I’m at the stage in the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D., where the author has begun to talk about trying to understand the narcissistic mother’s makeup, her upbringing, origins and how she became who she is.
This is a part of recovery that I struggled with during my professional treatment, it is also the very thing that exposed my mother’s sickness to me.
While growing up my mother kept my sister and I isolated from other members of the family, with the exception of her parents, our grandparents, whom she relied on heavily for emotional and financial support. She was our only source of information regarding our family history. I had no reason to ever doubt what she told me, as there was no one offering any opposing information.
My mother had painted a very pathetic picture of her childhood, telling me that she was terribly mistreated by her parents while her sister was babied and catered to. She explained that her sister was always ‘sickly’ and frail. That she ‘got out of everything’ and was ‘carried around on a velvet cushion’.
Her recollection of her childhood was horrendous. She told me that she was forced to walk to the bus or to school while her sister was driven, that she had to help do all the housework and the outdoor work while her sister sat around looking pretty. She talked about how her parents catered to her sister even as an adult, their mother doing her family’s laundry and helping her sister and brother-in-law financially. She talked about her father punishing her by beating her with a rubber hose, holding her head under a faucet, beating her with a razor strap.
I had an occasion to ask my Grandmother about these claims. She was heartbroken, she sobbed as she told me they never had much when their girls were growing up, but they had tried to always treat them equally. She told me that my mother always struggled against what was asked of her, that she never seemed able to complete tasks given to her, she had always preferred to do outdoor activities and chores, to cooking or cleaning. She also pointed out that if my mother had thought she and her husband had been such awful parents why did she ask them to babysit my sister and I so often, why did she come to visit almost daily, why did she ask them for so much help?
That was the first time I really questioned the things my mother had told me. My Grandmother was so sincere, so honestly devastated to know her daughter had told stories like that. I had only known my Grandparents to be generous and kind people. I greatly enjoyed being with them, working on projects with my Grandfather. I had never seen any evidence of them being abusive, in any way.
I had an occasion to speak with my Aunt about family history and medical histories. When we talked about my Grandfather’s disability I mentioned that my mother had told me he had been in an accident on the job, having had a piece of heavy equipment run over his legs, crushing them. My Aunt gasped and said, ‘no you have it wrong, that wasn’t your grandfather, that was our grandfather. Daddy got a blood disease while in the service stationed in Guam. It deteriorated the connective tissue in his body, which is why his knees hyper-flexed, requiring him to walk with a cane, crutches and eventually to use a wheelchair.”
My mother had told me, all my life, that her sister, (my Aunt) and my Aunt on my father’s side never wanted anything to do with my sister and I. We had grown up hardly ever seeing either of them, or our cousins. She told us we ‘weren’t their kind of people.’ As an adult I discovered that both Aunts had (in their words) begged to have my sister and I stay over, spend time with them, but that my mother had always had an excuse for why we couldn’t come with them. I was heartbroken learning this, as I had a total of 6 cousins that all lived within 25 miles of us, all our lives, yet they were ‘strangers’ to me. So much time had been lost.
My mother had told us, when she was 34, that she had a complete hysterectomy. I can remember her being in the hospital, helping her with her wound after surgery and when I was older, I often thought that her having a hysterectomy and never having ‘hormonal therapy’ might have had something to do with her mood swings and rages. I discovered years later that she had only had a partial hysterectomy (uterus only) and later in life had to have a second surgery to remove her ovaries.
When I fell in love my mother began to tell me horrid stories about my boyfriend’s mother, how she had been married to my father before my mother had, how she’d been pregnant and terminated her own pregnancy with a ‘teaspoon’. What a horrible person she had been, breaking my father’s heart, killing his first son, as she was having an affair. Later in life I learned that my mother-in-law had been my father’s first wife, they had been expecting a child, but he had been still born. (My mother’s first child with my father had been a boy also, who had passed 3 days after his birth as a result of severe birth defects.) She told me how my mother had been the ‘other woman’ in their marriage, that it had been my father who’d been cheating. There were others who collaborated her version of the story.
Years after I had left home I was told that my mother had been telling people that she had saved me from ‘statutory rape’ charges when my husband and I had begun dating. I was older than my husband, but his mother had never threatened such charges, she, in fact, had given us condoms in the event we might be sexual active.
My mother also told people that she had ‘saved’ and ‘protected’ my sister from me, as I was the one who physically abused my sister. She claimed to have never struck either of her children, ever, that she had gone out of her way to care for her children and give them everything they ever asked for, sacrificing herself. When confronted with the fact that two of my friends had witnessed her physically beating me the night she fractured my skull, broke my eye socket, she said they were my friends so they would lie for me, that they never saw any such thing because it never happened.
It became clear to me that EVERYTHING my mother had ever told me was in doubt. She fabricated and/or exaggerated so much of her experiences and history it was impossible to know what was true and what wasn’t.
There is no way for me to ever develop an understanding of my mother. She is a stranger to me. I don’t think she knows who she is.
The next section of the book, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D. talks about understanding allowing daughters to experience forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is positive and healing when we can see that the person’s intention was not to hurt us. But we do ourselves no good when we try to deny the pain we felt. And we can actually set ourselves up for further harm when we don’t deal with the reality that we were hurt and the person is likely to hurt us again – whether inadvertently or on purpose.’
“…I counsel you to pardon only someone who is accountable for her behavior, when she has owned up to it, has become conscious of it, and is truly sorry for having done it.”
“…You forgive by forgoing these negative emotions so that you can go on for the rest of your life.”
“Afterward, you will have an internal feeling that is more neutral; you will no longer have the intense emotions you once associated with your mother. This neutrality allows you to keep that feeling of letting go.”
I have had a feeling of ‘indifference’ about my mother for nearly 26 years, after having received a letter from her which she signed “Your Mother for the LAST time.” I had made efforts to reconcile with her, but that closing on that letter, filled with accusations and untruths was permission to let go, to stop trying to appease her and win her affection.
Since that time I’ve focused on trying to heal me, to move past the lies, the accusations, the degrading verbal assaults, all of which play like tape loops in my mind. I’ve realized that for me, understanding my mother had little importance, seeing as how it appeared to be an impossible undertaking, but to rather work on understanding who I am today, what I need to be happy and content. My time is much better spent learning about myself, because the more truths I learn about myself, the less important/valid her lies are.