While reading the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D., I’m developing a better understanding of my family of origin, the abuse my sister and I endured while growing up, the lies that were told about family members and the estrangement between my sister and I.
The chapter, “The Faces of Maternal Narcissism” has a subsection titled: “The Six Faces of Maternal Narcissism” which includes case studies that provide examples of each of these faces. I thought I would see if I could apply those ‘faces’ to my mother’s behaviors.
The author explains before beginning that your mother can be primarily one type or a combination of several of the following types of Narcissists.
THE FLAMBOYANT – EXTROVERT
The flamboyant-extrovert is the mother about whom movies are made. She’s a public entertainer, loved by the masses, but secretly feared by her intimate house partners and children. If you can perform in her show too, all the better. If you can’t, you’d better watch out. She is noticeable, flashy, fun, and “out there.” Some love her, but you despise the outward masquerade she performs for the world. For you know that you don’t really matter to her and her show, except in how you make her look to the rest if the world.
I’m not sure that my mother really fits this particular category. She was concerned with outward appearances, she did have an ‘outward masquerade’, trying to portray herself as a fun loving, happy individual, but we knew that she was jealous of virtually everyone around her, envied anyone who had things she didn’t. She wasn’t a particularly ‘social’ person.
To the accomplishment-oriented mother, what you achieve in life is paramount. Success depends on what you do, not who you are. She expects you to perform at the highest possible level. This mom is very proud of her children’s good grades, tournament wins, admission into the right college, and graduation with the pertinent degrees. She loves to brag about them too. But if you do not become what your accomplishment-oriented mother thinks you should, and accomplish what she thinks is important, she is deeply embarrassed, and may even respond with a rampage or fury and rage.
My mother fits this category, as she expected honor roll grades, expected the best performance possible from her children, in everything we did, whether it be school activities or performing household chores. She liked to brag to people about my accomplishments at school, when I was named in America’s Outstanding Names and Faces for 1982 and the National Achievement Academy’s National Yearbook for 1982, when I went to Great Britain and spent part of my Summer with my pen pal, when I won a cash prize and honorable mentions for my artwork, etc., but at home she would tell me I would never amount to anything, I was never going to be anything, I was lazy, wasn’t as good at anything as I thought I was, I’d get “knocked down a peg or two eventually”. She would be upset because she hadn’t had such honors, hadn’t been recognized in similar ways, hadn’t done the things I had and would question why I should.
The psychosomatic mother uses illness and aches and pains to manipulate others, to get her way, and to focus atention on herself. She cares little for those around her, including her daughter, or their needs. If your mother was like this, the only way you were able to get attention from her was to take care of her. If you failed to respond to her, or even rebelled against her behavior, Mom would play the victim by becoming more ill or having an illness-related crisis to redirect your attention and make you feel guilty.
To some degree my mother falls into this category too. She was always taking one medication or another. She had a number of prescription bottles in the cupboard, some for high blood pressure, fluid retention, nerves, etc. She had chronic sinus headaches and eventually developed an ulcer. I was expected to care for her, including preparing special food for her, taking care of the house while she was ill. I ran errands for her, cleaned up after her, etc. She even, occasionally had a ‘fainting spell’ which left me to get her up and into bed.
If I were sick, which did happen occasionally, she would always dismiss it, telling me I would have to go to school, even if I knew I were dying, so I could tell them I wouldn’t be there the next day, because I’d be dead. She had always felt worse, had worse, than what anyone else experienced.
When I was in first grade, I became very ill. I had been sick for more than a week or so, coughing, sick to my stomach, fever, etc. I remember going to school and my teacher, Mrs. Thompson, being very concerned. I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. I spent a week in an oxygen tent, another week in the hospital after, right before Christmas. When I came home from the hospital and needed care, I recall my mother talking almost constantly about how she had ‘walking pneumonia’ but still had to take care of me.
The parent with a substance-abuse problem will always seem narcissistic, because the addiction speaks louder than anything else.
My mother didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t seem to ‘abuse’ prescription medications. She did eat a lot of junk food and her weight fluctuated quite a bit between about 160 lbs and nearly 300 lbs.
THE SECRETLY MEAN
The secretly mean narcissistic mother does not want others to know she is abusive to her children. She usually has a public self and a private self, which are quite different. Daughters of the secretly mean describe their mothers as being kind, loving and attentive when out in public, and abusive and cruel at home. It is hard not to feel significant resentment toward your mother for this, especially if she fooled a lot of people outside the family.
My mother definitely fits this category. I struggled through elementary school and early in middle school because I couldn’t understand why my friends would say they wished their mother was like my mother. To the public, she was a ‘great’ and ‘involved’ mom, baking cakes and bringing them to school, hosting a Halloween party for my entire class, making homemade things for us, being a stay at home mom, driving us to school, etc., but they didn’t know what she was like behind closed doors, so strict, so demanding, full of rage, capable of verbal, emotional and physical abuse. I thought there was something wrong with me, why I wished she’d stop, but my friends were constantly telling me they wished their mother was like mine.
Though it was not accepted at the time I was living at home, nor talked about openly, we knew we could never tell anyone what was happening at home, no one would have understood, because everyone knew her as this whole other person. Who would people believe? This doting wonderful mother or children who would seem ungrateful, as if they must be exaggerating?
THE EMOTIONALLY NEEDY
While all narcissistic mothers are emotionally needy at some level, some show this characteristic more openly than others. These mothers wear their emotions on their sleeves and expect their daughters to take care of them, a losing proposition for children, who are expected to calm their mothers, listen to their adult problems, and solve problems with her. Of course, these children’s feelings are neglected and you are unlikely to get anywhere near the same nurturance that you are expected to provide.
This is also most definitely a description of my mother. As a child and into young adulthood she told me personal things about her relationship with my father, about marital infidelities, how she was so lonely and that her greatest fear was to be alone. She talked often about the way her parents had allegedly treated her, about the way her co-workers treated her and that her sister was haughty and looked down on her. Not only did she want me to listen to her emotional outpourings, but she wanted them to secure my loyalty and devotion. She sought to bring about resentment in her children toward the people she believed to have wronged her.
Of course, trying to share my emotions with her was a mistake. I had no ‘life experiences’ so how could I have anything valid to feel? Any emotions as a result of her behavior or abuse were invalid, as they amounted to weakness and looking for sympathy. Any emotion that resulted from interaction with a friend, neighbor, classmate, family member had to have been because I was a glutton for punishment, allowing these folks to hurt me over and over again and being unable or unwilling to put a stop to it.
The next chapters are dedicated to trying to understand how/why our mothers became like this, as the author says, they weren’t born this way.
It’s quite helpful to be able to look at my mother through this filter, seeing her for who she was, her behaviors for what they were and identify that I was not alone in experiencing this, that her sickness wasn’t my sickness… again, more affirmation.
I anticipate that this book is going to be one of the most beneficial self-help books I’ve ever read.