The second of the three books I ordered recently is titled “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.”
I would have to say that since I was about 8 or 9 years old, I’ve had the sense that something was very wrong about the relationship between my mother and I. I think it was around that time when I became aware of the parents of friends, how they interacted, the way other families behaved. I realized that the personal things my mother shared with me about her relationship with my father, their marriage, infidelity, etc., was not common in other mother/daughter relationships where the daughters were my age.
When the decision was made that my parents would divorce, my mother made my sister (11) and I (13) sit at the table with she and my father while specifics were discussed and afterward she told me she would not be able to take care of us if we didn’t ‘step up’ and take more responsibility. More responsibility, I soon discovered, meant cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, etc., as well as providing physical care for my mother when she wasn’t feeling well, being her emotional support and confidante.
Throughout our lives, my mother had great difficulty with anger and rage issues. Everything everyone, including her own children, did was, in her mind, specifically done to hurt her, make her life more difficult, everything was personal, about her. She lashed out physically, at not only my sister and I, but my father and on at least one occasion a cousin. She would strike out using a wooden spoon, a wooden paddle she’d bought, the wire handle of a flyswatter, a yardstick, the switch from a forsythia bush, a belt… whatever she could get her hands on and if nothing was within reach, she would use her hands, sometimes open, sometimes closed fists and she would strike her target until she had injured herself.
As I neared the age of 18 my mother started to share expectations that I would graduate High School, get a job and remain at home with her, to help her and take care of her as she aged, after all it was supposed to be ‘us against the world’, she expected such loyalty as payment of the debt she perceived me owing her for raising and providing for me all my life.
At the age of 19 she kicked me out of the house, accusing me of caring more about my friends than about her, accusing me of being a ‘slut’ because I had a boyfriend (my first) and after having beaten me so badly she’d broken my eye socket, fractured my skull and caused numerous other minor injuries.
Years of psychotherapy helped me to understand that the abuse by and oppressive relationship with my mother were not my fault, that I didn’t have to take responsibility for the way she behaved. Psychiatrists and Psychologists alike assured me, though they were reluctant to ‘diagnose’ someone they had not seen, that there certainly had to be some degree of mental illness driving my mother’s behaviors.
A good deal of my time spent in therapy dealt with my fear of ‘becoming my mother’, that I might, in any way, become ‘like’ her, behave like her, treat other people like she treated people. I realized that many of my personal choices in life have been influenced by my desire to be as ‘removed’ and ‘distant’ as humanly possible from the behavior she modeled.
Even though I have not seen nor spoken to my mother, after one failed attempt at reconciliation, in 25 years, I am constantly reminded of and taken back to that relationship, as a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it’s triggers.
The recent incident with my husband’s mother and sister has really shaken me and brought a lot of my “Mom issues” into the present.
When I saw the title of the book I mentioned above and read a brief description, I thought perhaps I might gain further insight into my relationship, or lack thereof, with my mother. After briefly getting into the book, I’m not disappointed.
The author, Karyl McBride, Ph.D, begins by providing nine traits of a narcissist and asks the reader if they can identify any of them in their own mother. She provides examples through the stories of women she’s worked with, to illustrate each trait. I thought it might be helpful for me to do that here… as I never considered my mother’s behavior to be narcissistic, perhaps gaining a different perspective through which I can gain further understanding.
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.
My mother spent a lot of time talking about the things she did, as if they were monumental, things no one else was capable of doing or ever had done. Things like volunteering as a classroom mother when her children were in kindergarten, driving her kids to school, taking care of her kids when we were sick, were things she talked about as if no other parent would do them, she was somehow more giving of herself than anyone else and deserved recognition and a pat on the back for these things.
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
My mother often talked about how one day she would have a man in her life, she would have a beautiful home, never have to work again, she would have a better life than her sister. Most of her ‘fantasies’ about her future were based on having more or better than her sister had. She thought she was smarter, more attractive than her sister and most people in her circle, that she identified the love or relationships of other people as being ‘fake’.
3. Believes that he/she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
My mother definitely saw herself as being more deserving than other people. She thought herself to be a ‘better class of people’ than most of the people she associated with. She routinely made note of the shortcomings of others, the way other people lived, dressed, talked, etc., particularly the families of my friends and our neighbors, which made getting along and living near people very difficult.
4. Requires excessive admiration.
My mother wanted everyone to know what she did for her kids, that she “sacrificed”, that she ‘did without’, that she did many things she didn’t want to do so others could be happy and wanted acknowledgement of her efforts. We constantly heard, “You should be thankful for all that I do for you kids.” She demanded acknowledgement of everything she did, regardless of how miniscule it was. She had a way of making me feel that I “owed her” for being my mother.
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his/her expectations.
My mother expected complete loyalty and compliance from her children. She demanded perfection, everything had to be done her way, to her standards, in her time frame. If she were feuding with another family member, we were not permitted to see or speak to them; if she didn’t care for the family of a friend of mine, I was forbidden to associate with them. I was expected to maintain honor roll grades, have a hot meal on the table for her when she got home from work, watch my sister and help out by completing household chores from the age of 13 until I no longer lived under her roof. If she needed anyone’s help, it had to be given when it best suited her, otherwise they were just trying to be difficult. Even her parents were expected to give her a certain level of attention and caring, if they didn’t then they were favoring her sister.
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his/her own ends.
My mother reconciled with me after I was married and immediately began talking about my wedding dress. She had never had a ‘white’ wedding dress, didn’t have a big church wedding, wouldn’t attend my wedding, but really wanted to try on my wedding dress. When I agreed to let her try it on she wanted pictures taken in it. Shortly after giving her the pictures she left me a note on the backdoor of my apartment telling me she was my mother for the last time.
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
My mother always believed that people ‘faked’ it when they expressed their feelings, she thought they were just seeking attention. She didn’t allow emotion to be expressed, crying meant you were weak. If anyone else around her was in ‘need’, regardless of the type of ‘need’ they had, she was needier, she had gone through something worse, had pulled herself up by her bootstraps, no one cared about how she felt.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of her.
My mother was very much envious and jealous of others. When my pen pal invited me to come to England the first thing my mother said was, “I never got to do anything like that, why do you think you should?” When a college actively began to ‘recruit’ me my Senior year of High School her response was, “I never went to college, I could have gone to art school, why do you think you should? What makes you so much better than me?” When I sent her an invitation to my wedding her response was, “You’ve got some nerve wearing a white wedding dress. I didn’t have a white wedding dress, why do you think you should have one?” She also believed that other people envied her, she imagined herself some sort of ‘gay divorcee’ and that others longed to have the life she had, to be as talented as she was, as youthful as she was, etc.
9. Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
My mother often got into verbal altercations with other people, neighbors, co-workers, family members, because she believed that her way was the only way, she believed she was better than most people, ‘behaved right’, ‘thought right’, knew more about most things than other people. She spent a lot of time trying to be someone she wasn’t, dressing up, even wearing a wig for a period of time, attempting to host parties where she would wear a gown or long skirt and lots of jewelry (even though we lived in a single wide mobile home in a trailer park). She often criticized and looked down upon our neighbors, as if she didn’t realize she was living in the same place, with a similar lifestyle to them.
Just beginning to read this book, I realized that my mother exhibited many of the traits described as ‘narcissistic’ by the author. I knew her to be jealous, envious and to have an inflated sense of self-importance, even though I realized we were incredibly average folks, not unlike most of our relatives and neighbors. I never attributed those things with being a narcissist.
Now I can see that narcissism was definitely one of the factors holding her back and interfering with her relationships with other people.
I can remember showing her picture to the support group I belonged to and I will never forget the comments of the other members… “Who does she think she is?” “She really thinks she’s all that, doesn’t she?” I hadn’t seen the picture in that way before that, I had taken the picture myself years before, but after seeing and hearing their reactions, I realized what her behavior must have looked like to, how it must have been interpreted by, other people.
I’m anxious to get into this book further and to see what recommendations this doctor makes in regard to coping strategies and moving on from the damage done to a child’s psyche when a parent behaves this way.