that we who have been raised by parents with NPD CAN be made whole again.

I hope to see you next month for the most important part of this journey.

Taking Care of Mother

I’m going to discuss the last few points from the survey “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?” by Dr. Karyl McBride that most affected me in relation to my mother.

The first one I’m going to talk about is one of my mother’s defining traits:

30.  Is your mother controlling, acting like a victim or martyr?

While I’ve never thought of it as “controlling,” my mother has acted like a victim or martyr for as long as I can remember.  When she was going through her alcoholic phase, if I ever mentioned my displeasure at not knowing where she was (when she was 4 hours late for picking me up from my dad’s house), I heard one of three different responses:

  • I had a difficult childhood.
  • Sometimes I just need to forget about my responsibilities.
  • I only do this occasionally (said in a whiny “poor me” voice).

The narcissistic mother who criticizes and hides behind a veneer of martyrdom when her child needs her support is another common manifestation of a narcissistic parent.
(excerpt from The Narcissistic Parent)

Sometimes the words would vary a little, and sometimes she’d combine a couple of them into one, but I heard those excuses from her so often that I can recite them verbatim at will.  Even when I wasn’t complaining about her drinking, she still would mention the rough childhood she had on a regular basis.  The story was always the same; bad childhood, her father beat her, her brother treated her awfully, nobody understood her.

I’m not saying that she was making it up–I’m sure she didn’t have a fabulous childhood–but the sheer frequency of hearing those stories began to wear on my patience, especially because this woman–who claimed to have such a bad relationship with her family–kept trying to be in contact with them!  If I’d been treated the way she was, I’d have walked away from them a LONG time ago.  As it is, I have very little contact with my maternal grandmother and any of the family on that side.  My relationship with them wasn’t as bad as hers, but it was bad enough that I know I don’t want or need most of them in my life on a regular basis.

But her childhood aside, I’ve noticed my mother walks around as though she has the word “VICTIM” stamped on her forehead.  For example, when I first moved to New York, she and her then boyfriend came with to help me move out there and to see the city.  We were walking down the street together when her boyfriend and I noticed she wasn’t behind us anymore.  She’d actually stopped off at one of those sidewalk 3-Card-Monty vendors.  By the time we got back to her, she’d lost $100 betting on that game.  Afterwards, she couldn’t actually explain why she’d stopped, when she KNEW those things are rigged, but she had done it anyway.

Another time, she came to visit me when I was living in Prague.  Now, Prague is a relatively safe place, but it is known for pickpockets.  There, they do what’s called “crowding” where groups of people surround you on public transit, and try to steal from you.  By the time she came to visit me, I’d lived there 7 months without incident, but the very first day she was there her purse had been cut and her passport stolen.  She’s also fallen for several email schemes and at least one get-rich-quick scheme.

Her response to each of those events is usually to blame the perpetrators for their dishonesty, which brings me to another point on the survey:

12.  Does your mother blame things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her feelings or actions?

Rather than try to understand why she falls for each of these schemes, she blames “dishonest people” for taking advantage of her.  Now, I’m not condoning the actions of those who prey on others, but they can only prey on those who allow themselves to be preyed upon.  I’ve also heard her blame clothing stores for having mirrors in the fitting rooms; her reason being that she’s so overweight, she doesn’t want to have to look at herself in the mirror.  That was her response, rather than accepting responsibility for her food choices, or lack of exercise.

Points 14 and 16 are things I only felt a little bit while growing up:

14.  Do you feel you were a slave to your mother?

I wouldn’t say that I was a slave, but from the time I was about 8 years old, I had to babysit my brother whenever my she went out for the evening (which was pretty often).  She also seemed to stop doing chores around the house.  I totally believe that children should do chores in the house, as it builds character and teaches responsibility, but when my brother and I were old enough to do them, I honestly don’t remember her chipping in to do any herself, unless we had company coming over.  This might have been a byproduct of her being a single mother, but when paired with #16, it felt like something more:

16.  Did you have to take care of your mother’s physical needs as a child?

Again, this one needs to be tweaked a little bit.  Aside from babysitting (at my young age) and the chores, there weren’t too many of her physical needs that I had to attend to (except for once or twice when she came home so drunk that I had to help her into bed).  But her emotional needs . . . now THAT was another story.  I DEFINITELY felt like I had to take care of those for her.  In fact, it often felt like I was the adult in the relationship, not her, which is what’s known as “parentification,” one of the many tactics that a person with NPD might use on his/her child.  As I got older, I felt this more and more.

As Michelle Piper explains it:

“. . . The narcissistic mother expects her daughter to take care of her when it should be the other way around.  The daughter is made to feel responsible for the mother’s physical and emotional needs.  These needs can range from an unfair share of cooking and cleaning to playing therapist while her mother talks about her relationships, sex life, and other issues.  These are much bigger roles than any child should have to take on . . .”

Another great site, dedicated to daughters of narcissistic mothers, has this to add:

“. . . parentification is very abusive as the daughter–correctly judging this as the price of her mother’s approval, and not knowing any better–tries to take on the burden of meeting those needs . . .”

This expectation that my mother placed on me (whether intentional or not) meant I had to grow up VERY fast.  In some ways it was a good thing, but in many, it wasn’t, as I’ll describe in better detail next month when I wrap this series up.

Stay tuned . . .

A Different Reality

This is the fourth blog post in an ongoing series about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and how I grew up as a child of a mother with NPD.  You can find the other blogs here:  Blog #1, Blog #2, Blog #3.

One of the main identifying factors of people with NPD is how they think everything revolves around them, and how they expect the people in their circle to feel the exact same way; catering to their emotional (or sometimes physical) wants and needs.  When a narcissist’s wants and needs aren’t met, they react in a variety of ways, none of them emotionally healthy.

For example, when Craig and I were getting our art together for the Alameda on Camera exhibit last year, my mother decided she desperately needed to get in touch with me to help her book a flight on Southwest Airlines (no, I’m not making this up).  I had told her earlier that week that Craig and I would be swamped all weekend with matting and framing the images, but she still felt the need to text me twice, call me once and leave a voicemail, and then send me an email; all vaguely, but urgently, begging me to contact her.  I rarely have my phone where I can hear it when I’m home, so I didn’t even see any of her messages until late Sunday night.  When I told her later that I didn’t appreciate her making what was the busiest weekend of the year for me into all about her, she got mad and decided to cut communications with me for about 3 months.

Now, let me explain that my mother has her own computer, and gets on it ALL the time to search Google, play games, and whatnot, but for some reason she couldn’t seem to figure out the Southwest website, and (apparently) it never occurred to her to call Southwest up and talk to someone on the phone.  No.  She had to urgently request my help, because (heaven forbid!) I wasn’t paying enough attention to her.

My brother has told of other reactions . . . If she sends him a text and he doesn’t respond within an hour or two (for whatever reason), she’ll send a follow up text declaring, “Well, I see who’s in charge,” or some other passive-aggressive response.  She has also withheld certain favors from him (he borrows her car every now and then, unless she’s punishing him), if she becomes unhappy with something he’s said or done.  My brother is a 44 year-old man, and yet she STILL treats him like that.

This behavior is #13 on the survey by Dr. Karyl McBride, “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?

13.  Is or was your mother hurt easily and then carried a grudge for a long time without resolving the problem?

But probably the most glaring negative trait my mother (and most other people with NPD) exhibits is her ability to lie to herself.

I’ve known that my mother has problems with reality for a while . . . and I don’t mean a difference of opinion, but rather absolute truths that aren’t really open to interpretation.  Like the color of the sky; opinions might differ on exactly what shade of blue it is, but most people in touch with reality will admit it’s blue.  While my mother isn’t that out of touch with reality (she agrees it’s blue), she’s used euphemisms throughout my entire life.  To her, it’s not “death,” it’s “passing on,” “crossing over,” or whatever other delicate word or phrase she can find to convey the same thing.  She also does this with “anger.”  I’ve never heard her say she’s angry about something, but rather “disappointed,” “frustrated,” or whatnot.  And believe me, I’ve seen her angry . . . she just won’t admit it, which brings me to another point on the survey:

11.  Does your mother deny her own feelings?

OH MY GOD, does my mother deny her feelings!  She’s stated on several occasions that she doesn’t like anger.  She thinks it’s an “unhealthy” emotion, so there’s no way she’d EVER want to admit to herself that she feels it.  No.  In her mind, she’s much more emotionally evolved than that.  But this is a woman who I’ve watched suppress her anger for so long that she’s become a little butterball of toxins, and now it comes out in the oddest places (a topic that gets discussed and dissected in the book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers,” by Debbie Ford).

Several times over the course of my life, my mother and I have tried to work through these issues (with me not fully knowing what they were until now) by talking about them, but whenever I would mention the anger I thought she felt toward me or our situation, she would respond with “No, I’m not angry.  I find it interesting that you think that.  Maybe you need to look into yourself and see what your anger is about.”  This is the kind of manipulative analysis that would make me second guess myself, resulting in my not trusting my instincts.  Most of us can feel when another person is angry with us, whether they own up to it or not.  So, for her to deny her emotions wasn’t helping our situation at all.  It was literally making me crazy, because I spent so many hours and days after one of those discussions dissecting the conversation and wondering if there was some other way I could’ve given my point of view so that she would see where I was coming from.  But, when someone has NPD, they’re truly incapable of hearing a differing point of view than the reality they’ve concocted:  She had decided that she was too emotionally evolved to feel any anger, so it must’ve been either me projecting my anger on to her, or that I was imagining it.

To be fair, yes, I was angry with her (still am), but based on her reactions to things I’ve done or said in the past–not to mention the number of times she’s given me weeks worth of the cold shoulder attitude–so was/is she.  She was/is just refusing to accept it.

This behavior morphs into another point on Dr. McBride’s survey, but it’s involved enough that I’m going to devote next month’s blog post to it.

As always, I thank you for coming on this journey with me.

Unhealthy Bonds

There is a very strong bond between a mother and her child; and in many cases, it’s even stronger when the child is a daughter.  But unfortunately, when the mother has Narcissistic Personality Disorder that bond can become quite unhealthy.

Such was the case with my mother and me.  I thought of her as my best friend while I was growing up, and, as a little girl, I liked that.  As an adult, I can see so many other facets of that relationship, and recognize it for the co-dependency that it truly was.

I think part of the reason I initially put her in the “Best Friend” role as a child was because I was constantly picked on by other kids in school, and felt like no one understood me . . . except for my mom.  Another reason would probably be that I felt emotionally abandoned by my father at an early age.  My mom used to tell me how, at the age of three, I came up to her and said “Mommy, Daddy doesn’t love me anymore, and I don’t know why.”  She would then tell me how Dad acted like the sun rose and set with me when I was born, but when my brother came along a year later, it seemed to her like I became a secondary character . . . he now had a SON to carry on his name.

Something else that contributed to my thinking us so close was because she would often tell me how similar our lives were.  Looking back on it now, it’s kind of weird how often she’d say that.  Not that it wasn’t true–there are a lot of similarities in our lives–but I wonder how many there would be if she hadn’t pointed it out as often as she did; like maybe I was picking up on her desire for us to be so alike, and subconsciously made similar choices.  There was even one time, when I was about seven or eight years old, that the song You and Me Against the World by Helen Reddy came on, and she actually said that she felt like that song was our song.

As a child I was so happy that my mother felt the same way about me as I did about her, but as an adult all I can think is “How could you put THAT much pressure on a child!?!”  This behavior ties into points #23 and #27 on the Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother survey by Dr. Karyl McBride that I mentioned in my last post on NPD:

23.  Do you find it difficult to be a separate person from your mother?
27.  Did you feel you had to take care of your mother’s emotional needs as a child?

I had a very vivid dream when I was about five years old where I literally gave up my life to save hers (I woke up just before I slipped fully under the water).  And over the last decade or so, I’ve started feeling more and more pressure from her to continue the co-dependent relationship we’d had during my formative years.  To be fair to her, it’s hard to adjust to something different when you’ve had a certain dynamic for 20+ years, but as the parent, she should’ve been able to separate our lives in the first place . . . there IS a 24 year age difference, after all.  But that wasn’t going to happen, because–as this article outlines“. . . Narcissistic Parents are possessively close to their children when they are small – their children are a source of self-esteem . . .”

Thankfully I feel the opposite with Athena, my step-daughter . . . I enjoy spending time with her and we have a good time when we do things together, but I also realize that she needs to spend time with people her own age, and I encourage her to do so.  While I’m happy to be her friend, I don’t want to be her Best Friend.  I’ve got my own Best Friend, and so should she.

Anyway, as time went on and my mother lost more and more friends (or stopped wanting to be around them for one reason or another), she would often tell me how I was the only person who understood her.  I couldn’t help but feel an immense pressure from her about that.  Not only because it felt like she was making me responsible for her emotional security, but also because there were subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) reminders that–if I didn’t agree with one of her viewpoints or excuses for her behavior–then I didn’t “understand” or accept her anymore (a key behavior that is explained in this article that I found on Goop, author unknown).  As if the fact that I might disagree with her was an indication that I was somehow lacking in supporting her.

So, over time, I began to give my opinions less and less.  If she said something that I didn’t agree with, I would simply make some noncommittal sound; like I do with strangers or coworkers whose opinions I don’t share.  Then, about two years ago I received an unprovoked email from her where she laid out a major guilt trip  (which I’ll talk about in more depth next month, as it ties to different survey points).

And now, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I have no contact with my mother.  She went from being my best friend to being someone who drained my energy nearly every time I spoke with her.  I would have preferred it if she could’ve let go a little more and allowed me to be my own person–without constantly trying to keep me at her side (figuratively, of course)–because there were still some good times in my adult years.  Which is why I initially tried to set boundaries and just do “measured contact,” with my mother (as this article suggests near the end), but when I did that, she became more overtly abusive, and the good times came farther apart, and were instead replaced by blatant guilt trips, and unprovoked digs into my behavior.

It’s not all bad, though.  There is a wonderful freedom from not speaking with my mother right now.  For one, I don’t have to censor my true thoughts and feelings about things.  Craig and I are able to have discussions where we disagree on something, but don’t make the other person feel badly for having a different opinion.  It’s quite refreshing and something I never thought was possible in a relationship.  I also don’t have to worry about being held responsible for someone else’s happiness or sense of worth (a subject which gets discussed in this article by Bethany Webster [thanks to my friend Natalia for sharing this with me]).

But it is still a long healing process.  Thankfully writing it down here is helping (thank you, dear reader), and there are other articles that I’ll share later which offer more ideas on how to heal.

What Is NPD?

I’m going to start today’s blog with some foundational articles that highlight how you might recognize a person with NPD.

This page starts off with some basic info and goes into good detail about how people with NPD act and react.  And this site (I can’t find the author) goes into even greater detail about the characteristics of people with NPD.  I didn’t fully read the second article, to be honest, because by the time I found it, I was depressed enough.

When I first read this survey, written by Dr. Karyl McBride, I felt the first stirrings that my mother might have NPD.  With a little over 30 questions I found it a very comprehensive guide into narcissists, without sounding angry or finger-pointing.

Now, it’s key to remember that not all characteristics will show up in every narcissist.  I’m guessing that has something to do with the article I shared last month about the two different kinds of narcissists.  But, as with all humans, it’s also possible that each individual is just a mish-mash of traits, and that there’s no rhyme or reason.

In my particular case, the questions in the survey that hit home (to varying degrees) were numbers 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 23, 27, & 30.  Since these are the ones that resonated the strongest with me, those will be the topics for my blogs.  There are some that seem to work in tandem in my case, so I’ll discuss those in the same blog.

So, on to points 1 & 2 . . .

  1. When you discuss your life issues with your mother, does she divert the discussion to talk about herself?
  2. When you discuss your feelings with your mother, does she try to top the feeling with her own?

The first instance I remember of this happening was when she and I discussed my father molesting me.  Being such a large part of my childhood, the topic came up often during my teen years.  And nearly every time, without fail, my mother would say “Your father (or “that man,” depending on how angry she was at him at the time) could not have hurt me more than by doing that to you.”

Now, I completely understand that both she and my brother were affected by the situation, too (how could they not be?), but for her to say what she did accomplished a couple of things:

First, it allowed her to turn the attention away from me and my reactions to the experience and put the focus on her and how she’d been wronged.  When done repeatedly, this effectively taught me that my pain wasn’t the important part of this situation . . . HER pain was.  She made sure I had therapy, which was good, but I eventually stopped talking about this topic with her at all.

Secondly, this statement implied that my father intentionally set out to hurt my mother.  That, somewhere in his head he thought “I’m really mad at her, so how can I get back at her?  I know!  I’ll hurt one of our kids . . . now, what would be the worst thing I could do?  I’ve got it!  I’ll sexually molest my own daughter!  Yeah, that’ll show [my ex-wife]!”  I’m not making excuses for my father’s actions, but I honestly don’t believe he put that much thought into the situation.

There have been several other cases over the years where I would start discussing some emotional breakthrough I was having (small or large), and somehow my mother was going through the exact same breakthrough!  So, we stopped talking about my revelation and how I was growing, and began, instead, to discuss her emotional growth.

#9 also applies somewhat here:

When something happens in your life (accident, illness, divorce) does your mother react with how it will affect her rather than how you feel?

When I discovered that I had a prolactinoma (a non-cancerous tumor attached to my pituitary gland) back in 1989, I called to tell her about it shortly after the doctor’s visit.  I was still in shock after hearing the doctor say “You’re not pregnant.  You have a tumor in your brain (it’s not cancer), and you need to see an endocrinologist,” and gave her the same spiel the doctor had given me.  Well, she freaked out (as did another friend of mine), had tons of questions (most of which I didn’t have answers for yet), and decided to travel to where I was living at the time so she could attend the doctor’s appointment with me.

Now, one could argue that she did those things out of concern for me and my well-being (I am her child, after all), but again, this kind of reaction essentially made it so that I had to put my own feelings aside and talk her down off the ledge; basically “it’s all about her.”

Looking back, these were some of my most vivid memories of growing up with her, and the places where I felt the most anger.  I understand that she had her own feelings for each of these occasions in my life, but it got exhausting to constantly hear her blow things out of proportion, or to have my thoughts cut short so she could be the main focus of the discussion.

Tune in next month for another installment of this touchy subject.

Treading Carefully

I’ve talked a lot about issues I’ve had in my life, but there’s a major one that I’ve refrained from discussing for a variety of reasons.  However, I truly believe that it’s impossible to work through your issues without discussing them, so I feel it’s time to do just that.  It’s a difficult one for me to talk about, though, because it involves my mother.

For most of my childhood, she was my best friend; I told her everything that was going on in my life.  And, like most kids, she was my guide for how to behave in the world.  But, as I became a teenager, I started to see some of her words and actions differently; there were hypocrisies and failings that bothered me a lot.  I eventually learned that everyone is human and that we all have issues we’re working through, but some of her inconsistencies bothered me more than a little.  And, when I moved away from home and began to see more of the world and more of how other people react and interact with each other, my memories of my “wonderful” relationship with her became less shiny and happy than before.

A major blow to our relationship came when I married Craig and we tried to gain custody of his daughter, Athena.  We both felt that Athena’s mother was doing what’s called Gaslighting to her and hoped–if we brought this to the judge’s attention–it would strengthen our case to remove her from that negative home life.

In researching Gaslighting, I found that it’s a common trait among people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), so I began to do more research on that and found more and more traits that I believed Athena’s mother possessed.  However, I also started seeing some similarities in these articles in my own life.

This was a VERY hard realization to come to, because I didn’t want to think of my mother in this light (who does?), but the more articles I read, the more things resonated with my childhood.  And the more I discussed this with my own therapist, the more I had to finally accept that yes, I am a child of a parent with NPD.

Now, I will fully state that I’m NOT a psychologist, psychiatrist, or anyone skilled enough in the mental health fields to make an actual diagnosis.  For me to say that my mother has NPD is merely my opinion,  though it is based on LOTS of research and articles written by mental health professionals, which I will share with you in upcoming blogs.

I also want to state that I don’t think my mother is a bad person.  She has a huge heart and is very nice and wise in many ways.  But people with NPD have this tendency to think much of their wants/needs are more important, and their actions towards others often reflect this (consciously or otherwise).  The biggest cause of the trouble right now is that I tried to set some boundaries between us (in order to maintain my sanity in this issue and work through it), but she didn’t like that thought and it escalated from there.

And, please understand, this is NOT something I’m saying lightly.  It’s taken me nearly three years of research and therapy for me to come to this conclusion.  And it’s not a subject that anyone should take lightly.  As you’ll see in the articles and blogs I’ll post over the next few months, this is a very detrimental form of mental abuse.  In many cases it’s not an intentional abuse (I certainly don’t believe my mother intended to hurt me at all), but the effects are just as damaging as if it were.

Because this is such an involved topic, I’ve decided to write about it in blogs separate from my regular monthly ones.  I don’t have any set dates in mind for when I’ll post them, but it won’t be more than once a month.  I’m spacing them out because there’s SO much information out there to be disseminated, and trying to do it all at once can feel like an overload.  I know I felt overloaded and depressed when I tried to read more than five articles in one sitting.

I will also say that I’m venturing into this topic with quite a bit of trepidation.  The subject of mothers and their roles in our lives is a very delicate one.  The media, our families, movies and TV (and just about every other venue out there) depicts mothers as the most wonderful parent.  The most nurturing.  The one that holds the family together, and who we’ll all miss when she goes.  That role is held up on a pedestal (unfairly so), so to even think of saying anything against that institution can be dangerous.  But these blogs will be about MY relationship with my mother (the good and bad), so I have to be as honest as I can.

I also hear the apologies in my tone while I’m writing this (which I’ll explain in a future blog), but the more I deal with this issue, the stronger I’ll get.

Stay tuned.

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